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

Memorandum by the British Heart Foundation and the Countryside Agency (WTC 74)



  1.  We are taking the unusual step to present this joint statement to demonstrate the interconnections between walking, health, leisure and the environment.

  2.  The British Heart Foundation is a major national charity established in 1961. The Foundation plays a leading role in the fight against heart and circulatory disease, the UK's biggest killer. It wants a culture where physical activity—with walking centre stage—becomes the norm. The Countryside Agency, as the Government's principal advisor on rural matters, wants to see more people walking in town and countryside, and between town and countryside. More people walking in towns can contribute to a cleaner, safer environment and a less polluted one if many of the short journeys people currently take in cars could switch to walking. Better provision for walking in towns can be part of making urban areas more attractive places to live. A culture where more people walk will help to create more socially inclusive communities in town and countryside because less reliance on cars will help the significant part of the population who will never have use of a car: because of age, infirmity, economic circumstances or choice.

  3.  Walking is more than a means of transport, it is one of the most fundamental and natural activities of mankind. However fewer of us walk these days as a mode of transport. Empty streets, inactive people in their homes or places of work and travel patterns which are increasingly dominated by the car, all carry profound social and economic costs. Yet getting more people walking can provide wide ranging benefits to people's health, the quality of the environment and the renaissance of communities.

  4.  A more "joined up" approach is needed from Government to provide for and promote walking. Stronger links need to be forged between interests such as public health, crime, urban regeneration, environment, leisure and transport.


  5.  Walking is the best buy for public health. It is the only form of exercise which is accessible and realistic for the 70 per cent of the population who do not take enough exercise to protect their health. Lack of physical activity is now one of the main risk factors in coronary heart disease—linked to an estimated 37 per cent of the 135,000 annual heart deaths. And coronary heart disease costs the UK economy £10 billion each year in health care and lost production at work (roughly the same amount is spent nation-wide on primary education). Walking is an ideal way for most people to become active because it can fit into people's everyday life and requires no special equipment or expense. Having pleasant surroundings to walk in is also a motivator, and the opposite is true that unappealing environments discourage walking.

  6.  The National Service Framework for Coronary Heart Disease, issued by the Department of Health requires by April 2001 that health authorities, local authorities and primary care groups and NHS trusts should have in place local programmes to increase physical activity. However compared to the other competing priorities of the NHS it is unlikely this requirement will be turned into a reality.


  7.  Together the British Heart Foundation and the Countryside Agency are implementing a nation-wide "Walking the way to Health" Initiative, co-funded by the New Opportunities Fund and Kia Cars. Its aim is to get more people walking in their own communities, especially people who take little exercise or live in areas of poor health. We are using leisure walking as the main motivator, because we believe that our target audience can be motivated to walk and continue to walk when they have fun, enjoy their surroundings and feel a sense of achievement. The role of walking in promoting better health is summarised in Annex 1.

  8.  The Initiative is able to motivate people to walk but for some this can be a temporary phenomena. This is because many people live in an environment which is hostile to walking. A new personal resolution to walk more can soon evaporate when faced with one of the many barriers to walking. The Government has a strategic role to create the right kind of environment to stimulate walking so that it is a more popular form of social and transport behaviour.


  9.  Walking for leisure, in contrast to other reasons to walk, is on the increase. According to the UK Day Visits Survey there were 210 million leisure walks in England's towns and cities in 1994, compared with 300 million in 1998. This mirrors a similar rise in leisure walking in England's countryside from 335 million to 438 across the same period. Motivations to walk for leisure include a sociable activity for sharing with friends and family, an opportunity to enjoy pleasant places, exercise and relaxation. A good quality environment is a big motivator. The immediate pleasure that people can gain from walking for leisure can be a trigger to encouraging walking for other purposes. There are also economic benefits from encouraging tourists to visit towns and cities to walk.

  10.  Many people living in towns wish to travel to the countryside on their doorstep to spend some of their leisure time. Providing safe and attractive walking links between town and countryside opens up opportunities to enjoy the countryside to everyone who wants to.


  11.  Our experience from the Walking the way to Health Initiative and from other work of the Countryside Agency work reveals that many people face both psychological and physical barriers to walking. Factors include:

    (a)  an urban environment which often fails to encourage walking through its design or management;

    (b)  high levels of traffic, including noise and air pollution, which make many streets and neighbourhoods unpleasant and unsafe places to walk;

    (c)  routes for walking that are often severed by busy road crossings which create inconvenience and discontinuity;

    (d)  new developments which have poor physical connections with places where people live or work or are too remotely situated for walking to be a practical choice;

    (e)  parks, play areas and other green open spaces which are poorly maintained, and thus disagreeable and unattractive for walking;

    (f)  lack of seats or benches, which are particularly valued by many people, young and old, who will not consider walking unless there are opportunities to rest;

    (g)  insensitive driver behaviour especially in situations when road space is shared between cars and pedestrians;

    (h)  fears about personal safety, particularly walking at night on streets or walking alone in woodlands and other green spaces;

    (i)  exaggerated fear of the low risk of conflict with other users when space is shared between walkers, cyclists, horse riders, joggers;

    (j)  a lack of understanding amongst people about where they can safely walk in their own areas due to a lack of familiarity of their own neighbourhoods—often brought about by a lack of use or appreciation of their own locality.

"Encouraging Walking"—a missed opportunity

  12.  In 1998 the Government set up a multidisciplinary Advisory Group on Walking. The Government's synthesis of their recommendations, published two years later in Encouraging Walking, was a missed opportunity. Much of the analysis and ideas devised by this Advisory Group, and its three working groups, provide ready made technical solutions to promoting walking, but many were not reflected. Particular weaknesses of this report were:

    (a)  its low status as advice and guidance for local authorities rather than being a national Strategy for Government which is what was needed and indeed what was pledged at its inception;

    (b)  lack of a national target to increase the amount that people walk: without which there is no way of measuring success;

    (c)  no commitment to the resources needed;

    (d)  no steering mechanism to direct and report on implementation.

  13.  The recent Urban White Paper contains some positive proposals. First, there is a strong policy commitment to improve the management of urban parks. This is welcome in principle but does not address funding. Second, there is support for the idea of nation-wide action to enhance the quality of publicly used open spaces. There is only commitment to discussions yet no clear timetable for action. However the Urban White Paper dismissed an essential recommendation (number 2) of the Urban Task Force to introduce a national programme to create comprehensive green pedestrian routes around and/or across each of our major towns and cities.


  14.  The Local Transport Plans written by highway authorities are the main mechanism for securing Government grants to invest in walking and other aspects of local transport provision. An assessment of the first round of these plans was made by Oxford Brookes University in 1999[10]. This showed that the treatment given to walking fared worse than 11 other transport topics covered by the plans such as highway improvements, bus travel and cycling. One of the obstacles to local action to promote walking is the attitude of many highway engineers and transport planners. Many do not recognise the value of walking. There is still an outmoded attitude amongst some professionals that it is difficult to build a career in transport around walking.

  15.  We welcome the increase in funding for Local Transport Plans from April 2001, some of which may percolate down to investment in walking. However experience to date shows that walking captures a very small share of these resources.


  16.  The following practical actions should be adopted to stimulate walking:

    (a)  tackle the dominance of cares in towns and cities by encouraging the redesign of streets and pavements to reduce traffic speeds and create more attractive environments for people;

    (b)  improve the quality of the environment of parks, squares and other green spaces by making them more appealing and walker friendly;

    (c)  exploit the potential of public rights of way in and around towns and cities as a resource for utilitarian walking to complement their traditional leisure use;

    (d)  encourage the adoption of an assessment of walking needs in local transport plans and greater involvement of communities in plans to manage traffic and introduce other transport measures;

    (e)  create dedicated networks around and across towns and cities for walking, and where appropriate also for cycling and horse riding (greenways), which link residential areas with green spaces, schools, shopping districts, business parks, sports and leisure facilities;

    (f)  encourage new developments to incorporate "the need to walk" as an integral component of the design to counter the convenience culture which discourages people from walking;

    (g)  creating links to surrounding countryside and green spaces to encourage leisure walking without the need to use cars;

    (h)  providing user friendly information, including signs, leaflets and way marks to encourage people to walk more.


  17.  We need a clear and unequivocal commitment from Government to encourage walking which involves the public, private and voluntary sectors. Without such leadership it is unlikely that the range of practical actions needed to promote walking will be unlocked. From this commitment the following changes in policy should flow:

    (a)  a shift in transport resources towards walking to counter its current low priority within overall transport spending;

    (b)  the setting of ambitious national targets to increase walking;

    (c)  create a national focus for walking which stimulates and co-ordinates action across Government, engages the public, private and voluntary sectors and reports implementation on the ground.

January 2001

10   Towards Better Local Transport Planning: The Performance of Provisional Local Transport Plans. Oxford Brookes University Feb. 2000. Back

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