Politics overshadows London car-free day

Hovis Freewheel takes backstage to mud-slinging

Plans to give cyclists the freedom of London for an entire day next month have been overshadowed by political mud-slinging. Mayor Ken Livingstone has been accused of using a launch for the Hovis Freewheel for his own ends.

The Freewheel will see cars banned from the centre of London on Sunday September 23, with at least 30,000 cyclists expected to ride on traffic-free roads into the middle of the UK capital. It's the latest initiative aimed at getting Londoners on their bikes, following the kick-off of the Tour de France in July. But instead of focusing wholly on the ground-breaking plans, London politicians have become entangled in a row about publicity for the event.

Mr Livingstone was attacked this week for turning a press call to mark the Freewheel into a "political rant". And a well-known TV personality has also been caught up in the political point-scoring.

BBC presenter Konnie Huq had originally been scheduled to spend all of Wednesday afternoon talking to UK media about the car-free day. However, on Monday, members of the cycling press, including BikeRadar, were called and told she would not be available for interviews. No reason was given.

Now it has emerged that Ms Huq was being reined in after attending a previous press conference for the Freewheel against her employers' orders. It is thought BBC bosses feared accusations of political bias in the build-up to the mayoral elections next year. Despite the BBC apparently warning her agent that she should not attend, Ms Huq went to the press conference, escalating a row which has all but eclipsed the car-free day itself.

London Conservative Assembly member Brian Coleman complained to the BBC that Ms Huq's presence at the event broke rules meant to keep the organisation impartial. And Mr Livingstone's office has admitted he mentioned Mr Coleman's taxi bill at the same event - and the amount his local council spends on cycling.

The BBC has reportedly apologised to Mr Coleman, and he has apparently accepted the gesture.

Ms Huq's agent Jonathan Shalit said she attended the press conference "in good faith". He told The Times, "The BBC probably realised it was a political event when I didn't. All Konnie was asked to do was support a get-fit campaign. It was done with goodwill. The Tories have made this into a political event."

Mr Livingstone's spokesman denied there had been a "political rant" at the press conference, adding, "There was no party political element to Konnie Huq's involvement in the launch.

"The Hovis London Freewheel is a new event to promote cycling and London and supporting this event cannot in any reasonable view be regarded as party political."

To find out more about the Hovis Freewheel, and to register to take part, visit www.londonfreewheel.com

© BikeRadar 2007

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