Living as I do in Welwyn Hatfield my Member of Parliament is Grant Shapps. I met him a couple of times before he was elected in the 2005 general election and he has been our MP ever since. I have contacted him on a number of occasions since then on issues such as Palestine, arms sales, Trident, cannabis etc. Suffice it to say that we rarely agree. Last year Grant Shapps was appointed Secretary of State for Transport.
Since 2005 I have been heavily involved in cycle campaigning, initially on a national level with a group called Bicycology but then focussing my efforts more locally. I am Secretary of CycleHerts (a Hertfordshire cycling campaign I helped set up in 2011) a member of WelHatCycling, an East Herts route maintenance volunteer with Sustrans and a cycling representative on the Hertfordshire Local Access Forum. Ultimately my goal is to see cycling transformed from a fairly niche activity to being one of the primary ways in which people get around in Hertfordshire. This has been frustrating at times but we have achieved some small victories and with the publication of Hertfordshire’s new Local Transport Plan (LTP4) it seemed that the tide may be turning. The problem though is that lofty goals require serious funding to achieve, and until now that has been sadly lacking.
Along comes coronavirus and everything has changed. During lockdown, with people not wanting to use public transport for work or shopping, outdoor exercise being one of the few permitted reasons for leaving home, and the eerily quiet roads, cycling has seen a bit of a boom. In some places car space has even been taken away to create pop-up cycle lanes so that pedestrians and cyclists can get around whilst maintaining proper “social distancing”. As and when lockdown starts to ease and people have to go back to work there is a worry that public transport won’t be able to cope (because busses trains and tubes will have to travel part empty if social distancing is to be maintained), and if people take the car instead there could be gridlock, particularly in cities.
All this seems to have prompted a serious rethink and in his coronavirus statement on 9 May Grant Shapps, as Transport Secretary, announced a £2 billion package to create a new era of cycling and walking. Strange as it may seem I intend write to Grant Shapps, with praise for once rather than my usual criticism.