I felt very privileged this morning to receive a call from Julian Huppert, the Lib Dem MP from Cambridge and one of the Co-chairs of the Lib Dems’ backbench Transport Parliamentary Party Committee. I join the committee by phone most weeks it meets, as an appointee from the Lib Dems’ Federal Policy Committee . I take the opportunity to learn – and to contribute my thoughts.
Julian wasn’t phoning on Committee business, however. He was phoning about an announcement from the Lib Dem Transport Minister, Norman Baker MP. Norman announced this morning that Derby was receiving just short of £5 million – its bid for to improve local sustainable transport.
This is really good news – and has the potential to be the start of city-wide change.
This isn’t the first time Derby has had an opportunity like this. Back in 2005 Derby won a bid to become a Cycling Demonstration Town. Then the ‘prize’ was just £500,000 a year for three years – only a third of what it will now receive.
The most significant thing about that bid was the level of support the bid had received from local people. At the time I was a city councillor, and had just lost my role as Cabinet Member for Transport following the change of balance on the council after a by-election. But I was asked to be the councillor leading on the bid. After a day of presentations, we escorted the assessment team – by bicycle – back to the train station.
We were greeted by a cacophony of sound from the horns and bells of Derby cyclists – maybe a hundred of them – showing their backing for the bid.
Since then – and a renewal of the Demonstration Town status for further three years – the number of cyclists in Derby has risen noticeably. Thousands and thousands of school children have received – and continue to receive – cycle training. Derby has hosted national BMX racing events and hopefully the council is about to sign up to build a velodrome for the East Midlands (that will also be a wider indoor sports venue, large concert space) – and have an outdoor cycle track.
Can Derby do the same for wider transport changes?
- Derby already has significant experience of working with people on sustainable transport issues
- It has at least one forward thinking and innovative bus company
- Groups like Transition Derby, Derby Cycling Group, Derby Carbon Innitiative and the Campaign for Better Transport are involving local people and businesses in transport issues, and
- While petrol prices remain close to all time highs there are more and more people considering whether there are better ways to travel.
If the Council can work with these groups and more, this could be the start of a city wide transformation for the better, with fewer queues, cleaner air and healthier people.
The opportunity is there. It’s up to the people and businesses of Derby to grab it!