Julian Huppert writes…We need a strategy to promote walking and cycling

We have a huge problem in this country with physical inactivity. Most people do nothing like enough to stay healthy, and as a result problems like obesity and being overweight are very common.

But there are huge benefits from a physically active society. If people keep fit, they are healthier and happier.

One way to help change this is to encourage more people to walk or cycle to work, or to school, or just to the shops. It is also far more environmentally sustainable, and a very cheap and reliable way for people to get around.

So the case is strong. When Norman Baker was Cycling Minister we were gradually able to persuade the government to start taking this seriously. Local Sustainable Travel Funding helped a lot, and the £241 million Nick announced is the biggest single investment in cycling, but still falls short of what we really need.

As co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, I led an inquiry into what we needed to do in order to get more people cycling. Our report, ‘Get Britain Cycling‘, which includes a call for £10 per head per year ongoing funding, was backed by everyone from Sustrans and CTC to Living Streets and the Automobile Association. It was endorsed formally by Parliament, and we’ve adopted it as policy. Disappointingly, Labour and the Tories seem too busy having a spat about who would put the least in.

The Infrastructure Bill currently before Parliament requires the creation of a Road Investment Strategy, and I think this is an opportunity to also require a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy to promote these essential forms of transport.

That’s why I’ve tabled an amendment to be debated on Monday to do just that. It’s supported by MPs across the House, and by a huge coalition of transport and health organisations, including British Cycling; Campaign for Better Transport; CPRE; CTC, the National Cycling Charity; Living Streets; Sustrans; The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport; and the Richmond Group (British Heart Foundation, Asthma UK, British Lung Foundation, Age UK, Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Diabetes UK, The Neurological Alliance, Macmillan Cancer Support, Stroke Association and Rethink Mental Illness).

It’s the right thing to do, it’s a popular thing to do.

Let’s hope Parliament does the right thing and backs my amendment.

* Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge from 2010-15

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  • Stevan Rose 21st Jan '15 - 6:30pm

    There is a Cycling Minister? And you want £600 million rising to £1.2 billion? Every year. Seriously? Whilst my local hospital can’t afford to grit all the footpaths in this recent icy spell. What planet do you politicians live on? I am astonished at what you think is appropriate prioritisation of taxpayers’ hard earned money. Absolutely gobsmacked.

  • @Stevan Rose

    Exercise promotes both physical and mental health. Once a cycle has been made it takes very little in the way of fossil fuels to keep it on the road. Cycles are less dangerous to other road users than cars.

    It is fair to argue about the sum of money that should be spent promoting cycling and where the money should come from but we should accept that we would all be better off if more of those people who could switched from cars to cycles for short journeys.

  • Stevan Rose 21st Jan '15 - 7:08pm

    Sorry, I have to put some perspective on this. The £600 million your report wants to start with is 3 x the £200 million Cancer Drugs Fund. The £1.2 billion aim is only slightly under the annual routine cancer drugs budget. If MPs started to put their full attention on things that really matter you might find the electorate start to re-engage with their MPs. Still gobsmacked (and pretty angry to be honest).

  • Jane Ann Liston 21st Jan '15 - 7:20pm

    I note that 2 of the organisations supporting Julian’s bill are cancer charities.

    The costs would be a good investment, though. Cycling especially has such a generally good effect upon health that it actually saves the NHS, among other organisations, money. In my own case, I was able to be discharged from hospital after a major op. 2 days earlier than predicted, because of my physical fitness, which is mainly due to my whizzing about on a Brompton.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Jan '15 - 7:41pm

    One thing I do know, is that obesity is a risk factor for breast cancer post menopause because the greater the fat, the higher the level of oestrogen – I know this because of personal experience.

    Doctors tell us how much we need to spend on gastric bands because of obesity eExcessive obesity is the cause of some diabetes and high blood pressure. It exacerbates cardiac problems and some breathing problems.

    At some point we have got to start preventing rather than curing health problems, and walking and cycling seems a good way. Similarly, I was pleased when a relative who is both obese and suffers from long term depression was prescribed swimming an activity that is recommended by cardiac charities.

    Much ill health is preventable. Metaphorically speaking, instead of standing down river and pulling drowning people out, we need to stand up river and prevent people from falling in.

    Good for Dr Huppert.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Jan '15 - 8:02pm

    I read yesterday’s discussion on the Green Party manifesto for education It is my understanding that the rationale for the Green Party idea that children should attend their local community school was because it would mean that they could walk or cycle to school.

  • Helen Dudden 21st Jan '15 - 8:29pm

    I have a sight impairment, my colleague who works on disabled issues with me is in a wheel chair. You have made no exclusions for those like myself.

    Several times I have very nearly been knocked down in one of those shared spaces. Bikes are silent. The old shout of bike makes you jump.

    I agree, I use the newest drugs to enable me to walk around. I.was blind.

  • Stevan Rose 21st Jan ’15 – 7:08pm

    Maybe I could help to un-smack your gob.

    Your comments betray two problems of perception.
    The first is the ‘jolly big numbers’ problem. £1.2 billion sounds like a lot of money. Compared to the £4-37 of loose change in my pocket it is a lot of money. Compared to the costs of treating people with preventable diseases it is a relatively small sum of money.

    The second problem is not comparing like with like.
    You suggest that we cannot possibly spend money on a cycling policy because we MUST spend money on very expensive cancer treatments. But you do not seem to make the link between cancer prevention and cycling. The list of health charities in Juian Hupert’s article should be a clue. You will have noticed that several of those charities are cancer charities. Those charity guys know what they are talking about. It might actually be much cheaper to spend money (very large sums of money) on keeping people out of hospital than spending large sums of money on keeping people in hospitals and treating them with very expensive drugs.

    By the way if your local hospital cannot provide grit to prevent iced up footpaths that is a failure of local management and organisation not a failure of funding on a government scale. But you knew that already.

  • Sorry John but I don’t agree, but you knew that already. The money ultimately involved is equal to the entire spend on normal cancer drugs over the course of a year. That puts it in perspective. And there is a finite pot, choices to be made. Just as underfunding in the NHS means hospitals must choose between patient care and maintenance.

    I don’t make the link between cycling and reductions in risks of cancer because I’ve never seen or heard of any evidence for a link. I understand the NHS recognises an association betwen cycling and an increased risk of prostate cancer in men over 50 though.

    Cycling can have health benefits for many but it also results in significantly greater injury risks and is a nice to have when the national finances are in surplus, not an essential billion pound spending priority.

  • In times of plenty it might be a good idea, at the moment when savage cuts are taking place it’s just daft. Lets face it if people want to walk or ride a bike it’s still possible and in most areas of the country not that difficult. Maybe in London it’s a problem, but it certainly isn’t where I live.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Jan '15 - 11:03pm

    @ Steven Rose,
    Perhaps you should read the Swedish research in the British Journal of Cancer.

    I’ll leave you to find it.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Jan '15 - 11:53pm

    @ Malc,
    Unfortunately, not every one has access to the information needed to make an informed choice about their health. Cancer and other illnesses are put down to bad luck or some genetic component when much ill health and premature death can be avoided by changes in life-style choices.

    If one just takes cancer, the World Cancer Research Fund gives preventability statistics. Even in a time of austerity, giving people the information and producing a strategy that sees more people exercising for 30 minutes a day or more is not daft, its a potential life saver.

  • Dear Stevan,

    Just stand back and look at the bigger picture, including the huge public expenditure on roads – not to mention other costs such as the NHS bill for road accidents, let alone the health bill from air pollution that is created by largely diesel vehicles on our roads in urban areas. These add up to huge costs to the taxpayer.

    I would personally welcome some serious money being spent on making cycling safer and attractive across the UK – it is something we should all get behind.

    And ensuring pedestrian safety and walking is easier and safer should of course be an even higher priority.


  • Jane Mansfield

    I think all the information about diet and exercise is out there and has been for some time. I’m all for education, but you can’t force people to cook proper meals and go for a walk or bike ride. If they wanted to exercise there are plenty of ways, as the millions of us who do exercise will confirm. I agree with Stevan – when times are hard – there are better things to spend our money on.

    Out of interest I looked at the cancer and heart disease rates at a couple of countries that have great facilities for cyclists – Denmark and Holland. Both had rates that are a fair bit worse than the UK, in fact I was surprised to see how well we were doing against most other countries. Perhaps people in those countries are holding the UK up as an example of a country that’s getting it right!

  • Jayne Mansfield 22nd Jan '15 - 6:59am

    I am afraid that I don’t agree that people have all all the information is out there to make informed life style choices. Clearly the information relating to exercise and cancer, including breast cancer is not widespread nor, I would argue, is the rest of the evidence relating to cardiac disease , osteoporosis etc.. I think that anyone who tries to argue against the health benefits of exercise, (in some studies cycling is actually specified) is on a sticky wicket. Dr Huppert has the evidence stacked on his side.

    David Cameron talked about a cycling revolution but to make that happen we need to build on the current enthusiasm for cycling that has been helped by the Tour De France. Cycling and walking are not only beneficial, there are reasons why they should be the exercise of choice for many people. Nevertheless, despite there being cross party support for a national cycling strategy, when the chips were down, there were delays and an unwillingness to make a commitment to delivery of the plan.

    Dr Huppert deserves our support. Costs need to be balanced against savings, not only in terms of preventing illness but in costs to the environment, although I don’t think that these environmental costs have been estimated yet.

    When it comes to the development of transport networks and the designing of new cities, I totally agree with Dr Huppert that cyclists and walkers should be accorded priority. When people make informed choices, these choices are influenced by many factors including perceptions of safety and vulnerability.

    Good luck to Dr Huppert. He’s got a good case, I hope he succeeds. When politicians are held in contempt, it is because they speak with forked tongue. This government manages to find money for the projects it really values as opposed to the projects it says it values.

  • A Social Liberal 22nd Jan '15 - 7:23am

    I don’t know how many of you cycle – and I don’t mean a two or three mile commute into the centre of the town you live in. I took up cycling around a year ago to gain some fitness and have cycled 13 to 15 miles in and about the dales around my local town two or three times a week ever since.

    In the time I have been cycling I have come close to having a serious accident on possibly each occasion I have been on one of my trips. Motorbikes, cars and vans have all come so close to me at such great speed that my heart lives in my mouth throughout the hour or so I am on the road.

    But ignorant, arrogant drivers are not the only hazards on the roads outwith our towns and cities. Potholes round sharp corners, ice, oil and even the squashed carcasses of unfortunate fauna will conspire to put cyclists over their handlebars. Even the road markings on wet days will conspire to spill unfortunates off their bikes. Throw in speeds of thirty to forty miles per hour (charging down steep gradients will give you that kind of speed) and the propensity for serious harm increases.

    The point is, cycling outside the suburbs is a dangerous sport – casualties will occur no matter how careful, how well protected participants are.

    Talk to club cyclists and you will hear the same thing and this is why you will see the surge of pleasure cyclists which, to be fair has taken off since the ‘Grand Depart’, recede as the casualties mount.

  • This is great stuff, although public transport needs as much, if not more investment if we’re going to encourage people out of cars. Fewer cars on the road is a benefit for absolutely everybody without exception.

  • Stevan Rose 21st Jan ’15 – 10:08pm

    Well we can disagree, no problem with that. But I am very much with The Cancer Charities (and other charities as cycling and physical activity are mportant in prevention of a whole range of conditions and diseases). Just ask yourself why would these very well informed experts whose charities work on the basis of the best scientific information available come to the conclusion that cycling and physical activity are a priority.

    Don’t get me wrong I am all for treating cancer patients with the best drugs available. I spent 3 weeks in an Isolation Ward in The Royal Marsden last July swallowing more pills than I could count and having goodness knows wht pumped into my system through a Hickman Line. So I should be that last person to complain about NHS expenditure on cancer treatments. I would just ask you to consider how much better it would be to put money into prevention rather than treatment.

  • Jenny Barnes 22nd Jan '15 - 8:48am

    An amazing set of whataboutery here,.

    £10 per head is nowhere near enough. Holland has been spending about £40/ head for the last 40 years on cycling infrastructure, and cycling infrastructure is the only thing that will get more people cycling. Groningen has a 50% modal share; Cambridge, by comparison has the highest cycling modal share in the UK (20% or so) and that’s mostly down to the students. http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2011/11/truth-about-cambridge.html . To get people cycling you need to provide safe infrastructure for everyone from 8 to 80, not some “training” or “encouragement”. I’m an experienced, assertive cyclist and there are plenty of roads I will not take the risk of cycling on. It’s pretty much only relatively young, fit, men who feel able to mix it with the sometimes extremely aggressive traffic on our roads – would you send your child out there? Neither would I.

    £40 at least per head, spent on infrastructure – that’s just enough to stop us falling further behind the Dutch.
    For the whatabouterists, I’ve seen studies claiming that every £ spent on cycling gives a £5 return elsewhere, in reduced congestion, health benefits, and so on.

  • BTW — Please spend money on R+D to produce a cheap and readily available bicycle tyre that does not puncture.

    I have a personal belief (backed up with absolutely no research) that hundreds of thousands of bicycles sit idle waiting to have a puncture mended.

    I hate mending punctures so we have a bicycle and an adult tricycle gently rotting outside the back door.

  • Matt Hemsley 22nd Jan '15 - 9:35am

    Some pretty depressing comments. Indeed, I would argue now is exactly the right time to be shifting the £££ we spend on unnecessary new roads onto making cycling (and walking) an option for shorter, everyday journeys. For people who say “it is possible” – of course in theory it is, but to try and get from A to B largely involves mixing with fast flowing traffic on busy streets, which people (quite understandably) don’t want to do.

    When the NHS spend billions treating people who are basically making themselves ill (though inactivity), this is a much better use of public funds than endlessly pouring money into treatment once illnesses are developed. Isn’t it also liberal to give people to freedom to choose how they travel, rather than forcing people to use a car to get around, as our current transport system basically dictates is necessary?

  • Stevan, I understand your point, but we’re far too dependent in this country on expensive, often palliative treatment at the last minute for avoidable health conditions. Keeping people healthy offers huge savings for health and social services and also for business (fewer sick-days, for one). Obesity, for example, threatens to be a crippling load on the NHS.

  • “The Infrastructure Bill currently before Parliament requires the creation of a Road Investment Strategy”

    Golden opportunity – table an amendment!!!

    One of the big problems is obvious things being omitted, that are very simple and cheap to rectify if only they had been spotted during planning!

    In my travels I repeatedly see this with road schemes: local roads being upgraded/incorporated i to dual carriageway/sub-motorway schemes, loosing a route for pedestrians, cyclist’s and mobility scooters/buggies. out of town retail/business parks being built on one side of a main road, with the town on the other side, with no safe pedestrian/cyclist/buggy route between the two. An amendment to the infrastructure bill could force the inclusion of assessment etc. of provision for pedestrians etc. in all infrastructure projects, at little real additional cost.

  • Robert Wootton 22nd Jan '15 - 1:35pm

    We need a Strategy to Promote Walking and Cycling?

    No we don’t. We need an economic system that makes it in the (economic?) self interest to be cardio-vascularly fit.

    It should be possible for National Insurance contributions banded at 20% as the standard contribution for employees, reducing down to 8% for those people who achieve a level of cardio-vascularly fitness, e.g. jogging/running 5k in 22 minutes. A person who achieves this is unlikely to be obese or to smoke. Of course there are implications to this proposal.
    But if the increase in NI contributions went to the NHS, it would go a long way to easing the funding crisis it faces.

    However, this proposal would require the NHS to increase its physiotherapy facilities and also perhaps if shin splints and bone fractures overtake heart disease, diabetes and obesity as the main reason for hospitalisation, the orthopaedic departments.

  • I can see where Stevan is coming from, although I disagree. As a doctor I have dealt with people at the end of their lives, and also tried to encourage others to make healthy lifestyle choices. When someone is near the end of their life it feels uncomfortable to deny them any life-prolonging treatment, however expensive. Advances in technology mean that new cancer drugs are being created at a rapid rate. Most of these only prolong lives by a few weeks or months, rather than curing cancer. When we measure the cost-effectiveness of these drugs in terms of years of life saved per £, they are hundreds or thousands of times less effective than many things that makes lifestyles more healthy, such as a doctor encouraging a patient to give up smoking or investing in cycling infrastructure.

    The latter two are the most cost-effective type of interventions, since they deal with the root cause of ill health. If we don’t do these things well, people get complications from their poor lifestyle, such as high blood pressure. This is more expensive to treat than improving their lifestyle. But the complications of high blood pressure, such as heart attacks and kidney failure, are yet more expensive to treat. Finally these complication bring someone to the end of their life, which is even more expensive for the NHS – which spends a quarter of its income on patients in the last 6 months of their lives.

    So, we have a spectrum of interventions, with cheap and highly effective prevention of disease at one end, and expensive, mostly futile, management of long-term disease at the other end. It’s obvious that is would be most efficient to direct our efforts at the prevention end, yet our society does the opposite. Partly this is because it feels so uncomfortable for us to deny any treatment to the sick, no matter how ineffectual. Preventative measures, that would stop others from developing the same diseases, just don’t have the same emotional appeal. However, if we are just led by these emotions then we could easily spend most of the government’s income on inefficient life-prolonging drugs while letting the general health of the public get worse and worse.

  • Jayne Mansfield 22nd Jan '15 - 2:26pm

    I am not sure where the assumption comes from that we will all be wobbling around with broken bones is there is an increase in the cycling rate.

    In my working class village, we all walked or cycled as children and I don’t remember the school being full of children with splints nor adults with limbs ‘in pots’ because of cycling injuries. A National strategy for walking and cycling would minimise risk that currently exists.

    Risk management should include a reduction in the number of vehicles as more people have safe alternative modes of transport, and lower speed limits in built up areas and on rural roads. I have cardiologists and oncologists in my family and friendship group, and even under current conditions they argue that exercise including cycling and walking is the way to prevent the epidemic of heart disease, and many other causes of morbidity and death.

    As a non medic, I am sorry that I cannot provide all the references for all the academic articles which support their case. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (PH41) is a good place to start if one wants a rapid introduction to some of the benefits

  • I live in a rural area which has cycling events. These are not good for my health as because the way they ride on winding roads and lanes make me stay in. They seem to take delight in obstruction.

  • A Social Liberal 22nd Jan '15 - 4:15pm

    Jayne Mansfield said

    “I am not sure where the assumption comes from that we will all be wobbling around with broken bones is there is an increase in the cycling rate.”

    I advert you to this Guardian article


    The above is typical of roads all over the country, simply because British drivers do not show enough consideration to either walkers or cyclists. Until they do (and until councils keep roads in much better shape than they do now) it is unfair to ask people to risk life and limb in the pursuit of fitness.

    Perhaps a better way of getting the country fitter is for councils to have decently funded gyms where townspeople can have three free one hour sessions. There they can be safe and supervised, looked after by trained staff.

  • Now having read “Get Britian Cycling”, Julian by focusing on the funding proposal, omits the two more important proposals contained in the document:

    1. Redesigning Our Roads, Streets And Communities – these recommendations addresses our real concerns about planning and road design, making consideration for pedestrians and cyclists a mandatory planning requirement.

    2. Training and Education – ensure that children specifically, but people in general, are trained in cycle road usage and safety.

    To me these are quick and easy wins, because they require very little new funding. They also pave the way to what many here are implying: make the roads more pedestrian and cyclist (and mobility scooter) friendly. I believe this simple step would greatly assist in getting more people cycling…

  • Jayne Mansfield 23rd Jan '15 - 10:52am

    @ Roland,
    I was arguing ( or thought I was) that cycling accidents are not inevitable). I am well aware of the RoSPA August 2014 statistics.

    When I was young, there were not so many vehicles on the road, and they did not travel at such speed, which is why in posts, I have suggested how cycling can become less hazardous, including your point about the need for training of adults so that they can also train their children. ( What happened to Tufty?).

    Under current conditions of course I worry about my children and grandchildren, all cyclists, so I hope that I can now make plain that more cyclists on the roads does not mean more accidents- if cyclists ( and walkers) if risk reduction and management for cyclists is taken seriously, and they are given priority in future planning.

    Many cities already have, or are working towards safe cycling strategies, but in my opinion, Dr Huppert is correct in wanting a legally binding commitment for the national cycling and walking strategy.

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