Westminster Hall Active Travel Debate

It’s a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the Honourable Members for securing this important debate.

It comes at a crucial moment for Active Travel.

Congestion on our roads is growing. Research from transport analysts Inrix revealed that the average driver in the UK spent 178 hours sitting in traffic jams last year – at a cost of almost £8bn to our economy.

We are in the midst of a public health crisis. Obesity levels are on the rise, with the latest NHS figures telling us that 29% of adults are now classed as obese – up from 26% in 2016.

And we are facing a climate emergency. While many in Westminster are focused on Brexit, and by who is set to succeed the Prime Minister, our country’s levels of air pollution are a national disgrace – and contributing to nothing less than an international climate crisis

Make no mistake. Taking action on Active Travel – by which I mean walking, cycling and running, connected to public transport – matters.

It matters to those of us who care about our own health, and the health of our families, friends and communities.

It matters to those of us who want to build an economy where people can get to where they need to go easily, safely and cheaply.

And it matters to those of us who care about the future of our planet – for the good of our children, our grandchildren and generations to come.

Most of us remember our first bike. I loved riding as a child, and have also enjoyed teaching my own children how to ride their bikes.

I believe that the passion we have as youngsters for exploring the world on two wheels doesn’t leave us as adults.

But that passion has a tendency to be overtaken by practicalities, by a lack of safe cycling infrastructure, and by a lack of confidence, in a world where the car is king.

As Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, and as an MP, it is my job, and the job of those of us here today, to do all we can to enable people to walk, cycle and run if they want to do so.

This is why, since I became Mayor, transport – and Active Travel – has been a top priority.

I’ve led a Transforming Cities Fund bid for up to £220m in funding that, if approved, will unlock major improvements in transport networks across South Yorkshire.

Active Travel represents just under half of the total expenditure, with projects including an electric bikes scheme, public transport improvements, and transforming cycling and walking infrastructure to better connect communities to each other, to rail stations, and to urban centres.

I’ve also brought on board the brightest and the best talent; none more so than my new Active Travel Commissioner, Britain’s most successful female Paralympian Dame Sarah Storey, who is already making a huge impact.

Sarah is the only Commissioner in the country to have a remit incorporating all aspects of active travel – including cycling, walking, running and public transport.

Together, Dame Sarah and I have four pledges for Active Travel, to guide our work in the Sheffield City Region.

We will be led by our communities; we will enable Active Travel rather than encouraging it; our infrastructure will meet minimum standards and we will ensure cycling and walking are fully accessible.

Because until Active Travel is the norm, rather than the exception, people will continue to use their cars for even short journeys.

In the Sheffield City Region, just under 40% of car trips are under a kilometre – the equivalent of just a 15-minute walk. It’s no surprise that our motorways and major roads are under great strain.

If we are to safeguard our health, our environment, and our economy, now is the time to act.

That’s why I’ve been working closely with fellow Metro Mayors and their Active Travel Commissioners, and with experts such as British Cycling, Sustrans, the Ramblers and Living Streets.

I’m also using my membership of Transport for the North to create policy that will shape the North’s infrastructure now and into the future – such as ensuring every new scheme has an Active Travel element.

This collaboration across geographic borders, across the political divide and across areas of expertise, is rapidly gaining momentum.

Two weeks ago, Dame Sarah and I attended the first ever national summit of the UK’s cycling and walking commissioners; hosted in Manchester by Mayor Andy Burnham and his Commissioner Chris Boardman.

We were united in setting out what we need from Government to make cycling, walking and public transport central to the way we travel.

Dame Sarah and the other Commissioners – Chris Boardman; West Midlands Cycling Ambassador and World Champion cyclist, Shanaze Reade; London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner, Will Norman; Scotland’s Active Nation Commissioner, Lee Craigie; and Liverpool City Council’s Cycling Champion, Simon O’Brien, have five asks.

These are:

One. To commit to long-term devolved funding for cycling and walking, putting powers and resources in the hands of Metro Mayors and regional leaders

Two. To commit to minimum quality levels to ensure that no more public money is wasted on infrastructure that is not fit for purpose

Three. To reform policing and enforcement, allowing revenue from fixed penalty notices for road offences to be retained locally, and reinvested in road safety activity in the community.

Four. To enable innovation by keeping road traffic regulations under review,  making changes where regulations hinder walking and cycling

Five. And finally, to ensure that transport investment decisions account for the true cost of car use to society. Economic appraisal models currently don’t capture the negative effects of car use on our health and on the environment.

This is about so much more than encouraging people to get on a bike, or put on their walking shoes.

People don’t need to be encouraged. They need to be enabled.

That responsibility lies with us, and lies with Government.

There is a tremendous opportunity to seize the momentum created by the energy, expertise and enthusiasm of Active Travel Commissioners across the UK, and by regional leaders who know their communities deserve better.

We must not let that opportunity pass.