Delivering a world class walking network – our ambitions for Active Travel England

Last year, the government announced their ambition to create ‘a world class cycling and walking network for England by 2040’. This is great news – but the question remains, what is a world class network, and how are we going to get there?

What does a ‘world class’ walking network look like? Is it a series of paved footways that enable you to get to the shops or work? Does it incorporate natural features, such as trees and plantings? Should it extend to the urban fringes and surrounding countryside?

To the Ramblers, a world class network should include all these elements and more. A network that is truly world class would enable and encourage walking journeys for any purpose, whether for utility or recreation, and provide opportunities for everyone to connect with nature every day.

This is not just a theoretical question. Late last year, the government announced their ambition to create ‘a world class cycling and walking network for England by 2040’. This is great news – but the question remains, what is a world class network, and how are we going to get there?

A new inspectorate for active travel

One of the key drivers of change as we move towards 2040 is expected to be Active Travel England – a new inspectorate for active travel, led by Chris Boardman MBE. Active Travel England (ATE) will be responsible for promoting good design, approving funding for projects, inspecting completed schemes and publishing reports on highway authorities’ performance on active travel. It will also be a statutory consultee on major planning applications to ensure that the largest new developments prioritise the needs of walkers and cyclists.

The Ramblers are keen to support ATE and to encourage them to have broad vision that improves active travel routes AND urban routes that are used primarily for recreation and enjoyment. Of course, many routes serve a dual active travel-leisure purpose. For example, Transport for London report that 20% of people using Walk London routes – including the Capital Ring and London Loop - do so for utility journeys.

What we want to see from Active Travel England

The Ramblers are calling on Active Travel England to:

  • Champion high quality green routes: Green, nature rich walking routes in towns and cities have been a vital resource during the pandemic, helping everyone to maintain physical and mental health and travel safely. ATE should actively support schemes that introduce ‘green infrastructure’ – such as plantings and trees – to our streets and public spaces as well as routes to and through urban green spaces.
  • Bring transport and planning closer together: decisions made about transport have huge implications for the ‘walkability’ of towns and cities but are often disconnected from the aims of local planning. We welcome ATE’s new role in commenting on ‘major’ planning decisions. The challenge will be for the threshold for ‘major’ to be set at a level which captures the appropriate number and type of developments.
  • Connect urban and rural walking infrastructure: bring together existing local strategic plans for walking – namely, Rights of Way Improvement Plans and Local Cycling Walking Investment Strategies – to make connections that enable everyone to access green spaces on the urban fringe and beyond.
  • Support social prescribing: provide funding for schemes including the Ramblers Wellbeing Walks programme, which has a proven track record of supporting people to get active and improve their health.

A truly world class walking network must support all the reasons why people walk and we look forward to working with Active Travel England to make this a reality.