Welsh government blocks bike paths

Political stalemate blocks move to create more Welsh walking and cycling routes

by Tony Farrelly   January 22, 2009  

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The attempt by a Welsh Assembly committee to force Welsh councils to develop and maintain a network of paths for walkers and cyclists is being blocked by the Welsh Transport Minister despite the move having the backing of a wide range of organisations including Sustrans, BT, Royal Mail, the British Medical Association, Age Concern, Play Wales, and the National Union of Teachers.

Welsh Transport Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones is expected to tell the Assembly Committee on Thursday why he is blocking the legislative competence order (LCO). Unofficially though, the reason being given is that the Welsh Assembly government is unwilling to send any more LCOs up to Westminster because it has sent so many already.

At the moment local authorities have the legal ability to create traffic-free paths, but they do not have a duty to build and maintain them – essentially they can do it, but many won't unless forced.

Now the Children's Commissioner for Wales has added his support to the proposed change in the law.

In a letter issued to members of the Enterprise and Learning Committee, Children’s Commissioner for Wales Keith Towler said : “A legal duty on Highway Authorities to develop and maintain a network of traffic-free routes could make a positive difference to the lives of children and young people in Wales. It could benefit their general health and well-being, tackle childhood obesity, provide safer routes to schools and greater access to play areas.

“It is also refreshing to note that children and young people’s issues have been raised in what might traditionally be seen as an adult-dominated arena.”

Lee Waters, National Director of Sustrans Cymru, said: "This is the first time a proposal has come forward from civil society under the Welsh Assembly's new law making powers. It has the support of organisations representing businesses, children, older people, health experts and a range of environmental charities. And we are delighted that the Children's Commissioner for children in Wales has now added his independent voice.

“To encourage people to walk and cycle more often we need a network of well-maintained traffic-free paths. Left to their own devices Highway Engineers will not put pedestrians and cyclists first. Our proposal will help address the problems that the Assembly Government is committed to address. Now is the time for ministers to follow through.”

Campaigners like Mr Waters fear tht If the Assembly Government block the first initiative to come from civil society it will send a signal to the voluntary sector that there is very little point petitioning the Welsh Assembly for change because it is unlikely to do anything for fear of causing administrative difficulties in Whitehall.