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I warmly welcome the recommendations in the “Get Britain Cycling” report, and I want to add my congratulations to the all-party parliamentary cycling group on the work that it has done on it. The benefits of increasing cycling to public health, air quality, congestion, the local economy and people’s overall quality of life are huge and undisputed, and the report provides a comprehensive set of steps towards achieving a bold vision.
A cycling revolution is not just about incremental growth in a few areas of the country. As the report sets out, we should be aiming for
“a dramatic increase in the number and diversity of people who cycle, because they see it as a safe and normal activity.”
So, although the warm words about cycling and the extra funding are important, I have been disappointed by the Government’s rather half-hearted and complacent responses to so many of the other recommendations. It has been striking to hear the breadth of support from all parts of the House for more priority to be given to cycling, and I hope that the Minister will now take another look at the merits of being more proactive in making the cycling revolution a reality.
Sitting here this afternoon, I was impressed to hear so many local examples of good practice, and I would like to add a few of my own from Brighton and Hove. Brighton and Hove is a very cycle-friendly city, so let me highlight a few of its fantastic local initiatives. These powerfully illustrate some of the tremendous benefits that could be unlocked by acting on the report and through meaningful political leadership at national level, too.
For example, Brighton and Hove Albion football club is constantly encouraging, promoting and facilitating cycling to the stadium, which is about five miles from the city centre. “Bike train” rides are organised by experienced volunteers to help cyclists to take up a good amount of road space and benefit from safety in numbers. All that helps cut air pollution, so it is not just those on the bikes who are reaping the health benefits. I have taken part in bike train rides on a number of occasions and have experienced how incredibly helpful such schemes are, particularly for getting less confident people on a bike and ensuring that they enjoy the experience by making it feel normal and safe.
Secondly, there is to be an exciting new cycling hub at Brighton railway station, which was approved in July by the city council. This will increase the number of bike spaces by 420 to a total of 670, and provide shower and changing facilities, a bike shop, a café, a cycle repair outlet and bike hire—with these all in one place right at the station, which is great for new and experienced cyclists alike.
Thirdly, we recently introduced a new 1.8 km cycle lane that separates bikes from motorised traffic along Old Shoreham road. People feel much safer, cycle journeys have rocketed by 30%, and it has been praised by many. Such “Copenhagen-style” improvements are crucial for cyclists to feel safe, especially those who are new to cycling or less confident.
In response to requests from residents, the city council is now consulting on a second phase of a programme to introduce 20 mph speed limits. Again, this is not just about cyclists, but about improving the street environment for all road users, including car drivers, by reducing the number and severity of collisions and casualties, improving traffic flows and making the city a safer and better place to live in. A default speed limit of 20 mph is a key recommendation of the report, which I think Ministers should not dismiss so quickly. Changing speed limits is not expensive, and if we are serious about “cycle proofing” all roads, adequate long-term funding is needed for schemes such as new cycle lanes.
Finally, let me say a few words about the great environmental gains—both for local air quality and cutting carbon pollution—that would follow from the UK becoming a true cycling nation. I end by emphasising that there are also very good economic and social reasons, which would alone provide ample grounds for full implementation of all the report’s recommendations. For example, according to a Sustrans report last year, 1.5 million people are in transport poverty. These people are unable to get to jobs, shops, health care or school because they cannot drive or run a car, while public transport is inaccessible and they cannot use bikes either. More investment in bikes would help them tremendously.