Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by James Cruickshank Esq (WTC 46)

WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES

BENCHES AS RESTING PLACES: THE OVERLOOKED TOOLS WITHIN PUBLIC HEALTH AND TRANSPORT STRATEGIES

1.  INTRODUCTION

  People will not walk much if they cannot take rests. That was the main thrust of a report issued under the same title last month to about 25 bodies or departments that deal with health, exercise, and matters to do with old and disabled people. It is now a widely accepted statement. Copies of supportive replies are available if required.

  The implications are clear. Walking strategies will not get off the ground unless resting places are freely available within residential streets, other built-up areas and local parks. To date, seating within walking documents has been considered only in the context of city centres and pedestrianised areas (see Original Report, point 10). The significance of resting places at regularly spaced intervals has not previously been addressed.

  Without such facilities, the writer is one of many millions destined to become prematurely isolated at home within the foreseeable future. Whilst premature loss of independence will be bad for him—he is 61 and one of the next generation of the "old"—it will also become very costly for the State, an aspect developed in point 3 below.

  Other contributors to the Committee, the writer understands, will ratify points raised in his Original Report, a copy of which is attached. If that report is not circulated to Committee members, they may like to note that a copy is available, either from the Committee's library or from the writer himself. (Please bear in mind that a few of the original reports were unwisely issued under a different title, starting Tactical Defects in the Implementation of Public Health. . .)

  This update will focus on practical issues which bear on politicians, planners and public alike.

2.  PEDESTRIAN INFRASTRUCTURE: A CENTRAL GOVERNMENT RESPONSIBILITY

  Looking to the future, effective walking strategies will forever be thwarted if local authorities continue to be expected to pay for some of the infrastructure without which far-sighted Health and Transport schemes cannot work. Benches are such items (Original Report, point 3). However, public toilets and bus shelters are other items that impinge upon integrated transport ideals (Original Report, points 8 and 9). Pedestrian infrastructure generally is already centrally funded via the DETR, the Committee is asked to confirm.

  Returns on investments in infrastructure accrue to Central Government by way of lower, long-term, public health and transport costs. Local authorities receive no such return once it is realised that even the costs of Home Care and Residential Care—the healthier the elderly, the lower the outlay—do not come out of local authority budgets. Consequently, adequate investment in infrastructure will never be made by cash-strapped, under motivated local authorities. In that event, vital national Public Health and Transport goals can never be achieved.

  Research within St Albans in is the basis for the Benches as Resting Places reports, whilst the national requirement for seating has been extrapolated from those findings. Subject to confirmation elsewhere, three pounds per head is required if benches were to be sited 400 metres apart—an investment of £200 million nationally and a tiny sum within the wider context (Original Report, points 4 and 5).

  A logical conclusion is that the funding of resting places, and their replacement due to vandalism and other factors (point 4 below), must be the responsibility of central government. Otherwise, walking strategies will fail. People will not walk much if they cannot take rests.

3.  WHAT IS AT STAKE?

  It tends to remain unsaid that central government's policy of getting people to walk more is about more than just improving the quality of life of, particularly, older and disabled people. One is rather left to work it out for oneself that the policy will also alleviate a vast liability for taxpayers of the future through better public health and sensible car usage. That connection should be spelt out.

  Also, there is a tendency to focus attention on those already frail and to relate benefits to the old. While all must be done to improve their comforts, it should not be overlooked that maximum extra years of independent living will most effectively be achieved targeting people still fit enough to help themselves. And it should be remembered that the entire population will benefit from the availability of benches, not least the Socially Excluded (Original Report, point 7).

  A point of no greater importance, however, is that of demographic trends which show that the pensionable age group will peak in 2040 when 15.5 million will fall into that category as against 10.5 million at present. The like-for-like increase would be greater by 1.7 million if the state pension age for women were to remain 60. Meanwhile the working population will remain more or less static.

  Looking ahead, though at year 2000 values, the writer calculates that if just one per cent of the pensionable population keep healthy and independent for just one extra year as a result of fitness/health/walking campaigns, savings in the region of £2 billion ie £2,000 million, would acrrue to the nation (150,000 x £13,000). What might the annual abatement of costs be? £30 or £40 or £50 billion? Diet, smoking, alcohol and drugs problems are of course other components within the wider strategy. Income tax one penny in the pound raises £2.7 billion for the Chancellor.

  The Committee is asked to use its resources to have the writer's figures checked as part of wider assessment of all interactive financial considerations.

  Although a Government Actuary graph indicates that the numbers of pensionable age, as against those of working age, do not start to diverge significantly until 2020, savings approaching those mentioned above are attainable earlier. One way or another, it is every generation's responsibility to lay foundations for the next? The Committee's is asked to consider this.

  It may of course be argued that all additional public health costs will not fall on the taxpayer. Even now, those with assets pay for Home and Residential Care. Private pensions schemes are being encouraged. The pensionable age could perhaps be increased. However, all that merely camouflages the drain on national resources. Looked at another way, how many extra medical and care staff will be required to look after 6.7 million more elderly and old people? As Britain is a nation of full employment, who will do the work? How many? Half a million, or a million? Are housing needs taken into account? This obligation is partly avertable if the aged were more healthy and independent.

  One way or another, the point is made that a cap-in-hand approach should not be expected for essential infrastructure that will enable a key component of integrated transport policies—walking—to function effectively. The capital investment and maintenance of benches now starts to appear rather trivial, particularly as it is undisputed that people will not walk much if they cannot take rests.

  Indeed the cost of pedestrian infrastructure generally, better thought of as "essential investment", can now be looked on as first class value for money. Now that the potential return from investment in pedestrian infrastructure is better understood, it is put to the Committee that a greater amount of Government money should be allocated to it—not just for resting places and their maintenance, but also for other items presently expected to be paid for out of local authority budgets. Are there any other than bus shelters and public toilets?

  The words "greater share" are deliberately avoided. Extra funds are justified, as they are for publicity campaigns (point 8 below). In fact, if public opinion were ever to support a direct taxation levy, surely it would be for investment in schemes set up to counter the inevitable effects of demographic changes. However, that is a wider issue. Or is it? Certainly, nothing would better focus public and political attention on a variety of issues of which walking is but one.

4.  MAINTENANCE OF RESTING PLACES: A CENTRAL GOVERNMENT RESPONSIBILITY

  A letter to the writer from a London local authority stated with regard to the DETR that it "can often get the capital expenditure approved but no allowance is ever made for the ongoing revenue costs that arise as a result. It may well be that it is the latter, dealing with accountants and estimates of ongoing future liabilities, that will be most difficult."

  If the writer's calculations prove correct, a £200 million investment in additional resting places will equate to half a million or so new benches set 400 metres apart. Many will be wrecked by vandals, a point recognised in the Original Report at Appendix II. Vandalism is a big problem these days, the Committee need not be told. Perhaps it always will be, but hopefully not, as the value of resting places becomes understood via public information programmes.

  What is not in doubt is that local authority budgets are not geared to pay for large replacement costs. As matters stand, offers of free seating from DETR would not be welcome by local authorities if they were also accepting the onus of maintenance. If accepted, they could not be repaired or replaced for budgetary reasons. Consequently, the usable bench stock would quickly decline. Even one missing or unusable resting place would create a no-go area for the more frail amongst us. As soon as someone becomes confined to home, state costs start to clock up.

  In other words, it would be futile if central government were to agree to instal resting places throughout communities without also paying for maintenance and replacement.

  To make a point, the writer now asserts that even if every bench in the country were to be wrecked by vandals two or three times a year, DETR's annual support liability for total replacement would still be insignificant within the wider scheme of things. More realistically the cost is unlikely to exceed £50 million annually once the full installation programme is in place (see Original Report, Appendix II for the basis of this loose calculation). Vandalism itself will justify a programme of public information. Ensuing public opinion may defeat vandalism, of benches at least. If not, the only realistic option for central government will be to keep forking out as . . . "people will not walk much if they cannot take rests."

5.  THE WAY AHEAD

  With one qualification, the writer continues to see the way as in point 11 of his Original Report, repeated below:

    The idea is advanced here that every street is potentially part of a walking network and that placement of benches throughout residential streets and other built-up areas will spontaneously generate an unlimited number of "pedestrian flows": or seatways. Relatively little planning effort would be required.

    It seems not to have been realised that an unlimited number of "trunk" pedestrian routes [a concept put to local authorities] would be needed too if its concept were to be developed. City centres, schools and shops are cited as examples of route destinations. But what about hospitals, doctors' surgeries, kiddies' play schools, pubs, parks, friends' houses, railway stations, bus stops and an endless list of other destinations that have to be approached from any direction?

    Generally "trunk" walkways are difficult to identify although routes that do lend themselves naturally to the concept should be developed. Other than for those the idea is quixotic in planning terms and would concentrate resources in a small number of grand schemes at the expense of large swathes of the community where basic walking facilities would long remain primitive.

    There is a compelling case for starting from grass roots upwards by putting resting places in situ quickly, say over a period of three to five years. With that fundamental infrastructure in place across entire communities, people could select their own preferred walkways to greater health. In turn that would help planners. It is a straightforward concept that is easy to relate to, easy to plan, and easy to implement after guidelines are in the hands of tactically aware Local Authorities. Its sub-structure, not much different from that of "trunk" walkways, could be built contemporaneously, or as demand or resources permit: kerb lowering, pavement widening, tactile slabs, traffic calming, friendlier traffic lights, landscaping, pedestrianised or pedestrian-priority streets, etc.

    While the whole community would be able to benefit from such a sweeping improvement to the pedestrian environment, the greatest advantage may go to disabled people and to the elderly, by way of extra years of independent living: a fine return on investment, not just for the dignity of the individual, but for the nation's long-term finances.

  The statement that other items of pedestrian infrastructure are but sub-structures to the "bench as a resting place" is perhaps unnecessarily contentious or antagonistic. As long as there are no Zero Resting Places within the forseeable future, the writer is not bothered about how that is accomplished. Of course, negative thinking, if any remains, must be expelled:

    1.  Vandalism: This popular stumbling block was understandable before viewed in different perspective, as in point 4 above.

    2.  Seats on pavements: In the past, seating has been classified as "Street Furniture", a misnomer for obstacles, of which there are many.

    Seats on pavements are essential if no-go Zero Resting Zones are to be avoided. Any that might obstruct the poor of sight could be denoted in some way, perhaps by some form of tactile slab? A ban on seating would disadvantage the already disadvantaged. Generally there are plenty of suitable sites or these can be created from ongoing pavement widening schemes. An occasional parking space could be commandeered. (Original Report, Appendix I—"Location of benches").

    3.  Seats outside people's premises: An unavoidable issue. Advance national and local public information campaigns and local consultation are vital here. For example, a St Albans objector quickly changed her mind when it was pointed out that the wellbeing of old and disabled people would be at stake. Also, the problem of drink and drug users has to be addressed, constructively. They are actually small in number, but high in profile, congregating as they do in town centres and at the likes of King's Cross. They are of unnecessary worry in other areas.

    4.  The argument that the statement, "people will not walk much if they cannot take rests", is untested and subjective: Consequently, it goes, seats cannot be placed on pavements, a throw-back to when the relevance of seating was not understood and categorised as one of many pedestrian obstacles—see 7.2 above.

    In fact, the statement will always be un-testable since a programme of bench installation cannot be attempted without prior and ongoing national publicity (see 8 below). A near-consensus of commonsense is good enough for the writer.

  The possible regenerative effect of pedestrianisation of devitalised areas was not considered as such in his Original Report. Now, however, the writer can find no better way of summing up his views than by quoting from the DETR's Encouraging walking: guidelines to local authorities:

    "1.3  We want to revitalise our communities. With a better environment for walking, residential areas will be safer, better places for us all. There will be more room for children to play safely and the pavement can become a place to meet as well as a place to walk. Likewise town centres and shopping areas can become more attractive places. Re-focusing our efforts on meeting the needs of people is a necessary step towards renewing urban areas. Larger numbers of people regularly walking in an area can help to deter crime and vandalism. Improving the walking environment can help to foster the sense of community and concern for other people that is important in a better society."

6.  TOOLS OF MEASUREMENT: FOR PLANNING, CONTROL AND PUBLIC INFORMATION

  Now that the "bench as a resting place" is recognised as a front-line tool of pedestrian infrastructure, a fresh approach towards planning and implementation is to be expected. It so happens that resting places lend themselves to a rudimentary set of definitions that will simplify planning at local authority level whilst allowing the DETR to monitor progress and costs centrally. Further, members of the public will be able to see from street maps the state of infrastructure development, a factor of interest to them not just as pedestrians but as taxpayers wanting to ensure that walking strategies are being satisfactorily implemented:

1.  The Standard Resting Place Distance (SRPD):

  Before planning of any sort can be started, the standard distance between benches must be set. Costings within the Original Report were based on a quarter of a mile or 400 metres, as that seemed a reasonable balance between effectiveness and cost (see Original Report, points 4 and 5).

  Once the SRPD is established, all discussions, guidelines, directives and understanding can be related to that. For example, resting places will have to be positioned closer together in some locations: in the proximity of bus routes, on hills, close to old people's homes, between car parks and shops, between car parks and the centre of parks, and near local shops perhaps, etc. If the Standard Resting Place Distance (SRPD) were to be set at 400 metres, these bench locations could be referred to in terms of SRPD x .5, or 200 metres, or as SRPD x .25 which is 100 metres—an added advantage being that such data lends itself to notation on street maps for planning, control and public information purposes.

  Sadly an SRPD of 400 metres is too great for some, as statistical evidence by Help The Aged and the Mobility and Inclusion Unit at the DETR discloses. However, these people can be identified and provided with special support and transport of the type already in use (everywhere?) if bus stops cannot be made accessible to them.

  The Committee is asked to approve in principle the concept of the Standard Resting Place Distance. The actual SRPD can be decided after consultation. The object will be defeated if resting places are spaced too far apart. Yet they cannot be placed every few feet.

2.  SeatWay Zones (SWZ).

  A SeatWay Zone is an area where resting places have been installed to in compliance with the Standard Resting Place Distance (SRPD).

  Where all other items of pedestrian infrastructure are not in place on a SeatWay, this would somehow be marked on a map, even on the route itself perhaps. Marked areas would in effect be no-go zones for those with special needs, such as wheel-chair users if lowered kerbs are not in place, or the frail or the very slow or those poor of sight if friendly traffic lights at suitably narrowed roads are lacking, for example.

  The term "SeatWay" does not imply a formal route, but is merely a location sufficiently close to another resting place within the concept of the Standard Resting Place Distance (SRPD).

3.  Zero Resting Zones (ZRZ):

  A Zero Resting Zone is an area or street where resting places are not in place according to the nationally agreed SRPD (Standard Resting Place Distance). Accordingly, it is a no-go area for those who cannot walk far without taking a rest, say 400 metres if the SRPD is set at that.

  Seatway Zones (SWZ) and Zero Resting Zones (ZRZ) also lend themselves to monitoring by way of league tables for the benefit of planners, the DETR and the general public, all of whom will have their own vested interests.

  To whom should the above proposals be channelled for adoption?

7.  LOCAL TRANSPORT PLANS

  Several replies have informed the writer that investment in benches can be recovered by local authorities via Local Transport Plans. Maybe so, but as matters stand local authorities have never heard of the concept of benches as resting places within residential and other built-up areas, let alone the idea that central funds would be available for replacement and repair costs.

  From whom and how—in specific terms—will local authorities find out about the concept of "benches as resting places": for discussions with residents at planning stage after local and national publicity, of the acquisition, design and maintenance of benches, and of how tactical angles and financial considerations should be woven into Local Transport Plans, etc? A key issue.

  The DETR should handle this. And will that be in the form of guidelines or instructions (after explanation, discussion and consensus with representatives of local authorities)? A non-prescriptive approach is currently in use. However, that becomes a wobbly policy now that the long-term implications of failure of walking/health strategies are more specifically understood. In particular, the costs of supporting the unhealthy population of ineffectual local authorities that under-invest in pedestrian infrastructure will have to be subsidised by taxpayers elsewhere.

  The writer is not generally in favour of prescriptive central involvement. However, if the DETR is to pay not just for the initial investment in resting places but also for their maintenance and replacement—as it must do—a change of approach may be inevitable, controlled as in point 6.

  The Committee is asked to identify how the different types of local authorities come under the umbrella of Local Transport Plans, at least as far as "benches as resting places" are concerned. For example, London has an added degree of autonomy and its Mayor's Plan? Large cities perhaps also deal directly with Whitehall, whereas some or all of the affairs of District Councils such as here in St Albans, are handled via County Councils. At the bottom end of the scale, even the role of parish councils has to be understood as they also install benches, traditionally regarded as leisure items.

  Devolved responsibilities in Scotland and Wales may be an added complication depending on their budgetary relationships with Westminster. (The original report is already in the hands of the Scottish Minister of Transport via Age Concern Scotland, the writer understands.)

8.  PUBLIC INFORMATION CAMPAIGNS

  At present, it strikes the writer from the gentle reactions he knows and meets, the public thinks of walking as a rather cranky activity—maybe not a bad idea, but not really for them. Poor bus and train services are their let-out. Also, they have no inkling that walking is part of an integrated transport strategy, itself unheard of or no more than the vaguest of concepts to all but a few—if the writer's level of knowledge until a few months ago is anything to go by.

  It would also be a step forward if the public were allowed to understand what is currently being done to identify other items of pedestrian infrastructure, or realise that at least part of the digging up of the streets is done with an overall plan in mind?

  Nor do people seriously associate good health with walking, the writer suspects. Of course, excellent grass-roots initiatives have started recently with Walking to Health and, separately, via the Health Promotion Units of Health Authorities (Original Report, point 2).

  Is that currently the full extent of advertising to the general public? The writer has come across none other than that, information that he uncovered as part of his research as he sought to reassure himself, and others such as MPs, that walking really is a serious issue (Original Report, points 2 and 10). The Committee is asked to enquire about the resources available for publicity on walking.

  If calculations of the potentially huge savings to the state are ratified (see point 3 above), public information campaigns on walking, and on walking versus car usage, need no longer be done on the cheap. But first, there must be a cohesive plan. Then television and radio can be called into play, but only in tandem with a grass-roots approach. The importance of targeting children is already recognised, partly because it is accepted that it will be several years before people's attitudes are likely to change. Another angle has a neat ring to it: that more sensible car usage actually benefits owners' health as well as traffic flow. In effect, investment in public information programmes on walking/health/car matters is set to be never ending.

  Once the links between demographic graphs, potential taxation levels and their own ageing bodies are understood, everybody will have a vested interest in the success of walking/health strategies. Here there are several publicity angles, of which benefits to the taxpayer of the future must never be far from the front line (see 3 above).

  For a matter of national importance—a promotional concept itself—one imagines that central government could get free advertising. Press coverage is an example, and as we are talking about a plan over several decades, TV license agreements could be modified. Free promotion via the BBC?

  More prosaically, bench installation at regular intervals according to the main thrust of this report could not be attempted without widescale public awareness and a degree of enthusiastic consent. That in fact could be the culmination of the first major public information campaign.

  It strikes the writer that there is a need for some form of central co-ordination on walking matter, not just for advertising and promotion, but more generally. In turn that would demand co-ordination with the wider issue of the demographic trends, a subject demanding its own major programme of public information that would—as it happens—further encourage walking and greater use of public transport. Another neat circle. Please consider.

January 2001


 
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