another big batch from the archives of history repeating 1

Still looking into the Thatcher government’s position on cycling. First, this, from Cycling Policy in the UK by Laura Golbuff and Rachel Aldred of the UEL Sustainable Mobilities Research Group:

Also in 1977, the Labour Government’s Transport White Paper, ‘reflecting government concerns about the rising cost of oil, erosion of the quality of life through road traffic, and the needs of non-car users’, offered local authorities a budget for ‘innovatory cycling projects’ (CTC, 1993; Hayward, 2009: 160; McClintock, 2002). The White Paper stated that ‘[c]ompletely segregated cycle routes would be impractical or far too expensive in most cities, but local authorities should consider ways of helping cyclists when preparing traffic management schemes…there is scope for many more practical initiatives [to support walking and cycling]’ (DoT 1977: 28).
By 1981, such projects were deemed successful enough to be considered for extension in the now Conservative Government’s Cycling Consultation Paper, which identified ‘a boom in cycling’ (page 1) also stating that ‘[i]n an ideal world’ cyclists would have ‘their own tracks, separating them from other users of the roads. But there is not enough space and not enough money to do this everywhere’. There were over 300 responses to the consultation and the Secretary of State for Transport responded with the Statement of Cycling Policy (Clarke, 1982), inviting local authorities in England to bid for match funding for expanded ‘innovatory schemes’. The Minister expressed his ‘hope that the growing recognition of cyclists’ needs will lead to more widespread action to improve facilities which in turn will encourage more people to cycle’ (Clarke 1982: 1). While ‘the Department recognises the need to provide cycle facilities wherever new trunk roads cross significant flows of cyclists’ the Statement stressed that ‘most cycling takes place on local roads’ and therefore conditions for cyclists would there depend on ‘the actions and priorities of local highway authorities’ (Clarke 1982:1). However: ‘The Government sees no need to direct that a fixed proportion of the local authority expenditure accepted for Transport Supplementary Grant should be used for cycling projects. The amount of cycling varies from county to county, and expenditure priorities must remain a matter for local decision’. While encouraging cycling the Government would not attempt ‘to impose central direction upon the variety of local circumstances’ (Clarke 1982: 5).

Although, as they say, the Tories produced a “Cycling Consultation Paper” and “Statement of Cycling Policy”, judging from questions in the House, producing the papers wasn’t a great priority for the Department: the first reference to the paper, which was to be published “shortly”, is on 25 June 1980 (2 months after the previous discussion of cycling). The Consultation Paper was expected “soon” on 10 December 1980, and “soon” again on the 23 February 1981:

Mr David Myles (Banffshire)
asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the timing of the consultation paper on cycling.

Mr Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

Mr Jack Dormand (Easington)
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the Under-Secretary saying last June that a consultation paper would be published “shortly”—that was the hon. and learned Gentleman’s word—and in December last year that it would be published “soon”? We have had the same reply again today. Is not this a clear indication that the Government have no interest whatever in the promotion of cycling, even in these days of energy conservation, pollution and emphasis on physical fitness? Does he not agree that the need for active interest in the matter is greater than ever? Will he and his hon. and learned Friend send me £1 each to join the all-party group on cycling, as a demonstration of their good intent?

Mr Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)
I suppose that as I have had a salary increase I can say that I shall send the hon. Gentleman £1. I cannot speak for my hon. and learned Friend the Under-secretary, who, regrettably, has not yet received an increase.
Publication of the paper will be sooner than when my hon. and learned Friend last gave that reply. I think that I can say that it will be published next month. I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the matter. There are important policy implications to do with cycling, including the safety implications.

(Fowler was Transport Secretary — this is one of only two ocassions I’m aware of during the Thatcher reign when a cycling question wasn’t delegated to the Under-Secretary or a Minister…)
Clarke finally made his Statement on 26 January the following year. In July, Dormand asked him about delivery of the policies. Norman Baker has clearly been recycling statements from the early 1980s. Clarke even boasts about how he is funding Bikeabil– I mean, cycling proficiency.

Mr Jack Dormand (Easington)
Will the Minister confirm that when county councils make specific reference to cycle proposals in their transport policy programmes the Government will guarantee extra money for that purpose? Will he give some priority—he has indicated that he may do so—to cycle construction standards and to training, especially for children? Is he aware that so far all that we have had from the Government are fine words and no action? As cycling produces so many benefits to the community, when will we see some practical results?

Mr Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)
We have given financial support to many experiments in Britain and we have produced the first cycling policy. We have asked counties to include cycling plans in their submissions for grant in their transport policy programmes. Although we cannot guarantee to meet every one, because there is a limit to local government expenditure on transport, we are encouraging them to put cycling plans in, because we wish to help. We have made provision for improving the standard of cycle construction and protecting the consumer. We already support the RoSPA cycle training proficiency scheme for schoolchildren. We are helping the society to improve that scheme.

By March 1983, Clarke had moved on, but Dormand was still expressing his concerns at lack of real action to the new minister, and by 27 February 1984 the publicity of the policy seems to have faded:

Mr Jack Dormand (Easington)
asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he is satisfied with the response of local authorities in implementing Government cycling policies; and if he will make a statement.

Mrs Lynda Chalker (Wallasey)
Yes, Sir. Almost all county councils now recognise the importance of providing improved cycling facilities.

Mr Jack Dormand (Easington)
I acknowledge the good work being done by a small number of local authorities. However, does the hon. Lady agree that the original momentum of the plan that she drew up some two years ago is now slowing? In view of that deterioration and of the Government’s rate-capping policy, how does she now propose to meet the needs of cyclists, particularly as so much depends on the local authorities?

and again, on 21 May 1984, more statements that sound just like Norman Baker:

Mr Jack Dormand (Easington)
Does the Minister accept that the success of the Government’s cycling policies depends to a large extent on the initiatives taken by local authorities? In view of the explosion in cycling—I am glad that the Minister is an enthusiast—at a time when the Government are slashing local authorities expenditure, what is she doing to ensure that cycling obtains the resources that it deserves?

Mrs Lynda Chalker (Wallasey)
The hon. Gentleman knows that we are working hard to ensure that we introduce cycling schemes where we can—that is, where they are economical and make sense in the locality. He is right in saying that the matter should be decided by the locality.

It seems that the Cycling Policy quietly faded away after that, with the turnover of Transport ministers and MPs. Researching what, if any, actual tangible results came out of the policy is a bit more difficult. No doubt there was something, but anything more than just a few painted lanes and shared pavements?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One thought on “another big batch from the archives of history repeating