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I thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this debate on a topic that is important to me and a great many of my constituents, and in the curtailed time available I will say something about the need to make cycling a mainstream transport option and address the future funding of cycling.
Cyclists in my constituency have made it clear that they feel cycling, which they are passionate about, has not been taken seriously enough by policy makers. However, I think they will genuinely appreciate the turnout and commitment shown in this debate, which is a sign that the report has already had some impact. When my constituents contacted me they cited simple mistakes and missed opportunities in public policy and planning that have held back cycling and prevented the growth of its popularity. It is difficult to disagree with that sentiment, as the “Get Britain Cycling” report highlighted. Such neglect has prevented cycling from becoming as popular as it might have been, and that is often used as justification for the lack of attention cycling policy receives. As we have heard, cycling undoubtedly brings significant health and environmental benefits, but without political leadership at national and local level it is hard to see how it can move from being a mere afterthought to an acknowledged major means of transportation.
Having listened to the whole debate, it is important to acknowledge that things are not as good as they need to be. A lot of Members have highlighted great practice in their areas, but if we give the impression that we are satisfied with the status quo, that would be wrong. To get things right, the Government, local authorities and transport bodies must ensure that the needs of cyclists are properly taken into account. For the benefit of any of my constituents reading this speech, I acknowledge that my local authority has not always met expectations in that regard, but I will say, if I can, how we are trying to correct that.
The “Get Britain Cycling” report offers a number of practical solutions to address those problems. One is the cross-departmental cycling action plan. That sounds as if it comes straight from “Yes Minister”, but the goal of ensuring that cycling is embodied at top levels of strategic planning and the political agenda is the right one. Taking things a step further, local and central Government have appointed lead politicians for cycling, which again must be a good thing. For example, if we look at the commitment shown to cycling in London on a cross-party basis over many years, we see what can be achieved with a strong strategic plan coupled with the political will to make it successful. Across my constituency and the Greater Manchester area, I am pleased to say that action is being taken to help get Britain cycling.
As I said, I recognise that in the past people have come to me with legitimate complaints because they felt we have not taken advantage of our position as a Greater Manchester borough that sits between Manchester city centre and the Peak District national park, and we have not used cycling fully enough to address that area’s poor public health. Now, however, Transport for Greater Manchester, in partnership with constituent local authorities, is implementing a bold strategy that combines central Government funds with local money to make significant changes. As well as looking at investment in the road network to make cycle-friendly changes to roads and junctions, it is trying to provide facilities specifically for the use of cyclists who wish to ditch their car and cycle to work. Tameside council has taken the lead in that, trying to build a cycling hub in the centre of the borough of Ashton-under-Lyne. Once open, it will give commuting cyclists the chance to lock up their bike, get changed and have a shower before heading to work.
Such ideas lead to the major issue at the heart of this debate which is how we fund and allocate money to transport projects, and the role of cycling within that.
To make things happen there must obviously be a strong commitment from the Government. I welcome the money that has been announced, although there are concerns about the loss of Cycling England. If we are to catch up with our European neighbours—we have heard a lot about Holland today—we must clearly move towards that £10 per head target, as the APPG report recommends.