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Eric Pickles turns down Cambridge councillors' car vs bike challenge

Minister accuses councillors of misrepresenting him on "anti-car dogma" and cycling "elite" comments made last year...

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.”

Simon has been news editor at since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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