Interview with Newcastle Cycle Champion

We talk to Cllr Marion Talbot, Newcastle Cycle Champion and chair of Newcastle City Council’s Cycle Forum, about her plans, achievements and outlook for cycling in our city. Newly elected to the council to represent the residents of Fenham in May 2012, she has spent most of her working life in the public sector. It was Marion who brought the SkyRide to Newcastle this year, 2013. Marion is also a member of Cllr Nick Forbes’ Cabinet as deputy portfolio holder for Performance and Resources. Read on to find out what Marion’s wishes and ambitions are and learn about her thoughts on making Newcastle fit for cycling:

1. What have been your achievement(s) since your appointment?

I work as part of a team, other members, officers and a range of partners, so I don ‘t see achievements as “mine” but “ours”. Still very new to the role, so, much time has been spent meeting with and talking to a range of partners, officers, and the Cabinet member, Cllr Ged Bell, who has overall responsibility for cycling in his portfolio.

• Newcastle hosted the NewcastleGateshead SkyRide with 7,800 people taking to their bikes. I spoke to many riders that day who loved the experience and signed up for the many led SkyRides which have been very popular. I trained as a SkyRide leader so I could meet a range of cyclists to learn how we can encourage more people to cycle.

• Excellent news about our successful Cycle City Ambition Fund bid. Department for Transport budget of £5.7m, plus capital allocation from Newcastle City Council, means we will be spending £9.1m on improving cycling.

• Cabinet has agreed the governance arrangements and we are working really hard with partners to deliver this.

• I have been out to meet as many members of the Cycle Forum as I can, and will continue to do so.

• I have persuaded two women councillors to get on their bikes and come on a couple of rides.

• I am riding the Strategic Cycle Routes to get a better understanding of the issues.

• With the Cycling Campaign support we prepared an excellent briefing note for the Get Britain Cycling Debate in the House of Commons which was extensively used by Chi Onwurah MP.

Speaking up for cycling wherever I can, but particularly in Cabinet.

2. What do you want to achieve in the next two months?

Get the governance and technical arrangements working effectively to deliver the Cycle City Ambition Fund. Provide up to date information on the council website so people can understand what is happening, when it is happening and how they can get involved. Have a fantastically successful Love Cycling Go Dutch conference which influences how we think about cycling.

3. What would you like Newcastle to look and feel like in two years time?

A cycle-friendly safe city, with lots of people cycling. Much improved infrastructure. Walbottle, Great Park, Gosforth and Walker Strategic Cycle Routes to a distance of about two miles from the city centre and refresh of the Benfield route.

4. What’s your long-term vision for the city?

Newcastle City Council has four clear priorities: a working city, decent neighbourhoods, tackling inequalities and a fit for purpose council. I believe that enabling people to access bikes, to provide a safe environment for cycling and walking, to encourage people of all ages to get on their bike, will improve people’s quality of life, will enable people to access jobs and training, will tackle inequalities and improve neighbourhoods, will reduce carbon emission and will tackle public health issues such as obesity. I would love to see cycling as a normal activity, where you wear ordinary clothes and use your bike as a form of transport, going to work, going to the shops, going to see your mates. I would also like to see a wide range of diverse providers supporting cycling.

5. Where are the barriers, what’s needed or currently missing?

Lack of resources: the government needs to invest more money in cycling, have a dedicated pot, rather than then current arrangements which make it so difficult to plan for the long term. It needs to provide national political leadership, reinstate Cycling England or something equivalent. Nationally, skills and expertise needed to design quality cycle infrastructure are lacking. Locally, the council is having to save £100m + over three years because of government cuts. This means we will have fewer staff and could lose key skills and corporate knowledge. Promoting a better and wider understanding of the benefits of cycling.

6. What are your immediate next steps to overcome these barriers?

This is a really difficult question, as we have to make some unpalatable decisions to meet the savings we are required to do. However, by being clear about what we are trying to achieve as a council, and the role that cycling can play in delivering our priorities, by working in a cross-cutting way across departments to ensure that cycling is always on the agenda, we can address some of these. We have delivered some cycling infrastructure design training for our engineers, and will build upon that through the Love Cycling Go Dutch conference. We work closely with partners who have a range of different but complementary skills. Preparing briefing notes for elected members and involving ward Councillors at the earliest opportunity to discuss design proposals. Building relationships and networks with other councils, particularly some of the London Boroughs, to learn from their experience.

7. How do you see the Campaign working with you to get Newcastle cycling, and fit for people

Agreeing clear shared aims and objectives. Being clear about the strategy we adopt to deliver these. Thinking tactically so we can combine our energy and resources. I see the Cycling Campaign as being a “critical friend.” We should have a strong relationship, be able to challenge, not always see eye to eye, but nonetheless, work together to improve cycling in Newcastle.

We say a big

Thank you

to Marion for finding the time to provide answers to our questions. And we, too, are looking forward to building a strong and critical relationship.