I thank the hon. Lady very much for her intervention, because she touches on the crux of the issue. Everyone says that they want to make this happen, but when it comes to implementation, they need a stronger arm to make sure it does. In Abingdon, there is no masterplan for integrating cycle routes between different developments, despite the fact that new housing could and should provide a new route between Abingdon and Radley, where the railway station would make a fantastic cycling parkway station. We need to make sure that when plans for the redevelopment of Oxford station come forward, proper cycling facilities are front and centre of them. Julia Bird points out that the lack of investment and facilities means that she often does not take her bike with her into the city centre because it would get stolen, so she keeps
“a basic one for fear it'll get pinched.”
Connectivity is the key. As the report points out,
“Provision at dispersed employment sites is worse” than in Oxford city.
It also states:
“Provision for out-city commuters is key but barely exists.”
It is crucial that the communities and towns surrounding Oxford are not forgotten.
Another potential wasted opportunity is the upcoming Oxford flood alleviation scheme, which I am not told will not include a cycle path that would connect Oxford to Abingdon, despite repeated assurances at the beginning of the scheme that that would be put in place. May I beg the Minister to have a word with his colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? It would be so much cheaper to do this now than to do it retrospectively. As my fantastic colleague Councillor Emily Smith points out, it is vital that there is more joined up working, not just between Government and the councils, but between the district, county and city councils, and that existing funding for cycle routes that are under threat is not lost. I would be grateful for any support the Minister can give to impress on all the councils to actively work together.
Moving from the local to the national, I would like to see the Gilligan report be a catalyst for action across the country. The importance of mainstreaming cycle-planning, integrated networks, consistent design standards and the wider aim of traffic reduction cannot be overstated. When the Department has reviewed its guidance on cycling infrastructure design, it needs to be applied consistently. It is clear that in Oxfordshire we have the political will, but support from the Government is crucial to reallocating road space from motor traffic to cycling.
So, how do we achieve all that? As Andrew Gilligan himself says, the plans will need money, alongside a change in the national view of cycling as unimportant and unworthy of serious spending. The £150 million suggested in the report sounds like a lot, but it is necessary, and it does not begin to compare to the amounts being invested in new road facilities—for example, as part of the controversial Oxford to Cambridge expressway. Critically, the money must not be a series of taps turned on and off; instead, we need a long-term strategic commitment to improving cycling infrastructure, not just in Oxford but across the country. Investing in road and rail without cycle infrastructure would be the wrong approach.
Given that officials are already starting to prepare for the Treasury’s next cross-departmental spending review, I am keen to do anything that I can to support the Minister in his bid to secure a better national funding settlement for cycling and walking. For example, I would like to see realised the 2013 “Get Britain Cycling” report’s ambition of there being spending of £10 per person annually, rising to £20 per person later. I of course welcome the Government’s cycling and walking investment strategy, but it could and should be much more ambitious. Rather than small investments that double the number of cyclists nationwide from 2% to 4%, we need to get the proportion to a fifth at the very least.
Of the £340 million that has so far been allocated specifically for walking and cycling, does the Minister know how much has been spent, where and how? I am told that he does not. If he does not, how do we know that any of the various schemes are going to work? The report was clear that it is better not to spend money at all than to spend it badly. Will the Minister also say how much of that money is left, so that all the rest of it can be spent in Oxford?
The report concludes that congestion in Oxford is close to unmanageable and brings pollution and health problems. In the longer term the investment will pay for itself; will the Minister confirm that his Treasury colleagues will take that into account in the spending review? Cycling not only benefits people’s physical health but reduces air pollution. Investment in cycling benefits policy aims in not only the Department for Transport but in the Department of Health and Social Care, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—win, win, win, win.
In conclusion, we have a huge opportunity in Oxfordshire. With a cross-departmental, long-term approach from the Government, better working between councils and local organisations, and the funding boost recommended by the Gilligan report, we can be ambitious for the future of cycling in Oxford. I hope that the Minister and his Department will help Oxfordshire to realise its ambitions to be a world leader and the country’s greatest cycling city.