Matt Rodda, Labour MP for Reading East and shadow minister for transport (buses), took part in the Active Travel debate in Parliament on 9 July. The Whitley Pump called “house!” at the end of his speech, having completed at least one line in any direction as well as all four corners of our political buzzword bingo card, with a bonus prize for the mention of Reading.

The debate had been requested by Robert Courts, Conservative MP for Witney and took place in Westminster Hall.

Edited highlights from Matt Rodda’s speech in the Active Travel debate

Matt Rodda’s contribution began at 10:39, just over an hour into the debate. His seven minute contribution catalogued the many positives of ‘active travel’, particularly cycling.

These included the contribution that cycling could make to tackling pollution and climate change, as well as health benefits for the individual. He said that local economies could also benefit if people walk or cycle rather than drive to the shops and industrial strategy could include the manufacture of bicycles, including e-bikes. He mentioned what local authorities could do, as well as the perceived danger of cycling.

“Cycling should be for the many, not just the brave”, he said (note [1]), echoing the Labour Party 2017 manifesto “for the many, not the few.” He gave examples of how towns and cities in the UK are dealing with the problem, particularly in Manchester where cyclist Chris Boardman has been appointed commissioner for cycling and walking. He also mentioned Reading’s pedestrian and cycling Christchurch Bridge over the Thames.

An article in the Guardian from shadow secretary of state for transport Andy McDonald earlier the same day covered much of the same ground.

Climate change

Matt Rodda said:

The Government have admitted, albeit under pressure from the Opposition, that the UK and the world as a whole face a climate emergency. We have just 11 years to dramatically reduce carbon dioxide emissions and we need to take practical steps now to protect the planet for future generations. Changes in the way we travel have a vital part to play in responding to this emergency and, as has been discussed this morning, walking and cycling can play an important role in that.

Were the UK to achieve the same cycling culture and levels of infrastructure as the Netherlands, we could reduce carbon gas emissions from cars by as much as a third, and that is not to mention the many social and economic benefits, such as tackling the air pollution crisis and reaping health benefits by reducing sedentary lifestyles, which in turn could save the NHS up to £9 billion per year…

Government missing their own targets

… the UK quite simply has a very poor track record of encouraging walking and cycling, and the Government are missing their own targets to increase walking and cycling. There are a number of reasons for that. The most fundamental point is the lack of investment. We have too much car-dependent development on the edge of cities or in the countryside, as colleagues have mentioned today.

Is cycling too dangerous?

To make matters worse, the budget for the police has been cut severely since 2010, leading to a lack of traffic officers to tackle speeding and to educate motorists. It is hardly surprising, as colleagues have mentioned, that according to the British social attitudes survey, many people believe cycling is simply too dangerous to try, even though they are well aware of the health and lifestyle benefits…

What local councils are doing

… I commend the imaginative mini-Hollands scheme in London, which has made a significant difference in a number of boroughs. I visited parts of Waltham Forest that have been transformed, with dedicated cycle paths, improved pavements and selective road closures, all of which have made a huge improvement in walking and cycling. More people are choosing active travel and there has been a real change in the atmosphere in the streets, which are now easier to get around on foot or by bike, after years of being dominated by cars.

Benefits to local retailers

There are many other benefits. Trade has increased for local retailers as more people shop locally in these areas, which has encouraged further walking and cycling.

Manchester’s cycling tsar

In Manchester, the Mayor’s cycling tsar, Chris Boardman, is focusing on reducing the risk of accidents at crossings, a point that was well made earlier in the debate, which are often the most dangerous places for both cyclists and pedestrians. He has also worked on joining up local routes. His emphasis on asking the public what they want and on low-cost paint and plastic transformation is leading the way; I believe that it is making it easier to introduce real change at a local level.

Reading’s Christchurch Bridge

There are many more examples of this, not least in my constituency where a new cycling and walking bridge over the Thames at Reading has significantly increased active travel…

Reclaiming the urban realm

Encouraging active travel will also breathe new life into our towns, as I mentioned earlier, by reclaiming the urban realm and creating public spaces that are free from traffic and accompanying pollutants, fostering environments that are pleasant places to live and work…

Cycling should be for the many not just the brave

There must be significant investment in infrastructure to develop dense, continuous networks of cycle paths that are physically separated from traffic, including building cycling and pedestrian bridges or tunnels, as we heard earlier. Cycling should indeed be for the many, not just the brave. People must also be encouraged and given the confidence to cycle, so there needs to be training and support for all who need it, including affordable bike access for all. Support for e-bikes is vital, particularly for those who are less physically able…

Industrial strategy for bikes

… We [the Labour party] would work with industry—a point that has not been discussed—to develop a proper industrial strategy for cycling, which is very important and would focus on both conventional and e-bikes.

Bringing the railways back into public ownership and more investment in buses

We would support cycling and walking by our wider transformation of investment in transport, bringing the railways back into public ownership to deliver better value for passengers and to encourage more people to walk to the station. More investment in bus travel would also encourage walking to bus stops.

Brownfield residential development

Encouraging brownfield redevelopment rather than greenfield building would encourage better access to towns and villages from new development.

And finally…

I am conscious of time, so I will conclude. Walking and cycling are hugely important if we are to tackle climate change and lead healthier lives. It is clear that determined action can make an enormous difference, whether in northern Europe or closer to home in the UK. We need action now, not delay, and I urge the Minister to change the Government’s approach.

Westminster Hall debates

Westminster Hall debates can take place on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Tuesday debates at 9.30, such as this one, are allocated by the Backbench Business Committee. The full debate can be seen on Parliament TV and Matt Rodda’s contribution is at 10.39.


[1]. There are discrepancies between the spoken word and the transcript.

  1. Active Travel
  2. Parliament TV 9 July 2019 – Active Travel debate at 9.30
  3. Creating a mini-Holland in Waltham Forest
  4. British Social Attitudes Survey 2017: Public attitudes towards transport
  5. Hansard Online
  6. Parliament Online
  7. Register of members interests
  8. MP expenses at the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority
  9. Matt Rodda home page, at Hansard and They Work For You
  10. Cycling UK
  11. Guardian – The government is neglecting cycling – Labour Would Change That