With seven months until the general election, the issue of cycling seems to be one of the most obvious 'off the peg' crowd pleasers, as well an astute spend of finite finances. The case for better investment has been clearly made, a detailed independent report identifying an implementation plan has been publicly lauded and yet we are still awaiting widespread political commitments, to bring cycling investment beyond the paltry pocket money it currently receives.
The main cycling charities and advocacy groups have been touring the party conferences for the past few weeks; Sustrans, CTC, London Cycling Campaign, British Cycling and others have been reminding MPs of the findings of last year's Get Britain Cycling report, published by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG). The report outlined its recommendations for funding of £10 per person per year - to help increase cycling as a proportion of total journeys from 2% to 10% by 2025 - and prompted David Cameron at the time to say that he wanted to launch a 'cycling revolution', and yet publication of the Government's Cycling Delivery Plan is still awaited.
At the Conservative Conference, Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton told activists that every child should have access to PE at school. She said playing sport helped build vital characteristics that bosses wanted. 'It builds character, confidence and resilience', she said, adding that 90 per cent of children behaved better after more sport was added to the curriculum.
Whilst this is encouraging, where was the debate on how we can develop safer routes to school, so that children can introduce exercise as a natural part of their day, everyday? In the Netherlands, 20 times more journeys are made by bike by people under 17 than in the UK. And the main reason for this is the perceived lack of safety. Shadow Transport Secretary Mary Creagh MP has said she wants every child to have the opportunity to learn to cycle, which is welcome news. However, neither Labour nor the Conservatives have yet joined the Liberal Democrats and Green Party in committing to the targets of the APPCG report.
Another Olympic cyclist, Chris Boardman, is a policy advisor for British Cycling. He has described the next seven months as crucial - anyone who cares for cycling and wants to see it better championed in this country must raise their voice, he says. He has called for 'numbers, timescales and targets'.
He said: "Cycling as a mode of transport is currently being treated as an add-on, a nice-to-have, treated like a poor relation - money thrown in its direction when it's fashionable. You would not plan the rail network this way, nor the road network, so why is it acceptable to treat cycling like this? Especially when cycling on its own would do so much more for the health and wellbeing of our nation."
I am working with Boardman on an event this week with Business in the Community and Friends Life - which sponsored this year's Tour of Britain cycling race - to encourage more business leaders to adopt progressive approaches to mental wellbeing. Boardman said the same framing we had used to get businesses to take note of mental health was something he was finding was resonating with his cycling campaign; namely attaching a cost to not acting. In the case of mental health, UK businesses lose £26bn a year due to common mental health issues, due to absence, disengagement and presenteeism, whereas businesses that invest in wellbeing see more engaged, productive and retained workforces. In the case of cycling, billions of pounds are spent treating illnesses caused by pollution and lack of exercise, or are lost to road traffic accidents.
Road collisions are estimated to cost the UK economy £8.7bn and car pollution costs us £10.6bn. It has been reported that 9% of deaths in London may be down to air pollution. As well as resulting in less congestion and pollution, the chief medical advisor said cycling regularly can help prevent cancer, heart disease, strokes, diabetes and mental health problems. Health and transport specialist, Dr Adrian Davis, has said: "For every £1 spent on cycling initiatives they can generally return up to £4 in saved costs to the NHS and value to the economy."
Last month, a study, carried out at UEA's Norwich Medical School and the Centre for Health Economics at the University of York - using data on nearly 18,000 adult commuters from across the UK over 18 years - found that switching from driving a car to walking or cycling to work fundamentally improves our wellbeing.
Broadcaster and CTC president, Jon Snow, has also been addressing the party conferences. He said: "The Government has had plenty of time to talk about what it intends to do for cycling. Now it must make good on its promises. If it is serious about showing leadership on cycling, it must commit to funding of £10 per person per year to create the conditions where cycling becomes a safe and normal way for anyone to make day-to-day journeys. This is just a fraction of the overall transport budget and will bring huge economic, environmental and health benefits."
As the run in to the election begins, let's make it known that we want this commitment now. Ask your local MP where they stand.