Westminster Hall debate on active travel

Couple with young child walking down cobbled street lined with lampposts at sunset. 

On Tuesday 9 July, Robert Courts MP led a debate on Government’s support for active travel and local walking and cycling infrastructure plans. Many MPs who spoke at the debate brought up the widely known health, economic and environmental benefits of walking but it’s clear that the Government needs to do more to demonstrate its support for active travel.

The Government adopted a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy in 2017 with the ambition “to make cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys or as part of a longer journey.” This ambition is great but how can we make it so that this is the case? Are the Government on track to achieve this?

Dan Jarvis MP said during the debate that “people don’t need to be encouraged (to put on their walking shoes), they need to be enabled”.  I think we need to do both still - they go hand in hand. Our research on Walking in Parks and Green Spaces showed that people tend to go to, rather than through, their local green spaces. Only 7% of respondents (out of 1000) said that they walk through green spaces on their way to work. This suggests that more could be done to encourage the use of green spaces as part of active travel networks.

Cyclers, walkers and runners in the park

The Ramblers is part of the Walking and Cycling Alliance and last year proposed our vision in our manifesto, Moving the Nation. Our vision included the proposal that “every town and city is served by a core network of segregated cycle routes and networks of walkable routes to and within centres.” The Government is only supporting 46 councils to develop plans for Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs), however there is no dedicated funding for councils to deliver them. Sarah Wollaston MP was correct during the debate in saying that active travel requires long-term political support. We need to see a commitment from Central Government to enable local government to improve walking connections and infrastructure in their areas.

People who might be nervous about incorporating walking into their everyday lives due to safety concerns need to be encouraged. Matt Western MP said that the routes should be safe to encourage behavioural change. Parents who are nervous about walking kids to school alongside busy roads might feel better if the route was designed to prioritise pedestrians. Commuters who feel nervous about including a walk in their daily commute due to fears of local crime and anti-social behaviour might feel encouraged if the journey included open, green spaces which are well lit.

Compared to other countries like the Netherlands it’s clear there is definitely more to be done. The Department of Transport needs to work across government so that their strategy won’t be undermined, and a dedicated funding stream is needed to enable local councils to build and maintain the infrastructure required.  Hopefully the next Spending Review will take many of the excellent points referenced during the debate into consideration so that by 2040 we can see a country designed for walking.

Robyn Stephens is the policy and local advocacy officer for The Ramblers.

The Ramblers’ Charter for Walking Neighbourhoods sets out some of the steps local councils can take to achieve walkable towns and cities. Our Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood Award celebrates the places that are already taking action. You can read the minutes from the debate on Hansard.