Secretary of state for communities and local government Eric Pickles has declined an offer made by Labour councillors in Cambridge to participate in a challenge to find out whether it is quicker to get across the city centre on a car or bike.
Mr Pickles, who was due to visit the city today, provoked a storm last August when he said that council policies in the city, which has the highest levels of bike use in the UK, favoured an “elite” and disadvantaged motorists. He added that local councils needed to lose their “anti-car dogma.”
Ahead of the minister’s visit today, Labour councillors Noel Kavanagh and Ashley Walsh invited him to race them from Cowley Road to Peas Hill – Mr Pickles in his ministerial car, the councillors on bikes – to show him the advantages of cycling, reports Cambridge News.
Councillor Kavanagh said: “We challenge Mr Pickles to race his chauffeur-driven ministerial car against our bikes to show him how important cycling is to our city.
“Mr Pickles says Cambridge is too ‘anti-car’ but he forgets we should really be aiming to reduce congestion. Promoting walking, cycling and public transport is more important than trying to pit motorists against cyclists for political gain.
“The race will show Mr Pickles that to prevent future gridlock Cambridge will need to switch more journeys from cars to bikes and buses.”
However, the Conservative politician turned down the invitation, and yesterday insisted that the councillors had misrepresented what he had said last year, telling Cambridge News: “This demonstrates to me how the Labour Party has no regard for the public purse.
“The thought I would use a ministerial car to come on a political visit is completely anathema to me – I will not be using taxpayers’ money to make this visit.
“When I made my remarks as regard to cars I said that, in places like Oxford and York and Cambridge, it was difficult to be car-friendly so frankly they are taking offence over remarks that I didn’t make.
“I think it’s a prime example of how Labour are out of touch on two levels,” he added.
For the record, here’s what Mr Pickles actually told Cambridge News last August: “Town halls need to ditch their anti-car dogma. Making it easier to park will help support local shops, local jobs and tourism.”
Speaking specifically about the city, he went on: “I accept there is a historic part of Cambridge that makes it not particularly friendly to cars and that’s the nature of having a very ancient city but, if we don’t put our plans together on how people live and how some of the elite think we should live, we are just asking for trouble.
“While this is not the sole cause of the high street’s problems, it is certainly a contributory factor.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.