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I add my congratulations to Dr Huppert and the all-party group on securing this important debate, which has provoked a great deal of interest from my constituents. I have had a large number of e-mails, although it is worth noting that only one of them came from a woman. My hon. Friend Graham Evans and Hugh Bayley commented on the cycling gender gap. It is interesting to note—this comes from the Breeze website—that more than three times as many men as women participate in cycling.
In Hampshire, the bikability scheme is run by Mountbatten school in Romsey. It gave evidence to the all-party group and has contributed to the “Get Britain Cycling” report, which is an excellent report containing brilliant ideas. Annually, the Hampshire schools cycling partnership delivers in excess of 12,000 cycle courses throughout Hampshire, Portsmouth and Southampton, in more than 300 schools. There is a commitment within the partnership to make cycle training available to all, and to make both bikes and helmets available to those who do not have them. There is a belief that cycling is an essential life skill, and that every young person should receive a safe grounding in cycling skills and road use.
Test Valley borough has, for the past 16 years, run the Test valley tour, an off-road cycling event that encourages participants from serious cyclists down to the weekend pedaller to enjoy the Hampshire countryside. This weekend, as part of the borough’s Olympic legacy project, a new BMX track is being opened in Valley park. There is not only a competition-standard track, but a learner track, to ensure that all levels of cyclist can get involved. It is important to remember that cycling is about not just mountain and road bikes; people can participate in a broad range of cycling. It is not just about getting from A to B, which much of the debate has focused on; cycling can be fun for its own sake.
It would be wrong to suggest that all is rosy in Hampshire. The experience of off-road cycle ways and of the conflict with road junctions is the same as we have heard from many hon. Members. Test Valley works hard to ensure that there is a network of off-road cycle routes, but the one that always comes to my attention is the route running alongside the A3057. Often, we see cyclists on the road rather than the cycleway, which frustrates motorists. However, when I drill down with cyclists as to what the problem is, they tell me not only that we need capital investment to provide cycleways, but that cycleways need maintaining. They say that the small stones they find if the cycleways are not swept can be lethal to the thin tyres of road bikes. Indeed, the tarmac surface of the road is often better for serious athletes wishing to train and get up to good speeds.
There is also conflict with the many junctions on the road way. I am thinking in particular of Heron lane in Timsbury, where the markings are not clear. Road users seeking to access the A3057 often meet speeding cyclists on the cycleway who believe they have priority, when in fact the motorist has priority. There are many near misses, which provokes anxiety for motorist and cyclist alike.
I am not suggesting that better signage is a panacea. In rural areas, opting for red or—dare I say it?—blue tarmac is incongruous, and does not fit well with the countryside. It is important that we look for tailor-made solutions and that we are innovative in junction improvements. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
I should conclude with one suggestion from a cyclist, who said that we need a similar legislative framework to that of Italy—hon. Members will be pleased that he identified Italy rather than the Netherlands. In Italy, the presumption is that the liability for any accident is with the motorist and not with the cyclist.
One of our great Olympians, Laura Trott, said at the weekend that:
“It’s not always the car’s fault…Cyclists need to help themselves”.
Of course, she is right.