Layla Moran: We must stop wasting opportunities to improve cycling infrastructure

This week, Layla Moran held a Commons debate on cycling:

Here’s her speech in full:

I am extremely grateful to have the chance to speak this evening about the importance of cycling and, more specifically, the Gilligan report. Oxford is famous for being a cycling city. In fact, one of the first early-day motions I tabled following my election was to congratulate the city on its newfound cycling city status and ambitions. That said, it is fair to say that I am a fair-weather cyclist. I use an electric bike with a very pretty basket, and I usually cycle in a skirt and rarely in the rain. One could therefore rightly ask why I decided to become a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cycling. Well, I did that not because I am not a Lycra-clad, cycling fanatic, but because I am exactly the type of person whom we need to encourage out of the car and into the saddle. While cycling may not be great for my hair, it is brilliant for my health and the environment, and anything that I can do to encourage others to join me is a good use of my time.

Of course, the catalyst for this debate has been the publication this summer of the “Running Out of Road: Investing in Cycling in Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford” report by former London cycling tsar Andrew Gilligan, as part of the National Infrastructure Commission. The report is incredibly welcome. At its heart is a recommendation for £150 million of investment in cycling in Oxford to realise the ambition for a “C change”—a cycling change—with an increase in cycling journeys and a reduction in congestion.

Securing substantially increased funding for cycling in Oxfordshire is key to truly integrating cycling into all local transport and planning projects, to ensuring that cycling provision is ambitious and designed to a high standard, and to ensuring that cycling is integral to other transport networks—my goodness that is not the case at the moment—rather than being isolated or an afterthought.

The report further advocates an Oxfordshire cycling commissioner with powers similar to those Andrew Gilligan held in London. The commissioner’s job would be to hold all aspects of county, district and city councils to account, and the report suggests that local cycling campaign groups should be funded to allow them to examine and challenge planning applications that are not ambitious enough. I have spoken to Cyclox, BikeSafe and Abingdon Freewheeling, which I am sure would all welcome that proposal with enthusiasm.

The report concludes:

“Provision for cycling in Oxford is poor”.

I absolutely agree.

There are many good examples across the country, but we need many more.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, cycling is one of the top issues in my postbag, and top of the list of cycling issues is the need for segregated cycle lanes. Why? Because they are safer. Fiona lives off the Botley Road, and she gives examples of regular accidents on that road. She says that

“the road needs to be fit to drive and cycle and to do so with full concentration.”

In my patch, it is Banbury Road and Woodstock Road, as well as Botley Road and the other arterial roads. More than that, it is about schemes such as the B4044 community path, which would provide a safe cycle route between Botley and Eynsham. The path should have happened a decade ago, and the cost is tiny compared with what we are spending on roads. We need to make sure that the commuter routes into the city are well serviced for bicycles, not just for cars.

At a recent student surgery, the biggest issue that came up was potholes—peak Lib Dem. Although the same complaints come from residents in the likes of Kennington, Radley and Kidlington, I find it interesting that students are also interested in potholes. Claire spoke for many:

“cycling along Banbury Road makes my commute hellish—if it’s not riddled with potholes, it’s constantly flooded in wet weather.”

From potholes to planning, the report also says:

“Provision in new developments is…disastrous.”

That comment is echoed by Ian in Abingdon, who says that there is an

“urgent need to make cycling much more safe and common with new building developments”.

I appreciate that putting segregated cycle lanes into Oxford’s historic centre and into Abingdon town centre is difficult, but there is no excuse when it comes to new ​developments. A good example of this is the forthcoming “Oxford North” development, which seems to have no proper cycling facilities designed into it—yet. I am sorry to say that councils do not always have a great track record in this area, despite warm words. The snazzy new Westgate shopping centre, where I am going to be celebrating my birthday soon, is one good example of this; I will not be cycling there because there is no—

As I was saying, what a wasted opportunity there. That same lack of ambition was seen in the development of Oxford Parkway station, where there was no real creation of integrated cycle routes, despite the fact that the station is within easy cycling distance of tens of thousands of people in Oxford and Kidlington. To cross the roundabout one has to get off one’s bike and walk—that is not good enough. Councils are great at rhetoric, yet when the schemes are finally implemented, we rarely see the warm words we often hear come to fruition. So my question to the Minister is: how do we hold councils to account?

In Abingdon, there is no masterplan for integrating cycle routes between different developments, despite the fact that new housing could and should provide a new route between Abingdon and Radley, where the railway station would make a fantastic cycling parkway station. We need to make sure that when plans for the redevelopment of Oxford station come forward, proper cycling facilities are front and centre of them. Julia Bird points out that the lack of investment and facilities means that she often does not take her bike with her into the city centre because it would get stolen, so she keeps

“a basic one for fear it’ll get pinched.”

Connectivity is the key. As the report points out,

“Provision at dispersed employment sites is worse”

than in Oxford city.

It also states:

“Provision for out-city commuters is key but barely exists.”

It is crucial that the communities and towns surrounding Oxford are not forgotten.

Another potential wasted opportunity is the upcoming Oxford flood alleviation scheme, which I am not told will not include a cycle path that would connect Oxford ​to Abingdon, despite repeated assurances at the beginning of the scheme that that would be put in place. May I beg the Minister to have a word with his colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? It would be so much cheaper to do this now than to do it retrospectively. As my fantastic colleague Councillor Emily Smith points out, it is vital that there is more joined up working, not just between Government and the councils, but between the district, county and city councils, and that existing funding for cycle routes that are under threat is not lost. I would be grateful for any support the Minister can give to impress on all the councils to actively work together.

Moving from the local to the national, I would like to see the Gilligan report be a catalyst for action across the country. The importance of mainstreaming cycle-planning, integrated networks, consistent design standards and the wider aim of traffic reduction cannot be overstated. When the Department has reviewed its guidance on cycling infrastructure design, it needs to be applied consistently. It is clear that in Oxfordshire we have the political will, but support from the Government is crucial to reallocating road space from motor traffic to cycling.

So, how do we achieve all that? As Andrew Gilligan himself says, the plans will need money, alongside a change in the national view of cycling as unimportant and unworthy of serious spending. The £150 million suggested in the report sounds like a lot, but it is necessary, and it does not begin to compare to the amounts being invested in new road facilities—for example, as part of the controversial Oxford to Cambridge expressway. Critically, the money must not be a series of taps turned on and off; instead, we need a long-term strategic commitment to improving cycling infrastructure, not just in Oxford but across the country. Investing in road and rail without cycle infrastructure would be the wrong approach.

Given that officials are already starting to prepare for the Treasury’s next cross-departmental spending review, I am keen to do anything that I can to support the Minister in his bid to secure a better national funding settlement for cycling and walking. For example, I would like to see realised the 2013 “Get Britain Cycling” report’s ambition of there being spending of £10 per person annually, rising to £20 per person later. I of course welcome the Government’s cycling and walking investment strategy, but it could and should be much more ambitious. Rather than small investments that double the number of cyclists nationwide from 2% to 4%, we need to get the proportion to a fifth at the very least.

Of the £340 million that has so far been allocated specifically for walking and cycling, does the Minister know how much has been spent, where and how? I am told that he does not. If he does not, how do we know that any of the various schemes are going to work? The report was clear that it is better not to spend money at all than to spend it badly. Will the Minister also say how much of that money is left, so that all the rest of it can be spent in Oxford?

The report concludes that congestion in Oxford is close to unmanageable and brings pollution and health problems. In the longer term the investment will pay for itself; will the Minister confirm that his Treasury colleagues will take that into account in the spending review? Cycling not only benefits people’s physical health but ​reduces air pollution. Investment in cycling benefits policy aims in not only the Department for Transport but in the Department of Health and Social Care, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—win, win, win, win.

In conclusion, we have a huge opportunity in Oxfordshire. With a cross-departmental, long-term approach from the Government, better working between councils and local organisations, and the funding boost recommended by the Gilligan report, we can be ambitious for the future of cycling in Oxford. I hope that the Minister and his Department will help Oxfordshire to realise its ambitions to be a world leader and the country’s greatest cycling city.

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  • Perhaps we do not need to despair of leadership potential in the House of Commons ….

  • Brian Evans 9th Sep '18 - 7:49am

    I whole-heartedly agree with all that Layla has to say, and also recognise the many demands on our MPs in addition to attending the House. However, doesn’t the spectacle of such wisdom being pronounced before a mere dozen of our representatives beg the question of how useful is such an occasion in the whole system of governing our country?

  • Neil Sandison 11th Sep '18 - 2:52pm

    Whole heartedly agree with Layla .Many of you will have been through the local plan process and seen significant increases in the amount of housing allocated to your areas .This has also included additional provision of schools particularly secondary schools .
    My county council made all the right noises about modal shift to alternative transport but failed to recognise the need for off road cycle provision on the new housing estate to the new schools relying on the taxi of mum and dad or perhaps a contribution from developers to school bus provision .They ignored injury accident rates on road for young cyclists ,and continue to want to retrofit existing transport corridors with those scary cycle lanes which drivers love hop in and out of.New Local Plans must be underpinned by viable local transport plans and air quality impacts assessments .No local plan is “sound “in planning terms unless it can meet these 3 criteria.

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