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

Memorandum by Wakefield Transport and Health Group (WTC 64)


  Increasing walking in towns and cities could greatly benefit the health and social well-being of the population in a number of ways. These include not only direct benefits from increased walking per se, but also by reducing dependency on cars for transport.

  The Wakefield District Transport and Health Group strongly supports any measures to increase walking. This group was set up in 1999 to encourage and develop a strategic partnership approach to transport and health initiatives, co-ordinating activities and maximising resources for joint work whenever possible. The Group would welcome any measures to encourage and enable people to use walking (and also cycling), as a means of healthy transport.

  These should include restricting the amount of space available to cars, reducing traffic speeds—through education, traffic calming and enforcement—and using city car parking charging policies. To be fully effective, the necessary policies must be fully integrated across organisations and departments within them (especially planning and highways).

  A national strategy, and the setting of national targets, would be useful. Large employers should be required to provide facilities to enable and encourage staff and service users to walk and cycle.

  The primary reason to encourage walking is that it is an easy way in which people can incorporate more physical activity into their daily routines. Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, hypertension and strokes, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, carcinoma of the colon and is also linked to depressive illness. It is second only to tobacco smoking as a cause of ill health and premature mortality in the UK. It is well established that the greatest public health benefit will come from encouraging people who are inactive to become active, not by encouraging those who are already active to become more so. Physical activity which is easy to undertake, does not involve any expense, and is incorporated into daily routines is most likely to be sustained. Walking is a perfect example of such an activity.

  Secondly, as a large number of car journeys are short—less than two miles in distance—many could be replaced by walking. The second major benefit, therefore, would come from the reduction in car usage. (This will have particular benefits, because on short car journeys neither engines nor catalytic converters are warmed up, and so operate inefficiently and thus produce a greater quantity of emissions per mile driven). As motor traffic is a significant contributor to urban air pollution and global warming, both of which are major threats to human health, any reduction in car use will be welcome.

  Thirdly, walking will promote social interaction. The physical environment can play an important part in developing supportive communities where people feel free to walk, cycle, use local facilities and interact with each other. Street space can provide room for children's play and help them develop their independence.

  Young people are especially worthy of attention, as childhood patterns of behaviour are often carried on into later life. The increasing dependence on the car by young people gives rise for concern on a number of counts. Children have less opportunity to develop road and personal safety skills. Social interaction is reduced and young people's independence and life skills can be affected.

  Reducing car travel by young people may bring several benefits, including improved health, development of social and life skills, less pollution and greater awareness of environmental issues. There is evidence to show that more active children are more likely to become more active adults. For older children, making their own way to school is a chance to learn skills for life, becoming more independent and self-confident.

  Cycling can also be a way of encouraging walking. Good, segregated and extensive cycle paths would encourage people out of their cars and ultimately lead to more walking. It might be interesting to know if this is borne out by such behaviour in Holland and Denmark.

  It should also be recognised that people need to walk in order to use public transport and that improving public transport provision is also a means of increasing walking.

  Locally in Wakefield District, we have set ourselves a number of challenges. Some of these arise from the Local Transport Plan, others from a local conference in March 2000, organised by the Transport and Health Group. This resulted in a series of recommendations:

    1.  Lower speeds in residential areas, including adopting area-wide approaches.

    2.  Seek to educate people about transport and health issues.

    3.  Support the involvement of communities to allow them to influence transport planning.

    4.  Develop home zones within Wakefield.

    5.  Support organisations to be responsible employers, developing and implementing travel plans.

    6.  Recognise the scope for the use of financial measures (tax on fuel/engine size/work place parking etc) to change travel behaviour.

    7.  Improve public transport provision.

  The subsequent action plan has identified the first three of these as current priorities. We hope to create a number of 20 mph zones. We are also following the pilot home zones in other areas with interest. We have an active Safe Routes to School initiative and have Travel Officers who will be working with local employers on travel plans.

  Wakefield is a participant in the "Target" European pilot project to reduce the impact of the car on the environment by beginning the process of changing travel habits. In addition, Wakefield and District Health Action Zone has supported a Healthy Transport Project. The aim of this project is to reduce dependency on the car and promote sustainable transport by encouraging alternative modes of travel, in particular walking and cycling. This will be achieved by working both strategically and at community level to create safer environments, develop and implement travel plans, promote positive health and demonstrate the benefits of taking exercise. The project will build on the success of the Safe Routes to School initiative by working with schools to develop travel plans and involve young people in setting up travel projects in their local areas.

  We feel it is essential to identify barriers to sustainable transport by involving communities and transport users. We must find out how people move about now and what would make it easier to use walking as a mode of travel, particularly to understand issues of safety and fear of crime.


  1.  Transport 2000 Trust, 1999. A Safer Journey to School—a guide to school travel plans for parents, teachers and governors.

  2.  Pilling A, Holloway B, Turner J. Catching them young—young people's travel and the scope for influencing their travel behaviour. University of Manchester, 1998.

  3.  Health Education Authority, 1998. Transport and Health—a briefing for health professionals and local authorities.

  4.  Wakefield Health Authority, 2000. Our Future Health—annual report of the Director of Public Health 2000.

  5.  Wakefield Transport and Health Group, 2000. Transport for Health in Wakefield—conference report.

Jo Harcombe

Public Health Project Manager

(on behalf of the Wakefield Transport and Health Group)

January 2001

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