LibDem Minister kills Cycling England

No more “dedicated cycling pot of money” says Norman Baker, scrapping pro-bicycle org that costs just £200,000 to run per year.

Cabinet secretary Francis Maude has revealed which of the non-departmental public bodies will be scrapped. As feared, Cycling England is one of them.

Of the 901 non-departmental public bodies reviewed by the Coaltion Government, 192 are to be abolished 118 are to be merged and 380 will be retained.

In a PDF of the Cabinet Office’s ‘quangos list’ Cycling England’s fate is sealed thus: “Abolish body. We have announced a Local Sustainable Travel Fund and will explore ways of marshalling expert input on cycling issues, including to support the Fund.”

Cycling England was established in 2005 as an independent body to get “more people cycling, more safely, more often.” It steered through the Bikeability training scheme for children (300,000 are trained each year), and created the Cycling Demonstration Towns to show that English conurbations would take to cycling if the right pro-bicycle measures were put in place.

But, for what most observers say are ideological reasons dressed up as financial savings, the Coalition Government has scrapped an organisation with just three full-time staff. The cost saving? £200,000 per year, or about the cost of five metres of motorway.

Cycling England had a volunteer board comprising representatives of British Cycling, CTC and Sustrans, and specialists in health, education and sustainable transport.

In 2009/10 the Department for Transport, aided by other departments, such as Health, gave Cycling England a budget of £60m, a tiny fraction of the billions spent on motorised transport.

The majority of this £60m was allocated in grants to local authorities, train operators, National Parks and other bodies for practical cycling projects. Further funds were allocated to a technical advice service, available to all local authorities. Cycling England had no offices and an overhead of less than 0.1 percent of its budget.

Scrapping such a cost-efficient body, Norman Baker, Under Secretary of State for Transport, and the minister in charge of cycling, said the decision to scrap Cycling England was motivated by localism:

“This new Coaltion Government is firmly committed to cycling. That is why it is expressly referred to in the Coalition Agreement,” said Baker.

“We want to give more power and more flexibility to local authorities as we strongly believe that they know best what is right for their communities.”

Talking about the new Local Sustainable Transport fund – which has yet to be allocated a budget and which will be dominated by modes of transport other than cycling – Baker said:

“As there will no longer be a dedicated cycling pot of money, but instead a much broader fund, we feel that Cycling England is not the right way to continue to incentivise and encourage local authorities and others to stimulate cycling.”

The abolition of Cycling England will take effect from the end of March 2011.

Cycling England chairman Phillip Darnton said:

“Critically the decision to abolish Cycling England threatens the future of national cycling proficiency training, Bikeability. This scheme currently receives £12 million p.a. through Cycling England from the Department for Transport.

“Over 90 percent of all local authorities are involved in and benefitting from the programme, as are over 50 percent of all School Sports Partnerships – of which every school in England must be a part.

“While the Under Secretary of State has indicated that the Department for Transport will maintain support for the scheme, there are as yet no details as to how this will be effected.

“Neither the Minister nor DfT officials will discuss either the level of funding or the scale of their future intentions for cycle training. We will be pressing for clarification as soon as the Comprehensive Spending Review is published on October 20th.

“Discontinued funding would mean a new generation lost to cycling, and a risk of increased accidents through lack of proper instruction. This prospect is alarming in its implications for childhood obesity and the environmental impact of a further increase in car trips to school.”

Projects funded by Cycling England are all delivered by local groups, as part of locally determined plans. Achievements of Cycling England – an organisation that mostly works behind the scenes – include a 27 percent increase in cycling trips in three years in Cycling Demonstration Towns against a national trend that has been declining consistently for 50 years.

There had also been a 174 percent increase in trips to school by bike where school cycling programmes were put in place by Cycling England.

Commenting on the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, Cycling England board member Lynn Sloman said: “If the Government is to build on the last five years’ progress in getting more people cycling, it will need to do more than simply allocate grants.

“Cycling England’s experience is that in order to get results, you need to cut through the red tape, and really support, engage, enthuse and challenge. You need to combine the energy and passion of the cycling NGOs with the expertise of professional local authority teams; you need to share ideas and experience; and you need visionary leadership.”

While Norman Baker is the name on Cycling England’s death warrant, the real decision maker was Transport Secretary Philip Hammond. He’s a motoring enthusiast who, upon moving into the post, said he enjoyed taking his Jaguar car on empty stretches of road.

In a ‘future of transport’ speech at the recent Conservative party conference Hammond didn’t mention cycling once but told delegates congested British cities would be relieved when more electric cars came on the market (cars that are the same physical size as petrol cars).

Motorists who buy electric cars will be gifted with £5000 sweeteners.

Cyclists, however, from March 2011, will be sidelined. No longer will cycling have an umbrella body which can talk directly, and with authority, to Government departments.

Bonfire of the quangos set for Thursday

This coming Thursday, it will be announced in Parliament that Cycling England – and up to 176 other quangos; some vital, others less so – will be abolished.

No amount of lobbying could have saved Cycling England, despite the fact it was one of the vital quangos, employed just four people and cost peanuts to run.

However, as revealed on, Bikeability training – a core function of Cycling England – will be saved, although a vehicle for its administration has yet to be revealed. To keep ‘Cycling proficiency for the 21st Century’ ticking over will cost £10m a year. There are 2000+ Bikeability instructors in the UK, some of whom now rely on the scheme for their living.

The fate of Cycling Demonstration towns – and the city, Bristol – is unknown but continued funding could come from the recently announced Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

Thursday’s announcement in Parliament will confirm the worst fears of cycling advocates but Cycling England will not disappear overnight. Cycling England staff are on contract until the middle of next year and there will need to be an orderly winding down of the (compact and bijou) organisation’s duties.

Watch out for transport spending levels in next week’s Comprehensive Spending Review. Transport Secretary Philip Hammond is expected to be one of the ministers with the biggest axe – chopping nearly 40 percent from the DfT budget – but if he announces any road building funding whatsoever, critics will call foul. He has been pressed and pressed that cycling offers a good return on investment. Good for local economies; good for health; good for people; good for carbon reduction; good for de-gridlocking. Good riddance? What a waste!

To quash Cycling England but to build more roads to be filled up with yet more motorised vehicles will be called out as the height of car-fixated stupidity.

School builds own tarmac cycle track

The pupils at Field End junior school in West London have their very own cycle circuit in the playground. As well as having obvious potential for delivering the first stage of Bikeability (later stages of Bikeability go out on real roads), the 340 metre circuit is being used to ween kids on cycle racing. [Click on the pix to make ’em bigger].

The official opening of Field End school’s outdoor track was attended by members of British Cycling, the London Cycling Campaign and Transport for London, who put up the £80,000 for the purpose-built facility.

Cutting the ribbon was David Rowe, Head of Borough Projects and Programmes at TfL who said of the school and its unique circuit: “It’s a fantastic set-up. We usually work with schools that deliver cycle parking or cycle training but to see something like this is absolutely fantastic. You can see what it means to the children and to their parents in terms of encouraging more cycling. It’s great to see and the more we see the better.”

The funding from TfL was crucial in constructing the 340 metre long, four metre wide circuit, but the track wouldn’t have been built without the dedication of parents, teachers, the school’s ebullient head Sheila Pikulski, and volunteers from the local cycling community.

The school, in the Borough of Hillingdon, began by encouraging pupils to walk or cycle to school and this led to setting up its own after-school cycling club in 2007. Today, the pupils aged from six to eleven years have not only a circuit on which to learn safer cycling and racing they can also take a six week cycle maintenance course to enable them to fix their own bikes. The school also has its own British Cycling qualified coach in the shape of Brian Wright, president of the Hillingdon Slipsteamers, a West London cycling club.

Field End’s Fun Cycle Club currently has 45 members which is the limit due to the required ratio of 1 coach to every 15 pupils. Not surprisingly, in a school where cycling is the new football, there is a waiting list to join the club where bronze and silver medals need to be gained before the elusive gold allows racing on the slightly undulating, smooth tarmac circuit.

Later additions to the circuit could include a pavilion, and a workshop and another classroom, creating a standalone Centre of Excellence for junior cycling in this part of London.

At the circuit opening, London Cycling Campaign’s Rosie Tharp said: “Field End Junior School has shown what you can do with a little money and a lot of optimism.”

Words and pix by Rob Lampard

One million reasons why London is now a nicer place to live and visit

Later today, somebody will make the millionth journey on a Boris Bike.

London’s cycle hire scheme mooted by Ken Livingstone but now popularly linked to Boris Johnson will reach a milestone today: the millionth journey.

That’s one million bicycle journeys and as the safety in numbers theory can attest, the more cyclists there are, the safer it becomes for all cyclists. And more pleasant all round: bicycles civilise cities.

London has streets choked with motorised traffic but this is slowly changing, despite the fact London has little cycle infrastructure. In morning and evening peak periods, many major London road junctions swell with 30+ cyclists making it impossible for cars and vans to speed past (straight away). These phalanxes of commuter cyclists – some hardcore, some cycle chic – are now being joined by Boris Bike riders.

Mums can been seen joining their kids on journeys to school on Boris Bikes. Groups of suited business types can be seen jumping on the corporate branded hire bikes instead of waving down cabs. London, slowly, is becoming a better place to live, work and visit.

Ten weeks after it was launched – to members only so far – the millionth journey is a major milestone.

There are 90,000 members, making around 20,000 journeys on the iconic blue bicycles every week day. When the scheme is opened up to credit card walk-up customers, the journey numbers will sky rocket.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “A million thank yous go to Londoners for the warmth in which they have embraced our beautiful blue bikes. The zest in which people have taken to two wheels and joined the cycling revolution we are engendering in the Capital has gladdened my heart.

“The doom mongers and naysayers who darkened my days with pre launch predictions of cycle hire woe have been vanquished.”

The cycle hire sponsor, Barclays, is offering the person who makes the millionth journey, plus three of their friends, free annual membership of the scheme for five years. The four riders will also be offered the chance of an urban cycling makeover at the Bobbin Bicycles boutique in Islington.

Deanna Oppenheimer, CEO UK Retail Bank and Vice Chair Global Retail Bank, said: “The popularity of Barclays Cycle Hire has been tremendous. Londoners are leading more active lives and we’re promoting the benefits of cycling as a sustainable, environmentally friendly mode of transport, while taking our brand around London.”

Hiring a bike is free for up to half an hour.

David Brown, Managing Director of Surface Transport at TfL, said:

“The vast majority of journeys being made are under the 30 minute mark. This illustrates that as well as offering those who live or work in London an alternative way to make short trips around the city, they’re also getting great value for money too.”

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. Continue reading “Batting for Cycling England”