The Invisible Champion

The 5th May

On the 5th May the Minister for Infrastructure, Nichola Mallon, stood in Stormont and announced she was creating a new Walking and Cycling Champion for NI. It was quite an announcement:

“Our champion will ensure that we deliver our commitment to increase the percentage of journeys made by walking and cycling.  Inspiring our communities, restructuring our spaces, changing forever the way we live – and changing it for the better.”
WOW! - that’s a job spec!

Focus group of Stakeholders

In addition the minister also said she would ask the Walking/Cycling Champion:
“To establish immediately an action focus group of stakeholders both within and outside government to provide quick advice and to challenge my department and to ensure that we consider opportunities and build on the positive changes we are seeing… in higher levels of walking and cycling."
I waited for the call.

What’s in a name?

When the dust settled and I had time to look at the statement again some things looked a bit odd.
Firstly - the standard title for this type of role across the UK has been “commissioner”.  A Walking & Cycling Commissioner for NI would have sat very well with other Commissioners across the UK: Chris Boardman (Greater Manchester), Sarah Storey (Sheffield), Simon O’Brien (Liverpool), Shanaze Reade (West Midlands), Lee Craige (Scotland) and Will Norman (London). Why break with this? “Commissioner” denotes some power, some decision-making, some profile and would have signalled a structural reorganisation within the department. A “champion”? Well… we already have quite a few capable cycle champions in NI.
Secondly - no name was released. Was the role to be advertised? What was the specification for the job? When would the appointment be made?
I waited for the call.

Only when I saw the press release on the Dept. Infrastructure website the next day did the penny drop.
“The walking and cycling Champion will be an existing Departmental official, to be agreed in the coming weeks.”

The Department for press releases

This was a landmark announcement, the creation of a new role, with sweeping responsibilities. It received an enormous amount of media attention. For a department who have delivered more metres of press releases about cycle lanes than actual metres of cycle lanes – we anticipated the official press release – naming the Walking & Cycle Champion – within days.
However, it all went strangely quiet. It seemed that some “insiders” were aware who the new Champion was – but we couldn’t find the name anywhere.

25th August

Fast forward 16 weeks after the Minister’s statement – you might think as one of the small handful of social enterprises in NI who work to promote cycling – we’d have received a press release with news of whom the Champion is?

Maybe we would be immediately called to the “focus group of stakeholders”?

Perhaps the Cycle Champion phoned or emailed to pick our brains?

A twitter poll

Maybe it was just us? Living and working in the sticks – perhaps we’re just out of the loop. Maybe everyone else knows what we don’t?

So – we asked the cyclists of NI if they knew who their new Champion was.
113 local cyclists took the survey.
7 - know who the champion is.
106 - have no idea.

As I write this - the Department of Infrastructure has yet to officially announce the name of the new Walking & Cycle Champion.
The Walking & Cycle Champion doesn’t use the newly “created” title.
The Walking and Cycling Champion hasn’t even added the role to their profile page on the Dept. Infrastructure website.

It seems the Department aren't keen on walkers and cyclists knowing who their Champion is?

Maybe you can find out who the Champion is? Do let us know.

Maybe it doesn’t matter any more? Traffic levels are almost back to pre-lockdown levels.



5/10/21: a year and a half after the announcement of the 'champion" Philp McGuigan MLA, calls for the minister to appoint a "real champion… outside the department" – watch.

The name of the champion has still to be officially released or to appear on any organisational chart.

8/06/23:The role of Walking and Cycling Champion no longer exists within the department.
@deptinfra stated at the APG for cycling:
“We feel It’s unfair to place that responsibility on one person”.

No press release was issued.