The Northern Ireland Assembly has been busy shuffling the deck for the new term and we can now
exclusively reveal the key players in delivering Phase II of the Cycling Revolution.
The new Cycling Minister
Chris Hazzard, Sinn Féin MLA for South Down, has taken up the reins at the new Department for Cycling (surely Infrastructure? – Ed) which has combined the transport building and maintenance functions of the old Department for Regional Development with the road safety and transport regulation functions of the Department of the Environment.
While Sinn Féin’s manifesto was woolly on the specifics for Infrastructure (£6 billion to improve roads, transport and public services) their candidates and elected MLAs were strongly in support of the three Election Cycle asks. Chris’s own responses are worth reviewing.
On supporting 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:
“Absolutely, as we face a public health crisis & increasing traffic congestion on our roads it’s time we were creative & innovative with our resources. I would love to see some ideas in future.”
On supporting the development of traffic-free greenways across the country to boost rural regeneration and tourism:
“Yes. as a student in Belfast I was a regular user of Lagan towpath. Would love to see this type of infrastructure everywhere possible. As a South Down MLA I have recently campaigned for the creation of extensive greenways to help enhance our local provision and create world class pathways for local residents & visitors alike.”
On supporting the introduction of an Active Travel Act to incorporate cycling and walking provision into land-use planning and new developments:
“Yes, whilst I haven’t seen the finer details of any proposed legislation I would agree with the wider principles outlined and would be a keen advocate of the need to seriously explore ways in which community planning can actively assist the development of greenway provision.”
By happy coincidence, the new Finance Minister happens to be the two-time Fréd Festival Award Winner for Cycling Politician of the Year, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.
Not only did Máirtín do some amazing work during the year of the Giro d’Italia but was the driving force behind the introduction of Ciclovia Belfast, the first such established event in the UK or Ireland.
With @Chris_Lyttle Viewing route options for 1st Ciclovía in these islands. Thnx 2 @nigreenways @getupbeat @belfastcc pic.twitter.com/NbtlXu63zx
— Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (@newbelfast) February 20, 2015
Máirtín’s comments in endorsing all three Election Cycle asks are worth reflecting on:
“Thanks for all you do to make Belfast a modern, cycle-friendly, citizen-engaged home for all of us. Count me in for all. But the ‘national’ cycleways aren’t bold enough. 200 years ago, they created a truly national highway of canals, our bike strategy should be just as bold and run from Malin Head to Mizen Head (with points in-between). Keep the faith. Great work went into the manifesto and you’re right, it needs champions and investment.”
To complete a in interesting triumvirate, Sinn Féin also took the Health Ministry with Michelle O’Neill at the helm.
PHA campaign Choose to live better! Simple message "Eat less, move more" we're all guilty of it, let's get moving 👟👟 pic.twitter.com/HCwCByxnqA
— michelle oneill (@moneillsf) June 3, 2016
The Committee for Cycling
The job of scrutinising the work of the new Department for
Cycling Infrastructure falls to the ten MLAs on the corresponding Stormont Committee.
William Humphrey of the DUP follows in footsteps of Jimmy Spratt, another DUP MLA from Belfast who chaired the Committee for Regional Development for much of the last Assembly term. His deputy is William Irwin also of the DUP, a party who strongly backed the vision for a greenway network across the country in their manifesto.
The bar has just been raised by @duponline with a strong manifesto commitment to the @nigreenways vision 🙂 pic.twitter.com/zOABF8bv3j
— NI Greenways (@nigreenways) April 4, 2016
The Committee met for the first time on Wednesday 1st June, although it is not known how many MLAs cycled to the meeting.
Coincidently, the Chair and Deputy Chair were the only committee members who didn’t respond to the Election Cycle survey. But of the remaining eight members, there was unanimous backing for the three asks.
The All Party Group on Cycling
This forum has yet to announce its reformation after the election. A new development in the last Northern Ireland Assembly term, the group was chaired by Chris Lyttle and included Sammy Douglas, Steven Agnew, Daithí McKay, Sandra Overend, Mark H Durkan, Stewart Dickson, Jim Wells, Fearghal McKinney and Basil McCrea. The last two weren’t returned at the election so some new blood is required.
Some unfortunate news greeted the new Assembly session with greenway and cycling champion Sammy Douglas, MLA for East Belfast, being knocked down while cycling.
Knocked off bike by a car on Malone Road this morning at 6.45 am. Taken to hospital. Training for Gran Fondo for MS. 😞
— Sammy Douglas (@sammydougs) June 1, 2016
We hope Sammy is feeling better; its a timely reminder of how far away we are from safe, accessible cycling conditions on our streets and roads.
Overall it’s a positive picture for cycling at the start of a critical five year term for the Northern Ireland Assembly.
With the Infrastructure, Finance and Health Ministers all from the same party, and talk of a spirit of close co-operation within the Executive, the signs are good so far on the government benches.Northern Ireland also has an opposition for the first time in generations, with the parties sitting outside the Executive also strongly bought into the vision for cycling as laid out in the Northern Ireland Bicycle Strategy. Interesting times.