Kats Dekker takes a hard look at the Transport Secretary's speech to the Conservative Party Conference
We've had some pretty good announcements and positioneering on cycling by both Labour and the LibDems recently. So all eyes and ears were on the Tories when they took to their conference, and the Secretary of State for Transport's speech in particular.
How did they fare? Was a return ticket included, or was it a dead end?
Well, after a predictable brown-nosing comment for the Prime Minister, Patrick McLoughlin MP told the conference what the DfT are all about: investment. And he quoted someone called Penny. That's when my penny dropped.
Following the obligatory previous-government-bashing (yawn), Patrick wanted us "hardworking" people to keep travelling - read: carry on as usual - so travelling can stay demand/prediction-led, which is particularly important for the all-powerful oil (petrol/road/car) lobby. This is despite falling car use and volume. And he made clear that he's already doing enough for cycling as they are "investing more in cycling than ever before".
And wherever I go I get asked the same question. Can we have more services, please? Wider roads. Better buses. Cycle lanes. More trains. That essential investment we need for hardworking people to get to jobs, to the shops, to school.
not seeing or acknowledging the conflict in this statement: in our existing towns, it is either wider roads, or better cycling space. (Or has he made some marvellous invention to create new space? You do wonder.)
There followed the apparently mandatory boasting about new road schemes, with Patrick arguing "if that’s starvation then it’s a diet I should be on." Well, loosening the belt on an obese patient seems to be his tactics. (Patrick, on yer bike.) But here he goes again -
This summer the Chancellor agreed a long-term settlement for transport investment of more than £70 billion. Including tripling the budget for major road schemes.
And, ouch, insult to injury - "Our road network is a backbone of transport in Britain. It’s how so many people get to work. By car, bus and bike." - well, the sheer thought of cycling on those roads is what people tell us keeps them from cycling in the UK - are we maybe getting a few £millions to re-arrange our roads maybe, please, sir, minister, sir?
And all this from a government that spends on roads, roads, roads, and that's most likely roads without cycle tracks alongside them.
He then dipped his toe into rail, and HS2 in particular. Not much to report there, other than that they are hell-bent on barging this through the ranks of the critics.
Certainly if it's about investment – making cycling happen, and making that space for cycling, gives a fabulous return... no, Patrick, no?
Back to the speech - Norman Baker MP (the reluctant cycling czar, now ex too) gets a name check. Tick. Done. A bit of scaremongering about jobs, and that's it. Sorted, done and dusted. Verdict?
Ill-informed. Clueless. Nonsensical. Dinosauric. Department of Highways. The minister talks about vision, but should have gone to...