Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Speech in cycling debate

Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)

Who knew, ladies and gentlemen, that this debate was sponsored by the Dutch tourism board? Many of us seem to have taken a Dutch cycling holiday. I am here to stand up for cycling in Northumberland, which features everything from Hadrian’s cycleway and the coast-to-coast tour to the delights of Kielder and the castles cycle route. I congratulate wholeheartedly the cross-party group, which has done a fantastic job—this is probably one of the finest Back-Bench debates that we have ever had.

My hon. Friend Dr Huppert, Ian Austin, my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston and other members of the all-party parliamentary group have done a brilliant job and produced a fantastic report. I need to declare the fact that I cycle to work in London. I can cycle from Fulham, where I live, to King’s Cross, pretty much all on a cycleway. It is much quicker than going by car. In Northumberland, I live near Stamfordham, where we see more bicycles than cars travelling around and about. There is no question but that the Northumberland economy depends to a large degree on cycling tourism and the economic benefit that it brings. I therefore support the motion wholeheartedly, but while cities such as Newcastle have benefited from over £5 million, the benefit to some rural areas, whether Northumberland or other counties, is significantly less. We need equality of funding across all parts of the country so that we may all benefit, rather than simply the towns that have been allocated money thus far.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham, Liberal Democrat)
Like the hon. Gentleman, I welcome the report to get Britain cycling. He is right about rural areas. Does he agree that we need innovative solutions to help to provide opportunities to make it easier to cycle in rural areas, such as the two tunnels greenway in Bath, from which many of my constituents benefit, and the canal towpaths that run through my constituency? Otherwise, hedge-lined country roads between towns can be quite intimidating.

Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
I endorse that entirely. Indeed, when I asked my constituents for their comments, one of them, Ted Liddle, wrote on behalf of the mountain biking club:
“Other than a few parking stands, in Tynedale, there has been no cycling investment in the past 10 to 12 years."
There are exceptions, but if we do not have innovative ways forward and local cycling champions we will struggle. I endorse earlier comments about the fact that we need individual Borises or cycling champions in some shape or form who champion cycling in their counties and regions. It is easy, given that Yorkshire has the benefit of the Tour de France next year, to make the case. Everyone in the north welcomes that.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton, Conservative)
My hon. Friend has discussed the need for cycle routes in rural areas. We do not have the luxury of going along the embankment to create the Boris highway. We have to make sure that we have cycle routes such as old railway lines and so on that can be used successfully. We are working on precisely that on the Seaton to Colyford route. However, I very much welcome the debate so that we can have cycling in rural areas.

Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
Indeed. Not only that, but this debate is making converts. Our hon. Friend, the eminent colonel from Beckenham, has assured the House that he will get back on his bike, which I am confident is not a penny farthing.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham, Conservative)
To the best of my memory, it has pneumatic tyres and a chain.

Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
The mind boggles: to know is to fear.
Those of us who are students of the film industry will hark back to the comment, “If you build it, they will come.” That is the case in relation to cycling. It is easy for too many civil servants, Ministers of all types, local authorities, county and parish councils to think that investment in cycling is not worth the money, the effort, the criticism by drivers and pedestrians and the sheer difficulty of persuading people to get out of their beloved vehicles. However, if we build the type of facilities that we all require in our local areas, cycling improves. We need only look at the success of places such as Seville, as eloquently set out in the report, where between 2007 and 2010, cycling went up from 6,000 journeys to 60,000 journeys. We need only look at the changes in New York or Holland, sponsored as we are by the Dutch tourism board, where 27% of journeys are by bike, compared with 2% in this country. That is patently the result of investment, support and local champions.

I suggest we look at the health benefits. Many have outlined the fact that we have an obesity crisis, and a great deal more work needs to be done on that. We should look at the benefits in terms of the cost of living, and we need to consider both the climate change and the tourism and economic benefits. I emphasise the need for local champions—not just the local larger champion of a county, but individual parish and county councillors who could make a difference locally. If we can start doing that and start working with health and wellbeing boards and the like, there is great potential to turn the topic from a fringe issue that we passionately debate to a mainstream way of life and way of travelling to work.
Full debate here: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2013-09-02a.66.0&s=speaker%3A24962#g103.1