Cyclists, campaigners and road safety figures have expressed concern after Labour's shadow transport secretary began to outline her stance on active travel policies, 20mph speed limits and low-traffic neighbourhoods.
With the Labour Party enjoying a lead in excess of 20 percentage points in the polls, and widely expected to form the next government of the United Kingdom following the general election due before January 2025, attention for many has turned to analysing what a Labour government might look like, Cycling UK last month calling for shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh to outline "Labour's long-term plans for transport – in particular, taking into account the needs of people and families who don’t have access to a car".
And while the speeches from the party's recent conference in Liverpool were still largely quite vague – Sir Keir Starmer promising to build the "next generation" of new towns with "transport options fit for the future" – in speaking to the Independent, Haigh has begun to reveal more of her views on active travel and transport policies with implications for cycling.
Answering the question, 'does she cycle?' Haigh responded: "God no, have you been to Sheffield?"
Telling the newspaper she drives a petrol Nissan Juke, Haigh suggested Rishi Sunak had "demeaned himself" by saying the Labour Party would pursue a 'war on motorists'.
Interestingly, she went on to say 20mph speed limits and low-traffic neighbourhoods should be a matter decided by local people and argued many of the most-criticised councils who had implemented apparently unpopular schemes were Conservative local authorities.
Concluding the transport section of the interview, Haigh said there would be no Labour Party diktat that people should walk or cycle more.
Sharing the interview online, Dr Robert Davis, the Chair of the Road Danger Reduction Forum said "this would make Labour less responsible than [Boris] Johnson's government". Likewise, another sharer Jim Smithson suggested, with more than a touch of sarcasm, that it was "inspirational stuff from our next transport minister".
The words also attracted attention from one person who replied to Haigh's suggestion that cycling in Sheffield was not an option due to the hills by asking: "For god's sake can an e-bike manufacturer please make sure everyone in government or future government has actually tried one and found out for themselves how great they are and how cheap to run?"
Leicestershire Loves Cycling, a campaign group for cycling in the county, added that nobody wants to force everyone to walk or cycle, just that walking and cycling should be enabled to be "the most attractive options for short journeys".
The shadow transport secretary's comments have come as a disappointment to many who were hoping to see the poll-leading Labour Party take a big step away from the rhetoric of the current government, heard at last month's Conservative Party Conference as Rishi Sunak and transport secretary Mark Harper outlined a 'Plan for Motorists' to end the so-called war on motorists.
Active travel groups despaired at the Tories' proposed measures – including curbing the introduction of 20mph speed limits, allowing drivers to use bus lanes more frequently, and barely mentioning cycling at all – the CEOs of Cycling UK, British Cycling, Bikeability Trust, Living Streets, Ramblers and Sustrans coming together to state the proposals would "rob people of choice" and force them to drive.
Cycling UK in particular was especially vocal, accusing the Conservatives of an "ill-fated attempt to win" votes with pro-motoring policies that would risk "undermining" active travel success.
A week later, to the backdrop of Labour's turn to host a conference, the cycling charity called for the party to "demonstrate bravery" by making its new homes plan active travel-focused, ditching "roads-only network" and reliance on cars.
"Labour has promised a decade of national renewal, including building 1.5 million new homes," Sarah McMonagle, director of external affairs at Cycling UK, said in a statement following Starmer's conference speech.
"These new neighbourhoods will also need transport options fit for the future, not the roads-only network that typifies so many recent large housing developments, leaving people with no option but to rely on cars.
"These new homes must have excellent links to public transport, be close to the services people need, and designed and planned so that walking or cycling for short journeys are obvious, safe, and attractive options for most people. Planning permission shouldn't be granted without these elements designed in.
"But we needed to hear more from Louise Haigh about Labour's long-term plans for transport – in particular, taking into account the needs of people and families who don't have access to a car.
"Keir Starmer mentioned the need for bravery, and we now need Labour to demonstrate that bravery by setting out the party's plans for a transport future that gives more people real opportunities to walk or cycle short journeys. That's a far better way to tackle the cost-of-living and climate crises, but also to massively improve our health, wealth, and well-being."
Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.