Active Travel — [Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:34 am on 9th July 2019.

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Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure) 10:34 am, 9th July 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey, and on behalf of the Scottish National party I congratulate Robert Courts on securing this debate. I am grateful to my colleagues from the Transport Committee, and for the work of the Committee Clerks during our recent evidence sessions on active travel. Today we have heard about the health, productivity, environmental, economic and even enhanced love life benefits of cycling, and we all recognise the need for fair funding. We have also touched on the enjoyment of cycling. I have great memories of cycling as a kid; having a bike gave me freedom and independence—something that I have continued to enjoy throughout my life.

Let me speak about what is happening in Scotland and my constituency of Inverclyde. If we are to improve our cycling and walking infrastructure, we need an accurate understanding of people’s current patterns of travel. It is therefore helpful that Cycling Scotland’s annual cycling monitoring report examines trends and statistics at both national and local level. Such work gives us an important insight into current rates of cycling participation. There is significant potential for growth in cycling in my constituency. Nearly 60% of journeys made in Inverclyde are under 5 km, which relates in some way to the fact that 35% of households have no access to a car for private use. Some 24% of households have access to a bike, yet in 2015-16, just 0.4% of people usually cycled to work. A similar picture can be found among school students. In 2016 only 0.8% of primary school students cycled to school, while the average percentage of high school students who cycled to school was 0.1%.

Some will feel tempted to explain those statistics by highlighting the weather in the west of Scotland or the hilly topography of Inverclyde, but it is clear that a great many more people could start cycling if Inverclyde had a more suitable cycling infrastructure. Cycling Scotland is actively working to address that deficit through two main areas of activity in Inverclyde. First, Bikeability Scotland cycle training is a programme for schools that is designed to give children the skills and confidence to cycle safely, and to continue using that mode of travel into adulthood. Secondly, the Cycling Friendly programmes promote local cycling by making workplaces, schools and communities more cycling friendly.

Improving cycling infrastructure is undoubtedly part of the solution in reaching that goal. Locally, Cycling UK has worked with an associate group, the Inverclyde Bothy, on a range of actions related to cycling and walking. Such work includes delivering on road cycling training, working with health authorities to identify opportunities for people to ride a bike, establishing a walking network, liaising with local partners such as Sustrans to identify priority areas for cycling network enhancements, improving safety on the path network, and ensuring that new land and housing developments include plans to promote cycling.

Our local cycling and walking network is greatly enhanced by such work, and I wish to mention the efforts of Cycling UK’s development officer, Josh Wood, and project manager, Shona Morris, whose local expertise and passionate advocacy for cycling has made a real difference. Other organisations include Community Tracks, which is led by Stewart Phillips—the Phillips family and biking in Inverclyde go back generations—and Sustrans, which plays a vital role in supporting local initiatives.

If we were to design and implement a system to support cycling from scratch, I am not sure that we would design what we currently have. Across every constituency a patchwork of organisations, responsibilities and funding streams lobby on behalf of our cycling infrastructure, and that is before we even consider issues such as walking. Since we cannot turn back the clock, we have to live with our current circumstances, but perhaps we can envisage a more efficient way of delivering improvements and streamlining the work undertaken by that patchwork of groups.

More broadly, the Scottish Government committed up to £51 million for active travel infrastructure in 2019-20. In announcing that funding, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson MSP, highlighted the importance of high-quality infrastructure in the Scottish Government’s ambitions for cycling. Representatives from Cycling UK, the walking charity Living Streets, and Sustrans, were united in calling for England to follow Scotland’s lead and allocate 5% of transport spending to active travel, with a view to increasing that to 10% in future. If we are serious about tackling climate change, air pollution, traffic congestion and the health ramifications of inactivity, we must show a commitment to our cycling and walking infrastructure. The long-term costs of not treating that issue as a priority will be significant. In conclusion, I thank those organisations that promote cycling and walking in my constituency, and I urge hon. Members to ensure that the relevant authorities, from local councils to the UK Government, allocate sufficient funding to match our ambitions for active travel.