Tom Watson MP: Okay, good afternoon everyone, I hope you’re enjoying the conference. This is the first Cycling event I have done on behalf of the Labour Party since 1985 when as a teenager I embarked on people’s bike life of jobs where I started in Thornton-Cleveleys near Blackpool and rode to London over a week and I have very fond memories of sleeping in a Transport and General Workers Union building in a disabled toilet. So it is fantastic to be here with you.
A year ago I wouldn’t have made it this far on a cycle, but cycling has helped me transform my life, and I thought I’d talk a little bit about that, now that we’ve got Rachel here who actually knows what she’s talking about on policy.
I guess I’m that classic example of the person we need to reach out to if we’re going to embed cyclist culture into our society and allow other people to enjoy the benefits of cycling, like everyone in this room knows, brings. I started on a health journey, I dug out a very old bike out of the shed, I took it to the shop to get the chain put back on and get it all serviced, I was a little bit frightened to get back on it as it was in London. I remember riding it under Lambeth Bridge for the first time and the incline was about like that and I was exhausted when I got to the apex of the hill. It was tough and here’s my observations.
Firstly, things have got a lot better, when it comes to engineering in London, you can see where the investment has gone the last time I rode in London was 30 years ago down the Old Kent Road. I wouldn’t risk it now, but obviously when you start a cycling journey and you’re a middle-aged guy of medium weight, you realize there are some pretty big fundamentals that are still missing.
What’s really required is political commitment, so I’m saying to you today, thank you for forming this network because it’s only a Labour government that believes in the empowering state, that believes we can change people’s lives and give them greater opportunity and they can take control over their own health and their own spaces. It’s our ethos that can be embedded in future government and that’s what worked for me.
As we said at the start, I don’t just see this as a transport issue, for me it was just a health issue. For other people, it could be an inclusion issue.
I used a basic form of nudge theory to help me on my weight loss journey, every time I hit a new weight loss target I brought a new piece of kit for the bike. It’s now the most packed bike, I’ve got a little basket and I should have done the basket first because now I do the journey to the supermarket on the bike, and I’ve got the food, you know I eat what I need, I got there more times than I used to, half a mile to the supermarket and back. That’s what it’s all about, just small tiny lifestyle changes that then enhance an individual’s life.
I’ve lost 99lbs and I’m only staying that because my next target is 100lb and I’ve said when I get to that target, I’m actually going to buy a new bike. So I’m ready for a new bike.
I recognize how complicated this is, you start to read and read and read when you’re into public policy. You look at Denmark and you realize what they’ve saved on their health budget, imagine what we could do if we could bring down the cost of Type 2 Diabetes, which currently takes 10% of the NHS budget. It’s 10 billion pounds a year, it’s estimated that it’s going to go up to 32 billion pounds a year over the next 15 years and for those 3.7 million people with identified type diabetes, 90% of whom have got Type 2. At least a million, half of those, the research says can put their condition into remission.
That’s what I did, and I did it literally by getting on a bike, and I want that million and a half other people to have that transformation that I had to opportunity to go through and it requires strong public policy lead to help us do that.
We’ve set up a commission to look at how we can give remission to all, and I see cycling policy is absolutely central to that. So I’d like to work with you on the commission that’s jointly chaired by Jonathan Ashworth who leads on health. So you could help us build what I think will be an implementation plan to reach that goal, and obviously, Rachel is going to talk about what we put in the manifesto. I can tell you now that I’m at a point in life where I probably could compete with Jeremy on a bike.
I think you are going to have the most ambitious leadership team so cycling policy you’ve ever seen, because I’m just getting more and more into it, I’m only about 9 months into this journey and there’s a few local government leaders who I think could get on their bike too, and I’m smiling at one now, but there’s a few more I’m seeing asking for advice.
Anyway, that’s really what I want to say, we’ve got ambition. I’ve got personal focus on it, we’ve got a shadow ministerial team who lead on it but this is all about how do we build an implementation plan for when that general election comes and you’re an absolutely central part of that and I want to be part of it as well, so when I get my new bike, let’s do it again next year and we can cycle a bit further. Thank you.
Chris Kenyon: I know we’re going to lose you so I’ve got a couple of questions before we go across the rest of the panel. Can you just touch on, as someone who wasn’t cycling before in daily life what were some of the barriers for starting again? Were they simply about having a working bike? Were they about somewhere to park? Were they about just not feeling safe on a route? You’re out for a while not riding a bike, you see people doing it, what’s your perception on the outside?
Tom Watson MP: Okay, well for me it was very particular, issues like, “Will I actually be able to pedal this thing?”, like, “Am I physically strong enough to do it” and actually I was, you know you can change gear and it was a bit of a wheeze but I was a bit frightened when I first started again in London, the roads were, you know, they’re intimidating aren’t they? You would rather be separated from the car if you can. So that actually, in my reading, made me look at you know, engineering design and Cycling UK came to talk to me about can we get open standards across local government and you know how do we, you know does a cycle route of Birmingham look the same as it does in Ridge End. Then of course you know the politics of it where you know you need investment and infrastructure where people have had accidents or sadly been killed because there’s unsafe road junctions and then the immediate thing was security because I’d obviously got the lock on the bike and lost the key.
I had to wheel it into the shop and get all that sorted, and you know, find a helmet that fit my head and have debates with cyclists about whether it’s cool to wear helmets or not, and then when I said I thought it was a good idea that everyone should wear helmets, deal with all the post you get. So you’re reading about the pros and cons of all of that so it’s a kind of, a journey. But I guess for me the benefits soon outweighed the barriers and I started to feel pretty fit, very quickly, and I started to feel, love feeling the wind on my face. Every time I went up that Lambeth Bridge Hill I got a little bit better at it, and I got over the hill and I just scooped down to the roundabout that everyone’s scared of at the other end and then I wanted to go a bit further, and then I wanted to get the new piece of kit for my bike, and now I want a new bike. And now I want to go on holiday cycling.
No, the difficulty is I spend a bit too much time sort of thinking about cycling than the day job these days, because I’m pretty chilled out in that. There are things, it changes my focus on things, so I guess in public policy terms, how we get people to get their bikes out the sheds is the sort of, you know what’s the psychological, where’s the nudge, how do you just draw people out? And I guess I haven’t got the answer on that but you know if my GP had said, “Have you got a bike in your shed?” A year before I actually found it, that might have helped me I guess. I think that is a challenge for us.
Chris Kenyon: And then Labour has committed to a million new homes if we win the next election. Do you think we can make sure those new developments are built with active transport both walking and cycling in mind?
Well at the heart of cycling policy should be planning policy. I find myself reading very obscure websites and books like is it velocity or wishing I lived in Demark or Amsterdam, and that’s just a good day at the office. I am being a bit jokey, half joking. You realize that in local, we’ve made steady increases in investment but if you’re actually serious about scaling you need a serious political commitment for infrastructural development, which should be part of our infrastructure plan. If you’re building new cities, or you’re building new homes, this has all got to fit together and so at the heart of it needs to be town and country planning I guess.
Chris Kenyon: So without further ado, Tom says he doesn’t know about the national policy. Rachael would you like to share your thoughts about what we should be doing?
Rachael Maskell: Thank you so much, and can I just start by thanking all of you, Labour’s journey really was kicked off by the momentum you built when you launched Labour Cycles and I think that real testimony over all that you did in the team on that event but also it did start a journey with us. I have to say as a lifelong cyclist it just gave me the opportunity to put my dream on a piece of paper as well, and I do want to thank all of you that came on that journey with me since.
So as Tom was saying this is about every aspect of our life, whether it’s about our health, our environment, whether it’s about our air quality, whether it’s about our planning, whether it’s about our economy and growing business. It all sits within this active travel policy which we have put together. And we are serious, this is going to happen, this is at the forefront of what we are going to do when we come into government because this is going to bring fundamental changes to everybody life.
The level of investment that we are talking about, I’m not going to share all of that with you today as we continue to crunch through the figures but the level of investment will bring about a seismic shift in our approach in the way that we look at infrastructure and the way that we plan and the way that we ultimately deliver and integrated transport policy.
We want to make it possible for people to leave that car behind or perhaps not have that car in the first place. That is our goal because we believe that when people can move on good public transport which is integrated, where you’re not having to think about those barriers, where you have those choices of walking and cycling, that we are all far better for it. Our wellbeing improves, our productivity improves, and ultimately the environments where we live and work improve as well.
Modal shift is the key word at the heart of all that we’re doing across transport and we will certainly make that investment. To drive it forwards, we recognize we are going to need strong leadership, coordination and to work obviously with the authorities which have done so much to date, and what we have done in formulating this policy is to draw on the best. I believe it’s probably the best in the world.
So what’s happened in London and Manchester and Cardiff and Hackney and all of those places, we’ve sucked out all the things that you’ve been doing and worked alongside that but we’ve also looked at Strasbourg and Holland and Copenhagen and drawn out what they’ve put together too. To see the scale of ambition we could have to really make a difference to people’s lives, and of course this will be a game changer when we see the introduction of e-bikes, and the growth of e-bikes as well.
For some people it will enable people to get on a bike that hasn’t got on a bike before. Or perhaps to remain on their bike where they haven’t been able to do that for some time and also we are serious about having accessible bikes so everybody has that opportunity to get on a bicycle. Whether young, whether old, whether disabled, we want cycling to be for everybody to take away all of those barriers. Those barriers that Tom talked about.
Around infrastructure, to take away the barriers of fear, to build confidence to give every child the opportunity and every adult the opportunity to be confident on a bike, to go through bike training and every child the opportunity to have access to a bike too. We think it’s an absolutely essential part of somebodies growing up that they learn to ride a bike and they have the freedom and the joy of doing so.
It’s no point in just the child knowing if the parents can’t ride either, so we would see this as a whole family approach to encouraging people to cycle and to get active as well. Families moving on that journey together, but we also want to go further, we want to keep hearing from you. We want you to keep pushing us forward, because when you’re louder and you keep having innovation that helps us to go further on this journey that we want to all go on.
So it’s absolutely core to what we do in the future. Segregated cycling is evidently really, really important and I certainly say in cycling in London, these quiet routes have been developed as well. I think it’s absolutely fabulous because it takes people off those dangerous routes and enables you to make safe journeys. I everyday cycling into Westminster along the quiet routes and I love it, it takes me a bit longer because it’s a bit further but I don’t mind. That’s absolutely great, but that’s what we want to see, innovation come in and we can’t dictate everything from the top and we’re not going to dictate everything from the top because we need you on the ground determining what works best in your community, how we best develop those plans, the infrastructure, how we best drive policy forward in your community.
So of course we’re not just talking about urban areas which is easier in some way than rural areas. We want good connectivity out across the rural communities as well to give those opportunities. It’s an absolute scandal at the moment that Highways England have got a budget for developing cycleways along main routes and is just sitting on it and denying people that opportunity from rural communities in particular to cycle. We want to open that up too and we will join together the planning that we heard Tom mention as well because if we are going to build new housing, we want it connected to public transport and active travel.
If we are going to build more industry, we need to ensure the connectivity is there. Whilst we are building a way through for cycling and walking, we equally want to encourage people off our roads to improve the air quality and to make sure we get that shift so there are many radical ideas we’ve already got in our policy that we’ll put forward, and we want more in there, so don’t be shy in letting us know what you want to see in our active travel policy. I believe that it will really be transformative to everybody life in the country and you can know you’ve been part of it too. Thank you.
Chris Kenyon: Liam do you want to share more about the journey here?
Liam Robinson: Yeah, very much so, I’m looking forward to that exciting vision but what are we doing here on the ground in Liverpool in the wider city region? First of all, thanks so much for the invite to what I think is a really important fringe meeting and really important event. It’s great that all of you and the conference is back in our wonderful city, we’re biased of course but we think it’s one of the greatest in the world.
We actually think it’s a fantastic place as well to get on your bike and have a ride around whilst you’re here, we think we’ve actually done a lot of very good things at the starting point of our cycling journey. But I’d be the first to admit there are still many more things that we need to do but we will do, because we’ve got that vision. I probably should say as a cycling counselor, I feel a bit fraudulent that I didn’t come on bike. My excuse is that my wife is meeting me straight after this, she’s five months pregnant so I didn’t think I really should be encouraging her onto a bike. But I do regularly ride my bike around this city, and we are very proud about the fact that over the past ten years, cycling rates in this city have doubled, they really have come on leaps and bounds from where they once were, but we know there’s a lot more that we can do because two thirds of all journeys that happen in this region are less than five kilometers, absolutely ideal for active travel, particularly for jumping on your bike.
Some of the things that are very much at the heart of our vision for cycling in the region is bike ability. We are very proud of the fact of that we still have the largest program of bike ability, and I know most people in this room know about it, but in old money it’s cycling proficiency, we’ve got the largest program of that than anywhere across the country and it’s specifically targeted at school age kids, because we want to make sure that we’re equipping all of our young people those vital skills to ride around our city and our wider region.
We’ve also got some pretty good successful bike hire schemes. City Bike that we’ve got here in the city that’s beaten a lot of it’s forecast usage and is one of the most successful bike hire schemes in the country. We’ve also tried to do a lot to make sure that we integrate cycling with the rest of our transport network, particularly our rail network so Mersey Rail is local network, and we’ve done a lot to make sure that cycling is part of that. We’ve got a Bike and Go hire scheme linked to Mersey Rail, the vast majority of stations have got secure storage for bikes, and with a brand new fleet of publicly owned trains that we’re bringing to the Mersey Rail [inaudible 00:26:43]. We have real life local cyclists help us design those so we have made sure that at the heart of the future of our network, cycling is very much at the heart of that. We’ve also done a lot to make sure we target people like Tom was talking about, that we think really can benefit from cycling and can be converted to…
That we think can really benefit from cycling and can be converted to cycling. So we targeted funds to job seekers and apprentices to actually give them the cash to buy a bike, as a means to getting to and from work. We have done a fantastic projecting Addington called “Choose Freedom” which is one of the most deprived communities in the country. Where we have taken a large number of long term, unemployed people and given them the skills of riding their bike to look for work. But also, giving then the skills to work in the cycling industry. So we’ve got a number of those people who have actually found long-term employment at those things like bike mechanics and involved in the wider cycling industry.
However, we still have a long way to go. Now, we know we can do more with cycle routes. One of things that we are in the process of developing, is looking at how we can roll out a proper cycle highway network across this city. And particularly folks, on how we can do that using things like our water front, our network of parks, right across the city. And particularly looking at some of those quieter routes, because we think that’s a really good way of doing things cost effectively. But actually is a much more enjoyable way of cycling around the city. I know that coming through the terrace streets of [inaudible 00:28:17] that I do to get here, is much nicer than battling it out on Pectin high streets, for example.
So that is very much at the heart of what we are doing. Also, looking at how we can use the last vestiges of European funding to pay for that and just indulge me as a proudly remain city, we really wish that wasn’t going to be our last trust. But that is a different conversation for a different day.
I think, some of the other things that we are keen. That we focus on, is that it’s not just about on streets infrastructure. We are actually very keen on how can we equip most work places with shower facilities. I know my own cycling journey, was basically when I was working nights on the railway. They installed a shower and I thought I could then start using my bike in a way that I wouldn’t have done if that facility hadn’t been installed. So we think that is a key part of the infrastructure that we need to focus on as well.
Focus on time savings. I know that to get from here to my home, is 28 minutes on my bike. So do it in a car, is twenty five minutes. A lot of people don’t realize, actually how good and efficient it is to jump on your bike, so we need to point that out, as well.
All this comes down to having a long term plan, as well, which is what we are developing, because if we are going to roll out that network and really embed cycling in our city and our wider region, we’ve got to have the long term plan like we have for our rail network and our bus network and the capital commitment to do that. There are things that we can do and we are looking to do but that’s why we are really looking forward to the next level of Government to help us go even further.
Heidi Alexander: Hello everyone, my name is Heidi Alexander and as of three months ago I became the Deputy Mayor of Transport in London, and before that I was a member of parliament for eight years. And just listening to Tom talking about the fact that he spends a lot of time during his day job, thinking about cycling, now it is my day job [crosstalk 00:30:39]. I’m really, really pleased to be here and to be able to join you.
One of the things that has really stood out for me as a statistic, I guess, in the three months that I have been doing this job. Is the number of Londoners who aren’t doing the 20 minutes of active travel each day, that they need to do to stay healthy. It is just a third of people in London that do 20 minutes of walking, and cycling. I think politicians are very quick to talk about a crisis, but I do genuinely think that across the country and in London, we do have an inactivity crisis. And encouraging more people to walk and cycle more often, is in my view, the quickest, and the simplest, and probably the cheapest way of going about encouraging more people to be active.
I thought I would give you a few personal reflections on my own cycling journey. And talk about the approach we are taking in London, quickly and then some of the lessons I’ve also learned in over the last few years of trying to change some of this stuff.
I, like Tom, am a returnee to cycling. When I first moved to London about 20 years ago, I moved to South London to share a flat with a friend. And I had to buy … been working as a temp back in my hometown of Swindon, and saved up about 1500 pounds. And I went up to London without a job, but with a bike. I cycled every day from Balham to Canary Wharf, to a temp job. I did that because I didn’t have enough money for a travel card, is the truth of the matter. I didn’t have a bank of mom and dad to rely upon, but I was someone that had cycled as I was growing up. It seems strange now, 20 years later, to be in a position where I have the possibility of dramatically changing that route, that I did from Balham to Canary Wharf, possibly even building a pedestrian and cycling bridge, from [inaudible 00:32:47] over to the Isle of Dogs. But for me, we don’t talk enough in the Labour Party about how cycling, is not only good for our health, good for the environment, but it is also the cheapest way of getting around. If we can find a way to encourage more people to consider this as a form of transport. I think we will be doing a really good thing.
So in London, we have got a fantastic mass transport strategy now. Which was put together under the leadership of my predecessor Val Shawcross. The first-third of that document is entitled “Healthy Streets” and it is all about, over the next 20 years, moving us from a position where 63% of journeys in London are done by either walking, cycling or using public transport, to the position where that is 80% in 20 years time. Now that is a really, really big uplift. So how are we going to do it and what we are doing to achieve that?
Big serious investment in infrastructure. Rachael, talked about the quiet ways, where we have filtered streets, quieter roads. Some segregated cycling there. We are investing in quiet ways and also on the cycle super highways. So we opened an extension of cycle super highways, six, a couple of days ago, so you can now cycle pretty much on a segregated path almost all the way from Elephant and Castle up to Kings Cross. We’ve got some really exciting ideas for expanding both the cycle super highway network and the quiet way network across the rest of London. We’ve got three boroughs that are implementing a Mini-Holland scheme, which is an area based scheme with an investment in walking and cycling.
Fantastic stuff going on in places like Kingston as well. Other livable neighborhood projects, I can see, Phil, here from Hackney, who have shown real leadership on this area and some great work around school streets, in terms of closing some roads around schools at the time when mums and dads are dropping off and picking up, to encourage more people to use that way to go to school.
Huge amount of stuff going on. Lots of stuff on safer junctions as well, because we know most accidents happen there, we are putting safety first. We have launched our “Vision Zero” document, which wants to eliminate the number of deaths … get rid of deaths on our road by 2041 all together.
Will Norman, our Walking and Cycling Commissioner, is doing some work at the European level. We want to introduce a direct vision standard, for big lorries and trucks, essentially, we’ve got people being killed on London’s roads because lorries that are designed for quarries in essence, are driving around residential streets. We want to introduce a permit system starting next year, so that we get the most dangerous vehicles off our roads. And that you have to, if you want to be driving in London, you need to apply for a permit and if you’ve got a dangerous vehicle, you need to fit cameras and alarms et cetera, to improve safety there.
We want to work in partnership with the boroughs. Really important about employers as well, as Liam was saying to make sure that people who want to cycle to work have the facilities there. But for me, it’s not just about the super fit guys on the super highways cycling from Fullerton to the city. It’s actually about the mum that wants to pop down to Little on the weekend, put a basket on the front and build it into peoples daily routine.
Three lessons… Sustained investment, is really important, on average they are putting in 169 million pounds a year. People need to see visible change in order to start to think about changing their own behaviors.
Second lesson, would be, we need political backbone on this. We’re currently in a spot with the Tory lead, Westminster Council, about our decision to remove the directory up at Swiss Cottage, which is essentially a six lane urban highway. They have gone to court and challenged us, there is always a reason isn’t there, not to do something? We need counselors and party activists are gonna say “No, we want to see change.” and to stiffen the resolve of elected representatives.
The third thing I’d say, is that we do have to start to craft this argument, I think Chris is completely right to say this in the language of social justice, investing in cycling is fighting for social justice. 70% of households in the poorest parts of London, don’t own a car, yet their lives are blighted by the cars that are driving through those areas. We know that the poorest are most affected, not only by toxic air but are also most affected by exposure to road danger and also, the inactivity crisis as well.
So if the Labour Party is not making this case, I don’t know who it’s going to be. It’s incumbent upon us to do so, is at the heart of what we are doing in London under Sadiq’s leadership. And I think under Rachael’s leadership and his leadership as well. It will be at the heart of what a future Labour government does. Thank you very much.
Chris Kenyon – Lots of interesting ideas. I’m a great fan of Bikeability schemes, but I am always struck, if you are a politician, appearing in front of a school with trained kids is easy, and appearing in front of a neighborhood meeting to explain why you think moving a protected parking space is difficult. And this question of how we carry communities, how we stimulate debate in a community to actually say there are real costs to doing lots of short journeys by cars, is not an easy one. But it is a discussion we have to have in our communities.
Q & A Session