I thank Robert Courts for setting the scene for us all. The main town in my borough, Newtownards, is classified as a central business district town or a commuter town. There have been recent moves to expand the Glider service into Newtownards and supply a park and ride for the area. There are also plans, though the city deal, to extend the greenway to enable people to avail themselves of cycle-to-work schemes.
I am fully supportive of the cycle-to-work schemes run in co-operation with Sustrans, which helps workplaces become cycle-friendly employers. That accreditation was developed with the EU project “Bike2Work”, with Cycling UK the recognised provider for the UK. Site auditing and advisory work is provided by Sustrans for organisations in Northern Ireland. Sustrans says:
“We support employers to encourage their staff to consider active travel in their daily routine. Being a cycle-friendly employer brings real benefits by promoting staff health and well-being, reducing absenteeism, increasing productivity and saves organisations money”,
so clearly there are benefits. I believe that in this kind of scheme, there should be funding—at least a token amount, as a gesture—to encourage employers to provide the facilities needed.
The Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland has shown that it practises what it preaches, as it became the second UK organisation to receive international recognition as a cycle-friendly employer. It is to be congratulated, but if funding was there, I honestly believe that more employers would help us to make the goal of carbon-neutral commuting a reality for many people. There are many benefits to this, yet when it comes to funding, we are not so forward-thinking. That needs to change. There is an appetite for change in our cities—and indeed in our lives.
“Bike Life”, the UK’s biggest assessment of cycling in cities, showed that 81% of people in Belfast want more protected bike routes to make cycling safer, even when that could mean less space for other road traffic. Almost three quarters of Belfast residents surveyed supported more investment in cycling, with 71% saying that Belfast would be a better place to live and work if more people cycled. There is a movement and a need for change.
Sustrans, in its mission to educate people, put it succinctly:
“Research shows that keeping physically active can reduce the risk of heart and circulatory disease by as much as 35% and risk of early death by…30%. It’s recommended that adults take part in 2.5 hours of moderate activity per week. But…activity levels in the UK are low: only 40% of men and 28% of women meet these minimum recommendations. One way to achieve this target is to do 30 minutes’
exercise at least five times a week—the perfect length of time for short, local journeys on foot or by bike.”
The charities and institutions are doing their part, but I believe we can do more in this place to make cycling a priority for health and the environment. That must come from increased funding. That puts the onus on the Minister to make the case to his colleagues in the Exchequer.