New plans to legally oblige Welsh local authorities to provide cycling and walking routes have been described as a "world first" by Sustrans and a "landmark initiative" by a group of health experts. The proposed Active Travel (Wales) Bill – outlined in a White Paper released today – will make it it a legal requirement for local authorities to plan and deliver routes that link up hospitals, schools and shopping areas with traffic-free routes and cycle lanes.
Lee Waters, national director of Sustrans Cymru, said: “This is a ground-breaking move by the Welsh government. With the price of petrol going up, and waistlines going out, this new law will make it easier for people to get around actively.” Sustrans Cymru has been instrumental in persuading the Welsh Government to introduce the Bill.
"Five years ago we submitted a petition to the Assembly calling for an obligation on the Welsh Government to develop and maintain a network of paths for pedestrians and cyclists, mirroring a similar duty to provide roads."
Waters added: "The call was widely supported by including encouragement from BT, Royal Mail, British Medical Association Cymru, National Union of Teachers Cymru and Age Concern Cymru, the Association of Chief Constables and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales.
"The resulting Legislative Competence Order request narrowly missed out on becoming law because of delays in Whitehall. However, when the referendum last year bestowed new law-making powers on the Assembly, there was a new opportunity to push through this legislative duty. We were delighted that it formed part of the Government’s Legislative Programme announced in July last year."
The White Paper released today sets out how the Welsh Assembly will implement the plans and this has been welcomed by Welsh health experts. In an open letter, leading figures in public health describe the plan as a "landmark initiative which could transform the health of our nation.”
The open letter was signed by Dr. Richard Lewis, Welsh Secretary, BMA Cymru Wales; Dr Jane Layzell, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, Public Health Wales; John Wyn Owen CB, of the National Heart Forum; Dafydd Thomas of Lles Cymru Wellbeing Wales; and Dr Simon Williams, Head of Sport, Health and Exercise Science at the University of Glamorgan.
The letter said:
"Providing people with the opportunity to walk or cycle instead of using the car for short journeys is as important for our nation’s health as it is for our transport system. At the moment one out of every five of the journeys made by car are less than two miles. These are journeys our parents and grandparents would have made on foot or by bicycle. Today’s modern lifestyles, busy road conditions, and the layout of our towns and cities have seen the levels of ‘active travel’ falling year on year as car use has become dominant.
"Physical inactivity and sedentary living are among the leading causes of chronic disease, ill-health and death in Wales. Obesity amongst children and adults inWales has increased to an extraordinarily high level and, as a consequence, we are beginning to experience an epidemic of type 2 diabetes and other conditions related to this weight gain and sedentary living. These conditions have an enormous personal and financial cost but they are largely preventable if people change their behaviour and take every opportunity they can to be physically active.
"As health experts we strongly support the Welsh Government’s ambition to help more people become active as part of their everyday routine. As well as helping save lives, this would also save the nation money – figures from the World Health Organisation show that every £1 invested in making walking and cycling easier can bring benefits of £9 in reduced congestion and costs to the NHS."