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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 186)



  180. My own local authority, Nuneaton and Bedford, are very good at promoting leisure walks within our urban area, how would they promote people going to work by foot or going shopping by foot? Or should it not be up to them?
  (Mr Almond) In Leicester, the Belgrave Corridor, which is an interesting project I recommend to you, is trying to do that by redesigning the areas to making walking to work, walking to shops, far easier than normal, making traffic-calming compulsory in the area and reducing the amount of traffic.

  181. But how do you get people to do it? I went for a walk on Monday, from Euston to this place, and I remember it, there was a certain shortage of tubes, but I would not do that every week.
  (Mr Almond) No, but in the Belgrave Corridor what they are trying to do is make it the easy option, because going by car is extremely difficult. So by making those areas easily accessible in terms of shopping and in terms of recreation like theatre and going to work, it is much more amenable and is changing the environment.

Mrs Dunwoody

  182. But it is not just walking, I would happily walk to the shops but who is going to carry my shopping back? This is a serious point. If I go once a week to do some shopping, rushing in wherever I happen to be—no brand loyalty about me - I pile all sorts of stuff in, I am a very bad shopper because I am always in a rush, I pile it into boxes and put it into some form of wheeled transport because I do not want to carry it.
  (Mr Robinson) I do not think any of these problems are insurmountable, they just need thinking about and need a will to solve them. For that particular problem, an increasing number of retailers are offering delivery so you can walk in, leave your stuff and they will bring it for you later. It involves the internal combustion engine but at least it is one van going to lots of houses and that is an improvement. The other problems which are mentioned are surmountable but they need commitment and money to be spent to do it. I would emphasise the point, from our Green Ways pilots, that you have to make the environmental changes to raise the ante so that the walker feels safer and finds walking appealing and does not feel in danger from traffic, and then you have to promote and give information and show these opportunities are available. In our Green Ways experiments, that has been shown to be effective.

Mr Olner

  183. To what extent have you spoken to local authorities on the maintenance and good practice of footways to minimise trips and falls? There is an estimated 600,000 elderly people annually who are hospitalised through trips. What have you as a health profession been saying to local authorities about footway maintenance?
  (Mr Ashcroft) Local authorities have been saying that their maintenance budgets for very small-scale works, like making pavement slabs flat so people do not trip up, have been reduced significantly over the years, but I understand through the new local transport plans there is more money now released for this very small-scale work which does make a difference, you are right, between whether it is safe to walk on the street or not. We are in touch with and do work very closely with local authorities. Coming back to an earlier point, you suggested there may be some risk, if we encourage walking, that more people would die through being put on the roads than are saved through better health. Can I give you this statistic: about 3,000 people a year die on the roads, about 50,000 people die of heart disease because they are inactive. So that is the goal. That is the overall challenge. There is a huge potential there, and the relative accident risks are very small in comparison.

  184. Is this not due to affluence? Many years ago, when heart disease was at a lower proportion than it is now, people did not have motor vehicles because they could not afford them.
  (Mr Ashcroft) That is right.

  185. It is a lifestyle change, is it not, which has brought this thing round?
  (Mr Ashcroft) That is one of the reasons. We are a very sedentary nation now, things are done for us by machines, we do not have to walk, that is why heart disease is the biggest killer in the UK because of the way we live our lives. We are aiming to challenge that culture and to bring about a situation where people bring walking back into their daily lives. It is not pie-in-the-sky. If I can give you an analogy, a generation ago who would have thought that smoking would be banned in public places, who would have thought that advertising for smoking would be banned, who would have thought that only a quarter of the population would smoke? That is a cultural change that we have seen. The same can happen through encouraging walking, making it easier for people to walk. We can reverse that trend if we have that vision.


  186. I am going to have to stop you at that point. As far as the elderly are concerned, how important is it when they are walking that there are places for them to sit down?
  (Mr Ashcroft) I think it is very important. It is an excellent idea to give people opportunities to rest on their travels. There have been some good ideas recently raised about the importance of benches and seats along walkways and pavements in towns and in parks, to make it encouraging and easier for elderly people to walk.
  (Mr Robinson) Teenagers like them too.
  (Ms Hamer) It just highlights that the most important point around the work which is done to support walking is that the poorest sectors of society are the people who have the most problems with walking and the experience of being on the streets. Although in some respects it is the more affluent people who have problems, anything we do to encourage walking will benefit people who are in the most deprived places at the moment, and that includes vulnerable people like the elderly.

  Chairman: On that note, thank you very much for your evidence.

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