Cycling — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:18 pm on 10th February 2016.

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Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Parliamentary Under-Secretary 8:18 pm, 10th February 2016

My Lords, I join all other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Young—a former Secretary of State for Transport—for securing this debate and bringing forward a very important issue, which is a key priority for this Government. As he and other noble Lords acknowledged, this is something that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has often talked about. I join my noble friend Lord Young in acknowledging the words and indeed the actions of my colleague at the Department for Transport, my honourable friend Robert Goodwill. Robert is one of those people who not only cycles but puts other Ministers to shame by taking the stairs to the fifth floor at the DfT. We all live in awe of him and I suppose, like others, would seek to emulate him.

During this debate, we have also been on a journey across Europe. I am reminded of many of my early travels to the subcontinent. If you go across the likes of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, I still do not know how cars manage to avoid hitting each other, but within that traffic were many cyclists who had a great knack of avoiding such collisions. I raise that point not just for a lighter moment but to reflect that cycling is a mode of travel important to people’s livelihoods and to the economy.

This Government want to make this country a walking and cycling nation—a place where people routinely make short journeys or stages of longer journeys by walking or cycling. We have a vision of streets that support safe cycling and walking. We are seeing this in some of our cities, with an increasing number of people who choose to incorporate these activities into their lifestyle. As several noble Lords pointed out, they already do so elsewhere, in the Netherlands and Denmark to name but two countries, and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, pointed out, in Italy as well.

To help us realise this vision, we have introduced, as noble Lords have acknowledged, a statutory obligation to produce and update a cycling and walking investment strategy. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, noted, after consultation this will be introduced in the summer. I can confirm that it will be not a draft but a final version of the Government’s strategy in this respect. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that, without prejudging the full contents of what is as yet an unpublished document, safety will be a key feature of this strategy.

I shall outline some of the initiatives that the Government have taken forward. Britain’s roads, as we all acknowledge, are amongst the safest in Europe, but the Government, and indeed others, are not complacent and we can and will do more. Despite this, there is a perception, as we have heard from various noble Lords, that cycling is less safe than it actually is. Looking at 2014, there was one cyclist death for every 34 billion miles travelled. This is fairly comparable with walking, which sees one person killed for every 39 billion miles.

Notwithstanding these statistics—and we can talk about statistics—I totally subscribe to the point that one cyclist death is one too many. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked for an ambition and a target. I cannot give him a percentage figure, because I think that would be the wrong approach—we want to see the eradication of all cycling deaths. Working in partnership with different parties, including local government in London and in other cities, we want to eradicate cycle deaths altogether. That is an ambition that the Government or indeed anybody need to set themselves. I emphasis to noble Lords that the death of any person on the road, whether a cyclist or not, is one death too many.

The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, talked about “Two wheels good, four wheels bad”. When he was talking in those terms, I was reminded, as a father of three children, that when it comes to bicycles my family use four wheels, three wheels and two wheels: two wheels for my daughter, who is 10, four wheels for my son who is three and a half—two plus two with the training wheels makes four; I am reasonably good at maths—and three wheels for a tricycle. That represents the generations that embrace cycling. Perhaps there is a lesson that I can learn from my own children. I count myself as one of those who is probably embracing cycling in the teaching of it by ensuring that my children learn to cycle.

The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, pointed out the importance of education and training. I was a beneficiary of the cycling proficiency tests offered in schools. I am delighted that the Government continue to support it and have recognised it through additional funding of the £50 million for the Bikeability scheme.

As we all recognise, cycling is a form of transport that has positive benefits for the health of the cyclist, for the environment and for the economy. The cycling economy is worth £2.5 billion per annum and 23,000 people are directly employed in bicycle sales. Every year 3 million bicycles are sold in the United Kingdom.

I assure your Lordships, in particular my noble friend Lord Young, that the Government are fully committed to creating and promoting a safe environment for all road users, including cyclists. As I have set out, achieving this vision is by no means straightforward. I acknowledge and align myself to the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, as well as my noble friend Lord Caithness, that this is not just about the Government but that the Government have a key role. The strategy is part of that and involves manufacturers of technology, the police and, as noble Lords have pointed out, cyclists themselves. Lighting on bikes is important. Visibility jackets also help.

The Government are continuing to provide investment to promote the take-up of cycling. In 2010, for every person in this country £2 was spent supporting cycling; spending on cycling is currently £6 per person. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked me specifically for a breakdown of the figures vis-à-vis the £1.39 that he cited. I shall write to him on that. This is a mixture of commitments from central government but also contributions reflecting the priority that local authorities are giving to this issue. There was mention that this may be London-centric, but when we look across the country we see that cycling ambition cities include Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich and Oxford.

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement committed us to investing over £300 million to cycling and walking programmes over the life of this Parliament. This includes £114 million for delivering the Cycle City Ambition programme in full and the £50 million to which I have already alluded for the Bikeability programme. I take on board and will take back the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, as to further clarity. The moneys are often there and it is about finding the best route of sourcing those moneys.

Talking of funding, other sources of long-term funding include £580 million for a new access fund for sustainable transport that the noble Baroness mentioned. That includes £80 million of revenue funding and £500 million of capital funding through the Local Growth Fund. This means everyone who wishes to can invest up to £10 per head in cycling, as these cycling ambition cities are showing. We also know that local enterprise partnerships are already doing a lot to deliver better facilities for cycling and walking, investing over £500 million of the £4 billion allocated to transport so far.

In the mean time, my department continues to oversee the delivery of existing programmes. I have talked about the cycling ambition cities. We are also investing over £200 million to deliver cycling networks including, as noble Lords have suggested, the Dutch model—Dutch-style segregated cycle lanes—in Cambridge and new strategic routes in Greater Manchester. Elsewhere, Highways England’s cycling strategy, launched in January 2016, outlines its plans to provide a safer, integrated and more accessible strategic road network for cyclists and other vulnerable road users. This includes investing £100 million in 200 cycling schemes between now and 2021.

I have mentioned the role of local authorities, and we have heard today about different initiatives that can be taken. They have the flexibility to introduce 20 miles per hour limits. Since 2011, all English local authorities have been able to provide Trixi mirrors at road junctions to make cyclists more visible to drivers and to install “No entry except cycles” signing to facilitate contraflow cycling.

The department has also been working on revising the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions, which will introduce a number of improvements to help local authorities provide for cycling. We have also seen these on our travels. My department has worked with TfL and other local authorities to use some of them ahead of new regulations coming into force—I refer to cycle boxes. Local authorities have also been given guidance to help them to design good schemes within current legislation through Local Transport Note 2/08, which includes best practice highlighted by noble Lords.

There are many schemes under way. I mentioned Bikeability training and education. As we have heard from this debate, this is evolving. Our strategy will underline the importance that this Government attach to cycling. We shall work across the board and, as the strategy comes to fruition, we want to share good practices and ideas—I invite noble Lords to do so—to ensure that we do create that kind of environment that we all desire.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the TfL Safer Lorry Scheme. Again, we need to learn lessons from such initiatives that can be shared as we go down the route of devolution. I believe devolved authorities can share and learn, and such practices should be shared across the board.

Finally, I turn to a point that has been raised in previous debates and was raised today by the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and my noble friend Lord Caithness. Although the majority of cyclists are law-abiding, we recognise there is a proportion who do not obey the laws, for example by cycling without lights or in a dangerous manner or by disobeying traffic signals. This type of behaviour represents a danger to pedestrians and other road users but also to the cyclists themselves. The enforcement of traffic laws is an important part of protecting the safety of all road users.

This has been a very informed, passionate and valuable debate. In my contribution, I hope I have illustrated that the Government see promoting cycling as a safe means of transport as an important issue. With the actions the Government have taken in the past and those through which we continue to build on that, please be assured that the Government are committed to focusing our efforts to promote cycling as a healthy, safe and enjoyable activity for people of all ages.