Peer blames London’s long-time traffic congestion on the new cycleways

Lord Higgins is the latest peer to blame London’s toxic air and the city’s famous – and historic – traffic snarl-ups on the new cycling superhighways. London has 9,200 miles of road, and just 12 miles of cycle superhighway.

The Conservative peer was talking in yesterday’s air-quality debate in the House of Lords. He said that air pollution had been made "worse" by the number of minicabs and the "ludicrous way in which Transport for London has been building bicycle lanes."

Providing not a whiff of evidence he continued: "There is enormous congestion as a result of this, not only when they are being constructed but in the longer term."

He added: "It is an appalling policy." Then, bizarrely, he went on to praise a country with tens of thousands of miles of the sort of protected cycleways he said were "ludicrous" when installed in London.

"I spend much of my time in Holland," claimed Lord Higgins, "where they do not have any problem with bicycle lanes operating properly without being blanked off in a way that prevents them being used in off-peak periods."

(Lord Higgins is clearly not travelling to the same Holland others visit.)

Meanwhile, in that "other place", MPs were also debating about the UK’s air-quality because the government had been under a court direction to produce tougher draft measures to tackle illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution, by yesterday afternoon. Instead, because of the snap election ministers lodged a stay of execution asking judges to allow them to breach the deadline to “comply with pre-election propriety rules”.

Environment secretary Andrea Leadsom was forced to answer questions about the court case in the House of Commons. Cabinet Office guidance says that purdah rules can be lifted in exceptional circumstances, including for matters regarding public health.

Leadsom was asked if she considered the early death from toxic air of 40,000 people to be an “emergency”. She did not, claiming only that it was a "very significant and urgent concern."

Totnes Tory MP Dr Sarah Wollaston – and a member of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group – suggested that the minister should "strengthen our policies to encourage people to get out of their cars altogether" and urged her to read "an article in this week’s edition of The BMJ that clearly sets out the growing evidence of the benefits of active commuting, particularly by bicycle." 

Leadsom replied: "We must do everything that we can to protect the quality of the air in our cities, and that includes changing the way in which people travel."

However, she soon flip-flopped because when another MP said that air-quality in his Cornwall constituency would be improved with a bypass, she didn’t counter that building more roads encourages more motoring. Instead she said: "I would love to be able to offer my hon. Friend a new bypass, but unfortunately that is outside my powers. I wish him luck with it."

However, she agreed that motoring was part of the problem: "Poor air quality is often the result of people needing to use their own vehicles, vans and so on."

(Note the word "need".)

Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman continued to press Leadsom:

"My constituents will not understand when children are being poisoned now, when pregnant women are being poisoned now and when pedestrians and cyclists are being poisoned that she is making some obscure reference to purdah to stop us doing something about it."

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