Batting for Cycling England

Evans CyclePoint  Christian Wolmar

Earlier this week Norman Baker, the transport minister with responsibility for cycling, told a meeting that Bikeability is safe but he wouldn’t say the same for Cycling England.

Baker pledged that Bikeability, the cycle training scheme delivered by Cycling England, CTC and other bodies, would not be thrown in the flames in the forthcoming ‘bonfire of the quangos’.

He made the pledge before an audience of bike trade figures and train executives at the official opening of CyclePoint in Leeds. This is a bike parking unit at the front of Leeds station. It has space for 300 bikes, stored for £1 a day.

The Leeds CyclePoint is operated by Evans Cycles via £500,000 funding from the Department of Transport working with Network Rail and Abellio of the Netherlands, co-owner of Northern Rail.

The official opening was carried out by Baker; Anton Volk, CEO of Abellio; and Pim Waldeck, the Dutch ambassador in the UK.

Transport journalist – and board member of Cycling England – Christian Wolmar gave a speech welcoming the opening of CyclePoint but he also took the opportunity to urge Baker not to abolish Cycling England, a measure which is widely expected.

Wolmar had written a passionate open letter to Baker on regarding the likely abolition.

Wolmar apologised for making a last-minute case to save Cycling England at the opening but he said doing so in front of the minister and pro cycling Dutch VIPs was an ideal way to get across the fact investment in cycling was important.

Listen to an edited version of Christian Wolmar’s speech here:

In reply to Wolmar, Baker referred to the abolition of Cycling England but wouldn’t confirm it. He did, however, go out of his way to stress that Bikeability would not be a baby thrown out with the Cycling England bathwater.

BikeHub spoke to the minister afterwards and he agreed the off the cuff announcement about saving Bikeability was new. However, he would not be drawn on the future of Cycling England, simply adding that a vehicle was needed to carry on the work of Bikeability but quite what shape this vehicle would take is as yet undecided.

Listen to an edited version of Norman Baker’s speech here:

Norman baker

Christian Wolmar believes it would be “daft” to abolish Cycling England. On his blog he wrote:

The government wants to be seen as green, and Cycling England has been a very efficient way of delivering ways of boosting cycling – and I am not just saying that because I am on the board. The facts speak for themselves. Cycling England, with a staff of just three, plus a very active chairman, has managed to deliver a £6Om programme efficiently and effectively.

It is, indeed, a model of Cameron’s Big Society. The work has drawn in lots of volunteers – the board, for example, who do not get paid, apart from a small sum for chairman, but more important hundreds of people up and down the country helping kids and adults to learn to ride. Through the demonstration towns scheme, it has shown that it is possible to boost cycling levels considerably with relatively small sums of money. All in all, it is a win-win situation and yet through ideology and crass stupidity the government wants to abolish it in favour of various nebulous initiatives to help cycling.

Norman Baker is in a difficult position, but this one is really worth fighting for. If he really wants the government to have any credibility on the issue of cycling, he should make a last ditch attempt to save Cycling England. It’s not the money so much as the fact that civil servants would not be able to deliver the programmes such as Bikeability with the same efficiency and effectiveness, and most of it will simply not happen.

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