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House of Commons

Tuesday 21 December 2004

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]



Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): If he will make a statement on his Department's strategy for increasing the number of people using cycles. [206090]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Charlotte Atkins): Our strategy for increasing the number of cycling trips was set out in July's White Paper, "The Future of Transport". We are committed to   making cycling a more attractive choice through initiatives to improve the physical environment, raise standards of training and improve safety and facilities for cyclists.

Bob Russell: I am grateful to the Minister for what will be an encouraging response if it is delivered. But, in the spirit of joined-up government, with obesity as a major worry and the cost to the public purse of a road fatality now exceeding £1 million, does she agree that an excellent way of trying to fulfil the Government's 2012 target of quadrupling the number of cycle journeys is to persuade the Treasury that investing in local cycle networks represents excellent value for money?

Charlotte Atkins: We are working across Departments on the cycling strategy. If the hon. Gentleman looked at the health White Paper, he would find some very encouraging remarks about improving the opportunities to cycle. Colchester has benefited from small cycling grants: £1.5 million was spent on cycling schemes in his area in 2003–04 and another £1 million in 2004–05. In addition, we are involved in a range of other ways. For example, £10 million has been invested to link
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hundreds of schools to the national cycle network. That has come about through match funding by local authorities of nearly £27 million.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): It is delightful to hear about so many people cycling and how good it is for people's health, but does the Minister agree that cyclists sometimes can be a complete and utter nuisance? [Interruption.] They behave worse on the roads than many others—cycling straight through red lights, for example. Is it not time to ensure that a proper safety process is in place so that people learn to obey the rules of the road when they start cycling?

Charlotte Atkins: That is why we are revitalising cycle training to ensure that people know how to cycle safely. Clearly, cyclists must obey the rules of the road, including not using their mobile phones while on a cycle.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Will the Minister reflect again on the point just made by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)? Does she not accept that far too many cyclists ignore traffic lights and that an increasing number of them are prepared to use mobile phones while on the move? Will she continue the Government's trend in that direction, which we welcome, and embrace yet another Conservative policy initiative by banning cyclists from using mobile phones?

Charlotte Atkins: It is already an offence to be in charge of a cycle while not properly in control of it. I   would argue that using a mobile phone while cycling demonstrates that the cyclist is not cycling safely. I   understand that Conservative Members occasionally use mobile phones while cycling. I consulted my local community police officer, who informed me that he certainly considers cycling while using a mobile phone an unsafe practice.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State is to be congratulated on the £10 million given to Sustrans for the links to schools programme. What other resources will be made available within the scheme to help the other 99 per cent. of English schools and will Sustrans receive any more generalised funding on account of the superb work that it does in many parts of the country? I have used some of the long-distance routes, which are helpful for tourism and for health.

Charlotte Atkins: Sustrans has certainly done a very   good job in using Government money and has done a marvellous job on cycle routes. Obviously, another way we can help to fund cycling initiatives is by   supporting local authorities. In 2001–02, local authorities spent £30 million on cycling projects. By 2005–06, that will have risen to £45 million, which demonstrates how we are making progress on cycling. Additionally, we are providing £500,000 for improved cycle storage at targeted stations and are funding the national cycling internet portal to help new and existing cyclists to access information across the whole range of cycling issues, including buying bikes and accessing training.
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Northampton Loop Line

2. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): What plans he has for train services to stations on the Northampton loop line off the west coast main line. [206091]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty): Current services on the Northampton loop have been affected by the large-scale renewals planned for the Rugby station area, including the provision of capacity for growth in traffic and better performance. It is now planned to undertake the work with significantly less disruption than previously expected, and the Strategic Rail Authority is considering a number of options to improve service frequencies between Northampton and Rugby during 2005.

Ms Keeble: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but Northampton is a Government growth area and there are major concerns that its rail services are not up to scratch. The fast Virgin trains that have been introduced are extremely welcome but we need more of them. We also need more frequent services between Northampton and Birmingham, given the rise in the number of commuters and the fact that more people go to Birmingham for shopping and leisure purposes. Will my hon. Friend take that on board, and ensure that Northampton's train services expand as the town grows?

Mr. McNulty: I am aware that Northampton and the   surrounding region is a growth area as defined by the sustainable communities plan. There will be additional links with Rugby and the west midlands, probably after the completion of the major reconstruction of the Rugby complex in 2006–07. In addition, there will be some small changes to train services to Rugby as soon as it is practical. There will also be more off-peak faster services to and from London Euston, with a few extra services from London in the mid-evening period. Those services probably will be available from the end of 2005. There also will be some additional links in non-peak periods to and from Crewe, via the Trent valley route. Finally, the new Desiro trains will be introduced on a range of services from June 2005. I know that my hon. Friend is an assiduous campaigner for transport in her area, not least in her capacity as chair of the Northampton rail user group. If she wants to meet me to discuss these matters further in the new year—and perhaps to bring along some others from Northampton—I should be more than happy to accommodate her.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that similar problems affect Milton Keynes. What discussions has he had with the SRA about its plans to provide an additional platform at Milton Keynes Central station to increase rail capacity? Is he involving the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in those discussions, given that Milton Keynes is a housing growth area and that rail capacity must keep pace with that growth?

Mr. McNulty: I do have discussions with the ODPM on this matter, as I do in connection with the
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question   raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble). The two regions involved are very important growth areas. My hon. Friend will know that, at a meeting in early November, one of the topics of discussion was the plan to enlarge Milton Keynes Central. The aim behind the plan is to allow more fast commuter and long-distance services to call at Milton Keynes. I have asked the SRA to take the plan forward as fast as possible, and the improvements should be completed by 2008. However, I want to emphasise what colleagues in the ODPM have already made clear. We are keenly aware that provision of the pertinent transport infrastructure must go alongside commitments to growth and increased housing. That is true in the east midlands as it is in the other growth areas surrounding London, such as the Thames gateway.

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