Boris Johnson’s pledge, announced today, to fund 250 miles of segregated cycling infrastructure in England outside London has been described by an MP as “a complete joke.” The prime minister was also forced to confirm to MPs that the government’s investment in cycling does not go beyond the £350 million announced in the Conservative manifesto ahead of December’s general election, a figure that was greeted at the time with dismay by active travel campigners.
The debate that followed Johnson’s infrastructure announcement to the House of Commons this lunchtime focused mainly on HS2 and ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ as well as plans to invest in bus services across the country.
Towards the end of the debate, however, some MPs took the opportunity to quiz the prime minister on his plans for cycling.
Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, said: “To announce 250 miles of new cycle routes as a big green infrastructure investment, it’s a complete joke. It will only mean a few extra miles per local authority, and we as cyclists know what those look like.
“So if he agrees we need many more continuous cycle routes, how can he begin to explain how 250 miles across the country will cut it?”
The prime minister responded: “This is just the beginning.”
Vicky Ford, the Conservative MP for Chelmsford, was next to put a question to Johnson. She said: “I’m delighted to hear that when it comes to buses and bikes, we’re all going Dutch.” She asked the prime minister “to confirm that rapidly growing areas like Essex and the East of England get our fair share of the funding?”
“Absolutely,” Johnson replied.
The final question of the debate came from Ruth Cadbury, MP for Brentford and Isleworth and co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling and Walking Group.
She said: “To double the rate of cycling from 2 per cent to 4 per cent of all trips will, according to government figures, need £5 billion of funding at least. So how much of today’s announcement for buses and cycling and walking will actually be spent on cycling?”
Johnson said: “In the first stage, £350 million.”
That is the exact figure set aside for cycling and walking in the party’s general election manifesto to be spent on cycling and walking in the five years of this parliament, equivalent to little more than £1 per person per year.
That compares to the previous figure of £7 per person per year, which was still well below the the £17 per year, rising to £34 annually by 2025, called for by campaign groups belonging to the Cycling & Walking Alliance.
In his infrastructure announcement to the House of Commons this lunchtime, the prime minister had promised that we would see “Mini Hollands blooming across the country like so many tulips,” and spoke of “a new generation of cyclists” who would “pedal safely and happily to school and work in tree-dappled sunlight on their own network of fully segregated cycle paths.”
Responding to him, leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn pointed out that while the government was committing to build 250 of segregated cycle paths throughout the country, Labour had pledged a network extending 3,300 miles in its election manifesto.
That document also pledged spending of £50 per person per year for active travel, something beyond the wildest dreams of cycling and walking campaigners – and given the thumping majority returned to the Tories in December, a dream is what that is almost certain to remain.
Following the debate, Paul Tuohy, chief executive of Cycling UK, one of the organisations belonging to the Cycling & Walking Alliance, said that the charity “is hugely disappointed to discover that from a £5 billion fund for ‘buses and bikes’ there’s only a mere £350 million for cycling.
“250 miles of segregated cycle lanes across England is a drop in the ocean, especially when Manchester plans more than 1,800 miles of lanes.
“Better cycling infrastructure will meet the Prime Minister’s ambition to transform towns and cities, making them happier, healthier and cleaner places to live and work, but without an immediate commitment of at least £6 billion over the next five years we’ll never achieve that vision.”
Here is our original story on the government's plans for cycling published ealrier today before the prime minister rose to speak in the House of Commons.
The government says it will build 250 miles of segregated cycle lanes in towns and cities across England, as well as creating “dozens” of Mini Holland neighbourhoods. News of the investment was welcomed by Great Manchester’s Cycling and Walking Commissioner Chris Boardman, who has challenged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to show apply the same commitment to cycling in England as he did to the capital when Mayor of London.
The plans, which apply to England outside London, form part of a five-year, £5 billion package mainly focused on improving bus services across the country and making it easier for people to choose to travel by public transport or on bike.
After outlining planned improvements to bus services, full details of which will be announced in the National Bus Strategy later this year as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, the government detailed its proposals for cycling.
It pledged that “over 250 miles of new, high-quality separated cycle routes and safe junctions in towns and cities would be built in English towns and cities, and that “dozens of new ‘Mini-Holland’ schemes will be taken forward to transform town centres across the country to make them safer to get around.
“These pilots of low-traffic neighbourhoods will see government working closely with local councils to reduce lorry traffic, making side streets safer to walk, cycle and play in while maintaining the vehicle access people need to get around.”
The government added that “all new routes will be built to tough new design standards, ensuring more people can cycle safely and making getting around by bike a more convenient option.”
The prime minister, who is due to set out details of the proposals to the House of Commons at lunchtime today, said: “Local transport connections have a truly transformative role to play in levelling up infrastructure across the country.
“Our daily journeys for work or leisure are about so much more than just getting from A to B – they are the key to accessing skilled jobs and opportunities, boosting businesses and unlocking economic growth for towns, cities and regions across this country.
“That’s why improving connectivity by overhauling bus services and making cycling easier than ever is such an important step forward, to make sure every community has the foundations it needs to thrive.”
Transport secretary Grant Shapps added: “Our long-term commitment to cycling could not be clearer, with money for new routes, more cyclist support and new ‘Mini-Holland’ schemes, set to make our streets the safest they have been for cyclists.”
The government’s plans have been announced on a day when the All Party Parliamentary Cycling and Walking Group (APPCWG) has published its own Manifesto for Cycling and Walking, calling for “increased investment and a progressive, coherent policy framework … to increase the levels of both cycling and walking.”
The group's co-chair, the Labour MP Ruth Cadbury, said: “Active travel is one of the simplest lifestyle choices that individuals can make to address climate change and air quality, support healthy lifestyles, improve mental and physical health, and increase life expectancy. Cycling and walking save money for the NHS and deliver health benefits.”
The APPCWG this morning hosted a showcase on cycling and walking at the Palace of Westminster with Boardman, who has been leading the development of Greater Manchester’s planned 1,800-mile Bee Network of safe routes for cyclists and walkers, among those in attendance.
Writing in The Times today, he called on the prime minister to ensure that the government guarantees the necessary funding to make that vision a reality.
Boardman recalled how, as Mayor of London, Johnson – helped by Andrew Gilligan, whom he appointed the city’s first Cycling Commissioner and who is now Transport Advisor at Number Ten – invested in cycling to encourage people in the capital to switch to bikes for daily journeys by providing safe infrastructure.
“It was a momentous moment,” Boardman said. “A political leader committing long-term funding to give normal people, in normal clothes, doing normal things, a genuinely viable alternative to driving. And by doing so, create an example for the rest of the country.”
Boardman said that when he was invited to become Greater Manchester’s first ever Cycling and Walking Commissioner in 2017, “I had no hesitation in saying yes.
“The ambition and the commitment was there to do something truly important and give ordinary people the option to leave the car at home.”
Calling for the government to commit to the funding that will enable Greater Mancheter’s vision for cycling and walking to be fully realised, he said: “Whilst today’s announcement is a sure sign that the prime minister shares our ambition to improve sustainable travel options and implement tough new design standards, we need to be fully empowered to deliver the plan we’ve spent two years crafting, to avoid wasting public money.
“If the prime minister is serious about repaying the faith of those in the North who lent him their vote, then he needs to give us the long term commitment required to enable us to do what he did in London. In doing so, he will help us create a blueprint for the rest of the country to follow.”
“If our nation’s leader does want to build on the work he started in the capital and leave a truly country-changing legacy, then I for one am in it to the end,” Boardman added. “That’s the kind of legacy I want to be involved in. Over to you, prime minister.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc 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.