Reforming transport to improve the nations’ health

Jamie O’Hara says when it comes to legislation on active travel, where Wales leads, others follow.

Tonight, Wales will again show to the world what can be achieved through leadership and political vision.

We were first to introduce the ban on smoking in public buildings, Westminster  has only just caught up on charging for plastic carrier bags and earlier this year – quite rightly – there was huge praise for legislation on opting out for organ donations. Ahead of the curve when it comes to legislation and where we lead, others follow.

Tonight, Wales is set to lead the way again. Not just in the United Kingdom, but actually leading the world. When the Active Travel Bill becomes law, Wales will become the first country in the world to legislate for increasing the number of routes for walking and cycling.

This has been a long journey.  There were doubters of course, but there has been support from across the spectrum.  Businesses like BT backed the idea in its infancy, but perhaps the biggest gains will be found in health. This isn’t just a  dry piece of transport legislation, it’s a significant step towards making Wales a leaner, greener and healthier nation.

The NHS in Wales spends over £100million every year tackling diseases that would be easily prevented if we were all more active. Type 2 diabetes, heart diseases and even some cancers would be less likely to occur if more of us got the amount of exercise we need – and the easiest way to get it is to build exercise into our daily routine, by walking or cycling to work, to the shops, the cinema – wherever it is we need to go.

Yet under 2% of journeys are currently by bike. Sustrans Cymru research earlier this year showed that only 11% of people in Wales cycle once a week or more. The same research showed that safe routes and slower traffic speeds are the most likely interventions that will see more of those people who don’t cycle giving it a go.

The Welsh Government has responded with ambitious legislation that we should be as proud of as the Human Transplantation Act earlier this year.

The First Minister has led the way – speaking passionately last month at the first annual “Wales: A Cycling Nation” conference. His ambition to see a country with the best cycling infrastructure in Europe is to be congratulated and a clear indication of how seriously he takes this issue.

There have been attempts to increase cycling levels before, but all too often money allocated to cycling has been allocated from end of year underspend.  That means that what has been built has been the easiest, rather than the most useful. Or checking what’s left in the coffers in March and spending it quickly before the claws of every finance department in local government come creeping. Legislation will not only mean that every Welsh council will have a duty to deliver on active travel, but they will have a planned network of routes to ensure that available money is spent much more wisely. Policy makers across the border have been keeping a close eye, Labour’s transport spokesperson Maria Eagle told her party’s conference in Brighton last week that an incoming Labour Government would follow the Welsh lead in introducing legal duties to support active travel.

Growing up in Ruthin, I didn’t drive. I went everywhere by bus, by bike or by foot. I was ridiculed. Taking a bus was for bozos, cycling was for social dropouts and walking for, well, you get my drift. The car was king and if you didn’t own a Vauxhall Astra with a radio permanently fixed on a fuzzy Radio 1, you were nobody. But Wales is changing. Walking and cycling is cheap, healthy and in most cases a more convenient way to get around. That’s why this Government wants to make Wales a cycling nation, with the best walking and cycling infrastructure in the world.

You only need to look at the Bill to understand that they want to make walking and cycling the most natural and normal way of getting about, regardless of your economic background.

To their huge credit, the Government’s latest amendments to the Bill actually make it a stronger piece of legislation, addressing strategic plans, promotion and training, annual reports in the Assembly and monitoring. This legislation sets out a clear plan of action for shifting the way we travel for everyday shorter journeys.

Getting more people walking and cycling in Wales will benefit the entire nation. We’ll save our health service vital funds, we’ll cut congestion in our towns and cities – which is great for businesses and the environment, and boost our high streets.

Tonight, Wales will become a world-leader once again, and it’s something we should all be proud of.

Jamie O'Hara is Chair of the Sustrans Cymru Advisory Board.

12 thoughts on “Reforming transport to improve the nations’ health

  1. If they would only flatten all these hills that someone put in Wales I would cycle everywhere.

  2. Hills and rain haven’t suddenly appeared, I believe they also existed in the 50s when Wales had similar cycling levels to the Netherlands. However, they’ve made a deliberate attempt (spurred by a campaign to reduce child deaths on the roads) to prioritise active travel over car use. Now 1:3 journeys to work are by bike. It can be done. This Bill will start the process of making things better in Wales by getting Government to ensure all future routes are useful and safe

  3. Lee what you seem to forget is that the economy was also very different in the 1950s. Many people in Wales worked within probably half an hour walking distance from their homes. In my own valley there were three collieries, a washery and a factory site with three factories employing at least 2000 workers. Now many people work outside the valley and you really need to be quite a fit person to tackle the hill heading for Port Talbot and then put an 8 hour shift in the hot mill. It really probably makes more sense to use the fact that you work for Tata to take advantage of the discount available on Jags and Land Rovers !! Just walked the route to Caerau and met the usual baby boomers taking the dog for a walk, one cyclist and two boys multi tasking by walking and drinking super strength lager at the same time.

  4. Ironic. People are encouraged to “get active” on their bikes then Arriva announces the closure of bus depots in West Wales ( The prospect of riding a bicycle along the main road between Bala and Dolgellau along the route of the X94 bus on a winter’s night does not appeal.

  5. Ken Richards is right. The reduction and changes to bus funding are far more important than this greenie cycling stuff. The Welsh Government has got bus funding totally wrong. They are seriously effecting the poor, the old and chances of people getting to work by bus. Carwyn wants to look at bus funding again and restore it to previous levels.

  6. If we take Jeff’s abiding (and often justified) preoccupation with the economy, then I see this Bill feeding into improving our current situation.

    In an age of globalised workforces, the only way you can tip the balance and attract businesses into Wales (or convince start-ups to stay) is if you have an indigenous educated and healthy workforce – staff who improve a business and don’t take days off sick. Inward investors not only consider educational achievement among the local populations around sites they consider. They also look for health trends.

    Now if we take Jeff’s local Ogmore area, one in four of the adult working population has no qualification. In that regard, this Bill cannot make matters worse.

  7. I totally agree with Duncan’s comments that education is the key to turning around areas such as the Ogmore constituency. The Active Travel Act will, of course, cost money which has to come out of a fixed budget. Money that could be spent on education. As the Assembly spends money on a futile mapping exercise my former authority to not much protest is contemplating cutting £1.5 million from its education budget this year. Governors in my local primary have been informed that they could lose £20,000. If you want to see how to waste £680,000 come and see the cycle route to Caerau. It will be interesting to see how many kids in one of the most deprived areas in Wales will use it when they lose free school transport to the local comprehensive in 2015. Some of those pretending to be Tommy Simpson or Lance Armstrong on an expensive bike in the morning rush hour should start to live in the real world.

  8. Look at the cities in the UK with really high levels of cycling and a +ve approach to it (e.g. London, Bristol, Edinburgh), and then look at the productivity indexes of those cities e.g. GVA per head, no. of patents filed etc. What creates this productivity – the people, the city environment (commercial, cultural), and is the cycling a by-product of that? I’m not saying that cycling makes high GVA…but an interesting parallel.

  9. What next ? I’m amazed that someone isn’t using the Japanese success in Malaya and the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu to suggest that the cycle is the key to military success.

  10. We all know that 2 wheels is the answer – polish up the old frame, get on out there and feel the wind in your hair.

  11. What is the real purpose of this ‘Active Travel’ bill? I can’t believe it is intended to reduce Wales’ ‘Carbon Footprint’ because, regrettably, much of the Welsh Government’s transport policy seems designed to do the opposite.

    Why do I say this? Plans to build a second M4, dual the Heads Of The Valleys Road and replace a significant stretch of the St. Clears – Pembroke trunk road with a faster road all provide for, and encourage, a growth in car use. And subsidising an air link is just setting a bad example, that air travel is ok. Linked to that is the ‘Cardiff Airport Express’ bus service, costing over half the annual subsidy of the TrawsCambria network at it’s height, before Arriva removed the Aberystwyth – Carmarthen X40 service from the network (they replaced it with the CymruExpress 40 service which is ending in December).

    Meanwhile, if you need to travel by bus in Ceredigion or Pembrokeshire on a Sunday you’ll be very luckly if the route even operates, let alone with a service at the time you want. And Arriva Trains Wales were allowed to sell the rolling stock formerly used on the Cardiff – Holyhead premier service (rather than being encouraged to use it elsewhere to boost capacity and help allocate more-suitable types of stock to some services) when the Welsh Government funded the hire of slightly newer stock for the premier service.

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