Richard Burden MP: People power forces Ministers to back walking and cycling

Labour’s Shadow Roads Minister, Richard Burden MP, calls for a long term strategy, with funding, to increase walking and cycling rates.

Britain’s roads are for everyone. Whether we walk, cycle, drive, use a bus, train or drive a lorry, roads are a vital part of our journey. They are the arteries of our transport system.

But far too often they are congested, unsafe and in need of repair. The Government’s big answer? A top-down reorganisation of the Highways Agency, and just 2% of strategic roads – England’s motorways and ‘A Roads’ – in the Infrastructure Bill, which reaches Report Stage in the House of Commons on 26 January. With public dissatisfaction with local road condition at a record high, Labour knows the priority should be improving people’s journeys on the local roads used every day.

Along with fixing the pothole crisis, Labour is committed to improving conditions for walking and cycling on our roads. Although a quarter of car journeys are less than a mile, only two per cent of journeys are made by bicycle in the UK. And far too many pedestrians and cyclists are still killed or seriously injured on our streets. If we make it easier for people to walk and cycle we can cut congestion, deliver huge benefits for environment and improve people’s health and quality of life too.

Everyone agrees that the Government needs a real commitment and long term strategy to make this happen. But for too long ‘active travel’ has not had a clear place within our transport infrastructure – it’s been an afterthought, only given attention when there is a bit of money to spare. That is why Labour has committed to make walking and cycling a transport priority if we are elected in May.

We want to end the stop-start approach of the Tory Government. Upon entering office, David Cameron scrapped national targets for road safety and axed Cycling England with its long term annual budget. After proclaiming a “cycling revolution” in 2013 he delayed the publication of his Government’s ‘Cycling Delivery Plan’ for over a year. When it was finally published it contained no meaningful targets for action or funding.

Along with cycling groups, transport campaigners and health organisations Labour has been calling for a statutory commitment to cycling and walking to be included in the Infrastructure Bill. Sadly, in Committee the Tories and Liberal Democrats voted against proposals I put forward which would have required the Secretary of State for Transport to produce a long term strategy, with funding, to increase walking and cycling rates.

So it is really a testament to ‘people power’ that on Wednesday the Government backed down. After a concerted campaign by organisations including Sustrans, CTC, Living Streets and the Campaign to Protect Rural England – aligned with the Richmond Group of health charities and MPs from all parties in the All Party Cycling Group – Ministers have finally accepted that a legal commitment to improving cycling and walking infrastructure is the right thing to do.

Labour will be supporting this important step on Monday when the Bill comes back for debate. And we will go further – learning the lessons from Labour’s Active Travel Bill in Wales, enabling cities and county regions to join up walking and cycling with their local transport networks, improving HGV safety, and restoring targets to cut deaths and serious injuries on our roads.

Monday’s debate is just the start of getting our roads working for everyone.