As a committed environmentalist, sustainable transport is high on my list of priorities. Improving the cycling and walking network across Taunton Deane is an issue that I have been working on since my election in 2015 and I am keen to carry on this work to ensure that there is a safe and sustainable method of transport available to everyone. There is also synergy with this in the new Garden Town Status for Taunton, which I was pleased to play a part in achieving.
I have been meeting with constituency groups and local residents to discuss opportunities that could make a real difference to cyclists across the county. These include creating a safe cycle crossing at J25 of the M5, and developing a cycle route to Taunton from Bishops Lydeard to Cotford St Luke and Norton Fitzwarren. There are many other cycle and walking routes that could also be created or improved, for example consideration of a potential footpath from Massingham Park into Taunton town centre.
Creating a successful framework of cycle and walkways will involve a joint approach from key organisations including Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, Highways England and local groups such as Taunton Area Cycling Campaign (TACC), Cycle Somerset and Sustrans.
I am delighted that over the past six years, thanks to Conservative led Governments, encouraging cycling and walking has risen up the agenda. Cycling rates have increased in areas where dedicated funding has been made available, and spending on cycling has risen from around £2 per person in 2010 to £6 per person in England in 2016-17.
The Department for Transport's Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy has made over £1 billion of funding available to local bodies that may be invested in cycling and walking over the next five years. This goes beyond the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto commitment to invest over £200 million to make cycling safer, and commits over £300 million to dedicated cycling and walking programmes alone.
Continuing to work to bring forward some of the proposed cycle and walking proposals locally will remain one of my priorities in the future and I will be launching an initiative on this shortly.