Cycling — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:10 pm on 10th February 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector) 8:10 pm, 10th February 2016

My Lords, I take my inspiration this evening from my former colleague Julian Huppert, who was largely responsible for the Get Britain Cycling report.

The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, referred to Holland. Last year I went to northern Italy. There is some true inspiration to be found there. I was at Lake Garda and the image of a man cycling up an Alp—a gradient of eye-watering proportions—while talking to his mate on his mobile phone will stay with me for a long time. But what was more impressive was the city of Parma. It has a medieval heart but it is a heavy industrial city with lots of big lorries, and it is a city in which cycling, motoring and walking are fully integrated. People of all ages coexist at junctions—on Italian roads. I commend it. I do not know why the people of Parma have cracked this and we cannot, but they have.

I will talk briefly about funding. There is a real problem at the moment with the Local Sustainable Transport Fund coming to an end and the access fund coming into being from 2016. The Minister and I had an exchange about the amount of money yesterday but the key problem is that the staff employed by local authorities to teach cycle safety to children, but also at weekends to adults, are likely to be lost because of the uncertainty of funding from March this year. As a woman who after 30 years of inactivity got back on a bike, it was going along to my local authority training scheme that gave me the confidence to get back on a bike and to cycle in London.

It is not that there are not sources of funding. There are lots of different pots of money. There is the Highways England cycling fund, Bikeability, the cycle city ambition grants, the access fund and the Local Growth Fund. What there is not is any clarity about how they all fit together and how local authorities can best access them. I wonder whether the Minister can give some clarity on that.

Secondly, will the Minister accept that for those local authorities, particularly outside London, that really do want to make progress on this, getting access to top design and to information about what works is very important, particularly these days when local authority budgets are stretched? Although there are good examples—TfL and the Welsh Assembly have come up with really good designs—getting national guidelines that would bring down the cost of implementing good design and good practice around the country is quite difficult for local authorities. I wonder whether across the many government departments that have responsibility for this there might be some joined-up thinking.

I agree with the many noble Lords who have said that it is only when people feel safe that they will cycle. In some cases that means bringing in dedicated cycle lanes. In some cases that is not possible and it is about ensuring that cyclists, HGV drivers and car drivers all understand how best to preserve the safety of everybody on the roads.

Following the Olympics, we really do have a legacy for cycling in this country. We have the ability to make a small investment that will reap great rewards, not least for the National Health Service in terms of the health gain that will come from it. All we need from this Government is a bit of joined-up funding and leadership to enable those local authorities that want to work on this to do so, and to take inspiration so that we can continue to beat the Italians at the Olympics.