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I have enjoyed listening to the debate and I commend Alison Johnstone for giving us the opportunity to focus on the benefits of cycling and active travel.
I am glad that pedestrians feature in the motion because, in sharp contrast to my colleague John Lamont, I am not a proficient cyclist, although I do quite a bit of walking. I was not allowed a bike of my own as a child, because we lived on a busy main road, and I regret that as a result I have missed out on a lot of the enjoyment that competent cyclists experience, so I sympathise with the calls to make cycling safer for and accessible to all children.
We have heard much about the many benefits of cycling and it is encouraging that an increasing number of people are taking it up because, in a busy modern world, it is all too easy to become less and less active physically and to suffer the health consequences of a sedentary lifestyle.
As recently as 2010, the Scottish health survey found that 61 per cent of adults and 28 per cent of children did not meet the recommended physical activity level of 30 minutes of moderate activity five times a week. That is simply not good enough if we are to tackle obesity and its attendant risks of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, to name but a few long-term conditions that are prevalent in an underactive population. Cycling can aid weight loss even in the absence of dieting and, as well as having physical benefits, it has been proven to assist in preventing and overcoming depression. Indeed, statistics show that people who undertake regular moderate activity, such as cycling to work, enjoy the wellbeing of people a decade younger, as well as being more alert, more self-confident and better able to cope with stress and anxiety.
I find walking an excellent way to enjoy our beautiful countryside, and cycling enables people to see even more of it—that is particularly true of cycling on mountain bikes, which allows people to go on fairly rough terrain. Such activities are a great attraction for tourists, and it is good to see mountain biking tracks being developed at Glenshee, the Lecht and other ski centres, which have, of course, suffered from a lack of snow this winter.
Studies done last year reckoned that mountain biking contributes £139 million to the Scottish economy, which is expected to rise to £155 million by 2016. So, it is an activity to be encouraged.
The minister may be interested to know that yesterday I met the chief executive of Glasgow 2014 Ltd, the organiser of the Commonwealth games. We discussed a range of issues, including the role that cycling will play in the games and the possible benefits from the games in terms of a physical activity legacy. In that regard, I note the caveat from Ramblers Scotland that such benefits will be achieved only if there is a massive increase in the proportion of the population who spend much more time walking or cycling.
I was interested to learn that the stunning new Sir Chris Hoy velodorome is scheduled to open in Glasgow in October, which will allow members of the public to use it for almost two years before the games take place. Given the intention to encourage people to cycle and walk during the course of the games, it would be no bad thing if ministers were to lead by example and get on their bikes instead of into their expensive ministerial cars.
No debate on cycling would be complete without a mention of the nation’s favourite cyclist: the mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Boris bikes have now become as much a feature of the capital city as red buses and Big Ben. His groundbreaking initiative of introducing 6,000 sponsored bikes for hire around London and 400 docking stations is, as he himself has said,
“a glorious new form of public transport”.
Therefore, I was pleased to learn that there are plans to extend the scheme across the east end of the city. That is one reason why members on this side of the chamber look forward to seeing Boris re-elected for another term as mayor of London. We might do well to pick up on some of his ideas.