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We have learned some fascinating things today, notably that the Emperor Hadrian created his great wall not to keep the Picts out of England, as many of us thought, but to provide the Northumberland tourism board with a cycleway.
I join the wave of enthusiasm for this debate and its two sponsors, the hon. Members for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and for Dudley North (Ian Austin), but I will risk sounding a curmudgeonly note by giving their report, “Get Britain Cycling”, only two cheers rather than three. The reason for that is the report’s specific recommendations. First, I would like the title to be “Let Britain Cycle”, rather than the more prescriptive “Get Britain Cycling”.
I am not mad about more Government action plans and annual reports—they are not best sellers on the whole. I am not convinced that appointing cycling tsars in central and local government and in devolved authorities “responsible for cycling” will add to the numbers who get on their bikes. Can we all not be responsible for our own cycling and, like the best missionaries, let our happiness encourage others to get on their bikes, without having tsars?
The report recommends national targets. Just as I do not want to see Gloucestershire Royal hospital bristling with targets and performance indicators but bereft of compassion, so I do not want to see cycling targets without the fun. Besides, most of the statistics are extremely dodgy. How, for example, does Hugh Bayley know that as many women as men cycle in York? Who compiles the statistics? To quote British Cycling,
“Better measures of cycle use at a local level have been introduced recently…but these only give an indication of self-reported cycle use, not distance travelled or numbers of trips.”
I therefore believe that the statistical measurements and targets that are suggested by the all-party group at best are optimistic and at worst delude us that we can measure cycling precisely.
Instead, I would like today to be a celebration of cycling by all of us who have enjoyed cycling. Before the end of this Parliament, I will celebrate 50 years of cycling by going back to my first commercial journey, which I made to pick peas four miles from home. There was a wonderful steep hill—more fun going down than up—very few cars and that great sense of freedom and fun that one gets from being on a bike. That is my focus for this debate: freedom and fun, not traffic jams and road rage, from which so many other travellers seem to suffer.
I believe the Government have been given a bit of a hard time this evening about their expenditure, because it seems to me that £128 million in five years is good news. I am particularly pleased with the local sustainable transport fund, which for a few hundred thousand pounds will make a huge difference in Gloucester—my constituency—with improved routes, signs, cycle racks and even a cycle hub. I look forward to road testing those new routes in a few weeks with an excellent representative from our county council, our local bike action group chairman, Toby, and BBC Radio Gloucestershire presenter, Mark Cummings. We will also look at some of the problem areas, and if the all-party group or the Minister know of a good solution to roundabouts, please let me know the best practice.
Our time has been sharply curtailed, so in conclusion: yes, cycling makes life better for all, but I urge the all-party group not to become obsessed with statistics and to focus more on cycling being fun for all. Let the Government expand their programme for the big cities to the small cities. That will be good value for money and great news for places such as Gloucester.