Grassroots to Government – politicians come and go

Active Travel Act Ten Year Anniversary gathering featuring Cycling UK staff, members of the public and Welsh MS
Deputy Minister Lee Waters, a real champion of active travel steps down - how do we ensure that progress continues?

The last year has been pretty good for active travel in Wales. We have seen the introduction of 20mph as default speed limit in built up areas, which the evidence shows saves lives. Record amounts of money for active travel have been made available to local authorities and we are starting to see some bits of decent cycle infrastructure built and planned for.  

Let’s work together to ensure everyone has the choice to ride a bike

In January this year, after years of lobbying led by Healthy Air Cymru, the Environment and Soundscapes Act was brought into force, one of the key aspects of the Act for us is that it strengthens the Active Travel Act by placing a much wider duty on public bodies to promote active travel.

Active Travel Act Ten Year Anniversary gathering with a group of people cycling together on a path

These changes follow on from other ground breaking initiatives from Welsh Government, including a new road building policy which acknowledges the reality of transport’s contribution to climate change. Llwybr Newydd – a transport strategy, which although it may be lacking in some detail as to delivery, does place active and sustainable transport at the top of the transport hierarchy.

There is no doubt that these achievements are down in a very large part to the unwavering commitment of Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters, who when Director of Sustrans Cymru from 2007, began the process which led to the Active Travel Act.

In 2016 Lee was elected to the Senedd and during the last 5 years as Deputy Minister he has ensured that active and sustainable travel has been high on the agenda of Welsh Government and as a result we have the tools to enable real progress.

Active Travel Act Ten Year Anniversary group shot featuring members of the Senedd

Last October we celebrated 10 years of the Active Travel Act , talked about the difference devolution makes, but also about how far we still have to go if we are to create a Wales where as many people as possible have real travel choices.

As campaigners we always caution against complacency, given the way in which politics plays out at a national and local level. And here we are, at a point of political change in Wales and future commitment to active travel investment at the scale needed uncertain,

First Minister Mark Drakeford, often seen riding a bike around Cardiff and who has sanctioned the direction taken by the Deputy Minister, is stepping down. A new Welsh Labour leader will be announced on Saturday 16th March. Lee Waters has announced that whoever wins and becomes First Minister he will not be continuing with his current portfolio.

The manifestos of the two candidates don’t give much away, they both contain a commitment to continuing to invest in active travel, likewise they have both confirmed that 20mph as default is here to stay.

Groundbreaking legislation, policy and promises are important, but they are only part of the picture.

Actual delivery is down to local politics, party politics as well as national politics which is why it is so important that, as well as lobbying the new First Minister and his Cabinet, we continue to support and grow our network of grassroots campaigners in their calls for change to be implemented at a local level.

Cycling UK staff member Gwenda Owen cycling on a 20mph road in Cardiff

The difference a campaign group can make

The politics of implementing national policies, strategies and laws are inevitably played out at a local level as it is our 22 local authorities who are responsible for delivery. Interpretations of guidance, local pressures, and priorities all influence the pace, scale, and standard of implementation.

Vale Velo Ways, a relatively new campaign group but full of expert and experienced local activists who really know their stuff, are a great example of where local pressure can really pay off!

They tackle all manner of barriers, big and small, that really make a difference. They’ve improved traffic light crossing times, got cycle parking in places that its needed, responded to consultations and fed into the local development plans.

When the Vale Council shared their proposed exemptions to default 20mph, our campaigners were immediately on the case and pointing out roads that shouldn't, in the interests of active travel, to be exempt.

Group photo of the Vale Velo Ways campaign group

Growing the network

Across Wales there are campaigners and groups making a real difference on the ground, but we need more people speaking up for cycling to ensure that cycling is accessible to all.

In Merthyr Tydfil the ever resourceful Phil Lewis been instrumental in getting barriers removed on the cycling network whereas in Flintshire local councillors voted to retain them.

Local politicians tell us that they get more correspondence from people worried about where they can park their car than they do asking for a safe cycle route to their children’s schools.

Yet when people are asked they want safe walking and cycling routes where they live, we need to ensure that these majority voices are heard.

Where next for Wales? 

Over the next few weeks we will hear more of the next First Minister’s priorities, a new Cabinet will be appointed and we will undoubtedly see some new faces. Let’s hope that some of them will champion cycling.

Whoever is appointed we’ll be lobbying to ensure that active travel remains high on the agenda of Welsh Government and that the progress that has been made in recent years is not lost. 

We will also be talking to campaigners across Wales about their successes and challenges and looking at what we can do together to ensure that Senedd Members and local politicians hear about all the benefits of getting about by bike.

DM Lee Waters in Cardiff Bay with Cycling UK staff member Gwenda Owen

I’m sure many will join me in giving massive thanks to Deputy Minister Lee Waters for all that he has done for active travel. He’s put us in a better position than we’ve ever been and we need to work together to ensure that Wales becomes the best that it can be for everyone who wants to get about by bike.

Join us and be part of something brilliant!