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

Memorandum by Sandwell Health Authority (WTC 51)


  I am concerned that walking may still not attract the resources it deserves at local level because of the inertia of the local authority system.

  As part of the West Midlands Local Transport Plan process, each of the seven districts devised their own methods of public consultation. Only Birmingham and Coventry used questionnaires that invited members of the public to apportion the overall transport budget among the various areas of expenditure.

  Birmingham employed independent consultants to devise their questionnaire. The 2,000 respondents thought that an average of nine per cent of the budget should be spent on schemes specifically to encourage walking (as opposed to safety schemes, highway maintenance or five other categories). The proposed level of spend on walking in the Provisional LTP was less than one per cent. However the Council Officers' report to committee on the consultation failed to highlight the contradictions with the Provisional LTP. It was only when environmental and health lobbyists brought the contradiction to the attention of key Councillors that the proposed levels of expenditure were substantially changed.

  The categories used in Coventry were slightly different from those used in Birmingham, but again levels of support for walking (and cycling) were much higher than in previously proposed budgets. In the other districts no similar quantification of support was made, with the result that Council Officers were more easily able to justify continuing the status quo. The whole LTP process was characterised by much greater consultation about wording than about numbers, the real measure of financial priorities.

  I am convinced that if a similar exercise were undertaken nationwide, the majority of the UK population would be surprised at how little funding is allocated specifically to walking, and that they would support a transfer of resources from the areas of expenditure which most transport planners and engineers seem to find more "glamorous".

  I suggest that Council transport planners and engineers should not conduct and report on such public opinion surveys about transport expenditure. Independent consultants should be commissioned to conduct the survey and report on the results. Alternatively it may be an appropriate role for Council Local Agenda 21 teams, who have a greater interest in maximising public participation and less interest in ensuring that the results endorse their existing plans.

Dene Stevens
Walking & Cycling for Health Development Worker

January 2001

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