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Inquiry into the Benefits of Cycling to the Economy

Session: 2014/2015

Date: 14 January 2015

Reference: NIA 168/11-16

Mandate Number: Mandate 2011/16 Seventh Report

inquiry-into-the-benefits-of-cycling-to-the-economy.pdf (147.64 mb)

Download the full report here.

Executive Summary

1. The increase in the number of cyclists over the past few years, even from the very low base within Northern Ireland, is welcomed by the Committee. The work undertaken by the likes of Sustrans, Cyclists Touring Club (CTC) and Outdoor Recreation has undoubtedly had a positive impact in respect of the education and development of cycling in Northern Ireland.

2. The Committee also believes that the “Bike to Work” schemes introduced by public sector and other bodies have proven to be a catalyst in encouraging people either to take up or to return to cycling. The Committee is keen to see programmes such as these and the Active School Travel enhanced, made less restrictive, both in terms of availability of the scheme to lower paid individuals and extension of the application period, and, particularly within the public sector, made compulsory. This, in line with the provision of appropriate changing facilities, tailored cycling parking and a safe cycling environment will, the Committee believes, bring about significant sea change.

3. The Committee is content that the potential for significant contributions to the economy through cycling can be achievable. The impacts of cycling transport can be environmental, social and economic, and the benefits of promoting cycling occur in society as a whole, as well as on an individual level. The reasons to start cycling are varied and include health, fitness, concern for the environment, traffic congestion, the cost of fuel, parking availability and enjoyment of cycling. The Committee recognises that this and other barriers to cycling can include weather, social constraints and physical infrastructure.

4. The Committee would agree that the greatest barrier to cycling is concerns about safety – after all the first documented bicycle crash was alleged to have been a motor vehicle–bicycle conflict in New York City in 1896. However, other, perhaps overriding barriers to cycling in Northern Ireland, are political commitment and funding, particularly in the fiscally restrained circumstances that face Executive Departments at present and in the next few years.

5. The Committee welcomes the establishment of the Cycling Unit and is encouraged by the enthusiasm and knowledge of the officials staffing it. However, the Committee remains concerned that, without the joined up approach and financial commitments that are necessary to enable and empower it, it’s strategic and operational capabilities will be severely restricted.

6. The Committee delayed the publication of this report to allow for the development of the draft Bicycle Strategy and consultation thereon. Unfortunately, the Committee is not convinced that the document, as published, will go anywhere near to achieving the concept of a “cycling revolution” first espoused by the Mayor of London and then by the Minister for Regional Development. Aside from the absence of political commitments and funding, the strategy reads more as a statement of intent (a fact acknowledged and accepted by senior officials within the Cycling Unit), the vision reads more as an aim and the document is totally devoid of any objectives and targets. The Committee notes that the latter has been significantly commented on by respondees to the departmental consultation on the draft strategy. The Committee applauds the honesty of the Head of the Cycling Unit who, at the Committee meeting of 7th January 2015, accepted that there would be a need for major revisions to the draft strategy. This report makes recommendations that aim to enhance the strategy.

7. Another difficulty is the perception that the strategy is anti-motorist. It is important to remember that there is always going to be a section of the population who simply do not wish to cycle. The Committee accepts that costs resulting from car dependence include adverse effects on community sustainability and social exclusion and that the encouragement of cycling leads to a more-equitable transport choice, reductions in community severance, and increased community interaction. However, this should not be to the detriment of the motorist. The Committee believes that the strategy needs to be more fluid and balanced. Increased fares for public transport, coupled with cessation or reduction of services, particularly in rural areas, leave commuters little other option but to place a heavy reliance on cars, particularly as there are little multi-modal opportunities available to commuters. This needs to be recognised within the draft strategy.

8. Undoubtedly, proximity to a dedicated cycle path increases cycle use, as supported by evidence from footfall on the Comber, Connswater and Great Western Greenways. This is not an endorsement of greenways, per se, although the Committee would support further exploration of such provision. Rather, it is evidence that a safe, segregated and well-designed provision will attract people, of all abilities, to cycle (or walk)

9. Specific research for cycling is also emerging. In 2011, a research report by Dr Alexander Grous, ‘The British cycling economy’[1], provided a single overview of the cycling sector and many of the associated benefits. In summary, the report concluded from an evidence base that, in 2010, 3.7 million bikes were sold, 208 million cycling journeys were made, and there were 1.3 million new cyclists, half a million of whom were frequent or regular cyclists. The investigation showed that many factors play a part in driving that growth. These are examples that we in Northern Ireland can learn from: expansion of the national cycle network; dedicated cycle lanes in urban and city areas; success in major sporting events for cycling, which promote and encourage participation, and large-scale organised cycle events.

10. The Committee congratulates the Executive and the relevant Executive departments on the staging of the Giro d’Italia and securing the Gran Fonda over the next three years. The Committee believes that there are other events that could be catered for within Northern Ireland, particularly in the mountain biking and downhill sectors. The Committee has made a number of recommendations in respect of this particular theme.

11. The Committee has received substantial evidence about the positive impact cycling could have in respect of tackling obesity. Evidence from the Chief Medical Officer[2] stated that just 53% of adults meet the current physical activity guidelines, whilst research shows that children in Northern Ireland are the least physically active anywhere in the United Kingdom, with 50% of seven-year-olds here not getting the recommended one hour of physical activity each day.[3] These statistics support the fact that physical activity is number four in the global causes of mortality.

12. It would be erroneous to claim that cycling is a “cure” for obesity; it is, however, if properly targeted, a powerful tool in encouraging physical activity. The Committee commends the Departments of Regional Development (DRD) and Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), along with Sustrans, for the Active Travel schools programme. The Committee does, however, make recommendations in respect of the targeting of cycling initiatives by means of health impact assessments.


13. At its meeting on 8 January 2014, the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee for Regional Development agreed to commence an inquiry into the Benefits of Cycling to the Economy.

14. The Terms of Reference for the Report were agreed as follows:

a. Consider the structure and operation of the cycling network and its capability to deliver against Departmental and Executive objectives in respect of health, sport and the environment;

b. Identify and quantify appropriate measures of the Department and Executive success or shortfalls against the stated objectives;

c. Analyse opportunities available to best achieve future objectives;

d. Develop a short list of recommendations or reforms for short term (1-2 years), medium term (3-4 years), and longer term (5 years +); and

e. Identify any additional funding/funding sources required to deliver agreed objectives.

15. On the 11 February 2014 the Committee inserted signposts in the Belfast Telegraph, Irish News and News Letter seeking written evidence on the Inquiry by 21 March 2014. The Committee also wrote to key stakeholders with the same request.

16. During the period covered by this Report the Committee considered written submissions from in excess of 13 individuals and organisations. A copy of submissions received is included at Appendix 3.

17. The Committee also heard oral evidence at meetings between the 8 May 2014 and 2 July 2014 from the following organisations:

  • The Great Western Greenway
  • Connswater Community Greenway
  • Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland
  • Sustrans
  • CTC
  • Northern Ireland Environment Link
  • Sport NI
  • Public Health Agency
  • The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
  • The Department of the Environment
  • The Department for Regional Development
  • The Northern Ireland Tourist Board
  • The Northern Ireland Assembly All-Party Group on Cycling

18. The relevant extracts from the Minutes of Proceedings are included at Appendix 1. Minutes of Evidence are included at Appendix 2. The Committee would wish to thank all those who provided both written and oral evidence.

19. The Committee also undertook two Study visits in the duration of the inquiry. The relevant organisations visited were:

  • The Great Western Greenway
  • Chain Reaction Cycles

The Committee would wish to thank all those who provided presentations and tours during the study trips.

20. The Committee also attended two seminars in the duration of the inquiry. The seminars were:

  • Maximising the Potential of Walking and Cycling Infrastructure in Touristic Areas (Clifden, Galway)
  • NI Changing Gear (Belfast)

21. The Committee planned to publish its report into the Benefits of Cycling to the Economy by the end of September 2014. However, on 27 August 2014, the Minister for Regional Development, Mr Danny Kennedy MLA, launched a 12 week consultation on a draft Bicycle Strategy.

22. One of the main weaknesses Members had discussed during the course of the evidence sessions was the absence of any cross-cutting strategic approach to cycling in Northern Ireland. In light of this, on the 10 September 2014, the Committee agreed to postpone the publication of its Inquiry report until the completion of the draft bicycle strategy consultation process.

Summary of Recommendations

23. The Committee recommends that the Department considers re-working the vision and respectfully suggests the following as a starting point:

“A Northern Ireland where people from all sectors of the community cycle for transport and enjoyment”.

24. The Committee believes that striving towards this vision will help to ensure a healthier population, connected and cohesive communities, and a more affordable, integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable transport system (paragraphs 46 - 48).

25. The Committee recommends that the Department urgently establishes objectives and targets within the revised strategy document which are relevant to the vision espoused in the revised document (paragraph 49).

26. Whilst the draft Bicycle Strategy does not contain any targets, as yet, the Committee recommends, those baselines specific to Northern Ireland are established before the implementation of any proposed actions arising out of the draft Bicycle Strategy. This will allow for a meaningful measurement of the success (or otherwise) of the strategy and progress against other Executive strategies, such as reductions in levels of obesity and reductions in green-house gases (paragraph 50).

27. The Committee recommends that the Minister seeks to ring-fence an appropriate level of funding for the delivery of the strategy as opposed to individual projects (paragraph 51).

28. The Committee recommends that rural proofing be undertaken as a matter of urgency to ensure that the draft strategy achieves a more equitable balance between urban and rural provision (paragraph 52).

29. The Committee recommends that the Department provides a more meaningful and authentic definition of what constitutes a rural cycle route to allow for accurate measurement of future performance targets for provision of cycling tracks and lanes in rural routes (paragraphs 53 - 54).

30. The Committee recommends that the reference at Section 4.1.2 in respect of piloting greenways is amended in the revised strategy to clarify that the Department’s intentions are focused on connecting the existing greenways rather that piloting a new one (paragraphs 55 - 57).

31. The Committee recommends that all roads should be designed to protect all users and recommends that, where cycling provision in urban centres is being considered and designed, there should be an emphasis on providing some form of segregation from other vehicular traffic (paragraph 58).

32. The Committee recommends that Translink establish targets within their corporate plans with respect to increasing the number of bicycles accessing trains and buses (paragraph 59).

33. The Committee recommends that the Cycle to Work Scheme should, in the first instance, be compulsory in the Northern Ireland Assembly, all Executive departments, Arm’s Length Bodies (ALBs) and Non Departmental Public Bodies (NDPB). In line with this, the Committee further recommends that all public sector organisations ensure that adequate cycle parking and changing facilities are available for their staff (paragraphs 60 - 62).

34. The Committee recommends that the Minister and his Executive colleagues explore the means by which the scheme can be extended and tailored for those on lower incomes (paragraph 63).

35. The Committee recommends to the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission and other public sector bodies that the schemes be open to applications throughout the year (paragraph 64).

36. The Committee recommends that the Minister adopts “Park and Cycle” facilities, including bicycle storage lockers, at all current and future Park and Ride/Share sites, railway and bus stations (paragraph 65).

37. The Committee recommends that any potential legislative changes are identified with the Action Plans deriving from the revised draft strategy (paragraphs 66).

38. The Committee recommends that the Department explore its options for delivering Primary Legislation similar to the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013. This might ensure a coordinated and joined-up approach to cycling (and walking) within Northern Ireland (paragraph 67).

39. The Committee recommends that the Department establish a baseline showing the current value of cycling to the economy. Regular monitoring of this baseline should be undertaken to assess progress (or otherwise) (paragraphs 68 - 71).

40. The Committee recommends that, in the light of the restrained budgetary period facing the Executive departments, DRD produce imaginative proposals and appropriate bids to enhance the cycling experience within Northern Ireland. At a minimum, the Department should ensure that funding is ring-fenced for the Active Travel schools programme. Consideration should also be given to funding, for example, a cycling equivalent to “Walking with Communities”, currently being delivered by Outdoor Recreation (paragraphs 72 - 75).

41. The Committee recommends that, as a matter of urgency, NITB produces and publicises the Giro Legacy Plan (paragraphs 76 - 79).

42. The Committee recommends that, as a matter of urgency, particularly given the success of securing the Gran Fonda for the next three years, the NITB should compile a Cycling Tourism Strategy (paragraphs 80 - 83).

43. The Committee recommends that the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), NITB, Sports NI, Outdoor Recreation and other relevant organisations proactively pursue the hosting of UCI World Cup and other prestigious mountain bike events in Northern Ireland (paragraphs 84 - 86).

44. The Committee recommends that other trails, in particular Roe Valley, Redburn and Scrabo Country Parks are developed to allow for mountain biking (and walking) trails (paragraphs 87).

45. The Committee recommends that future roads capital investment projects, cycle trails and lanes should be “health-proofed” by means of a health impact assessment tool, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) Health Economic Assessment Tool (HEAT) to ensure that health and wellbeing benefits are to the fore of all cycling provision (paragraphs 88 - 92).

Download the full report here.

[1]                  Grous, Alexander (2011) The British cycling economy: ‘gross cycling product’ report Sky and British Cycling

[2]                  Committee for Regional Development, Official Report, 11th June 2014

[3]                  Millennium Cohort Study and University College London and Committee for Regional Development, Official Journal, 11th June 2014.


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