Chi Onwurah MP – Get Britain Cycling

Chi Onwurah MP speech in Commons on ‘Get Britain Cycling’ go to 1:52:10

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Chi Onwurah MP – Newcastle Central

Chi Onwurah: It is a pleasure to take part in the debate and I welcome both it and the all-party group’s report. It is good to see cross-party agreement on such a positive issue, and I hope that when the Minister responds he will give us the assurances we are all looking for.

So far, Ministers and the Department have been full of warm words of support and like to give the impression that this country is freewheeling towards becoming a cycling nation on a par with, say, Holland. I am afraid that we are not even ambling in that direction; we need sustained action and leadership from Ministers if we want to achieve that in a reasonable time frame.

Many hon. Members have spoken of the benefits of cycling to individuals, to children, to society, to cities and to the environment. At the end of July, Newcastle Gateshead hosted its first sky ride. It was an amazing success, with 7,800 people attending, and shows just how many people in Newcastle and Gateshead want to get on their bikes if they can feel safe doing so. The north-east has some of the lowest cycling levels in the UK, with just 8% of people cycling once a week. We also—this fact is perhaps related—have higher than average levels of obesity and lower levels of physical activity in adults. I pay tribute to the work Newcastle city council is doing and to its commitment to supporting cycling.

In Newcastle, we are lucky to have strong cross-party political leadership on cycling. We have an enthusiastic cycling champion, Councillor Marion Talbot, who chairs our cycling forum, which brings together the many different voices for cycling in our city. There is, however, a lack of such strong political leadership at a national level. The abolition of Cycling England, set up under the previous Labour Government, means that there is now also no dedicated pot of money and, equally, no focal point for cycling. We have ad hoc announcements and re-announcements, and then repackaged re-announcements. When separate pots of money are released seemingly at random for cycling and infrastructure, it makes it difficult for local authorities like Newcastle to plan cycling development. The abolition of Cycling England means that there is no obvious means for councils to share ideas and the great best practice we have heard about today other than through the mysterious cycle stakeholder forum, which is yet to be mentioned but which has apparently met three times in the three years it has existed—for what purpose, nobody seems to know.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will enlighten us.

Graham Evans: I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. She talks about the abolition of Cycling England, but surely the Local Government Association is one of the best mechanisms for sharing best practice on cycling.

Chi Onwurah: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that contribution, but the Local Government Association has many issues on which to share best practice. I agree that it provides an excellent forum for that, but the strength of Cycling England was that it did exactly what its name said—it was about cycling in England. Having lost that organisation, we need something to fulfil that role.

Mr Lammy: My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does she agree that we do not see the initiatives and half-policies like those she is talking about in the Government’s transport policy on trains, buses, cars and roads? That is why we need a proper integrated strategy.

Chi Onwurah: My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Comparisons are odious, but sometimes they are essential. Everyone in the Chamber would agree that there is neither the focus on nor the strategy for cycling that exist for other areas of transport. I hope that the Minister will set out how he intends to address the clear lack of leadership

The report notes that successfully increasing cycling in many towns requires not just leadership and political will but investment. The report notes the relative underfunding per head for British cycling, which many hon. Members have spoken about today, but the Department for Transport’s response to the report was disappointing, as it did not deal with long-term funding. On most other issues, the buck was passed to local authorities and there was no commitment to appoint a national cycling champion. That is not the leadership that we need. I welcome the fact that Newcastle was awarded £5.7 million from the cycle city ambition fund, which was on top of £1.3 million from the cycle safety fund, but those amounts are relatively small compared with those received by European cities.

As several hon. Members have said, it is not just the amount of funding that is important. Whatever the spending per head, Government investment must be continued, steady and sustained if councils such as Newcastle are to plan to achieve their goals and all the associated benefits we have heard about. While much of the legwork in getting Britain cycling does and should fall to councils, there is plenty that the Government can do to support them. Newcastle is working hard to make the city’s road cycle-friendly and installing better cycling infrastructure. It is one of the leading local authorities on 20 mph zones, with the majority of residential areas and much of the city centre now covered by that limit.

The Department’s response to the report rightly says that things such as planning cycling routes and speed limits are local matters, but what about putting in place national standards for cycle infrastructure design or educating more people with design skills? What about reviewing sentencing guidelines for careless and reckless drivers?

Investment is important, although having a long-term pot is almost as important as the amount that goes into it. Above all, however, Transport Ministers and their colleagues across Whitehall must step up and show national leadership if we are to meet the goals set out in the report.


Catherine McKinnell: I thank my hon. Friend for his generosity. He is making a powerful speech. Many constituents have asked me to come to this debate to make representations on their behalf, and in particular on behalf of their children. As cyclists, my constituents worry not only for themselves and their safety, but for that of their children, and many of them have asked me to press the Minister on making cycle urban infrastructure development compulsory as part of the legislation on cycling and urban planning. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Maria Eagle MP go to 3:28:00

Video from BBC Democracy Live
Text from Hansard