77 MPs packed out Westminster Hall for the debate (sborisov – Fotolia.com)
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.
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.