October 2014

Spokes in UK Parliament

Our member Mark Lazarowicz MP complimented Spokes and Pedal on Parliament in today’s debate on the Get Britain Cycling report, as well as raising issues which concern us…

This was the second debate on the report – see here for the first.

Today’s debate came at the same time as the UK government’s new Cycling Delivery Plan, or, as the CTC called it, Cycling Derisory Plan.   We cannot fail to notice the synergy between the UK Plan and Scottish Government’s Cycling Action Plan for Scotland, CAPS.   Both have verbal ambitions to boost cycling – and neither has a costed and committed funding programme to achieve them.  The two plans, clearly, will work very effectively together!

Mark Lazarowicz referred to his membership of the “very effective” Spokes campaign, and reminded MPs of the climate in Spokes’s early days.

Spokes can get lost and take its Commie friends with it” was the response, in a letter to the Scotsman, from one senior councillor [Ralph Brereton, “Conservative Councillor for Marchmont, and proud of it“]  to our early campaigning.  The objective of these subversives at that time was a cycleroute along Middle Meadow Walk – at that time cycling from Marchmont to the city centre was only legal via the main roads of Tollcross or The Bridges and there was not a single public cycle facility in the city.


The full debate can be found in Hansard for October 16, 2014 [link to be added].  Here we include Mark’s speech, to which we have added bold emphases and links to relevant campaigns.  For brevity we have also removed questions during the speech.

Issues of particular relevance raised in his speech were cycling investment [the positive example of Edinburgh Council and the poor examples of the UK and Scottish Governments] and bike/rail integration [the new Abellio ScotRail contract and the appalling Network Rail Waverley access issue].


I, too, was a member of the panel of the all-party group on cycling that drew up “Get Britain Cycling”. Like other members of the panel, I am delighted at how its recommendations have stimulated debate, thought and ideas throughout the country.

I should advise the House that I am also  a member of  the Lothian cycle campaign, Spokes, which has now been campaigning for cycling improvements throughout the Lothians for 37 years, which is one year longer than even the London Cycling Campaign. It is a very effective organisation.

That is a good starting point for my speech, because I remember about 30 years ago that Spokes made a modest suggestion to the City of Edinburgh council, not for a network of cycle lanes but for just a cycle lane. The reaction of the then Conservative leader of the council—we have not had many of them for 30 years—was to make the famous retort:

“Spokes can get lost and take its commie friends with it.”

As the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young) has pointed out, that kind of reaction was by no means unique to members of his party; it existed in my party as well.

It is a reflection of how things have changed, that—with the possible exception of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, whose remit does not run to Scotland—politicians of all colours are now vying to be cycling-friendly, which is good and reflects public pressure, concern and interest. That is also one reason why we have had real progress in many parts of the country.

In Edinburgh, for example, the council agreed in 2012 to allocate 5% of its transport budget to cycling and to increase that 1% year on year. In spite of tight budgetary restraints, the council has done that. In this financial year, it is now spending 7% of its transport budget on cycling, which is possibly the highest anywhere in the UK.

Despite the fact that there has been progress, everyone taking part in this debate knows that we have a long way to go throughout the UK to reach the levels of spending committed to cycling that we ought and need to have. In discussing the report, we have heard many concerns about the UK’s delivery plan announcing where the UK is going.

I am afraid that the situation in Scotland is not markedly different. Until recently, the Scottish Government had been reducing spending on cycling. A few years ago, the excellent Pedal on Parliament campaign was established, and thousands of people rallied outside the Scottish Parliament to demand a change of Government policy. It has had an effect in that, certainly for a couple of years, spending on cycling in Scotland, which had gone down, went up and it exceeded the UK level until this year.

I understand from cycling organisations, however, that the current Scottish Government budget has reduced the level of spending on cycling. That illustrates how campaigns need to continue and persist if there is to be the kind of step change on cycling policy that we need.

The experience in Scotland and of the UK indicates how pressure for action needs to be continued at all levels of government.  I want to highlight some specific areas where that should be done, and the first is indeed the need for joined-up policies in the field of transport.

One of my hon. Friends has already made the point about cycle-rail linkages. In Scotland, the new ScotRail franchise has been reallocated to the private sector by the Scottish Government, although some of us are not too keen about that. The winning franchisor is Abellio, a Dutch company, which has promised to bring to Scotland the type of rail-bike linkages that exist in the Netherlands. We will certainly hold it to account on that promise.

When the Department allocates the franchise for the east coast main line—again, some of us wish it was not going to be allocated to the private sector, but that is obviously the Government’s intention—will the Minister ensure that one of the criteria is to look very seriously at the degree to which the bike-rail interface is implemented by whichever operator is eventually chosen?

I am afraid that one specific place that is not a good example of a rail-bike interchange is Waverley station in Edinburgh, which is one of the country’s busiest stations. It is run by Network Rail which, for various reasons which may or may not be acceptable, has chosen to remove all vehicle access from the station. In so doing, it has removed access not just for motorised vehicles, but for bikes. People with bikes therefore have to fight their way along what is effectively a pedestrian ramp to get into the station.

That is a classic example of how things are being done for cyclists on the trains going into the station and on the roads above the station, but, to put it mildly, there is not the kind of interface between cyclists and rail that there should be at that busy station. The Minister may be aware of that case. I certainly hope that he will look into it to try to resolve the difficulties that many people from my constituency and beyond have raised with me.

One way in which we can support cycling is to ensure that it is given an adequate place and its rightful place in the priorities for big capital spending. The national infrastructure plan, which was adopted in the last couple of years, contains major commitments to new road building. Except in the margins, there is no such commitment for cycling or pedestrians. That should be looked at. That plan presents an opportunity to give cycling the boost that it needs.

All of us, as cyclists, know the experience of suddenly coming across a pothole, particularly one that we did not realise was there. However, I do not think that the two issues are separate. There must be road maintenance, but if there were major projects in the national infrastructure plan to bring forward cycling schemes at various places in the country that were—iconic is the wrong word—beacons, that would be a good way of spending the money. That idea also has the benefit that such projects could be brought forward much more quickly than new roads or road expansion, and could provide the infrastructure boost that is the whole point of the national infrastructure plan.

We have all heard how cycling is good for us as individuals, for public health, for the economy, for reducing carbon emissions, for tackling climate change and for the environment. For all those reasons, it is something that needs support.  The support that it is given by government at all levels is improving, by and large, but much more needs to be done. I hope that this debate has underlined that need throughout the country.




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