Cycling in England

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:44 pm on 21 January 2011.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport 2:44, 21 January 2011

As is customary, I congratulate my hon. Friend Dr Huppert on securing the debate and on his eloquent contribution and his passionate support for cycling.

I strongly agree that cycling generates important social, environmental and health benefits. The role it can play in relieving congestion, improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions is clear and well accepted. Regular cycling has other important benefits, in particular for health, reducing by half many chronic illnesses, including heart disease. Cycling can also help us to address the obesity problems that cost the NHS and wider society around £20 billion annually.

As well as the wider benefits, we should not lose sight of the simple truth that cycling can be a great way to get around-a convenient and low-cost way to make short journeys. The key question is how we can lift the barriers that deter people from regular cycling. The coalition agreement makes a commitment to supporting sustainable travel, including walking and cycling. The Department for Transport will be investing £58 million in cycling over the current financial year. Cycling receives further Government support through local transport plan funding to local authorities and the DFT grant to Transport for London.

On Wednesday, as we have already heard, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Norman Baker, published a White Paper on local transport alongside bidding guidance for the new local sustainable transport funds. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge for the support he has expressed for that important initiative. I believe the measures announced by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will prove to be a significant step towards realising two of the coalition's most important objectives-creating growth and cutting carbon. The White Paper sets out how we can encourage the uptake of more sustainable modes locally, supported by the £560 million allocated to the new sustainable transport fund.

In answer to the questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge about the relative importance to be placed on creating growth and cutting carbon, the answer is that weight will be given to both, taking into account each scheme's overall merits. He will realise that in many cases similar actions can both generate economic benefits and cut carbon.

It will be up to local authorities to decide what goes into their bids, but the case for cycling is so compelling that I am certain many councils will want to include cycling projects in their bids to the fund. We therefore expect cycling programmes to attract substantial support from the new fund. We are strongly encouraging local authorities to work with voluntary and private sector partners when putting forward their bids. That will open up opportunities for the involvement of groups such as CTC, Sustrans and the Campaign for Better Transport.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, our first commitment in relation to the local sustainable transport fund is on cycle training. The coalition has confirmed Bikeability funding for the remainder of the Parliament, confounding some of the anxieties created by the abolition of Cycling England. Learning to cycle safely and confidently on today's roads is a valuable life skill and a key part of our strategy to promote cycling. The national cycle training scheme currently receives funding of £11 million, providing up to 275,000 Bikeability training places. Earlier this week, we announced a further £11 million for Bikeability training in 2011-12.

To get first hand experience of Bikeability, I decided to have a go myself. I very much enjoyed being taught the level 1 and 2 courses by David Dansky of Cycle Training UK. At the end of the lesson, I certainly felt my hand signals had improved and were much more positive.

Recently published research demonstrates how highly Bikeability is regarded by parents and the children who take part in the scheme. Children reported to the survey that, after the training, they generally felt safer and more confident when riding on the road. It is clear that parents feel more confident allowing their children to ride on the road, because the child's ability to judge risks will have been strengthened by the training they have received.

To complement our education programmes, we will set aside £13 million from the fund in 2011-12 for links to school, bike club and walking to school initiatives, delivering additional cycle parking and infrastructure changes for safer links to schools-something my hon. Friend mentioned.

In preparing their bids for money from the new fund, local authorities might well wish to emulate the approach taken in the cycling demonstration town programme, which has delivered impressive results. Darlington managed to double cycling in four years. In the first six towns that took part, there was an average increase of 27% in the number of people cycling regularly. Assessment of the programme indicates that the congestion, health and other benefits-benefits of the sort that my hon. Friend mentioned, to do with air pollution and the public realm-generated by the programme were three times greater than the amount of money spent on the programme.

My hon. Friend expressed concerns about problems integrating cycling journeys with public transport. Again, that could prove another fruitful source of ideas for local authority bids to the local sustainable transport fund. The bike 'n' ride demonstration projects running over recent years are a model worth considering for the future. They have improved facilities for cyclists at rail stations run by South West Trains, Merseyrail, Northern and Virgin Trains. Hundreds of additional cycle parking facilities have been provided at stations run by those train operators, together with hire facilities at Waterloo, Richmond and Southport. That project complements wider Department for Transport work to support the establishment of cycle hubs at key rail stations, the hub in Leeds being the first to open, last September.

The announcement that I made earlier this week on a move to longer rail franchises will give train operators stronger incentives to invest in improving stations. That, of course, could include the provision of cycle parking. Chiltern Railways is an example of a longer franchise; it was able to deliver a considerable uplift in cycle parking places, but as we judge the bids coming in for rail franchises, we will certainly look at the ideas that bidders and train operators have for improving linkages with cycling, and for making it easier to integrate cycling into the rail system.

The Department continues to monitor the voluntary station travel plan pilot schemes, which can provide clear benefits to cyclists as part of efforts to integrate rail successfully with other sustainable modes of transport. My hon. Friend highlighted the cycle to work scheme; it continues to provide tax incentives that enable employers to help those who wish to switch to commuting to work by bicycle. A concern here is the judgment in the AstraZeneca case; the Government are currently looking at how that case might impact on the scheme to see whether we can resolve any resulting difficulties.

My hon. Friend rightly highlighted safety issues as being one of the barriers that can sometimes deter people from cycling. It is not really for me to start dictating to the Crown Prosecution Service about their decisions on prosecutions-I am sure that he anticipated that answer-but there are a range of other ways in which the Government can help to tackle concerns about road safety and cycling. First, of course, The Highway Code emphasises the importance of watching out for cyclists. I agree with my hon. Friend that strengthening driver awareness of cyclists should be an important priority in our continuing work to improve the driving test and driver training. It is already very much a focus of driver training and the driving test, but we acknowledge the continuing importance of that work.

Secondly, we encourage local authorities to make their roads safer for all users. We stand ready to offer advice on the options available, including the 20 mph zones that my hon. Friend supports. However, I am sure that he will agree that such decisions need to be taken locally, in the light of local circumstances. Thirdly, we are providing local government with the funding to improve cycle routes and networks through local transport plans and, in future, via the local sustainable transport fund.

My hon. Friend is right: we should be careful not to overestimate the risks associated with cycling, in case we find ourselves being part of the problem and deter people from doing more cycling. It is worth noting that the health benefits offered by cycling clearly outweigh the road safety risk. We still need to make our streets more welcoming to cyclists. The DFT's "Manual for Streets" emphasises the importance of providing for cyclists and pedestrians. My hon. Friend is right to say that a user hierarchy recommended in that document places pedestrians and cyclists at the top. "Manual for Streets 2" was recently published after a lot of input from different stakeholders. My understanding is that those documents are heavily used by local authorities in their work on our roads and streets. The uptake of those documents is more extensive than my hon. Friend has been led to believe.

In response to my hon. Friend's point about signage, I, too, very much welcome the trial of the "No entry-except cycles" sign. He is right: it has been a very long time coming. The results of the trial will be part of the signs review included in the White Paper which was announced this week by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge, I hope that that sign will be seen more widely on England's streets in future.

As for road racing, officials from the Department for Transport, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office have been working with British Cycling and the Association of Chief Police Officers to explore ways of improving procedures for holding cycle races on public roads and addressing the issues that my hon. Friend rightly raised. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary met British Cycling representatives earlier this week, and we have identified an existing legal power that enables the police to give directions for places at which traffic must stop for the race, and for cycle race marshals to hold a sign for that purpose. It is not sorted yet, but we hope that that might provide a solution to the major concerns expressed by the cycle racing community. Working with British Cycling, we have identified amendments to regulations to improve procedures for authorising cycle races, and the Under-Secretary is keen that they should be introduced.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge concluded by expressing concern about the Department for Transport developing its own cycle journey planner when good websites such as CycleStreets are already available. Given the importance of the issue, there is room for Government action to complement the websites provided by the private sector, particularly given our focus on providing novice cyclists with the information that they need to encourage them to go out cycling, so that they are confident they can identify easier and safer routes.

We have begun to see real progress on cycling. My hon. Friend discussed the long history and success of cycling in Cambridge. London, too, is a great success story, as the number of cyclists in the capital has more than doubled over the past decade. Some 27,000 people now enter central London by bike every day. That shows that with the right measures it is possible to make a difference and create the right conditions for cycling to grow, generating the health, congestion, carbon and quality-of-life benefits that he rightly highlighted.

In conclusion, the 19th-century reformer and suffragette, Frances E. Willard, wrote in a preface to one of her books:

"She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life."

I am not sure whether that overstates things, but there is no doubt about the benefits that cycling can bring for quality of life. I strongly recommend it to all hon. Members, and I look forward to working with my hon. Friend in encouraging greater uptake of cycling by members of the public.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.


John Byng
Posted on 24 Jan 2011 12:28 pm (Report this annotation)

I am glad that Theresa Villiers says
"as we judge the bids coming in for rail franchises, we will certainly look at the ideas that bidders and train operators have for improving linkages with cycling, and for making it easier to integrate cycling into the rail system." But it is important that operators should include on train facilities as well as station facilities.
Many difficult journeys can only include bikes and trains if the cyclists are enabled to take their bikes with them. Unless this need is catered for the cyclists feel a need to buy cars and once a car is owned bike and train use drops off. It is therefore important to improve facilities for bikes on trains.

Peter Miller
Posted on 25 Jan 2011 8:23 am (Report this annotation)

The Transport Direct journey planner was launched in 2004 with UK coverage for public transport and car journeys. This was impressive for its time - in the year that Flickr was founded and the year before Google first offered mapping and routing. It was also the year that OpenStreetMap was founded here in the UK.

Since then times have changed. Google now offer free public transport journey planning for anywhere that will provide them with data. OpenStreetMap is now a major global open data project with support of MicroSoft, AOL and the Ordnance Survey and rapidly improving UK coverage. CycleStreets offers an excellent national cycle journey planner using OpenStreetMap data. In summary, the market is now read to provide many of the service that Transport Direct was set up to provide and its role should be reviewed to avoid competing with the private and voluntary sectors.

Personally I believe that Transport Direct will continue to have a vital role to play ensuring that public transport schedules are collected and made available in a suitable electronic form through for use by any organisation that wishes to provide services to the public. This is not yet happening, Google are still unable to access public transport data for much of the country, my company, ITO World, is not able to use public transport schedules in the way we wish. I know that many other organisations are also keen to access this data.

As these 3rd parties take up the slack I suggest that the department should wind down its public facing journey planner function and direct any available money towards these external projects. In relation to cycling I believe that the Department should limit its role to supporting the existing voluntary projects. This article makes the point in relation to cycling very clearly.

Katja Leyendecker
Posted on 28 Jan 2011 9:05 pm (Report this annotation)

As is customary I congratulate Mr Huppert on securing this debate. Great strides. Thank you.

And a lot of encouraging words from Ms Villiers. However, I thought these are prepared questions and answer. How come Ms Villiers did not provide answers to all questions?

"It will be up to local authorities to decide what goes into their bids" - local authorities do not have the skills, or are just developing their skills of effectively designing sustainable travel (in an otherwise generally still car-domineered council environment).

These are worrying times as sustainable modes now compete with each other, and local authorities compete amongst each other to secure these funds too.

Community support is important for LSTF and will be viewed favourably. That's good.

Katja Leyendecker
Posted on 26 Feb 2011 8:54 pm (Report this annotation)

She says "In preparing their bids for money from the new fund, local authorities might well wish to emulate the approach taken in the cycling demonstration town programme"

Funding for the Cycling Demo Towns (and one city) was eminently higher - at about £10 a head per year - than the pitiful £560m over four years for all modes of sustainable transport - which boils down to some £1 per head per year. (For calculation

Furthermore, my council does not know how to tackle cycling in a society addicted to cars. It's a combination of lacking skills, appalling attitude to community involvement and general disbelief that cycling brings an economic benefit.

Despite Ms Villiers overwhelming verbal support, cycling does not stand a real chance with these policies.

Central political leadership is needed, which has been withdrawn by this government by the abolition of Cycling England.

Government of course could scrap another (but rather more dubious) DfT project: HS2. And fund cycling. The rewards would be immense.