Prioritise walking and cycling to halt UK's inactivity epidemic, urges Parliamentary commission

All-Party Commission on Physical Activity's report calls on party leaders to draw up National Action Plan to tackle crisis

by Simon_MacMichael   April 8, 2014  

Pont-y-Werin bridge Cardiff (photo: J Bewley/Sustrans)

A report published today by a Parliamentary commission urges the government to bring a halt to a growing “physical inactivity epidemic” that costs the UK an estimated £20 billion a year – and calls for dedicated funding to make walking and cycling “regular daily transport.”

Called Tackling Physical Inactivity— A Coordinated Approach and delivered to Number 10 Downing Street this morning, the report has been published by the All-Party Commission on Physical Activity.

The commission’s members include include 11-time Paralympic gold medallist Baroness Grey-Thompson and Cambridge MP Dr Julian Huppert, who is also co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group.

The first of two reports that the commission will produce, it seeks to identify the extent of the issue and identifies areas where change is needed to tackle the problem.

It says that a cross-sector and cross-departmental National Action Plan should be drawn up and calls for support for it from the leaders of all three main political parties.

The report says the government should “re-focus transport strategy over time, to provide long-term continuity of resources to incentivise and facilitate walking and cycling as regular daily transport.”

It also calls for “existing and planned new developments and infrastructure to be ‘health-checked’ to ensure that walking, cycling, active recreation and other forms of physical activity are prioritised.”

Other recommendations include:

Raise awareness by implementing a public health campaign focused on the benefits of physical activity.

Track progress by developing and introducing a standardised measure of physical activity across the UK, and standardised evaluation of investments.

Ensure local and national policy supports the design of physical activity back into everyday life through active travel and leisure (such as walking and cycling to school or work) and making ‘active workplaces’ the norm.

Make physical activity a lifelong habit by providing early access to positive experiences for children in sports, physical education, and active play.

According to Baroness Grey-Thompson, “The threat that obesity poses to our society cannot be under-estimated.  I am delighted that the different sectors who can effect a change in this area have come together to give evidence, and with their guidance I hope that we can raise awareness of the importance of physical activity and start work on helping to eradicate the obesity epidemic.”

Dr Huppert commented: “Inactivity poses huge problems for our health, and yet far too many of us do very little physical activity, if any. It’s not about being a top sportsperson, it’s about doing something regularly – something we can all manage.

“We can all walk or cycle more often, find time to go for a swim or a jog, or join a local sports club. It’s not hard and it does matter.

“Otherwise, we will continue to face growing obesity levels, more diabetes and other illnesses, worsening our health and how we will be able to live our lives when we are older. It also costs the country a huge amount of money!

“We should all make sure that we are physically active, and that our children are too.”

Among sports stars lending their support to the report is former world road champion Mark Cavendish, who in an article published by The Sun [£] yesterday called on parents to take their children to the park rather than letting them sit at home playing computer games.

Double Olympic champion Lord Coe, who was chair of the London 2012 organising committee, gave evidence to the commission and writing in The Daily Telegraph today gave a stark warning of the consequences of failing to address the issue.

He wrote: “Today’s children are the least active generation in history.

"They also might be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

“That’s not progress, that’s moving backwards, and physical inactivity may be a bigger culprit than we think.”

Lord Coe went on: “The price we pay is high. Inactive children don’t perform as well in school and are less likely to go to university.

“As they reach their adult years, they won’t be as happy, healthy or productive as they would be if they had played during childhood.”

Remaining active in adulthood also has benefits and not purely physical ones – last week, we reported on a a study that found that people who regularly take part in activities such as cycling or running while aged in their 20s have a better memory once they reach their 40s or 50s, and may be at lower risk of dementia.

Today’s report also has the backing of organisations including the sustainable transport charity Sustrans as well as the FA Premier League, the Lawn Tennis Association, the British Heart Foundation, The Young Foundation and sportswear giant, Nike.

Malcolm Shepherd, chief executive of Sustrans, said: “The easiest and single most effective way of increasing physical activity is to transform our daily journeys to school, work or leisure into active journeys by walking or cycling.

“The average primary school journey is just 1.5 miles – the perfect distance to walk or cycle. If eight out of ten primary school journeys were made by bike or on foot, many of our physical activity ambitions would be realised.

“Making the public realm welcoming for walking and cycling is the key to increasing physical activity. This means simple things such as better pavements and cycle lanes, lower speeds and a public commitment to funding for active travel.”

20 user comments

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More hot air Yawn
Maybe this committee should read the article about the Coventry motorist who killed a cyclist or other articles where cyclists and pedestrians have been killed and held to be partially responsible, in particular, why they were held to be responsible.
Then stand outside my local primary school in the morning At Wits End
The first thing that Parliament should do is make it an offence to park on the pavement (not just obstruct, this has too obscure a meaning). Then make it an offence for the Police to ignore parking on the pavement!

posted by SideBurn [873 posts]
8th April 2014 - 11:35

39 Likes

SideBurn wrote:
More hot air Yawn
Maybe this committee should read the article about the Coventry motorist who killed a cyclist or other articles where cyclists and pedestrians have been killed and held to be partially responsible, in particular, why they were held to be responsible.
Then stand outside my local primary school in the morning At Wits End
The first thing that Parliament should do is make it an offence to park on the pavement (not just obstruct, this has too obscure a meaning). Then make it an offence for the Police to ignore parking on the pavement!

+1
They actually block my road in the mornings and afternoon parking on the pavements that already have double yellow lines, and yes, the police drive past.

posted by Mart [109 posts]
8th April 2014 - 11:52

30 Likes

SideBurn wrote:

The first thing that Parliament should do is make it an offence to park on the pavement (not just obstruct, this has too obscure a meaning). Then make it an offence for the Police to ignore parking on the pavement!

Trouble is, they'd then have to make it an offence for the police to ignore the police ignoring parking on the pavement!

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [753 posts]
8th April 2014 - 12:01

25 Likes

Make it an offence to drive a child to school.

nowasps's picture

posted by nowasps [263 posts]
8th April 2014 - 12:22

24 Likes

Every new housing estate must be built for pedestrians and cyclists first, every business and retail park must be designed with non car users in mind. How often do you go to an out of town store and realise that there is no way across the car park accept by walking amongst cars. There are no pedestrian walk ways, likewise where are the cycle racks?

It is not just pedestrians and cyclists though, consider how crap public transport is for the vast majority of the UK, try getting around. I can't viably get to work by bus, a distance of 16miles. Where I used to work a distance of 8 if you worked 9-5 you were ok to travel centre to centre of neighbouring towns. However due to someone! if you needed to get more than one bus you would be forced to use multiple companies with non transferable tickets. If you wanted to use the train that would be another ticket. All the while making life far more difficult than it need be.

As for Train fares!!! if you want to compete with the convenience of cars you have to make the turn up fair competitive.

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1366 posts]
8th April 2014 - 12:46

28 Likes

nowasps wrote:
Make it an offence to drive a child to school.

As a child I lived for a while in rural Dorset. It was 11 miles away from my school. The bus didn't run through our village. I was driven in the winter and cycled in the summer.

Try to imagine that there are places where kids live that aren't right next to schools or on bus routes or that sending your child out to stand on a rural road in mid winter at 7am when the bus comes through might not be best idea. And that just because the bus runs at that time doesn't mean they'll be allowed into school premises if they arrive too early nor may they be allowed to wait in school premises if they have to wait for a bus. And that parents have jobs and that sometimes the best way to get kids to school is to take them there in the car.

BTW my kids cycled at least when they were at secondary school. I think that's a good thing for them. But that's because we live 2 miles from school and they don't have to negotiate any dual carriageways or major roundabouts.

It also doesn't follow that kids who get a ride to school are obese. My son's friend used to be driven to school and is now a national level athlete.

Easy answers to difficult questions should be treated with caution.

Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand.

posted by oozaveared [745 posts]
8th April 2014 - 13:59

24 Likes

mrmo wrote:
Every new housing estate must be built for pedestrians and cyclists first, every business and retail park must be designed with non car users in mind.

The trouble with Britain is that for the most part it has already been built. There is no "Orange Juice"* solution to most of it other than to re-engineer when the maintenance is done.

Even then it's more complicated than that. People own cars and use them. They have taken jobs, decided where to live and built lives around assumptions on infrastructure and a lot of it on car use.

If I am Barratt Homes and my customers want parking spaces and more than one per house is needed in many cases then there's no point me building a housing estate without any parking that no one wants to buy a house on. The same goes for social housing. You want people to have a job then in a lot of cases that means having a car or a van. Likewise retail parks are usually edge of town / out of town places. People are buying large items or the weekly shop. They bring their cars. Parking is a priority. If it's difficult then people will go somewhere else where it isn't.

You can't just wave a magic wand and undo a century of planning and development.

* Rip it up and start again" was a 1983 hit for the Scottish post punk band Orange Juice.

Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand.

posted by oozaveared [745 posts]
8th April 2014 - 14:19

18 Likes

This post is just describing how a lot of Britain is. Most of us want to see change. It's not going to be really easy, and it's not going to happen immediately, but it can be done. The problem at the moment is that not enough is being done by government and local authorities to make a start on change.

posted by HarrogateSpa [133 posts]
8th April 2014 - 14:54

16 Likes

oozaveared wrote:
* Rip it up and start again" was a 1983 hit for the Scottish post punk band Orange Juice.

I did wonder how many were old enough (and sad enough?) to get the reference

Your point is well made - however new housing schemes and business/retail parks *are* still being built without this very simple logic applied

It's no silver bullet - but surely it's just common sense from this point onwards

Buddha said:

Believe nothing, No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it, Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense.

mad_scot_rider's picture

posted by mad_scot_rider [567 posts]
8th April 2014 - 15:02

13 Likes

I'm 27 and I got the reference.... Nerd

Dapper Giles's picture

posted by Dapper Giles [58 posts]
8th April 2014 - 15:05

20 Likes

oozaveared wrote:

The trouble with Britain is that for the most part it has already been built. There is no "Orange Juice"* solution to most of it other than to re-engineer when the maintenance is done.

Even then it's more complicated than that. People own cars and use them. They have taken jobs, decided where to live and built lives around assumptions on infrastructure and a lot of it on car use.

Agree, but if you don't start to make the change, if you don't start to give options nothing changes. Chicken and egg.

If it is perceived as too unsafe to cycle you have to do something to change that perception. If something means that all new estates pay attention to pedestrians and cyclists you are starting to work on the solution. These are relatively easy things to do because you have a blank canvas. Retro-fitting to older estates will always pose more of a challenge.

In the same way there are rule about parking spaces, introduce rules about cycle spaces, about domestic storage.

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1366 posts]
8th April 2014 - 15:40

13 Likes

HarrogateSpa wrote:
This post is just describing how a lot of Britain is. Most of us want to see change. It's not going to be really easy, and it's not going to happen immediately, but it can be done. The problem at the moment is that not enough is being done by government and local authorities to make a start on change.

and @ Mad Scot Rider Mrmo and Dapper Giles.

I'm not against change. Far from it. My point was two fold.

1 That you can mandate some change on newly designed stuff but we live with a legacy that is already built.

2 That even when you want to mandate change on new builds there are market forces and societal inertia that may stop you being too radical.

There is no point mandating a chancge on new builds if developers walk away because clients won't pay for housing or retail units that don't reflect the needs of the users including the need for car parking and vehicle access.

You'll only get significant change if you take people with you on an incremental and quite long journey.

Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand.

posted by oozaveared [745 posts]
8th April 2014 - 16:01

15 Likes

Something you can do at very low cost is introduce or increase filtered permeability in residential areas to prevent through traffic and rat runs. You can still drive, but you have to go the really long way around. Or you can cycle or walk the short way. New builds simply shouldn't have on-street parking - underground garages or off-street parking only. Introduce residents parking schemes too. We need to make car use as unattractive as possible and return to safe, liveable streets.

posted by teaboy [187 posts]
8th April 2014 - 16:20

31 Likes

FluffyKittenofTindalos wrote:
SideBurn wrote:

The first thing that Parliament should do is make it an offence to park on the pavement (not just obstruct, this has too obscure a meaning). Then make it an offence for the Police to ignore parking on the pavement!

Trouble is, they'd then have to make it an offence for the police to ignore the police ignoring parking on the pavement!

It is illegal to park on the pavement unless it is specifically allowed. Think about it: How did the car get to where it was parked with two wheels on the pavement? Yep! It was driven there.

The same Act which says you can't cycle on the pavement also prevents all other vehicles from driving on the pavement. It's not new laws we need but the will to enforce the ones we already have!

posted by levermonkey [395 posts]
8th April 2014 - 17:22

18 Likes

For crying out loud - you are allowed, unfortunately to park on pavements if there are no restrictions like yellow lines etc. A car could theoretically drive down a pavement if there are no restrictions. Providing you don't block the pavement totally, you can park on it. That's obstruction.

It is not about being specifically allowed - it is about being specifically not allowed ie coloured lines that tell you of parking/stopping restrictions. That's why they are there.

Its not right but what can you do. A car should stay on the road and not on pavements regardless of whether there is restrictions or not. Preferibally I think cars should be limited on the roads as well.

posted by Ciaran Patrick [119 posts]
8th April 2014 - 18:31

14 Likes

So did I! exactly 11 miles from door to door (owermoigne to weymouth) and in the winter I rode my bike, and in the summer I rode my bike - choosing to run the distance once per week for fun!

The bus was once per week!

Racer 074 for the 2014 Transcontinental Race; 2,000 miles from London to Istanbul.

http://themartincox.co.uk/2014/03/racer-074-transcontinental-race-2014/

posted by themartincox [383 posts]
8th April 2014 - 19:49

20 Likes

A short time ago I received a very polite letter from the Police saying there have been complaints about obstruction caused by parking on the pavement. Can people be more considerate etc.
For days there were only a handful of cars parked on the pavement, two of which I saw with tickets on.
Since then it is business as usual with the pavements blocked with cars. No more tickets, nobody cares... well someone does! Because someone complained!
So many people do it regardless of yellow lines it has become normal.
I am not asking for major change, just enforcing our existing law in a way that does not make the non-car driver feel like a second class citizen is a good start. This should not cost anything. Rather amusingly there are a number of (expensive) empty car parks in town, whilst you can park for free in the High Street Rolling On The Floor Parking in the empty car-park will cause you to walk hundreds of feet Angry
The public transport around here seems to have been designed to discourage people using it At Wits End
I would certainly hate to be without my cars, I do not know what you would have to do to get me out of them.

posted by SideBurn [873 posts]
8th April 2014 - 20:04

21 Likes

One way to help kids to avoid obesity ?
Why do they get free travel on the buses in London ?
Stop that privilege, or at least restrict it to hours not connected with school travel.
It makes them lazy, and the system unusable for others around the time of start and end of school times.
Most of them get on for one or two stops.
At Beckton, the people coming out of Asda with their shopping are lucky to get on a bus once the yobs from the school opposite the library are out and about.

Enjoy

posted by cisgil23 [49 posts]
8th April 2014 - 20:51

9 Likes

oozaveared wrote:
nowasps wrote:
Make it an offence to drive a child to school.

As a SNIP
Easy answers to difficult questions should be treated with caution.

And the road to hell is paved with people making absolutely excellent and irrefutable explanations for why nothing should change.

Your children's children won't be riding anywhere because it's "not safe", because of the logical choices you've laid out.

Personally I don't care so much about your children's children as I do about _my_ child that is probably not going to be able to cycle to school because of all the other rationalists like yourself.

Unlike them we've chosen to live in a house which doesn't appeal to us on every level, but does allow us to walk (to school and buses) and cycle (to work).

posted by Ush [437 posts]
9th April 2014 - 0:20

11 Likes

As admirable as the intentions of some of the suggestion are, are they really realistic. The car is here to stay and sadly as the priority vehicle.
It isnt sudden and massive step changes that will make the difference but gradual incremental steps. The first two need to be:
1. Education
2. The police having zero tolerance for all the idiots on or around the roads no matter of the prefered mode of transport. There are idiots who walk/ride or drive with zero consideration to anyone else. Remove these and the roads become alot safer and pleasant for all.

posted by SB76 [90 posts]
9th April 2014 - 13:23

3 Likes