Cllr Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle City Council
Welcoming the delegates to the Love Cycling Go Dutch conference on 5 November 2013 in Newcastle.
Good morning everybody and can I reiterate the Lord Mayor’s welcome to Newcastle upon Tyne – the Civic Centre here, this morning.
This is a really good time to have a conference about cycling. Let me explain why. I think cycling is on the cusp of a revolution. It might be a quiet revolution but it is a revolution nonetheless. We’ve seen Newcastle an increase in the number of people cycling over the last three years by some 30%. And I think that reflects a new approach to the way people want to travel to and from work and how they would spend their leisure time.
For those of you who know the city well, you understand what I mean when I say this. But for those of you who don’t let me try to explain it in a way that bring this to life. Many areas in Newcastle were built around the time of the industrial revolution and the massive economic expansion of the city in the Victorian period. They were built when the factory or the shipyard, or the place of work, was literally at the end of somebody’s street. So what we have are a lot of our residential areas haven’t changed drastically in the last 150 years.
The industrial revolution left a very deep foot print on our city. And in the post war period much more infrastructure and virtually all of the investment that happened since the second world war was to design around the use of cars. Cars in the 1950s and 60s were seen as the future. And in fact it was Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister who said ‘show me a man who is using a bus at the age of 26 and I show you a failure’. That was the sense that people who use public transport were a bit odd, and all a bit unambitious.
And yet I think when we talk about revolution I can see that we have come full circle. The challenge for us of course is as I say is that much of our physical infrastructure in Newcastle is designed around either an old fashioned model of how the economy worked or the post-industrial period where most post-war planning where most of our planning was affected by the predominance of motor vehicles and motor traffic.
So this is why I think cycling is seen as a radical new thing. It’s because it challenges a lot of that old orthodoxy, it challenges our assumptions about how we should be organising our cities and how we should go about our business. And this is absolutely the right time to be radical, absolutely the right time to challenge those orthodoxies, because what we have seen over the last five years or so, really is a crumbling of the old orthodoxy around the economy.
It is just very obvious that we all depend on the patterns that are not longer fit for purpose. That the limit of what they can achieve are the limits of their opportunity have been reached and surpassed. So our challenge is to reshape Newcastle’s economy as well as the physical infrastructure of our city to make sure we have a sustainable economy. To make sure we have fair economy where everybody is seen to be able to benefit from it. And an economy, a political economy, which respects people and the environment.
Cycling isn’t just a physical activity. Cycling is integral to how we seek to transform the city for the future and that’s why it will be so interesting to hear from colleagues in the Netherlands about how they have done that. Because the sense that I have is that the Netherlands as a country has a greater sense of how the economy is fairer and how we can have greater respect for people and the environment.
We seek to transform our city. And cycling can be absolute integral to our vision of that. We have to do that physically in terms of ensuring we have the right Strategic Cycle Routes or increase the amount of cycle parking spaces around the place. And we want to give a commitment that every new development to be considered by council and every new planning application to be considered council in Newcastle will put cycling infrastructure as part of that.
So it’s a job to transform the physical infrastructure, physical areas around the city, but I think cycling also transforms the city in a social realm as well. We know full well of the health benefits of people cycling on a more regular basis. We as a local authority now have direct responsibility as Directors of Public Health, services and resources, in the city. And if we are going to encourage more people to cycle that we all have positive benefits for people’s health and well-being.
But it’s also I think a social price for greater connectivity that cycling can bring. To be frank, car drivers are pretty insulated from the world around them. It’s very easy to get in a car to be insulated and cut-off and see the people around you, not as people around but as objects around you. And I think it’s therefore less likely that car drivers recognise the humanity of fellow travellers as people in the same shared spaces there.
So, cycling can be one of the ways in which we change the way people see their physical environment and social context that they are travelling within. They can be the way to reconnecting people to the environment, to their surroundings but also to each other. And we know we have succeeded when in the UK, in Newcastle, we are able to start a conversation about cycling in the same way you start a conversation at home about football or the weather.
So we know we have a strong active cycling community which is very supportive of what we are trying to achieve here. We know we have a vital cycling business sector and lots of partnering organisation. So this conference and its workshop yesterday are first steps in forging that culture of practitioners right across Europe and the UK for designing streets for cycling.
And as the Lord Mayor reminded us, roads and journeys don’t stop at local authority boundaries and it is not for Newcastle to work in isolation from our neighbours so we are joined by a number of officers and councillors of neighbouring authorities of Gateshead, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland, Northumberland and Durham. Together we, our communities, will bring about a transformation of how we travel across our region. Of course there is much more we need to do if we want to be a true city for cycling. I am thinking about the skills we will need to develop. I remember when I was growing up, everybody, every kid, who had bicycle knew how to change a puncture. We knew what to do with a puncture repair. We knew what to do with a puncture and a bucket of water.
And it feels to me as if we have lost some of the skills of just the ability to maintain a bike. So it’s not just about making sure we have the right infrastructure in place, it is not just about making sure cycling is affordable to people, it is also about making sure we know how to maintain a bike. And I bet the majority of bikes in the city are probably shut away in garages sheds in backyards and are only brought out two or three times a year. We have got a great asset there that we should be able to draw on for the future.
In view of this, this conference should act as a magnet for bringing together the different strands of activity that we need in order to really make a real change in cycling in our city. But the most important thing of all is to recognise and celebrate the fact that we have the desire, the commitment and now the resources to succeed in transforming cycling for Newcastle for generations to come.
You can find other presentations on the LCGD conference page here.