I beg to move,
That this House has considered Government support for active travel and local walking and cycling infrastructure plans.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I am delighted to have been granted this important debate on active travel, and I am particularly pleased to see so many Members from both sides of the House present to take part in it. I declare at the outset that I am a long-standing member of Cycling UK and a member of the all-party parliamentary cycling group. I also sit on the Transport Committee, and I am delighted to see our Chair, the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), present. We are currently preparing a report on active travel, and although I am not speaking on behalf of the Committee this morning, I suspect there will be strong agreement.
I have been a keen cyclist for many years for leisure reasons, but in recent years I have noticed a gradual but significant change in the way in which cycling is viewed in this country. No longer are we cycling and walking just as a way of getting from A to B. Increasingly, cycling is seen as a crucial element of our approach to not just transport and alleviating congestion, but town planning, public health, obesity, mental wellbeing, air quality, the environment and, of course, climate change. The range of benefits that active travel provides forms the basis of the debate and of my reasons for urging the Government, through the Minister—it is very good to see him in his place—to do more to promote cycling and walking in our cities, towns and villages.
My hon. Friend mentioned town planning. There is a crucial point on which the Government could be helpful. His constituency is very similar to mine: it has a lot of footpaths going across what is basically agricultural land. Does he agree that the Government should insist that, when development takes place, those footpaths are not allowed to be extinguished, so that we keep the network that allows us to walk and cycle?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour for making that point. He is right. Those of us who are lawyers know that expunging a footpath is, rightly, one of the hardest things to do in the law. Footpaths are protected, and I agree that they must remain so when new developments are built, to ensure that our latticework of footpaths continues to exist. I would extend that to bridleways as well, which similarly have an historical provenance. I ask the House to bear in mind that, although we tend to think of cycling and walking in the context of the strategy I mentioned, horse riders in areas such as mine and my hon. Friend’s are also vulnerable, and ought to be thought about in the context of active travel as well.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent case. On planning, he will be aware that the bidding process for the housing infrastructure fund is quite unclear on whether cycling infrastructure will be funded or is just viewed as a cost. Does he agree that, ultimately, that infrastructure should be viewed as something that adds to the attractiveness of schemes, and should be favoured within them?
I could not agree more—the hon. Lady makes an excellent point. The housing infrastructure fund is an important part of Government funding, and I would like cycle paths to be included. I am conscious that a great many Members wish to speak, but if time allows I will mention the B4044 community path from Eynsham in my constituency to Botley, which, although not in her constituency, is in the county she represents.
I have supported the path from Eynsham for many years; in fact, one of the first events I attended as a Member of Parliament was when I cycled along it on a cold winter’s morning, accompanied by many others in yellow jackets. As it stands, it is quite a dangerous little lane to cycle on, but the potential is enormous for Eynsham, and even for going as far as Witney—there is a cycle path along the A40, which I used only this weekend when I went out to stretch my legs. Increased housing growth will be unlocked, facilitated and made sustainable by the use of cycling paths, so I could not agree more with the hon. Lady.
We also have a lot of urban footpaths and ginnels. Would it not make sense to have funds for signposting, so that people know how to get away from the main routes and use the often hidden, beautiful routes to get from A to B? Often it is the lack of signposting that prevents people from using all those opportunities.
That is an excellent point. In rural areas such as mine, there are often such signposts. One of the joys of living in the country is that people can set out on those routes. I recommend to everyone the wonderful Ordnance Survey maps, which record everything down almost to the inch. However, in those areas where signposts are missing, I urge local authorities to look at installing them, because they make it much easier for those who wish to use footpaths.
We talk about infrastructure in urban areas, but one of the big complaints I receive is about infrastructure in rural areas. We are trying to encourage more children to cycle to school. It is not an easy problem to solve, but surely we should spend some money on infrastructure in rural areas to help children to get to school.
That is an excellent point. Again, I entirely agree. I represent a largely rural area, although it has significant market towns. Given the obesity crisis in this country and how we would like children, in particular, to build exercise into their day-to-day life, it is better if infrastructure is in place that allows them to get to and from school easily, quickly and safely. Again, I am conscious of how many people wish to speak, but if I have time I will mention a cycle path on the A44 that is off the road and therefore entirely safe for people going from Oxford up to Woodstock. Confidence is increased if parents know that their children are going to and from school on a path that is off the road.
My hon. Friend is being incredibly generous in giving way, and I congratulate him on securing the debate. Most of the funding the Government make available for infrastructure investment is through the ambitious cities programme, which means that rural areas such as Cornwall and many others cannot access funding for cycling infrastructure. Will he join me in pressing the Minister, as we approach the comprehensive spending review, to enable us to build on the huge success of the ambitious cities programme with an ambitious towns programme?
One of the main points of my speech is that I would like the comprehensive spending review to ensure that active travel is built into our infrastructure plans for the future, for urban areas, towns and, of course, rural areas such as those that many of us represent.
I will deal quickly with some of the benefits of active travel, though I suspect the House will not need a great deal of persuading. Active travel is not only safe, convenient and attractive, but a cost-effective way of delivering the benefits we would all like to see. Cycling and walking are healthy, enjoyable and flexible ways of making a local journey, or a longer journey in combination with a car or a train, and enable us to take cars off the road wherever possible. For wider society, active travel is clean, safe and attractive. It reduces the environmental costs, such as the congestion that I spoke of, reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Investment in active travel is also cost-effective for the taxpayer, which I am sure the Minister is aware of and will celebrate. The Department for Transport estimates that investment in cycling and walking yields on average £5.50 of benefits for every £1 invested. That is a significantly higher benefit-to-cost ratio than many large road and rail schemes, which tend to have benefit-to-cost ratios of between £1.50 to £1 and £2 to £1.
I am a keen walker. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some of the biggest benefits for those who cycle and walk are the personal health benefits, particularly in today’s climate of childhood and adult obesity? The active travel that he suggests, and which the Government will hopefully promote, will actively target obesity among young people and adults.
I could not agree more. The health benefits are some of the most important. I started my speech by saying that there are many benefits, and health benefits—both physical and mental—are pre-eminent among them. I am sure we all realise that, as people who do jobs that are sometimes slightly stressful and sedentary as well. Speaking as a keen hiker and cyclist, there is nothing quite like getting on a bike or putting on hiking boots at the weekend and shaking off some of the stress. It certainly kills a number of birds with one stone.
I am delighted that the Government recognised the benefits of active travel with the adoption of the cycling and walking investment strategy in 2017, which set out their ambition to make cycling and walking the natural choice for shorter journeys, or as part of longer journeys, by 2040. It sets out aims and targets for 2025, including doubling cycling activity from the 0.8 billion cycle stages made in 2013 to 1.6 billion in 2025. I understand that the Government have commissioned research into how the strategy’s aims for 2025 can be met and that the research, when published later this year, is likely to suggest that significant additional investment in cycling and walking will be needed to meet the targets.
I completely concur with the hon. Gentleman. Eastbourne is a town that has been built up over many years. We have a wonderful cycling group called Bespoke, which I and the council very much support. We want to put in more cycling infrastructure, but the challenge is simply lack of funds. Towns such as Eastbourne will need Government funding to do what they really want to do in support of cycling. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?
The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point, which is very much in line with my points. Investment in cycling and walking in England has trebled since 2010. We spent roughly £2 per person annually in 2010; the figure is now around £7.50. That is a significant increase, but it is still some way behind the world’s most cycle-friendly countries. The Dutch, for example, invest around £26 per person annually on cycling and have been doing so for around 40 years. That is probably the crux of the hon. Gentleman’s point, and it may explain why 26% of trips are cycled in the Netherlands, compared with less than 2% in Britain. We are looking to address that strategic funding over the months and years ahead, but that will not happen overnight. Realistically, it may not even happen by 2025, but we need to start moving in the right direction. I ask the Government to use the forthcoming spending review period to increase investment in active travel. No doubt the Minister will address that point in due course.
It is not just a matter of central Government funding. When I was at the Bar and working in the centre of Oxford, I used to travel from where I live in Bladon, near Woodstock, down the A44, which, as I mentioned, has a wonderful, almost completely off-road cycle path. I was struck by the fact that it was not as well used as it ought to have been. A lot of the difficulty is in what happens at the other end. I make no criticism of where I used to work, but the difficulty arises when a cyclist gets off their bike. In my case, working at the Bar, if I needed to go to court or to meet clients, I needed to be in a presentable state. That is not easy if there are no adequate changing facilities at the other end. Some organisations provide those facilities, which is wonderful—I know that Oxfordshire County Council does—but we need to see more investment in the public and the private sectors. Once cycling facilities are in, that is all well and good, but people also need the facilities at the other end so that they can make themselves fit and ready for the working day.
The cycling and walking strategy also encourages local authorities to develop what are called local cycling and walking infrastructure plans for high-quality cycling and walking networks and then to prioritise schemes to deliver them. The Government have supported 46 councils so far to develop their local infrastructure plans, but there is no dedicated funding stream to help them to do so. Without that, local authorities may not be able to plan and develop comprehensive cycling and walking networks with any confidence. I ask the Department for Transport to work with the Treasury at the spending review to develop a dedicated funding stream to enable local authorities to implement ambitious local cycling and walking infrastructure plans.
That appeal is part of the joined-up thinking that we hear so much about in the House and that we would like to see more of. I ask the Minister to press for greater joined-up thinking to ensure that all Departments are pulling in the same direction. I make that appeal with particular passion, because of the B4044 community path I alluded to earlier. I want to mention it in a little more detail, and I have raised it repeatedly with the Minister’s predecessor and the Secretary of State.
The B4044 is a key route between Eynsham, which will experience significant housing growth in the coming years, and Oxford. The path is the brainchild of Bike Safe, a passionate group of local cyclists who are campaigning for high-quality, safe, local cycle infrastructure. I commend the group’s passion and drive, and will never forget my visit to the project in its early stages. The group has done very well in giving it such a high profile. I ask the Minister to work with Oxfordshire County Council to explore what can be done to deliver this crucial project at the earliest possible opportunity, either through the housing infrastructure fund or as a stand-alone project.
I also want to mention the Hanborough pedestrian bridge in the context of integrated transport networks. It is all very well having great train services, roads that are quick and easy, and cycle paths, but they must link up. We need people to be able to get on their bikes and get to the train station. They may want to get on a bus to get to the train station. When they get there, they want the trains to be regular and reliable. We need to ensure that the journey from home to workplace can be undertaken on public transport and in an integrated fashion.
The Hanborough pedestrian bridge is a good example, and I fully support it. It has been energetically and admirably pursued by Hanborough Parish Council and will provide safer access for pedestrians and cyclists seeking to get to Hanborough station, which is vital to my constituency because it serves not just the villages of Long Hanborough and Church Hanborough, but also Witney and wider West Oxfordshire. People need to be able to get on the cycle path and the footpath safely at that narrow pinch point over the bridge, and they also need to be able to leave their bike at the train station if there is not enough space to take it on the train.
It is also vital that the schemes we are discussing are safe for all users—I think particularly of those who are visually impaired or who have other restrictions on their travel. Any infrastructure that is put in ought to cater for all users in the community, including the vulnerable.
I welcome the Government’s ambition to promote active travel, but I want to see further action to ensure that the encouraging words are joined by decisive action that will enable the targets of the cycling and walking investment strategy to be met and then enable us to go further still. That will require three things, which I look forward to hearing the Minister address in his remarks.
First, the Government should use the forthcoming spending review period to increase investment in active travel, with an eye to meeting, and if possible exceeding, the aims and targets of the cycling and walking investment strategy. Secondly, I ask the Department for Transport to work with the Treasury to develop a dedicated funding stream that will enable local authorities to implement ambitious local cycling and walking infrastructure plans to develop world-class local active travel networks. Thirdly, the Department for Transport should work across Departments, particularly with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, to ensure that its ambitions for active travel are supported and not undermined by other Departments. That way we can have an integrated strategy within Government to provide us with an integrated transport strategy in West Oxfordshire and all our constituencies.
Order. Before I call Back-Bench speakers, I calculated prior to the debate that I could allow Back Benchers 2.66 recurring minutes each to speak. Having negotiated with the Front-Bench speakers, I think I can allow a hard three minutes for each speech. I also make it clear that, as Chair, I cannot interfere with the democratic right of a speaker to take interventions. However, I can exercise my democratic right to put any interveners at the end of the queue of speakers. Will speakers please bear that in mind in order to facilitate the debate? I call Ruth Cadbury.
Thank you. I welcome this debate. I co-chair the all-party parliamentary group on cycling, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts), who introduced the debate, as well as the Backbench Business Committee, which allowed it.
I will try to make points that others might not make, which is difficult as I am speaking at the beginning of the debate. The reasons for active travel are many and have already been mentioned: better air quality, the reduction of CO2 emissions, less congestion and better health. I would add another: productivity. Many of us know schools that do the extra mile in the morning, and children who do that mile run or walk are better learners during the day.
It is no coincidence that a large number of City companies pushed the former Mayor of London, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), to go ahead with the east-west cycle route in London. They pushed for that because they knew that it would make their staff more productive at work, as more people cycling often reduces sickness and absence from work, and increases alertness during the working day. Since I have been more active over the last 10 years, I have certainly felt that I have higher energy levels.
When commentating on the Tour de France a few years ago, Chris Boardman made a YouTube video in which hundreds of people cycled behind him in Utrecht. He said that they were ordinary people going about their day-to-day life, and that he did not see “cyclists”, but normal people going about their life, dressed for their destination and not the journey. The Netherlands did not come by its high levels of cycling and walking by accident; it was a conscious change of policy in the 1970s as a result of parents worrying about their children’s safety. It took decades of serious financial support and leadership from the Government; that is what we need.
Issues in the justice system need to be taken on board. People will feel safe walking and cycling only when drivers are aware of more vulnerable road users and reduce risks such as close passing. We need training for professional drivers, sentencing for those who commit serious crimes, and, most importantly, investment from all Departments.
Cycling is a big part of the answer to the major issues that we are looking at across the House: climate change, congestion, pollution, obesity, poor physical health, poor mental health and social and economic exclusion. I am very excited about the possibilities offered by electric bikes, particularly for older people. For those who are frail or in poor health, who have longer journeys, who need to commute and look reasonably smart when they arrive, as my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) mentioned, and who live at the top of a hill, as I do, electric bikes are part of the solution.
I want this country to be world leading in cycling; I do not want us just to inch up the rankings. In the Netherlands, 25% of people cycle, while in Germany the figure is 10%. In the UK, only 2% cycle. Let us get to the head of the pack, not just improve a bit. We all know that it makes sense. To that end, every new housing estate that we build in this country should have cycle paths connected to the local schools and employment areas. When people get to those places, there must be enough parking for their bikes; it is not just motorists who need parking. If people cannot park securely and safely, or wash and freshen up if they need to when they arrive, they will not cycle in the numbers that we want.
I look forward to Central Bedfordshire Council completing the “green wheel” around Leighton Buzzard in my constituency. We have spent money on cycle paths, but they run out. When they come to a busy road, they just stop, and they are not as connected as they should be. We also need to ensure that when we build new roads, we put in cycling infrastructure, because it is much more expensive to retrofit later. Cycling needs to hold its own in business cases. I was concerned to hear about a recent road scheme from which the cycle scheme was taken out because it was viewed as a problem, and it was thought that it would reduce the power of the business case. That is nonsense. It is wrong and should not happen.
I hope that the Department for Transport’s review will be completed well before the comprehensive spending review, and will provide the evidence that we need to get the necessary increase in funding. We also want fairness and equity of funding. It is not right that only 46 council areas get extra money. This matters in the constituency of every hon. Member in the Chamber, right across the country. We need fairness and equity to ensure that every part of the country benefits from the coming cycling revolution.
This debate comes at an important moment for active travel. Congestion on our roads is growing; we are in the midst of a public health crisis; obesity is on the rise; and we face a climate emergency.
Most of us remember our first bike. I loved riding as a kid, and have enjoyed teaching my children how to ride their bikes. I believe that our passion for exploring the world on two wheels as youngsters does not leave us as adults. However, that passion has a tendency to be overtaken by practicalities, by a lack of safe cycling infrastructure, and by a lack of confidence in a world where the car is king.
It is my job as a mayor, our job as MPs, and the job of those with whom we work closely in local authorities to do all that we can to enable people to walk, cycle and run if they want to. I recently submitted a bid for £220 million from the Department for Transport’s transforming cities fund. If that is approved—fingers crossed—it will unlock major improvements in transport networks across South Yorkshire. I have also brought on board the brightest and the best talent; there is none better than my new active travel commissioner, Britain’s most successful female Paralympian, Dame Sarah Storey, who is already making a huge impact.
In the Sheffield City region, nearly 40% of car trips are under 1 km, which is the equivalent of just a 15-minute walk. It is no surprise then that our motorways and major roads are under great strain. If we are to safeguard our health, our environment, and our economy, now is definitely the time to act. That is why I have been working closely with other metro mayors, their active travel commissioners, and experts such as British Cycling, Sustrans, the Ramblers and Living Streets. I am also working with Transport for the North to create policy that will shape the North’s infrastructure.
I will rattle through my five asks for the Minister; I hope he will be familiar with them. First, commit to long-term devolved funding for cycling and walking. Secondly, commit to minimum quality levels to ensure that no more public money is wasted on infrastructure that is not fit for purpose. Thirdly, reform policing and enforcement. Fourthly, enable innovation by keeping road traffic regulations under review. Fifthly, ensure that transport investment decisions account for the true cost to society of car use.
This debate is about much more than encouraging people to get on a bike or put on their walking shoes. People do not need to be encouraged; they need to be enabled. That responsibility lies with us and with national Government.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) on securing this important debate. I would put cycling and walking into two broad categories.
First, there are established areas where we need to enhance and improve the facilities. We sometimes see green paint slapped on the ground to mark out a cycle lane, but that does nothing for the cyclist—it does not improve safety or their ability to navigate those roads. We have to be cautious about a council or an area being able to claim that they have more and more miles of cycle tracks when those tracks are of almost no value.
As my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) mentioned, often those tracks stop and start, which is of no value to the cyclist who wants to carry on their journey. It would be far better to focus on repairing potholes. That is what many people on their bicycles would like—smooth, open roads where they can carry on cycling.
There are opportunities in new developments. The largest housing development in Greater Manchester, the Horwich loco works, of 1,700 houses, almost connects Horwich town centre with Horwich Parkway railway station. That should have been a wonderful opportunity to connect the town centre to its local railway station with a superb walking and cycling route. There was a master plan for that development, but it included zero information about cycling or walking. We hear national Government, the Mayor of Greater Manchester and our town or borough council leadership talking about their ambitions for cycling and walking, yet in the plan for the largest single housing development in Greater Manchester of 1,700 houses, there were no details about cycling and walking. There is a huge mismatch between that and what some people say about this important agenda.
We want more people to cycle and walk, for the obvious reasons that have been given: it is better not just for physical but mental health, and we want people to have active lifestyles and be more part of the community. However, those ambitions must link up to the reality on the ground. I am pleased that Bolton Council will, under its new leadership, form a liaison group with the local community and Horwich loco works to make sure the development has the interests of local people at heart. I will champion the cause of cycling and walking.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts) on securing this debate, and I thank him for his contribution to the Transport Committee, which I chair. It has been looking at precisely the matter we are discussing. The Government’s 2017 cycling and walking investment strategy—CWIS—is extremely welcome. As many Members have said, the economic, human and environmental cost of inactivity, climate change, air pollution and traffic congestion are huge. Active travel can help us to tackle all of those, if it gets the attention and funding it deserves but historically has not received. There are serious questions about the funding available for active travel and local cycling and walking infrastructure plans—LCWIPs, which we have been told are the main vehicle for delivering the Government’s strategy.
We have been told that the funding framework for active travel remains challenging, because the wider framework for local transport funding is complex, short term and under severe pressure. When the Government published the CWIS, they described it as a £1.2 billion plan, but only a quarter was ring-fenced funding for cycling and walking schemes. The rest was for local authorities to decide how to prioritise. We know all too well the pressures on local councils from adult social care and children’s services. Since the CWIS was published, the Government have stated that almost £2 billion is projected to be invested in active travel between 2016 and 2021. That is a good start, but it pales in comparison with spending on other modes, and equates to just £400 million a year, or 1.5% of the €26.4 billion that the Government spent on transport in England in 2017.
The Transport Committee has heard about the impressive ambitions of combined authorities and local authorities to increase cycling and walking in their area. I do not have time to go through them, but if they are to be achieved, as so many colleagues have said, dedicated funding is needed to deliver those improvements in LCWIPs to enable the Government to succeed in delivering their strategy. Phil Jones, an independent transport consultant who has been very involved in the development of the local plans, told us that if LCWIPs are just a plan and sit on the shelf,
“it has been a complete waste of time”.
He told us that LCWIPs have to lead quickly to actual schemes on the ground, and he is right. If the Government want to deliver their strategy, which is essential and not a “nice to have,” they need to consider how their funding will ensure that that happens.
Funding is not the only issue; the Government need coherent and consistent policy. People will not walk and cycle if their roads and pavements are poorly maintained; they will not feel safe if cars are parked on pavements; it will not be good if estates have no pavements, which I often see. People will incorporate walking and cycling into a longer journey only if the public transport element is up to scratch.
I have three points to make and, not surprisingly as a former Public Health Minister, I will begin with health. I very much enjoyed working with the Minister’s predecessor on creating some of the Government’s plans. Part two of the child obesity strategy, which I was responsible for bringing into place, was important for the obesity crisis that we face in this country. It was not all about the sugar tax, although I place on record how important that is. It must continue, despite protestations to the contrary. The obesity strategy was about moving more and giving children options for cycling. As the Minister’s predecessor said, it is about producing plans that mean a 12-year-old can cycle on the road with some sort of confidence.
My second point is on money and infrastructure. I was a vice chair of the all-party parliamentary cycling group when I first came to the House. We recommended in our “Get Britain Cycling” report, published in April 2013, that we should create a cycling budget of £10 per person. I pay tribute to the Government because, as has been said, investment in cycling and walking in England has trebled since 2010 from around £2 per person annually to around £7.50 per person. That is a success story. Another key recommendation of that report, which has been mentioned so many times since, is that local authorities should deliver cycle-friendly improvements to their existing roads. We will hear a lot this morning about new developments and how they must be connected up with cycle roads. They must, but just as most of our housing is existing housing, most of our roads are existing roads, and I want them to be transformed.
In Winchester we have a new local community action group called Cycle Winchester, which is campaigning to make the city better by bike. It is an excellent organisation that has arranged many mass cycle rides in the centre of Winchester, and it is working with the local council. We have something called the City of Winchester movement strategy, an important element of which will be a local cycling and walking infrastructure plan. Cycle Winchester is a very good, dedicated charity run by people who want cycling to be better in the area that I represent, but what support can the Government give to it? My hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) talked about the comprehensive spending review; surely, that is where we have to look.
We have talked about the carbon emissions net zero ambition in this Parliament, which is important, but local authorities will have to deliver so much of that. They only intend to produce an infrastructure plan; the Government want them to produce it, but they do not require them to. My council has declared a climate emergency, but what does that mean for cycling paths and dedicated cycle routes? We have to keep cyclists and cars separate. That means dedicated cycle lanes and investment, and making sure that local authorities carry through with their intentions to make that happen.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts) on securing this debate. As a lifelong cyclist, I could speak for hours about why cycling has become so difficult in this country. We know the benefits of cycling, but what are the barriers to more people cycling? I think they are habit and road safety, and the two things are linked. If our young children start by cycling and walking to school, that will become a lifelong habit, as it became for me; I used to cycle to school every day when I was growing up in Germany. But when I became a parent in this country, I was terrified of sending my children to school on their bikes because it was not safe.
Let us concentrate on school travel plans, to allow children to travel safely to school and, therefore, embed a habit early on that people will continue into their later lives. What does that mean? As a councillor for 10 years, I was actively involved in trying to create meaningful, continuous cycle routes to get from A to B. That is very difficult, but as I said in my intervention, we can use existing infrastructure by signposting routes properly away from the main traffic.
Where we cannot get away from the main traffic, the Government could legislate 20 mph zones in every town and city. In fact, studies say that a continuous 20 mph zone may make congestion much less likely because, as happens on motorways, traffic flow is much better if everybody travels more slowly. Why not go ahead and introduce 20 mph zones in all towns and cities? That would make cycling and walking so much safer, even if cyclists and pedestrians were mixed with motorised traffic.
We have many opportunities, and there are many good news stories. My council, which became Liberal Democrat in the last local election, is looking actively at walking buses: schools are encouraging parents to let their children walk with a dedicated person. Use of the Bath to Bristol cycle route increases by 10% every year. Where we have such cycling opportunities, they are used, but they have to be attractive. It does not help that a lot of money is spent on capital projects rather than on revenue, which can mean that where we create cycle routes we cannot maintain them. There are many things that the Government and local authorities could do, but we should start by looking at our young people and make walking and cycling to school the first priority.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) on securing the debate.
I would like to draw the Minister’s attention to an excellent opportunity to support an important cycling infrastructure plan in my constituency. The route would link Liskeard, Looe and Plymouth and is expected to bring up to £3 million per year into the important local tourism economy. A detailed feasibility study has already been undertaken for the Looe Development Trust. That had widespread support, having been funded by Cornwall Council, the LEADER EU funding programme, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly local enterprise partnership, Liskeard and Looe Town Councils, Liskeard Town Forum, and the Cornish mining world heritage site. I have a copy of the report, which I am happy to give to the Minister after the debate.
Tourism is massively important to my local economy. Research shows that the proposed scheme could generate millions of pounds in extra spend with accommodation providers, local restaurants and shops and many other services. I also anticipate new businesses, including cycle hire businesses, creating new jobs in my beautiful constituency.
In Cornwall, we know the benefits that such trails can provide. There is already a fantastic route in north Cornwall, between Padstow and Bodmin along the Camel Trail. Its success is clear from all the cycle hire businesses and other successful businesses along the route. It would be great if we could repeat that successful venture in my constituency. It would bring health benefits and allow people to get on a bike in beautiful surroundings and a safe environment, which we do not always get in our cities.
Simon Pratt from Sustrans, the UK charity that makes it easier for people to walk and cycle, said:
“These trails fill a missing link in the national cycle network, connecting with Plymouth and Dartmoor to the east and Bodmin and the Camel Trail to the west. The Looe to Plymouth section in particular has been on our radar for many years and I hope that the time has come when it can now be delivered. As well as the tourism benefits, these trail routes are well connected to the railway network at Bodmin Parkway and Liskeard and offer more sustainable travel options for commuters and local people”
in a rural location. I would appreciate it if the Minister looked at this thorough, well thought-out proposal and worked with local partners to ensure its completion.
It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I congratulate the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts) on securing the debate.
Let me start by mentioning horse-riding. I have to say this, because my horse-riders have been on to me. Pat Harris of the Mid Cotswolds Tracks and Trails group tells me that there are 2.9 million regular horse riders and half a million carriage users. They do not like being left out of debates about cyclists and pedestrians, because they feel they are an important part of the group of non-motorists.
On cycling, a couple of weeks ago we had a very interesting session upstairs, which was led by members of the science community. They mentioned that the number of cyclist and pedestrian accidents had flatlined recently. That is sad—obviously, we want the number of accidents to reduce considerably—but they reminded us that there are ways in which side-on accidents can be prevented. If we “think bike” when we come to a road junction, we should always be looking to avoid anything coming into conflict with us.
I am a keen cyclist. The problem is that it is getting increasingly difficult to cycle, particularly during the winter. Sadly, our roads are deteriorating beyond all recognition. Potholes are a nightmare for cyclists, but my biggest bugbear is leaves. Because we do not sweep up leaves any more, they all get pushed to the side of the road, where cyclists cycle, and they get wet and freeze. I challenge anyone to stay on a bike while going over such a slippery surface. My plea to the Minister is to ask local authorities to undertake decent road maintenance so that cyclists are prioritised. I suspect that an awful lot of accidents involving cyclists—notwithstanding the even more serious accidents involving other road users—occur because people come off their bike as a result of the road surface.
The real reason why people do not walk nowadays—the reason they do not walk their children to school in particular—is air quality. Particularly in built-up areas, the quality of the air leads people to use their cars. That is counterintuitive and wrong. We have to get children back to walking as their main way of getting about; otherwise, we will have increasing issues with obesity, which has been mentioned, and all the things that come from that. We must ensure that the Government address and prioritise these issues.
We have heard the environmental, health and economic cases for cycling. I fell in love on a tandem and I am still cycling 40 years later, so perhaps I should add that there is a case to be made for cycling’s benefit to your love life, and for the sheer joy of cycling.
We need to focus on how to make cycling happen. We should look across the water to see how it is done elsewhere. There is a formula to it: it requires consistent, long-term political support both locally and nationally, and the right funding. We spend £7.50 per person on it, but other countries, where this works and cycling has been transformed, spend between £10 and £35 per person. Will the Minister therefore continue his predecessor’s commitment to the ambition of doubling per-person investment in cycling? That is what we need.
When we have that level of spend, we can go to the next stage: ensuring that councils can employ people to develop expertise in the long term to put these schemes in place. We need consistent rather than stop-start funding. One of the problems with competitive bids for funding is that some areas do very well, but others, such as mine, lose out altogether. We need much more consistency, so that we do not focus, as others have said, just on cities or even towns, but look at rural areas.
We need to spend not just on infrastructure, but on services and maintenance for our network, and to join up the network. Disgracefully, in my area there is still a gap in national cycle route 2, partly because of the prejudice cyclists sometimes face. For example, a bridge, half of which was paid for with public money, is still blocked to cyclists unreasonably by its owner, South Devon Railway. That prevents a critical join-up. I would like councils to have the power to sweep some of this nonsense out of the way, because this has been going on for more than nine years.
We need to fix those problems and join the network up, and look at links with other infrastructure, such as the rail network. We must also look at traffic calming. There are 20 mph speed restrictions on 75% of the network in urban areas, and they work. We should look at that, and at introducing traffic calming in rural areas where we have quieter routes for cyclists.
We know what works. Will the Minister look at the evidence base and assure us that we will implement what we need if we are really to have a revolution and get people to enjoy the benefits of cycling?
I join my fellow members of the Transport Committee in thanking the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts) for bringing the debate. On walking, when we took evidence, it was clear that the original cycling and walking investment strategy was woefully unambitious in its targets. I hope that today the Minister will confirm much stronger targets for the future.
On cycling, I agree with the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), the Chair of the Select Committee, and the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on the £1.2 billion figure, which is frequently wheeled out when in fact only a quarter of that is genuinely available for cycling. I also agree on stop-start funding; there is too much competitive bidding. Local authorities spend time setting up teams and then running them down after only a brief period of effectiveness.
I have two new points to introduce. However good a local cycling and walking infrastructure plan might be, our major strategic roads are run by Highways England, and sadly its relationship with cycling is not as good as it should be. We heard evidence from the Office of Rail and Road that that is one area where Highways England certainly needs to improve. Sadly, there are examples from my patch of Cambridge; one is from just a few days ago. People think of Cambridge as an exemplar, but Highways England does not seem to have noticed that if it shuts down a major cycleway but gives people only five days’ notice and does not provide proper diversions, people will be, quite rightly, very unhappy. Sadly, negotiations with Highways England over cycling-safe-and-friendly roundabouts and road junctions continue to be difficult. Although Highways England is good at building bridges and roads, it needs to be an agency not just for road building but for mobility. It really needs to improve its communications.
My main point is to echo the call by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) for an electric bikes revolution. I have had my electric bike for four years, and it is transformational. I am grateful to Dr Lynn Sloman, the Transport for Quality of Life team and the Bicycle Association for highlighting how well other countries in Europe are doing, and how we are falling so far behind. A million electric bikes were sold in Germany last year; just 60,000 were sold in our country. By head of population, the Dutch are doing 25 times better than we are. Electric bikes are a simple solution to the transport crisis, so why on earth are we not doing better?
Although I welcome the improvements to the cycle to work scheme, that only benefits people who are in work, and many, many others need to be helped. The French offered a simple subsidy to encourage people and promoted it.
My mantra for many months has been revoke and remain. It is now revoke, remain and recharge.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. Active travel is an integral part of our arsenal when it comes to tackling climate change, but not enough people are involved. Cycling makes up just 2% of trips taken in the UK, and in a European Commission report on rates of cycling in 28 countries, the UK feebly features in 24th place. How can we change that? We must see widespread reform and structural overhaul.
With headlines this weekend showing that eight people were killed in London in five days, it is clear that better infrastructure is required. We need separated and dedicated cycle routes. We need adequate pedestrian bridges and underpass tunnels. As a colleague said, active travel should be for the many, not the brave. We need major reform that puts the UK on a level playing field and ahead of European leaders in active travel.
Following work undertaken with local organisations such as Portsmouth Cycle Forum, and from cycling around my city—I do not drive; I use my Brompton to get around Portsmouth—I have seen at first hand how disjointed infrastructure can be a major obstacle in getting people out and active. While the increases in funding for cycling and walking infrastructure are welcome, the problem faced in Portsmouth is that the local authority, which has seen unprecedented cuts under the Government’s reign of austerity, does not have the capacity to go searching for poorly signposted funding. As the Local Government Association said,
“Too often funding is provided in the form of short-term capital grants linked to bidding processes with strict criteria. This stop-start funding…doesn’t allow councils to develop long-term sustained plans.”
I ask the Minister: why have the Government not yet provided any dedicated funding to deliver local cycling and walking infrastructure plans? When will they begin to do so?
Portsmouth’s geography and conditions would make it an ideal trailblazer for active travel. It could be a world leader, as is demonstrated by the ambitions in our document, “A City to Share”, which I urge the Minister to read. It is clear that as a society we will be better, healthier and greener if we properly invest in walking and cycling infrastructure. I therefore urge the Minister to visit Portsmouth and meet with the Portsmouth Cycle Forum.
I thank the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts) for setting the scene for us all. The main town in my borough, Newtownards, is classified as a central business district town or a commuter town. There have been recent moves to expand the Glider service into Newtownards and supply a park and ride for the area. There are also plans, though the city deal, to extend the greenway to enable people to avail themselves of cycle-to-work schemes.
I am fully supportive of the cycle-to-work schemes run in co-operation with Sustrans, which helps workplaces become cycle-friendly employers. That accreditation was developed with the EU project “Bike2Work”, with Cycling UK the recognised provider for the UK. Site auditing and advisory work is provided by Sustrans for organisations in Northern Ireland. Sustrans says:
“We support employers to encourage their staff to consider active travel in their daily routine. Being a cycle-friendly employer brings real benefits by promoting staff health and well-being, reducing absenteeism, increasing productivity and saves organisations money”,
so clearly there are benefits. I believe that in this kind of scheme, there should be funding—at least a token amount, as a gesture—to encourage employers to provide the facilities needed.
The Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland has shown that it practises what it preaches, as it became the second UK organisation to receive international recognition as a cycle-friendly employer. It is to be congratulated, but if funding was there, I honestly believe that more employers would help us to make the goal of carbon-neutral commuting a reality for many people. There are many benefits to this, yet when it comes to funding, we are not so forward-thinking. That needs to change. There is an appetite for change in our cities—and indeed in our lives.
“Bike Life”, the UK’s biggest assessment of cycling in cities, showed that 81% of people in Belfast want more protected bike routes to make cycling safer, even when that could mean less space for other road traffic. Almost three quarters of Belfast residents surveyed supported more investment in cycling, with 71% saying that Belfast would be a better place to live and work if more people cycled. There is a movement and a need for change.
Sustrans, in its mission to educate people, put it succinctly:
“Research shows that keeping physically active can reduce the risk of heart and circulatory disease by as much as 35% and risk of early death by…30%. It’s recommended that adults take part in 2.5 hours of moderate activity per week. But…activity levels in the UK are low: only 40% of men and 28% of women meet these minimum recommendations. One way to achieve this target is to do 30 minutes’ exercise at least five times a week—the perfect length of time for short, local journeys on foot or by bike.”
The charities and institutions are doing their part, but I believe we can do more in this place to make cycling a priority for health and the environment. That must come from increased funding. That puts the onus on the Minister to make the case to his colleagues in the Exchequer.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts) on bringing forward this clearly important issue. Like him, I sit on the all-party parliamentary group for cycling. I am a keen cyclist; according to The Sun on Sunday, I am a “fanatic”—I am not sure how that came to be. I would say I am an advocate; let us leave it at that. In that vein, I put it on record that I am a member of my local Cycleways group, which I congratulate on its campaigning work, as well as Sustrans. It is important that we have such bodies who speak out and campaign in these areas.
We have heard about the generic benefits we can get from cycling: the great health advantages, both mental and physical; the reduction in congestion as a result of using existing capacity more efficiently; and the improvements to air quality from taking more polluting vehicles off the road. That is particularly relevant to my constituency, which sadly every few weeks registers the worst air quality in the country.
We have also heard about how the lack of safe provision on our roads is deterring new cyclists and road users from taking up a really important form of transport. Last week’s tragedy in Battersea, in which a young design student, Giovanna Cappiello, was killed, is a reminder of how vulnerable people can feel. Our thoughts are with her friends and family. The priority must be to make our routes, particularly routes to schools, safe, to encourage behavioural change, and to encourage the next generation to think about how they move.
Let me focus briefly on a scheme in my constituency and in Kenilworth, which adjoins it. The Kenilworth to Leamington scheme is a three-mile route that has been talked about for 20 years, although no progress has been made. I believe it would be transformational. It would cost just £3.5 million, including a bridge that would cost £1 million. A petition has been signed by more than 1,000 people. The route would enable students and academics to access the University of Warwick from the town of Leamington far more easily. That would reduce queues and congestion, particularly on the A425. I encourage Warwickshire County Council to look closely and favourably at this scheme, because its expenditure on cycling is a fraction of the £7.50 average.
Infrastructure is holding us back, but as we have heard, a revolution is coming, particularly through e-bikes. In Germany, 960,000 e-bikes were bought last year. That compares with 64,000 in the UK, which was up by just 1,000 on the year before. France has a subsidy of €200 for every e-bike. That is driving active travel, particularly among women, who make up 58% of participants, while 21% of those who use the scheme are retired. Half of e-bike trips replace a car trip; that is the advantage. We need a revolution.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Bailey, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts) on securing this debate and on his passionate and articulate opening remarks. As the MP for Halifax, right in the heart of Yorkshire, I am truly blessed because our cycling routes and footpaths have so much to showcase. They featured in the Tour de France, and the now annual Tour de Yorkshire—my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) has been a passionate advocate for that.
Today I wish to advocate one infrastructure scheme—the Queensbury tunnel. The campaign proposes to convert a disused railway tunnel that was constructed in 1878 but closed in the 1950s into a cycle route to connect Bradford with Calderdale. The tunnel is a magnificent feat of Victorian engineering. It is about one and a half miles long, and at the time it was the longest tunnel on the Great Northern railway. We are the masters of up-cycling our heritage in Yorkshire, and restoring and repurposing that historic tunnel for the modern world as part of a regional cycle route would offer a positive environmental impact, as well as an economic one, as there would be yet another Yorkshire gem for cyclists, and visitors more broadly, to come and see.
Despite all that promise, however, the tunnel is currently slated for abandonment by its custodian, Highways England’s historical railways estate. The campaign therefore has a sense of urgency. We could soon find that the tunnel is lost for ever, and that that incredible example of Victorian engineering is scheduled to be filled in with concrete. To restore the route would cost around £16 million. That sounds like a lot, but the tragedy of the abandonment proposal is that such work is likely to cost in the region of £5 million pounds—money that would be funded by the taxpayer but provide no local benefit at all. Latest extensive research suggests that to invest in the tunnel’s restoration would return £2.31 for every £1 invested.
An alternative future for the tunnel would be transformational. Restoring the tunnel with a cycle path would place it at the centre of a cycle network that connects Halifax to Bradford and Keighley, and would boost sustainable travel. It would add another landmark structure to the Great Northern railway trail, making it one of the most spectacular foot and cycle paths anywhere in the country. It would further enhance our area’s cycling credentials, becoming both the longest continuous incline in England, and the longest re-used railway tunnel. I encourage the Minister to come and visit that tunnel if at all possible. I have no doubt that if he spends five minutes with the wonderful campaigners, Norah McWillams and Graeme Bickerdike, whose passion for the tunnel is infectious, he will be left with little option but to consider investing in it and in its future at the heart of Yorkshire’s cycling heritage.
Order. Many requests have been made to the Minister, and I am sure we all wish to hear his response. I want to give him the maximum time to respond, which is 10 minutes, so if the Opposition speakers can ensure that I am able to call the Minister at 10.48 am, that would be helpful.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey, and on behalf of the Scottish National party I congratulate the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts) on securing this debate. I am grateful to my colleagues from the Transport Committee, and for the work of the Committee Clerks during our recent evidence sessions on active travel. Today we have heard about the health, productivity, environmental, economic and even enhanced love life benefits of cycling, and we all recognise the need for fair funding. We have also touched on the enjoyment of cycling. I have great memories of cycling as a kid; having a bike gave me freedom and independence—something that I have continued to enjoy throughout my life.
Let me speak about what is happening in Scotland and my constituency of Inverclyde. If we are to improve our cycling and walking infrastructure, we need an accurate understanding of people’s current patterns of travel. It is therefore helpful that Cycling Scotland’s annual cycling monitoring report examines trends and statistics at both national and local level. Such work gives us an important insight into current rates of cycling participation. There is significant potential for growth in cycling in my constituency. Nearly 60% of journeys made in Inverclyde are under 5 km, which relates in some way to the fact that 35% of households have no access to a car for private use. Some 24% of households have access to a bike, yet in 2015-16, just 0.4% of people usually cycled to work. A similar picture can be found among school students. In 2016 only 0.8% of primary school students cycled to school, while the average percentage of high school students who cycled to school was 0.1%.
Some will feel tempted to explain those statistics by highlighting the weather in the west of Scotland or the hilly topography of Inverclyde, but it is clear that a great many more people could start cycling if Inverclyde had a more suitable cycling infrastructure. Cycling Scotland is actively working to address that deficit through two main areas of activity in Inverclyde. First, Bikeability Scotland cycle training is a programme for schools that is designed to give children the skills and confidence to cycle safely, and to continue using that mode of travel into adulthood. Secondly, the Cycling Friendly programmes promote local cycling by making workplaces, schools and communities more cycling friendly.
Improving cycling infrastructure is undoubtedly part of the solution in reaching that goal. Locally, Cycling UK has worked with an associate group, the Inverclyde Bothy, on a range of actions related to cycling and walking. Such work includes delivering on road cycling training, working with health authorities to identify opportunities for people to ride a bike, establishing a walking network, liaising with local partners such as Sustrans to identify priority areas for cycling network enhancements, improving safety on the path network, and ensuring that new land and housing developments include plans to promote cycling.
Our local cycling and walking network is greatly enhanced by such work, and I wish to mention the efforts of Cycling UK’s development officer, Josh Wood, and project manager, Shona Morris, whose local expertise and passionate advocacy for cycling has made a real difference. Other organisations include Community Tracks, which is led by Stewart Phillips—the Phillips family and biking in Inverclyde go back generations—and Sustrans, which plays a vital role in supporting local initiatives.
If we were to design and implement a system to support cycling from scratch, I am not sure that we would design what we currently have. Across every constituency a patchwork of organisations, responsibilities and funding streams lobby on behalf of our cycling infrastructure, and that is before we even consider issues such as walking. Since we cannot turn back the clock, we have to live with our current circumstances, but perhaps we can envisage a more efficient way of delivering improvements and streamlining the work undertaken by that patchwork of groups.
More broadly, the Scottish Government committed up to £51 million for active travel infrastructure in 2019-20. In announcing that funding, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson MSP, highlighted the importance of high-quality infrastructure in the Scottish Government’s ambitions for cycling. Representatives from Cycling UK, the walking charity Living Streets, and Sustrans, were united in calling for England to follow Scotland’s lead and allocate 5% of transport spending to active travel, with a view to increasing that to 10% in future. If we are serious about tackling climate change, air pollution, traffic congestion and the health ramifications of inactivity, we must show a commitment to our cycling and walking infrastructure. The long-term costs of not treating that issue as a priority will be significant. In conclusion, I thank those organisations that promote cycling and walking in my constituency, and I urge hon. Members to ensure that the relevant authorities, from local councils to the UK Government, allocate sufficient funding to match our ambitions for active travel.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I thank the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts) and my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan) for securing the debate and I commend the many excellent points we have heard this morning.
The Government have admitted, albeit under pressure from the Opposition, that the UK and the world as a whole face a climate emergency. We have just 11 years to dramatically reduce carbon dioxide emissions and we need to take practical steps now to protect the planet for future generations. Changes in the way we travel have a vital part to play in responding to this emergency and, as has been discussed this morning, walking and cycling can play an important role in that.
Were the UK to achieve the same cycling culture and levels of infrastructure as the Netherlands, we could reduce carbon gas emissions from cars by as much as a third, and that is not to mention the many social and economic benefits, such as tackling the air pollution crisis and reaping health benefits by reducing sedentary lifestyles, which in turn could save the NHS up to £9 billion per year. I will return to the central point about climate change later and outline some of the other many advantages of encouraging walking and cycling.
Before addressing those points, it is important to consider where we are as a country, so that we can fully understand the scale of the challenge. Mr Bailey, we need to be honest about this challenge; the UK quite simply has a poor track record of encouraging cycling and walking, and the Government are missing their own targets to increase walking and cycling. There are a number of reasons for that. The most fundamental point is the lack of investment. We have too much car-dependent development on the edge of cities or in the countryside, as colleagues have mentioned today. To make matters worse, the budget for the police has been cut severely since 2010, leading to a lack of traffic officers to tackle speeding and to educate motorists. It is hardly surprising, as colleagues have mentioned, that according to the British social attitudes survey, many people believe cycling is simply too dangerous to try, even though they are well aware of the health and lifestyle benefits.
Despite the Government’s failure, there are signs of improvement at a local level, and there has been real leadership from some mayors and local councils. I commend the imaginative mini-Hollands scheme in London, which has made a significant difference in a number of boroughs. I visited parts of Waltham Forest that have been transformed, with dedicated cycle paths, improved pavements and selective road closures, all of which have made a huge improvement in walking and cycling. More people are choosing active travel and there has been a real change in the atmosphere in the streets, which are now easier to get around on foot or by bike, after years of being dominated by cars. There are many other benefits. Trade has increased for local retailers as more people shop locally in these areas, which has encouraged further walking and cycling.
In Manchester, the Mayor’s cycling tsar, Chris Boardman, is focusing on reducing the risk of accidents at crossings, a point that was well made earlier in the debate, which are often the most dangerous places for both cyclists and pedestrians. He has also worked on joining up local routes. His emphasis on asking the public what they want and on low- cost paint and plastic transformation is leading the way; I believe that it is making it easier to introduce real change at a local level.
There are many more examples of this, not least in my constituency where a new cycling and walking bridge over the Thames at Reading has significantly increased active travel. Imaginative work is being done around the country. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), who is Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, and other colleagues about their local authorities. I commend this work, wherever it is occurring.
Encouraging active travel will also breathe new life into our towns, as I mentioned earlier, by reclaiming the urban realm and creating public spaces that are free from traffic and accompanying pollutants, fostering environments that are pleasant places to live and work. There is no doubt that this is a significant task, but we have the benefit of clear examples to show us how it can happen. Cities in the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark experienced steep declines in cycling until policy changes in the 1970s put them on a trajectory to become the most cycle-friendly places in the world. We must have the same ambition in the UK.
We should follow these examples and make a massive step change in funding to match the most successful towns and cities in Europe, as called for by organisations such as Cycling UK. There must be significant investment in infrastructure to develop dense, continuous networks of cycle paths that are physically separated from traffic, including building cycling and pedestrian bridges or tunnels, as we heard earlier. Cycling should be for the many, not the brave. People must also be encouraged and given the confidence to cycle, so there needs to be training and support for all who need it, including affordable bike access for all. Support for e-bikes is vital, particularly for those who are less physically able.
We know that cycling and walking are hugely important. They can play a vital part in helping us tackle climate change. There are health benefits and real benefits in terms of reducing air pollution. Yet, the Government are failing to meet the targets. Mr Bailey, I believe that we need a programme of concerted action with a step change in investment, which is why Labour would improve investment in cycling and walking, to encourage the sort of transformation we have seen and heard about on the continent.
We would take other practical steps, as referred to by other hon. Members. For example, we would encourage use of canal and river tow paths, safe routes in parks and quiet streets to create green ways into cities and towns. We would work with industry—a point that has not been discussed—to develop a proper industrial strategy for cycling, which is very important and would focus on both conventional and e-bikes. We would support cycling and walking by our wider transformation of investment in transport, bringing the railways back into public ownership to deliver better value for passengers and to encourage more people to walk to the station. More investment in bus travel would also encourage walking to bus stops. Encouraging brownfield redevelopment rather than greenfield building would encourage better access to towns and villages from new development.
I am conscious of time, so I will conclude. Walking and cycling are hugely important if we are to tackle climate change and lead healthier lives. It is clear that determined action can make an enormous difference, whether in northern Europe or closer to home in the UK. We need action now, not delay, and I urge the Minister to change the Government’s approach.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) on securing this popular debate about active travel, local walking and cycling infrastructure. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to hear the contributions of hon. Members from across the House, who spoke about how cycling improves productivity, health and even one’s love life, according to the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). I need to do more cycling for all those reasons, all of which are acknowledged. I was also pleased that my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) mentioned equestrianism. Active travel includes horse riders and bridle paths—this debate includes them.
The good news is that the Government are committed to increasing cycling and walking and to making our roads safer for those who walk and cycle. That is borne out by the facts and the investment that has been put in.
Queensbury tunnel is a 1.4 mile long former railway tunnel in my constituency that links Queensbury to Halifax. This vital piece of infrastructure is threatened with abandonment by Highways England. Given the wide range of support from across the House, including from all five Bradford MPs, my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) and the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), will the Minister agree to meet us and to step in so that this can be stopped? It is directly at odds with the Government’s cycling and walking strategy.
I am happy to explore that issue. I will ask my officials to liaise with Highways England about it, and I will write to the hon. Lady.
Our ambition is to make cycling and walking the natural choices for short journeys, or as part of longer journeys, by 2040. That ambition will be realised through the statutory cycling and walking investment strategy. The strategy represents a shift in approach from the short-term, stop-start and spasmodic interventions of previous Governments, which were referred to by hon. Members, and towards a strategic, long-term approach up to and beyond 2040.
In the short term, the Government have set an aim to double cycling activity to 1.6 billion stages per year, increase walking to 300 stages per person per year, and increase the percentage of children aged five to 10 who usually walk to school to 55% by 2025. Far from a lack of investment, this Conservative Government have massively increased the budget and the ambitions for cycling and active travel generally.
We know what the benefits are, but it is worth rehearsing them. Increased levels of active travel have huge benefits, including for health, mental health and wellbeing; road congestion; air quality; economic productivity, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury); and increased footfall in shops. For society as a whole, it means lower congestion, better air quality and more vibrant and attractive places and communities. As a former tourism and heritage Minister, I recognise that attractive places help with wellbeing, but also help economies.
In relation to health, illness as an outcome of physical inactivity costs the NHS up to £1 billion per annum, with further indirect costs calculated at £8.2 billion per annum. As forms of physical activity, cycling and walking can and do provide particularly high benefits for physical and mental health. Walking or cycling for just 10 minutes a day can contribute towards the 150 minutes of physical activity that we want adults to do per week, as recommended by the chief medical officer.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Witney, who called this debate, recognises that our aims and targets are challenging, particularly that of doubling cycling activity within five or six years, by 2025. Achieving our ambitions requires co-ordination of a complex delivery chain comprising Government Departments, yes, but also agencies, third sector organisations and hundreds of local authorities.
We are looking, with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and other Departments, at a wide range of issues, including charging points and the like, so we will be able to address that question, and I hope to come back to it. As I say, achieving our ambitions requires co-ordination of a complex delivery chain, and we have made good progress.
I will just make some progress, if I may. Given all the contributions, I want to address the points that have been made.
We have made good progress in delivering the commitments set out in the strategy, and the overall number of cycling and walking stages increased in 2017. We recognise, however, that there is some way to go. We also face challenges in attracting higher levels of activity, particularly among certain socioeconomic groups and broader ethnic groups, and we want to work on that too. Those are challenges that we must address.
In the limited time available, I want to move on to the all-important issue of funding, which a number of hon. Members raised. This debate comes at a crucial time in the delivery of the cycling and walking investment strategy, as the Government prepare for the next spending review. As my hon. Friend the Member for Witney mentioned, that will be the vehicle for identifying the funding required across Government to meet the strategy’s 2025 aims and targets.
The Government recognise the scale of the challenge. When the cycling and walking investment strategy was published in 2017, it identified £1.2 billion of funding projected for investment in cycling and walking between 2016 and 2021. Since then, local authorities have added their part and allocated an additional £700 million to safe infrastructure and other active travel projects. Between central Government and local government, that is almost £2 billion being invested in cycling and walking over this Parliament. That is a good investment. Spending on cycling and walking in England has doubled from £3.50 per head to around £7 per head in this four-year spending review period alone. I will always accept that there is more we can do and that there is more to be done, but doubling investment is a good achievement.
Many of the decisions on the allocation of those funds will be made by the relevant local body, in line with the Government’s devolution and localism agenda. We do not want to centralise everything from Whitehall; we want to let local authorities make those decisions where possible. That is an important point in the context of this debate, and one that I will return to shortly, but I want to say something else about additional funding, beyond the £2 billion I have already mentioned.
The transforming cities fund of £2.5 billion is helping to improve local transport links, including cycling and walking routes, which will make it easier for people to travel between often more prosperous city centres and frequently struggling suburbs. Some £220 million of capital and revenue funding is available through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs clean air fund from 2018 to 2020. That can be used by eligible local authorities to support measures such as improving cycling. There are funding streams coming from different quarters.
In 2019 alone, we have announced £21 million for Sustrans, which the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) mentioned, to deliver a range of activation projects to upgrade the national cycle network across England. We have also provided £2 million to support the Big Bike Revival and Walk to School programmes, launched a £2 million e-cargo bike grant programme and published refreshed cycle to work guidance, which clarifies the position in respect of employers providing cycles and equipment costing more than £1,000—we are helping them to do that for their employees. There are a number of schemes across Government, with different funding streams and pockets of funding that have been allocated—vast sums of money, and rightly so, going in this direction.
As we have heard during the debate, cycling and walking deliver a range of benefits, including for health and the environment. That is why Ministers and officials at the Department for Transport work closely with many other Departments to ensure that our policies are properly joined up—hon. Members have mentioned working across Government, and that does happen. I want to ensure that cycling and walking feature prominently in strategies such as the sports strategy, the childhood obesity plan and the “Prevention is Better Than Cure” approach involving the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and MHCLG. We want to work together.
I am afraid I have less than two minutes left, so I will have to continue.
I will just address the issue of safety, which I think the hon. Lady mentioned. We will achieve our ambitions only if people feel safe when cycling and walking, and that is something the Department has prioritised in recent months. I recognise that concerns about safety are a disincentive to a number of people. Following a major cycling and walking safety review, we published a Government response setting out 50 separate actions, including reviewing guidance in the highway code and encouraging local councils to invest around 15% of their local transport infrastructure funding on cycling and walking infrastructure.
However, it is not just about the scale of investment, although that is massive; it also has to be the right investment in the right places. This is why my Department is supporting the preparation of local cycling and walking infrastructure plans. We are currently providing a £2 million package of technical and strategic support to 46 local authorities, including Portsmouth, Oxfordshire and dozens of others. The support package will assist with the development of their plans, often made in partnership with the local enterprise partnership. Local cycling and walking infrastructure plans do not come with dedicated funding for implementation, but local bodies are able to channel investment for cycling and walking from a range of areas.
I welcome the contributions from hon. Members during our all too brief debate. I welcome the ideas proposed. As I stated at the outset, the Government are committed to increasing cycling and walking and to making our roads safer for vulnerable users such as cyclists, pedestrians and equestrians. As we start to develop the next phase of the cycling and walking investment strategy, I welcome all ideas for how we can achieve our collective ambition. In my view, there is a cross-party, non-political, collective ambition to make cycling and walking the natural choice for short journeys, or as part of longer journeys, across the country.
I thank all hon. Members for an outstanding debate and for all their contributions. I also thank the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan) for co-sponsoring the debate with me.
I will not go through everything that everyone has said, but there are a few points I would like to emphasise. One of the great joys of these debates is that, no matter how many points we think we have covered when writing a speech, there are always some that we have not, and other hon. Members always come along and raise them. The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) made an excellent point about school travel plans: cycling must be safe for a 12-year-old. I know how passionately my hon. Friend feels about that, having known for many years of his drive to promote environmental and active travel agendas in his city.
Dedicated cycle lanes were another issue that my hon. Friend raised, as did the hon. Member for Portsmouth South and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green). There is no point having a cycle lane if it is not safe and it conflicts with traffic. The hon. Members for Stroud (Dr Drew) and for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) rightly mentioned unsafe road surfaces. I will also put in a big plug for electric bikes and technology, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) did.
The hon. Members for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire mentioned enjoyment and health, as did the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), who also mentioned the daily mile. Of course, it is the fun and exercise that are so important, and we should not lose sight of that.
I agree entirely with the point made by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) about routine. I also very much agree with the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) and others on the importance of reusing old railway lines; I wish we did more of that in our countryside. Of course, an integrated transport—
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).