Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by the Local Government Association (WTC 32)

WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES

  1.  The Association has brought the Committee's inquiry to the attention of member authorities and it is likely that a number with a particular interest in the questions set out in the notice of inquiry will have taken the opportunity to respond direct to the Committee on this occasion. In view of resource constraints the LGA is commenting only on matters of general principle on this occasion, but hopes that the Committee will find the following brief comments helpful. These comments refer almost exclusively to the "transport" aspects of walking, rather than to walking as a leisure pursuit or exercise.

THE CONTRIBUTION OF WALKING

  2.  The Association is committed firmly to the delivery of an integrated transport policy, in which walking plays an important part. In urban areas a return to walking for more short distance journeys would give substantial health and environmental benefits and help authorities meet their congestion and air quality targets.

THE DECLINE IN WALKING

  3.  Emphasis in the past on the "free flow of traffic" in highway engineering and network planning advice has led to the growth of some road networks which disadvantage both pedestrians and cyclists, by diverting them to a limited number of inconvenient and unattractive crossing points. This trend may also be for safety reasons, due to the dangers of pedestrians mixing with "free flowing" motor traffic. Suburban retail developments may be poorly placed for pedestrian use and access for pedestrians may be circuitous and difficult because of priority given to car users. Public transport access can be equally difficult. At the same time the more accessible town centre shopping centres have declined, particularly in small and medium sized towns. Fear of crime is likely to be another cause of decline in walking in many areas, particularly after dark.

PROMOTION OF WALKING

  4.  The former Local Authority Associations incorporated into the LGA in 1997 recognised the important role of walking within wider integrated transport and environmental policies and the need for local authorities to look closely at the walking environment when they published their first joint walking policy document "A Step Ahead" in 1989 (now out of print). The Association and its predecessors have participated in several major relevant joint forums, wider than local government, over the last decade, such as the T2000 led "Feet First" project. It has also been involved in the discussions which led to the development of the Home Zones concept, and welcomes their formal recognition in the Transport Act 2000. It also participated fully in the DTp/DETR's Walking Steering Group, which led to the publication of the former Government's "Developing a Strategy for Walking", December 1996, and the more recent "Encouraging Walking—advice to local authorities", March 2000. Like many of the other WSG participants, the Association was disappointed that "Encouraging Walking" was limited to local authority advice note status and did not suggest the same degree of central commitment as the Government-led National Cycling Strategy publication and promotion of 1996, and follow up National Cycling Forum.

  5.  Local transport authorities have submitted their first full Local Transport Plans in 2000. The Association has not been in a position to analyse the contents of individual LTPs, but feels sure that many will have taken the opportunity to set out comprehensive strategies to promote walking as part of an integrated transport policy. No doubt the bodies representing pedestrian interests will have carried out an LTP analysis and will be reporting their findings to the Committee.

  6.  The development of attractive pedestrian routes will require constructive consultation with local communities, in line with the LTP principles. Provision of unattractive facilities which are not maintained properly can have an adverse effect on potential users. The Association frequently highlights the key relationship between capital funding of new infrastructure and the need for adequate ongoing revenue funding for its maintenance and repair.

SKILLS AND TRAINING

  7.  With the significant increase in local transport spending reflected in the Ten Year Transport Plan and latest LTP announcement, there is some concern that transport professionals in general may be in short supply in the near term. Historically, with the main emphasis having been on building roads for motor traffic, with pedestrian, cycling and safety features perhaps being seen as optional "add-ons", there is a need to reconsider whether professional staff locally have the skills necessary to take forward schemes more suited to integrated transport policies. On the other hand it is now clear that road building projects will be continuing at local level and the balance of skills will need to reflect the wide range of policy priority options which the LTP process permits and encourages. The LTP concept does imply that professionals of all specialisms should work closely together to ensure that the outcome is co-ordinated. For pedestrian features this may require close working between transport, planning, environmental, leisure and other staff, as well as between tiers of authority where delivery of these functions are split.

WHETHER APPROPRIATE MEASURES ARE TAKEN AND MORE PRIORITY NEEDED

  8.  The Committee will be aware that the Government declined to accept an additional prescribed element into published LTPs of a "Walking Strategy" when the Transport Act was before Parliament as a Bill. Instead it restricted primary legislation to a reference to inclusion of a "Bus Strategy". It could be argued that a long list of separate strategies prescribed in primary legislation would restrict local discretion, particularly as the longer the list became the more concerned would be those interests not included. On balance the Association accepts this argument, but nevertheless expects that every LTP will include substantive reference to the needs of pedestrians.

  9.  National and local initiatives set out in LTPs will be not only aimed purely at the promotion of walking, but also in the context of integrated policies many measures will be connected to: road and personal safety, improved maintenance standards, education about the benefits of walking including promotion of safer routes to school, provision of an attractive walking environment (including the provision and maintenance of effective street lighting) and convenient interchanges with public transport. Taken together the range of measures should build a policy which makes walking more attractive.

  10.  Over the years many comprehensive policy documents and guides have been produced by official and representative and technical organisations. Taken together it is unlikely that there is a shortage of guidance on the implementation of pedestrian-friendly measures for local authority members and staff and others.

BUDGETS AND ROAD SPACE

  11.  The response of individual authorities to the opportunities provided by the new LTP process, and in turn the Government's appraisal of the schemes included in LTP bids, will give some indication of whether current measures are giving walking policies sufficient priority. External interests will examine aggregated LTP statistics from their own perspective, but the key feature of the wide variations in types of large and small scheme which have been mentioned in the December announcement is that they should have been taken through the appraisal framework set out in the LTP guidance and will have been adjudged to be the most appropriate measures to meet local needs over the initial five year LTP planning period.

NATIONAL TARGETS AND NATIONAL STRATEGY

  12.  The Association understands that there can be complex problems in measuring walking journeys precisely, and that establishing an accurate start line for monitoring targets in transport terms may be difficult. At local level a number of authorities have informed the Association that they are implementing targeted measures to improve the quality of pedestrian networks and to increase walking particularly amongst more easily quantifiable priority groupings, such as schoolchildren. A problem in connection with the less environmentally damaging forms of transport is that targets may steal from each other (walking, cycling, bus). Nevertheless the lack of a true national walking "strategy" does suggest that there is still work to be done at national level to take forward the development of a strategy aimed more widely than local government. The LGA will participate fully in the further development of any walking strategy, as it has with the Walking Steering Group, Cycling Strategy and Cycling Forum.

L G A Transport Executive

January 2001


 
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