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Chris Boardman speaks at cycling inquiry

Roger Geffen's picture
After Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman joined health experts and others to give evidence at today's Get Britain Cycling inquiry hearing, CTC has expressed dismay that the government departments for education, employers and the environment all declined to send witnesses.
Cyclist Chris Boardman giving evidence at the 'Get Britain Cycling' inquiry
Cyclist Chris Boardman giving evidence at the 'Get Britain Cycling' inquiry

Chris Boardman was the star witness today at the fourth evidence session of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group's 'Get Britain Cycling' inquiry, which focused on active lifestyles. His evidence came on the same day that the Government's Chief Medical Officer urged local authorities to invest in cycling, as a cure for over 20 long-term medical conditions.

Boardman called for cycling to be returned to 1948 levels, when it accounted for around 15% of trips - it is less than 2% today. He said that the key was to make cycling feel safe and appealing, while ensuring that cyclists felt valued.

He prefaced this with a video of a cycle lane. It begins on the road, but gives up at a junction where space had been provided instead for right-turning traffic. The cycle lane then resumes, only to take cyclists off the road onto a badly-surfaced pavement strewn with signposts, leading them out of their way at a junction where they are forced to stop at a side-road, before being dumped back on the road with no protection. Chris Boardman wanted to know who this lane was for, and why money and effort is wasted on such "facilities".

Earlier in the evidence session, the panel had heard from health experts, including Phil Insall from Sustrans, independent health expert Dr Adrian Davies and Hugo Crombie from NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. They presented evidence not only of the well-documented health benefits of cycling, but also about what are known to be effective ways to maximise these benefits.

Oliver Coleville MP, a self-confessed non-cyclist, asked the witnesses what evidence there was that would overcome his fear of cycling.  Adrian pointed out that several recent studies had broadly backed up a 1992 paper which had shown that the health benefits of cycling outweighed the risks by around 20:1, adding that being sedentary is much more dangerous than cycling. Hannah Graf from the National Heart Forum added that another study had found that regular cycle commuting reduced ones overall mortality risk by around 29%

Phil Insall and Hugo Crombie both emphasised the need for a mix of improvements to the built environment, and the positive promotion of cycling, e.g. in schools, workplaces and other community settings. This is reflected in NICE's guidelines, which Phil strongly commended: "If NICE's guidelines were fully implemented, we'd very soon be in cycle heaven".

It is disappointing that the departments for education and for business felt they had nothing to say to Parliament about how they can help Get Britain Cycling. Some clear encouragement to schools and employers would go a long way, as would some cash to support those who are keen to show some innovation and leadership on promoting cycling."

Roger Geffen
Campaigns & Policy Director, CTC

In the next session, Paul Stonebrook and Geoff Dessent (from the Department of Health) were joined by Patrick Salmon, Partnerships Development Manager from the Mountbatten School in Romsey, Hampshire, and Mark Brown, head of Ride2Work at Evans Cycles, who is representing the Cycle to Work Alliance.

Paul and Geoff explained that Public Health Directors will soon be moving to new roles in local authorities under the Government's public health reforms, starting in April.  They felt this will help the exchange of evidence, advice and best practice (including the NICE guidelines) between health and transport practitioners. There were asked by Ben Bradshaw MP whether the Secretaries of State for Health, Transport and Sport had met to discuss cycling. Paul was unable to confirm this but said there was regular dialogue between Government health and transport officials.

However, CTC expressed disappointment that the Departments for Education (DfE) and for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) had both declined to provide witnesses for the inquiry, as had the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (whose responsibilities include countryside access and rights of way).

Speaking before the session, CTC's Campaigns & Policy Director Roger Geffen commented:

"It is good news that the Department of Health is giving evidence at today's inquiry, and that public health minister Anna Soubry MP will appear next week. However, it is disappointing that the departments for education, for business and for the environment and rural affairs felt they had nothing to say to Parliament about how they can help Get Britain Cycling.

"We're not expecting them to tell head-teachers and business leaders what to do.  We're just saying that some clear encouragement to schools and employers would go a long way, as would some cash to support those who are keen to show some innovation and leadership on promoting cycling. That could provide some really useful examples of good practise for others to follow."

The Mountbatten School has set itself up as a centre of excellence in Bikeability cycle training, supporting the delivery of cycle training for other schools in Hampshire. In his evidence, Patrick Salmon emphasised the need for cycle training to be available to all on an inclusive basis, adding that cycle training made young people into safer road users, however they travelled.

Mark Brown from the Cycle to Work Alliance expressed dismay that not all Government departments are signed up to the Government's own Cycle to Work scheme (which allows people to obtain tax benefits from initially hiring and later buying bikes for travel to work - his organisation represents cycle retailers and other providers of this scheme). Paul Stonebrook confirmed that the Department of Health IS signed up!

The third panel comprised three witnesses: Paddy Harrop from the Forestry Commission (FC), Wendy Thompson from Natural England (NE), and Matt Criddle, who has been promoting a cycle link near Totnes in Devon. Matt explained how this route was supported by Devon County Council, by Sustrans and many other organisations locally, yet it was being frustrated by one landowner.

Lord Justice Scott appealed for new legislation so that cyclists would have a network of off-road routes which they can use in the same way that other groups do.  Wendy Thompson noted that cyclists only have access to 22% of the rights of way network in England, but explained what Natural England is doing to try and increase this. She also explained that Natural England has little influence over the National Parks, which have separate funding. She nonetheless commended the provision being made for cycling in the Peak District, and urged others to improve cycle provision too. Paddy Harrop noted that the Forestry Commission has 1300km of waymarked cycle routes despite occupying a very limited land area.

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