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Transport secretary wanted "to get rid of cycling as DfT function" says ex-APPCG co-chair

Dr Julian Huppert reflects on highs and lows or five years campaigning for cycling within parliament

Former All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG) co-chair Dr Julian Huppert claims ex-transport secretary Philip Hammond wanted to remove cycling from the remit of the Department for Transport (DfT) after the Coalition Government was formed in 2010.

Dr Huppert, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge who lost his seat at May’s general election, also said the last five years were “amazing” for cycling as it rose up the political agenda, but added that he found it “depressing” that issues such as securing a commitment to spend £10 per person annually each year on cycling remain unresolved.

In an interview for the newsletter of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, he said that Conservative politician Mr Hammond, who oversaw the DfT until October 2011 and is now foreign secretary, viewed cycling as “unimportant and trivial.”

One of Mr Hammond’s earliest actions as transport secretary was to consign Cycling England, which under the previous Labour government had run the Cycling Towns and Cities programme among other things, to the so-called ‘Bonfire of the Quangos’ which saw nearly 200 of the bodies axed across all sectors.

– No punches pulled in Farewell Note from Cycling England

Dr Huppert said: “This was a bad idea and a great shame, but unfortunately Cycling England got caught up in Philip Hammond’s desire to get rid of quangos.

“In fact, his instructions when he became transport secretary were to get rid of cycling as a DfT function; he saw it as unimportant and trivial.

“We fought back hard to stop that, but we weren’t in time to save Cycling England. I spoke in detail to the chair of Cycling England [Phillip Darnton], and his view was that it was more important to save Bikeability, which we did manage to do.”

High points for cycling during the last parliament according to Dr Huppert included the APPCG securing a debate on the subject after the Cities Fit For Cycling campaign by the Times newspaper gained momentum, which in turn led to the APPCG hosting the Get Britain Cycling inquiry.

– Kaya Burgess of the Times talks to about Cities fit for Cycling campaign

“It was in many ways an amazing five years for the cause of cycling,” he reflected.

“It is now much further up the agenda than it was five years ago, as a result of many things – success in the Olympics and Tour de France, and the amazing spectacle of having it here; the Times ‘Cities Fit For Cycling’ campaign, local campaign groups and much more – but also the fact that we were able to make cycling matter in Parliament and government more than before.

“When I first put in a bid for a parliamentary debate on cycling, the general view was that we wouldn’t get enough MPs to show up – in the end, we broke the record for MPs in Westminster Hall, our second debating chamber, and even ran out of seats.

“From that point on, we had established a level of importance and credibility that transformed what could be done.”

Other highlights, he said, including the Get Britain Cycling Inquiry and the money allocated to cycling through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, launched by his Liberal Democrat colleague Norman Baker while cycling minister, as well as the Cycle City Ambition scheme.

– £114m boost as winners of second wave of Cycle City Ambition funding announced

But he said that “despite all the extra money, more than ever before, we are still way below the £10 per person, per year we called for as an initial step in Get Britain Cycling. We achieved a lot, but it’s pretty depressing how much more there is still to do.”

He added that the other low point related to attempts to secure cross-party commitment to funding for cycling.

“We in the Lib Dems committed to the Get Britain Cycling target (that was easy – I wrote that bit of the manifesto), but both Labour and the Conservatives refused to join in.

“We just couldn’t get cycling to be seen as something that would swing votes.”

The achievement related top cycling that he says “will probably have the longest-lasting influence” was the amendment he tabled to the Infrastructure Act that added the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy.

“This means there is a legal requirement to have a strategy for active transport, rather than it being a peripheral activity,” said Dr Huppert.

“I think that will be the key for future cycling investment,” he added - although national cycling charity CTC told last week that it is concerned that cycling could be approaching a "funding cliff" due to the time it may take to implement the strategy.

You can read the full interview with Dr Huppert on the Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s website.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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