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BBC show Newsnight Scotland accused of anti-cycling bias in studio discussion

Head of Sustrans Scotland crticises remarks by BBC programme's presenter...

The head of Sustrans in Scotland has criticised Newsnight Scotland, and presenter Gordon Brewer in particular, for showing what he terms “a clear bias against cyclists” and failure “to steer a balanced debate” in an edition of the programme broadcast last Thursday which looked at whether Scotland could learn lessons from the Netherlands when it came to cycling.

John Lauder, the sustainable transport charity’s national director for Scotland, also took the broadcaster to task for its choice of guest, Alan Douglas, a motoring journalist who contributes to BBC TV and Radio Scotland and the Scotsman newspaper, among others.

The actual report on Newsnight Scotland (available on iPlayer), in which BBC journalist David Miller looks at how the Dutch have managed to achieve such high levels of cycling isn’t itself the cause of contention.

The report included contributions from Mr Lauder himself and Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown, who is planning to visit the Netherlands to learn about the Dutch approach to cycling first hand.

It also featured Dr Dave Brennan, one of the organisers of last April’s Pedal on Parliament ride, which will be repeated on Saturday 18 May, who was accompanied by the BBC on a trip to Amsterdam to study Dutch infrastructure.

It’s the studio discussion afterwards that has provoked Mr Lauder’s ire, however.

It began with Chris Oliver of CTC Scotland outlining how much catching up Scotland had to do with countries such as the Netherlands in terms of cycling provision, calling for 5 per cent of the national transport budget to be given over to two wheels.

In a letter published in The Herald, Mr Lauder outlined his criticism of the reaction to the report and Mr Oliver’s comments by the presenter, who seemed to view Amsterdam as having a Mediterranean climate compared to Edinburgh, and Mr Douglas, who was firmly opposed to more money being spent on Scotland.

Mr Lauder wrote:

The Newsnight Scotland broadcast on the BBC on February 7 demonstrates that the corporation really has fallen from grace.

The presenter, Gordon Brewer, showed a clear bias against cyclists and failed to steer a balanced debate. Mr Brewer was misinformed when harping on about how the bad weather in Scotland will always hold cyclists back. The main reason why people do not cycle is because of the real or perceived safety risk, something that Mr Brewer's guest, motoring journalist Alan Douglas, clearly does not take seriously.

BBC Scotland must source better-informed guests, as the level of ignorance shown by Mr Douglas was embarrassing. Stating that there has always been a culture of cycling in Holland merely proved his lack of knowledge on the topic – Holland was not a cycling nation 30-40 years ago. They have worked hard to achieve the levels of cycling they have now.

Then for Mr Douglas to say that when it comes to extra investment, cycling must take its place with everything else (implying money would be better spent on more nurses, healthcare and welfare) proves he fails to see the bigger picture. Two-thirds of the Scottish population are overweight or obese and rates of diabetes are soaring. Encouraging more people to cycle can help address these issues and reduce the need for more investment in the NHS. As we all know, prevention is better than cure.

Mr Lauder’s letter, published yesterday, attracted a reply today from one Gilbert Mackay of Newton Mearns, who said:

I'm not sure John Lauder of Sustrans is correct when he writes that the Netherlands did not become a cycling nation until 30 to 40 years ago (Letters, February 11).

Dutch football fans are famous for goading German supporters with chants of "Give us back our bicycles", referring, apparently, to thefts by occupation troops during the Second World War.

For the record, I am a cyclist and always stop at red lights.

In fact, both men are correct. In common with other European countries and the UK, the bicycle was the leading form of personal transport up until the post-war recovery years, when cars became more widely affordable than they had been, leading urban planners in the UK and elsewhere to put four wheels at the centre of their policies.

In the Netherlands as in Denmark, however, such policies were reversed during the 1970s, leading to the cycle-centric culture that prevails today.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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