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Part of Backbench Business — Private Members’ Bills – in the House of Commons at 7:54 pm on 2nd September 2013.

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Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 7:54 pm, 2nd September 2013

It is a pleasure to take part in the debate and I welcome both it and the all-party group’s report. It is good to see cross-party agreement on such a positive issue, and I hope that when the Minister responds he will give us the assurances we are all looking for.

So far, Ministers and the Department have been full of warm words of support and like to give the impression that this country is freewheeling towards becoming a cycling nation on a par with, say, Holland. I am afraid that we are not even ambling in that direction; we need sustained action and leadership from Ministers if we want to achieve that in a reasonable time frame.

Many hon. Members have spoken of the benefits of cycling to individuals, to children, to society, to cities and to the environment. At the end of July, Newcastle Gateshead hosted its first sky ride. It was an amazing success, with 7,800 people attending, and shows just how many people in Newcastle and Gateshead want to get on their bikes if they can feel safe doing so. The north-east has some of the lowest cycling levels in the UK, with just 8% of people cycling once a week. We also—this fact is perhaps related—have higher than average levels of obesity and lower levels of physical activity in adults. I pay tribute to the work Newcastle city council is doing and to its commitment to supporting cycling.

In Newcastle, we are lucky to have strong cross-party political leadership on cycling. We have an enthusiastic cycling champion, Councillor Marion Talbot, who chairs our cycling forum, which brings together the many different voices for cycling in our city. There is, however, a lack of such strong political leadership at a national level. The abolition of Cycling England, set up under the previous Labour Government, means that there is now also no dedicated pot of money and, equally, no focal point for cycling. We have ad hoc announcements and re-announcements, and then repackaged re-announcements. When separate pots of money are released seemingly at random for cycling and infrastructure, it makes it difficult for local authorities like Newcastle to plan cycling development. The abolition of Cycling England means that there is no obvious means for councils to share ideas and the great best practice we have heard about today other than through the mysterious cycle stakeholder forum, which is yet to be mentioned but which has apparently met three times in the three years it has existed—for what purpose, nobody seems to know.