MPs urge greater government support for cycling in Westminster debate

By Richard Peace in Yorkshire, UK | Monday, February 27, 2012 9.14am

Two MPs made an outstandingly strong case for greater government support of cycling as they spoke at length in Thursday’s three hour parliamentary debate on cycling.

Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge Julian Huppert strongly supported the Times campaign and noted that it had support far beyond cycling organisations – from the RAC and the AA for example. The campaign was prompted by an accident involving Times journalist and cyclist Mary Bowers, crushed by a lorry in November 2011 and left in a coma. The campaign has been backed by tens of thousands online and via Twitter and you can add your voice here.    

In his numerous contributions to the debate Huppert showed a wide-ranging and in-depth knowledge of cycling, including everything from route finding on the internet, through the importance of sensors and mirrors on lorries to the incredible efficiency of cycling as a form of transport.

Lifelong cyclist Ian Austin, Labour MP for Dudley North, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, said The Times had "achieved a breakthrough" that people within cycling have been trying to make for years and showed that "this issue will not go away". 

Many cycling issues were raised, but those that gained a lot of debate time were dangerous junctions (Bow roundabout on a Cycling Superhighway in particular), the often derisory penalties handed out to drivers who kill and injure cyclists (prompting calls for a revamp of sentencing guidelines) and the disbandment of the lauded Cycling England, which acted to bring the many disparate cycling lobby groups together.     

There was also a small spate of naming and shaming those landowners obstructing the completion of cycle routes by, in particular, obstructing the building or opening up of cycle bridges. Both the South Devon Railway and the Earl of Devon were called to task in this regard for effectively stopping the completion of National Cycle Network routes in the south-west and a call was made for effective use of compulsory purchase orders to prevent such behaviour. 

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Cycle safety: views from the public

Political commentators have pointed out that though only 77 out of more than 650 MPs attended, which may not sound like a lot, but is in fact a more than respectable turn out given that many MPs leave Westminster early on Thursdays for the weekend recess. Austin noted "there are…..more MPs here than I have ever seen in a Westminster Hall debate, which is fantastic".

Also encouraging was the fact that MPs sat on cross-party lines, showing at least a substantial backbench pro cycling movement may be emerging that includes support amongst all three major parties.     

Post-debate, however, Transport Secretary Norman Baker, despite warm words of support for the Times Campaign, appeared to be set against its proposal to ring-fence two percent of the Highways Agency annual £4.9 billion budget for state-of-the-art cycle infrastructure.

Maria Eagle, Shadow Transport Secretary, said that Labour would commit to ring-fencing £100 million of the highways budget each year to finance infrastructure for cyclists.

CTC's Campaigns & Policy Director Roger Geffen, who briefed MPs ahead of the debate, said: “Following the hugely positive show of cross-party parliamentary support, the Government now has a clear mandate to get on with promoting ‘more as well as safer cycling’. It should seize the moment and draw up a co-ordinated action plan to create safe conditions for cycling, and to encourage more people to enjoy its benefits for our health, our quality of life and our wallets."

The full text of the debate can be found here.

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