Levelling Up for walking and cycling routes
Active Travel England is today inviting local authorities in England to apply for funding to make improvements to enable people to choose active travel, which can help them save money and stay healthy. Schemes could include:
- creating more paths in rural areas
- developing safer routes for children to walk to school
- improved safety at junctions for people walking and cycling
- Funding will also be used to support people in wheelchairs and mobility scooters by making street designs more inclusive.
The successful projects will be announced later this year. Guidance has been created to help local authorities develop active travel schemes that are well-designed and completed to a high standard.
Walking and cycling charity Sustrans has estimated that active travel generated £36.5 billion for the economy in 2021 through increased spending on high streets, reduced pressure on the NHS and better access to jobs. This investment could also generate up to 16 million additional walking and cycling trips a year.
“These new schemes will make it safer for children to walk to school and will better connect rural communities, helping more people choose active travel as an affordable and healthy way to get around.”Transport Secretary Mark Harper
While increased walking and cycling is good for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing health and mental health they can also come with safety concerns. Studies show that 1 in 2 women feel unsafe walking after dark in a quiet street near their home. Local authorities will need to show that their proposed schemes take women’s safety into account.
Active Travel Commissioner Chris Boardman said:
“Active travel is convenient, cheap, low carbon and health-giving. It’s a choice we need to make sure everyone has. Sometimes it only takes relatively small changes, such as crossings on school routes or convenient places to park a bike, to give us the option to walk, wheel or ride.”
“Our job is to help local authorities across the country ensure that everyone has more attractive options for their daily trips and we are excited to help them deliver those options.”
The funding could see more young people choosing a healthier and greener way to travel from home to the classroom. With less than half of children aged 5 to 16 walking or cycling to school, this investment aims to boost uptake. The government’s objective is to enable 55% of all primary school children to walk to school by 2025.
This scheme follows the Levelling Up model of funds being rewarded to local authorities that win bids to obtain the cash. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with this mechanism it is somewhat galling to Local Authorities to have to apply for funds, taking part in central government press releases about funding increases when their grants were slashed 37% in real-terms between 2009/10 and 2019/20, from £41bn to £26bn in 2019/20 prices.
The challenges these cuts have caused are leading to local government’s diminished ability to deliver services they are legally required to deliver. While in recent years the Government have allowed local authorities to increase their funding by raising Council Tax, the downside of replacing grants with Council Tax rises is that this tends to be a regressive step, as poorer local authorities have fewer high value properties to tax than richer ones.
Questions of funding not withstanding it can only be right that the UK continues to plan for a future with fewer cars. Increased active travel meets many objectives of Government and should lead to increased health and wellbeing of both the UK population and planet as a whole.