An impressive 71% MLAs have been returned to the Northern Ireland Assembly promising to support the three aims of Election Cycle. The importance of Election Cycle was never in a pre-election numbers game, no matter how much of a ripple we caused by securing engagement with over 200 candidates, but in the delivery by representatives over the next five years. So what now for Election Cycle?
The final tally before polls opened on 5th May 2016 showed a barely believable 74% of the 276 candidates had provided a response to the three policy priorities conveyed by Channel Four News presenter Jon Snow:
- funding for cycling in Northern Ireland of at least £10 per head of population, so as to encourage safer cycling conditions and see more people start cycling
- the development of traffic-free greenways across the country to boost rural regeneration and tourism
- the introduction of an Active Travel Act to incorporate cycling and walking provision into land-use planning and new developments
We might not have expected great numbers of voters to be swayed on their first preference, but the single transferable vote election format allowed us to push for consideration of candidates’ views when people were considering all of their preferences.
— Thomas McConaghie (@thisthomas) May 5, 2016
It’s worth repeating the highlights of the response we achieved:
- every political party got involved (and most backed the three aims to the hilt)
- 80% of the Northern Ireland Executive responded including the First and Deputy First Ministers, and the Ministers for Finance, Transport, Road Safety, Education, Justice, Culture, Rural Affairs
- every party leader who was standing for election responded
- Belfast East had a 100% response rate with all 18 candidates involved
- the total number of responses could (almost) fill the Assembly chamber twice over
But that was all pre-election fun. As the polls closed and the two-day marathon of STV tallying, counting, eliminating, surpluses and transfers and actually electing the candidates produced a new 108 member Assembly, our own tallying began.
First up the overall percentage of those with responses to Election Cycle dropped by a small amount, from 74% of all candidates to 71% of MLAs. In terms of the endorsement for the three asks, backing for investment and legislation went up and down one percentage point respectively:
- Investment – 96% (+1)
- Greenways – 100% (+1)
- Legislation – 96% (-1)
Most impressively, ALL of the 77 returned MLAs who engaged with Election Cycle back the development of greenways. ALL of them.
However that still leaves 31 of 108 MLAs who didn’t respond, meaning we can’t be sure of their commitment to cycling over the next five years. A more frank assessment gives us the state of play in the new Assembly – we can be very sure that 69% of MLAs back improved cycling investment, 71% back greenways and 69% back active travel legislation.
These numbers give us a rock solid foundation for pursuing the three aims of Election Cycle. Even with the difficulties contacting and engaging DUP members must be set in the context of their manifesto which states the party is “committed to developing a Greenway Network across Northern Ireland that provides traffic free space for walkers and cyclists” and sees the funding and delivery being developed in partnership between central government and our councils.
Indeed the Programme for Government negotiations about to begin this week, kicking off a process which is expected to take most of 2016 to work out the finer details, is where the remarkable clutch of 2016 manifesto commitments to cycling should bear fruit.
As we put the election to bed and begin to look forward to a new Assembly beginning to deliver on pre-election promises, more hard graft is required by campaigners, MLAs, political advisers and civil servants alike. The impact of the “Cycling Revolution” declared in the last Assembly is especially evident in Belfast where commuter cycling share has risen from 1% to 5% in just over a decade and Belfast Bikes are helping to fill the streets with people on bicycles.
The backing for the Northern Ireland Greenways vision is powerful, and a reflection of the huge potential for our tourist economy and a long-term eye on improving health outcomes and budget demand. The Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland challenges us to realise a full 600 mile network within 25 years. That will take consistent and meaningful capital investment, supporting regular construction jobs and creating long-term employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.
The clock has started counting down on the first five years of Northern Ireland’s quarter century vision for cycling – will this crop of MLAs seize the moment?