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David Taylor: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. Is he surprised to learn that in every survey of categories of antisocial behaviour, greatest concern is registered not over litter, dog fouling, aggressive teenagers, drug dealing or neighbour noise, but over speeding in urban and rural settings? That problem needs to be tackled and the Government could generate some much needed popularity by addressing it systematically and effectively.
How can we achieve a comprehensive approach throughout the UK? It would be appropriate to require every local authority to carry out an audit of an existing network to see how they could create a comprehensive cycle network fit for cyclists in the area. Some authorities have done this and some have a good record, but others do not. That is why we need to do something to improve those authorities.
There is great variation between different UK towns and cities in the facilities provided for cycling, and as a result great variation between cyclings shares of overall transport usage. In my city of Edinburgh, the percentage of journeys to work by bike has doubled and continues to increase. It is still only a small percentage, but that is a move in the right direction. It is partly due to the fact that, for 20 years or more, there has been a consistent policy of promoting cycling and facilities have been provided to encourage it, accompanied by the very effective Lothian cycle campaign, Spokes, of which I am proud to be a member.
That campaign ensured that the council was put under the microscope when cycle facilities were not as good as they should have been. There is always a need to do more and a need for more spending locally and nationally. Edinburgh and other citiesCambridge is a good examplehave shown where a difference can be made, and there are a number of such examples in London as well.
Local leadership is important as it can ensure that in all developmentsfor example, those in transport, roads and housingcycle facilities are built in from the start when it is cheaper to do so, rather than added later. Too often, cycling is not incorporated when developments start, when it could be quite easily, and planning authorities must be encouraged by appropriate guidance from central Government to ensure that that happens.
The process must occur at a more local level as well. We need many more examples of people thinking bike in relation to new developments, buildings or whatever. Bluntly, we need only look at Parliament for examples of how that has not happened. Duringthe past year, some, doubtless necessary, security improvements have been made around the perimeter of Parliament. Those could have been used as an opportunity to improve cycle access into and out of the Houses of Parliament and to improve conditions for cyclists travelling past, but we have created a situation that is even more dangerous for cyclists. We could start by putting our own House in order.
I have spoken for longer than I intended, but I have taken quite a few interventions. We have to do something about the biggest single factor that influences the trend in cycle use in the UK, which is the provision of
resources. I acknowledge the substantial capital funding that has been put into cycling by the Government.The funding programme for the development of a comprehensive strategy in six cities in England is particularly welcome, but I regret that my constituents will not be able to share that success: in Scotland, there has been a cut of more than a third in cycling spending from£12 million to £8 million a year.
In the same period, transport spending has increased from £800 million to £1,200 million a year. For the most part, that increase lies with new motorwaysand similar roads, which are being promoted enthusiastically by the Lib Dem Minister for Transport and Telecommunications in the Scottish Parliament. I hope that our Lib Dem colleagues will say something to encourage a change of approach in Scotland.
Whatever is happening in different parts of the UK, we must try ensure that, instead of pilots, studies and local projects, there is a comprehensive approach to cycling policy at all levels of central Government and local government so that there is an increase in cycling and in the resources needed to encourage and support it locally. We need capital funding, of coursethere have been increases thereas well as a steady and secure revenue funding stream. That could be particularly important in providing more training for cyclists.
Training is important not only in schools, but for people at work, and it could be organised through and encouraged by employers. Training could be given in universities, colleges and other organisations with a large number of people who could be encouraged to cycle. More training would also, I hope, go some way toward discouraging those cyclists who break the rules of the road, ignore traffic lights, and endanger pedestrians and other cyclists who comply with the law. I condemn such behaviour. As one who cycles and also drives a car, I know that such irresponsible behaviour gives all cyclists a bad name. We should try to discourage it.
Cycling has countless benefits and should be encouraged. It is one of the most environmentally friendly forms of transport and it could contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Motor vehicles are one of the most important contributors to those emissions, and are likely to be for many years to come. A shift to cycling in our towns and cities would also reduce congestion. Cycling is a healthy activity and it could help us to tackle the problem of obesity, particularly in children, about which we are all concerned.
I congratulate the Government on what they have done so far and urge them to take account of cyclists concerns about the changes in the highway code. I also urge them to build on what they have done and to adopt a joined-up approach involving civil servants, central Government and local government to achieve a shift in resources and a change in attitudes. They should work together to help to make cycling as popular as it is in many of our European neighbours.
Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on securing this timely debate. As he said, it is timely
because tomorrow is the deadline for comments on the changes to the highway code.
I also congratulate the Cyclists Touring Club on raising the profile of cyclists. Far from being annoyed, as its briefing note suggests, by the e-mails and letters that I have received from CTC supporters, I am delighted to receive them. For too long, cyclists have moaned about facilities, but have not punched their weight in terms of political pressure by lobbying MPs, Ministers and their local authorities. The CTC says that more than 11,000 cyclists have e-mailed their MPs in response to its campaign about the highway code. That is absolutely brilliant, but I have a complaint: I do not think that I got my fair share.
Cyclists should now mobilise locally to put pressure on local authorities to produce local transport plans that provide for a cycle-friendly infrastructure. With cycling at an all-time low, it is unacceptable for local authorities to look at their local transport plans simply in terms of ensuring that there is no reduction in cycle use or achieving satisfactory minimum targets. The current state of affairs will not change unless there is pressure from local communities and the Department for Transport to make cycling a higher priority.
With political activism at such a low ebb, well-organised local cycling groups could achieve a great deal on issues such as increased congestion and tackling the obesity epidemic. In that context, I want to mention Leek Cyclists Club, which is running some excellent events in August to celebrate its 130 years of existenceit was established in 1876. I hope to be supporting those events. I like the fact that the club is putting on a range of activities, including sportive rides, time trials and family rides. Continental cyclists will be involved as well. The proceeds will go to the local air ambulance service and to the first responder service. I hope that the club will not confine its activities to such events, but enthuse others and get much more involved with local schools to promote cycling, and with the local authority to ensure that more is done locally.
I agree that under-resourcing is an issue. I must accept some responsibility for securing an allocation of only £5 million a year to Cycling England when I was in the relevant Department. The hoped-for £70 million was never on the cards; it was not going to happen. However, the creation of Cycling England has been a huge step forward.
It is also important that we now have the new, accredited, national standard for cycling training, which is extremely welcome, as is the three-tier level. It will equip not just children but adults with training for on-road cycling and dealing with real traffic conditions, rather than involve just going round bollards and so on. Such things are great fun, but they do not always equip people for cycling on the road.
It is hugely important to improve cycling skills and safety, as well as to give people much-needed confidence, because it can make a huge difference on the road. When I was in the Department, I was amazed to discover that the cycling proficiency scheme that I knew as a child no longer existed; it stopped 10 years ago. It is no wonder that fewer and fewer children cycle to school. Parents have to be convinced that their children will be safe cycling to school. Training is a
vital part of that equation, although it will not necessarily overcome the overwhelming perception that cycling is dangerous.
The Bike It scheme, which is particularly geared towards schools, will help to create a greater perception of safety, because it is working on personalised safety routes from home to school and on ensuring proper secure storage for bikes at school. It is important that when people embark on cycling they try to work out a safe route where they can deal with the hazards along the way much more securely.
I met a group of enthusiastic child cyclists in one school who happily cycled in rain, snow or in any other conditions. Some were young and others were slightly older, but they all found the process incredibly empowering. They told me that they did not have to wait for their mum or dad to get the car out of the garage, because they could cycle to school at any time, and that gave them huge independence, as well as increased physical fitness, which is a welcome side effect. That independence is important, because nowadays children are often shepherded to school and to shops, dance classes and so on. The fact that children could go out on their own in safetyalong a safety routemeant that they felt independent, and they enjoyed that feeling of freedom.
I am sure that the proposed changes to the highway code are intended to improve the safety of cyclists. However, many cycle lanes are poorly designedor badly maintained. John Grimshaw of Sustrans demonstrated that to me when he took me to Bristol along such routes. Given that cyclists are just about the most vulnerable road users, it is important that they can make their own choices about whether to ride along a cycle route or along the road without fear of adverse legal consequences.
Of course, a minority of cyclists behave badly and illegally, flouting traffic laws, and I find them as annoying as anyone else does, but let us be realistic. Many motorists also flout traffic laws, not least by using mobile phones. Unbelievably, some people also use mobile phones when cycling. I cannot understand why they do that; it is appalling. However, the highway code should not be drafted as though all cyclistsare irresponsible. Most are not. They want to cycle safely and survive in what are often difficult traffic conditions. No one wants the risks to cyclists to increase, or cyclists to be penalised for deciding not to use a cycle lane. I think we all know examples of cycle lanes that go just a few yards or that come to an abrupt end at a junction or, worse still, at a roundabout.
Mark Lazarowicz: Does my hon. Friend agree that a short stretch of cycle lane can be extremely dangerous in that, at the end of the lane, the act of joining the main route puts the cyclist at much greater risk than if they had not entered the cycle lane in the first place?
Charlotte Atkins: That is absolutely right. The point at which a cyclist joins the rest of the traffic is a clear area of real danger, and the evidence shows that most accidents occur at junctions. Often, that is just because motorists do not see cyclists. It is vital that we change
the culture in this country so that it is much more akin to that in France, where cyclists are noticed. In London, a critical mass of cyclists has been created, so motorists are more aware of cyclists there, but we have much more to do in other towns where cycling is not so prevalent.
I want to make a plea for far more active promotion of the scheme that enables people to obtain tax-free loans from their employers to buy bikes. A similar scheme involving computers has been very successful in the past, and such schemes make absolute sense.
An excellent employer in my area, Britannia building society, has often been criticised for the number of cars that spill out of its car park on to the road. The car park is overflowing and the building society is having to build a new car park, but if it could only encourage some of its employees to cycle to work, that would free up space in the car park. The building society is very well placed, just outside Leek. If the canal towpaths could be opened up for cyclists, its staff could enjoy a leisurely cycle ride to work in one of the most beautiful parts of Englanda perfect start to the working day.
Sustrans has done tremendous work in my constituency by opening up cycle ways, one of which is the Biddulph Valley way. That cycle route is ideal not only for employees, but for children going to school. Sustrans seems to have an amazing facility to take public money, increase it twofold or threefold and use it incredibly effectively throughout the nation.
In conclusion, I should like to ask the Minister a few questions. Will he review all local transport plans in respect of their proposals to boost cycling? It is vital that we consider what local authorities are doing countrywide, not just in the towns that Cycling England is promoting as its project towns. Will he examine again the proposed changes to the highway code and take on board the concerns of both the CTC and cyclists? Will he promote much more actively the tax-free loans for bike purchase and work with employers organisations to increase cycling among their staff? Will he do much more to expand cycle training for adults as well as children through Bike It and other local initiatives?
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) both on obtaining the debate at a good time and on obtaining it at all, because it is important in its own right that we talk about improving cycling.
My bicycle for many years has been a sturdy black mountain bike. I have done my best to cut out short journeys by car, and walk and cycle to replace them. This is the time of the year when I love to get the bike out on a warm summer evening or a sunny weekend day and cycle into the beautiful countryside around the Stafford constituency. The pace of life on a bicycle is wonderful, and one enjoys sights and sounds along countryside roads and cycle ways that cannot be caught when driving. It is a beautiful experience, and I urge everybody to do the same.
There is good support for cycling in Stafford, thanks in large part to the LA21 team at Stafford borough council, particularly the outstanding Karen Davies who leads it so well. We enjoy family cycling days that are organised by her team. Under the Back 2 Bikes recycling scheme, people give up their damaged or old cycles, which are repaired and made available to new users. They are rented out, hired out or even loaned to people who cannot afford to buy a bike. We do what we can in my constituency to support cycling.
My reasons for cycling are mainly to keep my weight downwe attend far too many dinners in this placeand to keep my carbon dioxide emissions from transport to a minimum. If people cycle often, they enjoy health benefits and multiply the benefits to the health of our nation and our environment. There are, of course, additional social, economic and environmental benefits. For example, if people were to cycle rather than drive their vehicles in city and town centres, we would have cleaner air. That would mean less incidence of asthma and more pleasant surroundings for people who want to shop, window shop or simply stroll. It would make areas more attractive to people who want to shop and visit as tourists. Cycling provides all those wider benefits.
Cycling can help with rising obesity by increasing regular physical exercise, and it addresses the growing concern about climate change by contributing to reduced emissions of greenhouse gases. It can boost the retail sector, promote tourism and open up the countryside to more visitors. It can reduce the pressure on an over-congested road network, and, most important, it canbe fun.
It is necessary to stress the downside. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith spoke about the perception of danger, but in fact there is danger on roads from congestion, big vehicles and drivers who are less than attentive to their duties as drivers on busy roads. However, it is clear that the positives far outweigh the negatives, and the debate rightly aims at pushing the Government to do more to promote cycling.
Like my hon. Friend, I believe that we ought to direct this debate to local authorities as well. They now have good levels of funding, thanks to the Governments generosity. They have local transport plans for strategic planning in their areas of roads, cycling and transport generally, and we want them to give the same priority to cycling as we are urging on my hon. Friend the Minister.
My hon. Friend gave some examples of local authorities that have been successful in promoting cycling in their area. There has been a marked increase in recreational cycling, and cycling remains an
important transport mode for many people, but, according to the Governments walking and cycling action plan for 2004,
across England as a whole, we have not succeeded in raising cycling levels significantly above the 1996 baseline.
There is one bright, sparkling spot of success that contradicts that conclusion: the national cycle network, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor). The figures that I have are for 2004, when there were more than 201 million trips on the national cycle network, an increase of some 11 per cent. in just one year. The Sustrans report for that year states:
Traffic-free urban routes are crucial to the increased usage of the Network. Whilst the Network grew by 9.3 per cent. in urban areas between 2003 and 2004, cycling...trips on these routes grew by 16.0 per cent..
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