Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Eleventh Report


Local authorities

99. It is a source of concern that the Government's lack of commitment to walking will have been reflected in Local Transport Plans and the Local Transport Settlements of December 2000. These are part of a new system which plans and provides for local authorities' capital expenditure by means of 5 year plans, known as Local Transport Plans. The first, published in July 2000, cover the period 2001 to 2006. The funding provided for this period was announced in the local transport capital settlement in December 2000.[159]

100. At the time we took evidence the plans had not been analysed. However, walking did very badly in the Provisional Local Transport Plans (which were produced in 1999) according to an analysis by Oxford Brookes University, School of Planning. It examined a sample of 24 provisional plans, concluding

    "Our analysis of walking policies in PLTPs showed that with few exceptions the topic was treated very poorly. This was apparently due to a lack of Government guidance on the topic, coupled with a long history of neglect. We hope our forthcoming analysis of full LTPs will show whether the publication of "Encouraging Walking" has raised the quality of walking strategies more generally beyond those few beacon councils."[160]

The Oxford Brookes findings were presented to the DETR in December 1999, but none of its recommendations were included in the subsequent Guidance on Local Transport Plans issued in March 2000.[161] Since they were not included, they were unable to affect the criteria for determining the quality of local transport plans, which in turn affected the transport settlement. We are very concerned that with certain exceptions local authorities will not have given sufficient priority to walking in their Local Transport Plans. While we would wish the Government to give higher priority to walking, there is nothing to prevent local authorities from taking the initiative themselves. It is time they did so.

Other Government Departments and other organisations

101. In recent years a number of Government Departments other than the DETR have put in place policies which aim to promote walking. There are already some encouraging proposals from health organisations (including examples of the coordination of the work of health professionals and transport professionals to promote walking). The British Heart Foundation and the Countryside Agency are working together to promote walking.[162] Recent initiatives such as Health for All Programmes, which were introduced by the Department of Health in 1999 as the focus for planning health strategies, promote walking; and the DETR wants to see health considerations taken into account in transport planning. Commenting on Health for All Programmes, the DETR's Guidance on Local Transport Plans states: "transport is one of the important underlying factors affecting health, and local transport plans should help to improve health and tackle health inequalities". A guide for both local authorities and health authorities, Making T.H.E. links: integrating sustainable Transport, Health and Environmental policies, commissioned by the then Health Education Authority and DETR, was published in 1999. It contains detailed recommendations on the actions local and health authorities should take.[163]

102. However, although the right guidance is in place there is less evidence of tangible achievements. The Health Development Agency warned that both local authority employees and health professionals know little about each others' roles and organisations. The British Heart Foundation and the Countryside Agency pointed out the difficulties in getting policies implemented. They stated that:

    "The National Service Framework for Coronary Heart Disease, issued by the Department of Health requires by April 2001 that health authorities, local authorities and primary care groups and the NHS trusts should have in place local programmes to increase physical activity. However, compared to other competing other priorities of the NHS it is unlikely this requirement will be turned into a reality."[164]

Moreover, there is concern that the message that walking is healthy is not getting through to the public, as a recent study of increased levels of obesity indicates. We know what to do, and there have been a number of excellent studies of walking and health, including Making T.H.E. Links. This contains important recommendations which must be acted upon as a matter of urgency.

103. While several health bodies are emphasising the link between walking and health (we were able to take oral evidence from the Health Development Agency and the British Heart Found and received written evidence from other organisations), we were disappointed to learn that many GPs were unaware of the most recent advice about healthy levels of activity, namely that 30 minutes moderate activity on most days of the week - it could be 3 ten minute walks per day - bring substantial health benefits, notably in providing protection against coronary heart disease.[165] The Health Development Agency recognised that GPs required education on this matter.[166] We recommend that the health service ensure that GPs are aware of the most recent advice about exercise levels and that they advise their patients of them. We further recommend that there be a co-ordinated national campaign led by the health service to inform the public of the benefits of walking.

104. Towards the end of our inquiry the Social Exclusion Unit announced that it was to undertake a study of transport and social exclusion. This is not before time given that members of poorer households walk more than any others, are more likely to be killed by motorists and lack access to many facilities, including shops and medical services. 60% of trips by low income households without a car are on foot, compared with a national average of 27%.[167] Although walking is so important to these households they often have to contend with the worst conditions for walking. Poor management of public space and inadequate policing are major problems. Problems of accessibility are caused by the lack of local services, exacerbated by planning policies which have produced facilities in places inaccessible to those without a car. In addition it should be recognised that whereas car travel is socially exclusive - the driver is separated from his surroundings and distinguished by the model and age of his car - walking is inclusive.[168] To attempt to meet the needs of people in deprived areas, the Government needs to ensure that the same measures are pursued as elsewhere, but it will be necessary to pursue them with greater vigour. It should:

  • create good walking routes;

  • improve management of streets and other public spaces, and in particular focus on reducing the fear of crime;

  • ensure planning policies locate facilities where they are accessible on foot by poorer households without a car; and

  • consider subsidising local shops in deprived areas in the same way that some village shops are subsidised.

Funds should be provided to implement these proposals from urban regeneration monies, including the New Deal for Communities Fund, the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund, and the Single Regeneration Budget.

105. Several Departments and organisations have begun to tackle specific types of trip. We were informed:

    "Influencing journeys to work can be done by Green Travel Plans. Trips to school should be tackled by a Safe Routes to School programme. Safe routes to stations, shops and services can all follow. Each of these topics offers easy opportunities to spread the health, environmental and transport reasons for encouraging walking".[169]

Sustrans provided evidence of the 'Safe Routes to Schools' scheme, which is being supervised by the School Travel Advisory Group. Pilot projects have been underway for at least 5 years. The organisation pointed out:

    "with up to 20% of morning peak hour traffic being school escort trips, such activity offers great opportunities for reducing congestion and improving health and accessibility ... Every school should have some safe routes. This is an area of huge potential. The "walking bus" concept has spread like wildfire, and our experience is that just in-school discussion of the subject produces real - and quick results. Our project at Wheatfield Primary School in Hertfordshire produced a 30% increase in walking and a concomitant decrease in car use."[170]

106. Sustrans is also working with DETR, Railtrack, train operators and local authorities to "provide good quality walking (and cycling) routes to train and bus stations".[171] The Pedestrians Association pointed out that walking was the main way by which people reached buses, trains and trams, but believed that this was "a fact often forgotten by those involved with promoting public transport". Patronage would be increased if greater attention was paid to improving access for pedestrians.[172] Improvements to walking routes are all the more necessary because access to railway stations is often poor, in part because the stations were commonly built just outside the old city centre and some, including those at York and Leicester, are cut off by the main road.[173]

107. The evidence we took from the railway industry, including operators, Railtrack and the Strategic Rail Authority, suggested that there was little interest in the problem. Relatively junior staff or those not directly involved with the planning and implementation of projects to improve conditions for walking were sent to the oral evidence session, itself an indication of the lack of priority given to pedestrian access by these organisations, and it was clear in questioning that they were unaware of the potential importance of convenient walking routes to their facilities for their business. In contrast, in continental cities, such as Strasbourg and Dortmund, there is excellent pedestrian access to the central station with broad crossings of the main road which make it easy for those walking to the station with suitcases to get there.

108. Many organisations have an important role to play in facilitating walking as well as DETR and local authorities. These include the Departments of Health, Education and Employment, the Home Office, the RDAs, the Social Exclusion Unit and public transport operators. The general picture which emerges from a consideration of the schemes which they have initiated is that there are some promising projects that began in the mid-1990s which recognise the importance of and promote walking. However, at present they remain valuable ideas or pilot projects applied in a piece-meal way. Even the most successful project, the Safe Routes to School initiative has only been applied in 500 out of 24,000 schools in the UK.[174] Pilot projects for Safe Routes to Stations are just beginning.


A national strategy

109. The RAC stated in its memorandum:

The RAC's view was echoed by nearly every one of the many witnesses who commented on the subject.

110. The main argument for a national strategy was that it would galvanise local authorities and others into action. Local Transport Plans would give a higher priority to walking and the initiatives begun by health organisations and the safe routes projects would become more central to the objectives of their sponsoring organisations. The Institute of Logistics and Transport told us:

    "The setting of national targets and the publication of a National Walking Strategy are still considered essential. From experience, many local authorities awaited the trigger of original draft NWS to start to develop their own policies and plans in the same way as the National Cycling Strategy."[176]

Oxford Brookes University concluded:

    "it is striking how few local authorities have a Strategy for Walking, and how many local authorities are waiting for the publication of the National Walking Strategy. This in part reflects the lack of importance accorded to walking in the past and the lack of officer skill to develop such strategies, but principally the lack of national guidance. Subsequent to the research, the Government issued "Encouraging Walking" (March 2000), combining useful advice, but falling short of a strategy."[177]

Oxford Brookes' examination of a sample of 24 provisional transport plans, submitted in July 1999, found only 3 local authorities had adopted a separate walking strategy (Oxford, Warwick and York) and only three others had provisional walking strategies (Plymouth, Hampshire and West Berkshire). Twelve local authorities made a commitment to develop one, eight of which mentioned that they would do so after the publication of the National Walking Strategy.[178]

111. A strategy would also have an effect on professionals, government departments and agencies. The Institute of Logistics and Transport claimed that the establishment of a clear national policy would assist in keeping the walking issue high on the "professional and technical agenda".[179] The Pedestrians Association argued that the absence of a strategy underplayed the wider social and economic benefits of creating more walkable environments. If the creation of walkable environments were a national policy goal, it would inform policies in all relevant departments and agencies including "DETR, the Home Office, the Treasury, DfEE, the DoE, DCMS, the Highways Agency and the RDAs".[180]

112. In addition a national strategy would assist the diffusion of best practice. The National TravelWise Association warned that in the absence of a strategy there was

    "a danger of uncoordinated action across the country, with individual local authorities developing poorly conceived strategies containing incompatible monitoring methodologies".

This would make monitoring the success of local authorities difficult or impossible.[181]

113. Most witnesses thought that since there was a National Cycling Strategy (which was published in 1996), there ought to be a National Walking Strategy. It was illogical to publish one without the other. The Ramblers Association contrasted:

    "the enthusiasm with which the Government launched the National Cycling Strategy and Target, the millions of lottery funds ploughed into the national cycle network and the willingness of local authorities to create cycle paths (often on pedestrian walkways rather than through the reallocation of road space) to see how walking is seen as the poor relation of other forms of transport."[182]

114. Several witnesses feared that the main reason the Government had not produced a national walking strategy, was its fear of "Ministry of Silly Walks Headlines".[183] They thought that the Government was terrified of being seen as anti-car. In response to questions about why there was no walking strategy but a cycling strategy, the Minister said:

    "I think because it is such a matter of fact business it would seem to me, perhaps, to be overblown to say that we must have a national walking strategy".[184]

However he added

    "a cycling strategy, I believe, is a mode of transport; you get on a machine, you need rules of the road and you need green lanes painted in the road at some considerable cost. It is quite different from (walking)".[185]

115. Many of the elements of what might be contained in the strategy are listed in Appendix C of Encouraging Walking which contains the recommendations of the Advisory Group. Indeed this group seems to have assumed that its recommendations would form the basis of a national strategy. The main recommendations were:

To give greater focus to the needs of pedestrians by:

  • setting national and local targets;
  • reallocating road space;
  • promoting walking through national and local campaigns.

To integrate walking into transport and land use planning by:

  • ensuring local authorities adopt appropriate land use and development planning policies;
  • professional training and promotion;
  • partnership, ie integration of planning and provision for walking, with a large number of organisations.

To create better conditions for walking by improving:

  • pedestrian infrastructure;
  • road safety;
  • personal security;
  • specific journey times;
  • funding (including suggestions for a variety of sources of funding).[186]

Such proposals would be similar to those of the National Cycling Strategy.[187] Other matters suggested for inclusion in the strategy were commissioning research and development, monitoring local strategies and revising existing guidance.

116. A national strategy needs to be complemented by local strategies. The current position, set out in the Government's Guidance on Full Local Transport Plans invites local authorities to include strategies in their LTPs. This is inadequate. Strategies should be mandatory, not discretionary. The allocation of funding should be dependent on them.

117. In turn, in analysing the local walking strategies in Local Transport Plans the Government Offices in the Regions need to ensure that they are co-ordinated with the local development plan. We were surprised to learn from Beverley Hughes MP that was not done. She told us:

    "...we are trying to work in an integrated way. If you are asking me if in each UDP for each individual local authority somebody sits down with that and for several days and checks that against the local transport strategy, then, clearly, that would not be a feasible job for this Department to do."[188]

159  WTC40 Back

160  WTC27 Back

161  Idem Back

162  WTC74 Back

163  A number of memoranda refer to local co-operation between health and transport professionals; eg. see WTC64 from Wakefield Transport and Health Group Back

164  WTC74 Back

165  WTC34; Q172 Back

166  WTC34 Back

167  WTC105 Back

168  Eg. see WTC13 Back

169  WTC 12; memoranda were received from several organisations involved in public transport - eg. WTC09, WTC52, WTC59, WTC75, WTC80 Back

170  WTC12 Back

171  Idem Back

172  WTC 30 Back

173  Other towns and cities which were considered to have poor access to stations include Gloucester and Sheffield (WTC65) and Bristol (WTC71) Back

174  WTC12 Back

175  WTC33 Back

176  WTC11 Back

177  WTC27 Back

178  Idem Back

179  WTC11 Back

180  WTC30 Back

181  WTC15 Back

182  WTC13 Back

183  WTC21 Back

184  Q517-20: Q524 Back

185  Q518 Back

186  Encouraging walking Back

187  WTC21 Back

188  Q561; on the role of development plans and LTPs, see WTC69 Back

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