Nick Herbert: Hills or not, cycling’s growing in popularity

Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert
Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert

C ycling has been a key element of Britain’s sporting success, so I was interested to read that Chris Froome, our second winner of the Tour de France, is a car aficionado as well as a top-class cyclist.

This rather challenges the idea that people who love one form of transport hate the other. In fact, more than four-fifths of cyclists also own a car.

And unlike, say, Brighton - which has one of the lowest proportions of car ownership in the country - in an area like the South Downs we rely on motorised transport.

Hills or not, cycling is growing in popularity. I recently learned about Hassocks Community Cycle Hire, a scheme that rents bikes to locals and tourists alike who want to enjoy the surrounding countryside.

So many will have welcomed this week’s news that the South Downs National Park Authority, in partnership with West Sussex County Council, is to receive a £3.8 million grant from the Government’s Linking Communities Cycle Fund.

The money will be used, alongside £1.3 million of local contributions, to create car-free access to the South Downs via railway station ‘gateways’ and directly from large villages within and near the National Park.

Thirty-five miles of new cycle routes will be created. West Sussex county councillor Derek Whittington has been championing new routes, for instance one that will link Barnham to the South Downs Way largely off-road.

Go cycling even on a country lane and you soon appreciate how much safety matters, especially with increasing traffic. As the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group said earlier this year, Britain’s enthusiasm for cycling may be growing rapidly, but it is still far lower than many other countries.

In The Netherlands, for instance, over a quarter of all journeys are made by bike, compared with less than two per cent here. In some European towns, more than half of all journeys are made by bike. Where towns and cities in the UK have invested to promote cycling and make it safer, participation has increased hugely. Hence the new safety measures announced this week by the Prime Minister as part of the Government’s ambition to increase cycling. As I saw when I visited the South Downs Bikes shop in Storrington last year, cycling is enjoyed across generations. If we make it easier and safer, it will become more popular still.

If you would like to get in touch with me, please write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, or e-mail me at nick@nickherbert.com