Keeping Wales active

The latest phase of the Active Travel (Wales) Act closed today (Friday 3 November), as Welsh local authorities submitted their maps and plans to the Government for the future provision of cycling and walking routes. Cycling UK campaigner Sam Jones reports.

Wales is unique among the four home nations, in that there is a legal requirement for local authorities to make continuous improvements to the cycling and walking provision in their areas of responsibility. Each of these improvements will have to meet the rigorous national design standards laid out in the Act, meaning future provision will not just be lines of paint on the tarmac but segregated space that people will want to cycle on. 

As part of this ongoing continuous improvement process, authorities have to consult with members of the public during the planning process – the initial phase of which has just finished.

Cycling UK, together with Sustrans Cymru and Living Streets, had helped facilitate this process by promoting a simple online engagement tool, created by Cycling UK, which interested members of the public could use to contact their local authority.

This tool helped around 1,000 people to connect with their local authority and provide input into the cycling and walking facilities needed to improve their local community. While this might not appear a considerable number, due to the work of these three organisations, the level of engagement in the Act’s second mapping phase has increased five-fold through the online tool alone.

It’s not just active travel charities working to make a success of the Active Travel Act. The newly formed Cross Party Group on the Active Travel Act, chaired by Welsh Labour and Co-operative Assembly Member for Llanelli, Lee Waters, will carefully scrutinise the Welsh Government’s next actions with the maps submitted by local authorities.

Speaking about the purpose of the new Cross Party group, Lee Waters said: "The Assembly is very proud of its Active Travel Act and is determined to see it implemented successfully. We set up the new Cross Party Group specifically to examine the effectiveness of Welsh Government’s and local authorities’ measures to achieve the Act’s aim of "making walking and cycling the most natural and normal way of getting about". As the Director of Sustrans Cymru when we first put forward the idea of the Bill I am delighted to be chairing this important group and to be working again with Chris Roberts, who was the Welsh Government special adviser on the Bill and is now the Group Secretary."

With the Active Travel Act still being relatively new, there is concern among campaigners over how the Welsh Government are planning to assess the integrated network maps. The Act’s essential guidance is designed to cause a shift from a previous mentality which focussed on individual bits of infrastructure, and instead is meant to ensure there is consideration given to whole journeys.

Limited funding coupled with the lack of an evidence base for where cycling and walking investment would be best placed, could mean local authorities will struggle in identifying where they should prioritise their expenditure.

Cycling UK is keen to help both Government and local authorities spend their limited funding in the best possible way, using good evidence of where the benefits will be greatest.

Roger Geffen MBE, Cycling UK Policy Director

Cycling UK fears this means there is the risk of local spending on active travel infrastructure going on easier projects to complete, rather than where it is cost effective.

Offering a solution to these potential problems, Roger Geffen, Cycling UK's Policy Director said: "Cycling UK believes the Welsh Government should change its spending priorities away from destructive projects, such as the M4 Corridor scheme around Newport, and instead reallocate resources towards active travel and other local transport solutions.

"Until this happens, while local authorities' resources are so tight it is important they make smart investments. Cycling UK is keen to help both Government and local authorities spend their limited funding in the best possible way, using good evidence of where the benefits will be greatest."

Over the coming months, it will therefore be up to Cycling UK and other active travel champions across Wales to keep the Government on track and committed to making sure the Active Travel Act is followed as it was intended.