Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)



  140. I am sorry to interrupt, but you are from the Countryside Agency. I can walk for 30 minutes in the country without crossing roads but the problem is in London I cannot walk for 10 minutes from my flat to the office without crossing roads. That is the hurdle we have in the towns and cities which is actually the focus of the report.
  (Mr Ashcroft) I was talking generally about increasing walking, but coming on to the second point in your question, the big challenge for all of us is to reduce the obstacles which are deterring people from walking, and those obstacles are most evident in towns and cities, and that is probably where most of the effort is required.
  (Mr Robinson) We think it is feasible, in fact we have done six pilots to show it is feasible, to build dedicated networks for non-motorised use - cycling, walking, running—in and around towns and cities. The pilots have shown the communities in which it is done welcome it and they specifically recognise that it also brings real environmental benefits which eventually, in the best schemes, translate into improved property values, et cetera.
  (Dr Crombie) I do not think it is the responsibility of any one particular professional group, it crosses so many professions and so many areas. I think it is important we all join together to achieve this joint outcome. There is obviously a responsibility and a role for health professionals, there is a role for transport planners and architects, there is a role for schools and so forth, but it is something which needs activity in a large number of sectors.

Mr Stevenson

  141. How do we get those professionals to work together in a co-ordinated fashion to promote walking? As someone who spent a considerable number of my formative years in local government, I was amazed at some of the barriers between the professions and I have no doubt they are still there.
  (Ms Hamer) I have been doing some work around the country and, you are right, in lots of places there are still a lot of barriers between people working in health and in transport. However, we have a really great opportunity at the moment in that now local transport plans are being written in which walking is supposed to be a central component, and health improvement plans are being written in every health area in which walking is seen as part of the work to promote physical activity and reductions in coronary heart disease. So there is a framework now I think in local planning which could be used constructively. There is still a problem in that a lot of people working in transport do not necessarily fully know about the health benefits of walking and how they might act to do something about it, and a lot of people in health have not necessarily had links with people in transport to make those connections. What we have found across the country is where people are starting to pool their funding and starting to use the new flexibilities of the Health Act and the Local Government Act which have just come through, some very interesting projects are being set up, particularly in things like Health Action Zones where people are working together on health and transport initiatives.

  142. I was coming to that but can you be a bit more definitive in your examples of what is actually happening on the ground? Can you give us some examples?
  (Ms Hamer) For example, in areas where regeneration projects are being set up in deprived parts of cities, there is quite a lot of work—

  143. I understand that—sorry to interrupt—but can you point your finger and say, "In Huddersfield, that is happening; in Bradford, that is happening"? It would be interesting if there were some concrete examples.
  (Ms Hamer) There is a lot of work going on in York, for instance, which is linking health and transport professionals. They are doing a lot of work on walking and walking routes and access.

  144. Is that about it?
  (Ms Hamer) No. You might want to look at the book—

  145. If you have examples, perhaps you can let us have them.
  (Ms Hamer) Yes.

  146. Some structures are at least there but what incentives are there for authorities to actually be seized of these opportunities?
  (Mr Robinson) The sort of environmental improvement and enhancement which frees up people to exercise—freedom of movement, walking and cycling—is also the sort of environmental improvement we see evidence of in the 12 community forests around the major cities. This is the sort of environmental improvement which also brings all sorts of other benefits like the benefits of regeneration, improvement in economic activity, improvements in the health and value of properties, community benefits and industry wanting to move there. It is the same environmental treatment that delivers those benefits which also frees up people to want to explore on foot that kind of environment.

  147. I note in the Government's Coronary Heart Disease Strategy, the organisations involved—the primary care groups, health authorities and so on—are required to develop their strategies for increasing physical activity by April of this year. Have you any idea where we are with that in the country and how many have been produced?
  (Mr Almond) I do not think we will be able to achieve the target by April this year of having every single PCG producing those figures. I think a lot are moving towards that and certainly at least half will have those available. One of the major problems in the past is that there has been no record on GP computers of levels of activity and inactivity, and now people are beginning to collect the information and put it on to the computer and very soon everybody will have that information available.

  148. A simple thing like, "When you come to see me with an appointment, how did you get here?" for example?
  (Mr Almond) Absolutely, that is right. That is certainly a possibility.

  149. I would like now to ask about a phrase which has been floated, " a co-ordinated communication strategy", which sounds wonderful but I am not quite sure I understand what it means. If you understand what it means, what form should it take, and who should initiate this strategy? Should it be national or local?
  (Mr Almond) In Leicestershire, we have introduced in terms of walking what is called an "exercise alliance" where all parties concerned with physical activity meet, so we have organised a network of alliances and partnerships to co-ordinate all activities. Transport and Planning are also on that committee, so we have really tried very hard. One of the things we say is that in terms of the promotion of walking, if every local authority had an exercise alliance which created those networks, we would be able to influence transport and planning, and get exercise and walking in particular on to that agenda.

  150. Should such strategies be laid down by Government in one form or another, or should they be developed through the local transport plans and such activities?
  (Mr Almond) I think there are plenty of legislation recommendations like the Local Government Activity 2000 where that is there already.

  151. You talk about economic benefits and social benefits such as saving lives, I am interested in establishing whether there are any economic or social models, credible models, which can be used to assess these benefits—economic, social, safety and environmental benefits?
  (Mr Almond) There is a model in Australia, and we are hoping the Countryside Agency and the British Heart Foundation, working together, can utilise the same model and apply it to this country, because there is very little information here. There are a number of models but the Australian model is probably the one more applicable to us. I think there is some move by the British Heart Foundation at the moment and some work by Glyn MacPherson on that area and he has produced a model to illustrate how that can be used in terms of walking and exercise, but it is not out yet.

  152. It is not out yet?
  (Mr Almond) No.

  153. So Government will be aware of it but they will not have examined it?
  (Mr Almond) I am sure the Government is aware of it and I am sure the British Heart Foundation will ensure this Committee and the Government are well aware of the implications of that report.

Mrs Dunwoody

  154. How many of the health professionals who sit on this committee drive to them?
  (Mr Almond) Drive today?

  Mrs Dunwoody: Drive to the committees.

  Chairman: You were talking about your alliance, how many of those people come to the meetings by car?

Mrs Dunwoody

  155. How many doctors do you get out of their cars during a day?
  (Mr Almond) I do not have the evidence. I would suspect—

  156. Come on, Dr Crombie, have a good guess, is your profession good at getting out of cars or do they love their combustion engines more than life itself?
  (Mr Almond) I think a lot of people are certainly parking cars further away so they at least have a quarter of an hour walk to the meetings.

  157. Is that your experience, Dr Crombie, of your own profession?
  (Dr Crombie) I do not know I would say they are as good as they should be.

  158. No, that seems like a tactful remark. You mean they are useless. They drive everywhere.
  (Dr Crombie) I know some walking and cycling GPs certainly. That was my practice when I used to—

  159. How many would they represent in terms of the medical profession?
  (Dr Crombie) I must say a small proportion of GPs will walk.

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