Active Travel — [Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 9th July 2019.

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Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney 9:30 am, 9th July 2019

The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point, which is very much in line with my points. Investment in cycling and walking in England has trebled since 2010. We spent roughly £2 per person annually in 2010; the figure is now around £7.50. That is a significant increase, but it is still some way behind the world’s most cycle-friendly countries. The Dutch, for example, invest around £26 per person annually on cycling and have been doing so for around 40 years. That is probably the crux of the hon. Gentleman’s point, and it may explain why 26% of trips are cycled in the Netherlands, compared with less than 2% in Britain. We are looking to address that strategic funding over the months and years ahead, but that will not happen overnight. Realistically, it may not even happen by 2025, but we need to start moving in the right direction. I ask the Government to use the forthcoming spending review period to increase investment in active travel. No doubt the Minister will address that point in due course.

It is not just a matter of central Government funding. When I was at the Bar and working in the centre of Oxford, I used to travel from where I live in Bladon, near Woodstock, down the A44, which, as I mentioned, has a wonderful, almost completely off-road cycle path. I was struck by the fact that it was not as well used as it ought to have been. A lot of the difficulty is in what happens at the other end. I make no criticism of where I used to work, but the difficulty arises when a cyclist gets off their bike. In my case, working at the Bar, if I needed to go to court or to meet clients, I needed to be in a presentable state. That is not easy if there are no adequate changing facilities at the other end. Some organisations provide those facilities, which is wonderful—I know that Oxfordshire County Council does—but we need to see more investment in the public and the private sectors. Once cycling facilities are in, that is all well and good, but people also need the facilities at the other end so that they can make themselves fit and ready for the working day.

The cycling and walking strategy also encourages local authorities to develop what are called local cycling and walking infrastructure plans for high-quality cycling and walking networks and then to prioritise schemes to deliver them. The Government have supported 46 councils so far to develop their local infrastructure plans, but there is no dedicated funding stream to help them to do so. Without that, local authorities may not be able to plan and develop comprehensive cycling and walking networks with any confidence. I ask the Department for Transport to work with the Treasury at the spending review to develop a dedicated funding stream to enable local authorities to implement ambitious local cycling and walking infrastructure plans.

That appeal is part of the joined-up thinking that we hear so much about in the House and that we would like to see more of. I ask the Minister to press for greater joined-up thinking to ensure that all Departments are pulling in the same direction. I make that appeal with particular passion, because of the B4044 community path I alluded to earlier. I want to mention it in a little more detail, and I have raised it repeatedly with the Minister’s predecessor and the Secretary of State.

The B4044 is a key route between Eynsham, which will experience significant housing growth in the coming years, and Oxford. The path is the brainchild of Bike Safe, a passionate group of local cyclists who are campaigning for high-quality, safe, local cycle infrastructure. I commend the group’s passion and drive, and will never forget my visit to the project in its early stages. The group has done very well in giving it such a high profile. I ask the Minister to work with Oxfordshire County Council to explore what can be done to deliver this crucial project at the earliest possible opportunity, either through the housing infrastructure fund or as a stand-alone project.

I also want to mention the Hanborough pedestrian bridge in the context of integrated transport networks. It is all very well having great train services, roads that are quick and easy, and cycle paths, but they must link up. We need people to be able to get on their bikes and get to the train station. They may want to get on a bus to get to the train station. When they get there, they want the trains to be regular and reliable. We need to ensure that the journey from home to workplace can be undertaken on public transport and in an integrated fashion.

The Hanborough pedestrian bridge is a good example, and I fully support it. It has been energetically and admirably pursued by Hanborough Parish Council and will provide safer access for pedestrians and cyclists seeking to get to Hanborough station, which is vital to my constituency because it serves not just the villages of Long Hanborough and Church Hanborough, but also Witney and wider West Oxfordshire. People need to be able to get on the cycle path and the footpath safely at that narrow pinch point over the bridge, and they also need to be able to leave their bike at the train station if there is not enough space to take it on the train.

It is also vital that the schemes we are discussing are safe for all users—I think particularly of those who are visually impaired or who have other restrictions on their travel. Any infrastructure that is put in ought to cater for all users in the community, including the vulnerable.

I welcome the Government’s ambition to promote active travel, but I want to see further action to ensure that the encouraging words are joined by decisive action that will enable the targets of the cycling and walking investment strategy to be met and then enable us to go further still. That will require three things, which I look forward to hearing the Minister address in his remarks.

First, the Government should use the forthcoming spending review period to increase investment in active travel, with an eye to meeting, and if possible exceeding, the aims and targets of the cycling and walking investment strategy. Secondly, I ask the Department for Transport to work with the Treasury to develop a dedicated funding stream that will enable local authorities to implement ambitious local cycling and walking infrastructure plans to develop world-class local active travel networks. Thirdly, the Department for Transport should work across Departments, particularly with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, to ensure that its ambitions for active travel are supported and not undermined by other Departments. That way we can have an integrated strategy within Government to provide us with an integrated transport strategy in West Oxfordshire and all our constituencies.