Promoting Cycling & Walking for Environmental Purposes
Cycling and walking have a significant role to play in tackling some of the biggest health and environmental challenges that we face. Indeed, an uptake of these greener modes of transport throughout the pandemic has played a great role in the national coronavirus effort, helping to reduce the pressure on public transport, and, in facilitating social distancing, lowering infection rates. I therefore welcome this increased interest in cycling and walking and hope to see these behavioural changes last.
I am very pleased that the Government has committed to the largest ever financial boost for active travel of an additional £2billion in cycling and walking over the next five years. This will deliver transformational change, hopefully encouraging people to maintain their transition to greener, more sustainable modes of transport such as cycling. In the Summer, the Department for Transport also published the 'Gear Change' policy paper, detailing a bold new action plan to boost active travel.
The first stage of this £2 billion investment was a £250 million emergency active travel fund. Through this, the Government supported local authorities to increase the amount of road space provided for cycling, and enabled local authorities to reallocate road space and make changes to road layouts in response to the coronavirus. The Fund delivers new pop-up cycle lanes with protected space for cycling, cycle and bus-only corridors, safer junctions and wider pavements. Furthermore, a £50 Fix Your Bike Voucher scheme was launched, to help people to bring their bikes out of retirement. It was hugely popular and there will be more opportunities to secure vouchers in the coming months.
Beyond these measures, there will be a long-term cycling programme and budget, which will ensure a guaranteed funding pipeline. This will usher in thousands of miles of protected cycle routes in our towns and cities and improve the National Cycle Network.
Furthermore, over 1,000 miles of safe and direct cycling and walking networks are due to be delivered by 2025 with network plans developed and being built out in every town and city in England. Cycle training will be made available for any child or adult who wants it and a new national e-bike programme will be introduced to increase access to e-bikes. I welcome that Cycling UK have already provided information on how cycling can be enjoyed safely.
Higher standards for cycling infrastructure have also been introduced and a new inspectorate, Active Travel England, will ensure these new standards are upheld. The new standards will ensure schemes are better designed around the needs of cyclists and will make sure that schemes support the growing numbers of cyclists. I understand that the Department of Transport is already developing a framework to help local authorities monitor and evaluate the schemes that they will be delivering through phase two of the Active Travel Fund.
A consultation was also held on strengthening the Highway Code to enhance protections for cyclists and pedestrians. Among other things, Ministers want to improve the legal protections afforded to vulnerable road users and introduce tougher lorry safety standards.
The Environment Bill (Report Stage)
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Environment, ensuring that the Environment Bill is as robust as it can be to protect our country is extremely important to me.
I am pleased that the Environment Bill will put environmental ambition and accountability at the very heart of government, enhancing the commitment to leave the natural world in a better condition than we found it, and creating a new environment body to ensure it succeeds. Ministers have been clear that they will realise the benefits of leaving the EU, including implementing new ways of delivering better levels of environmental protection.
I spoke in the Chamber during the report stage of the Environment Bill on January 26th; you can read my speech here. I hope I have reassured you of my commitment to ensure the Environment Bill is as strong as it can be.
Protecting Nature & Biodiversity
Like you, I am also passionate about protecting nature and I am concerned that our country’s rich biodiversity and ecosystems are under threat. While it is encouraging that seventy-five world leaders registered their support for the ambitious Leader’s Pledge for Nature to put nature and biodiversity on the road to recovery by 2030, we must now turn those words into meaningful action. I am therefore thrilled that Ministers are launching a partnership to help deliver the biggest nature recovery project in England’s history, which will restore our depleted ecosystems and habitats as we continue to build back greener.
The Nature Recovery Network Delivery Partnership, led by Natural England, will bring together representatives from over 600 organisations to drive forward the restoration of protected sites and landscapes and help provide at least 500,000 hectares of new wildlife-rich habitat across England. The Network will link together our very best nature rich places, restore landscapes in towns and the countryside and create new habitats for everybody to enjoy. This is the biggest initiative to restore nature ever to be launched in England.
As well as making sure our existing protected sites are in the best possible condition, the Nature Recovery Network programme will recover threatened animal and plant species and create and connect new green and blue spaces such as wetlands, ponds, meadows, woodlands, and peatlands. It will engage conservation rangers and environmentally focused community-based projects and put lost features like hedgerows and trees back into our landscapes. These restored habitats will help address climate change through capturing carbon, while improving the quality of our air, water, and soil, and provide natural flood protection. They will also provide us all with places to enjoy and connect with nature and helping to improve our health and wellbeing.
Of course, Ministers cannot deliver the Nature Recovery Network alone. They are providing new legislation, tools and funding, but it is together that we will deliver the network of wildlife-rich places that allow nature and people to flourish.
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