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Wales struggles to meet self-imposed cycling targets

Government fighting high levels of obesity and ill-health

Wales is struggling in its bid to get more people to walk and cycle according to statistics released by the Welsh government in an interim bulletin about its Walking & Cycling Action Plan for Wales 2009 – 2013.

The Principality has communities which suffer from some of the highest levels of obesity and ill-health in the UK, often, but not exclusively, in communities where mining has disappeared to be replaced all-too-often by long-term unemployment.

Recognising that things have to change, the Welsh government set some ambitious but not unrealistic targets for the period from 2009 to 2013 to address the issue of an overly-sedentary population.

By encouraging children and adults to integrate walking and cycling into their lives both for leisure and as a general mode of transport, the country's politicians and health professionals hope to address a situation in which, according to the Welsh Health Survey (2008), over half of men (62%) and women (53%) are classified as overweight or obese, the proportions rising to 72% and 62%, respectively among 45-64 year olds.

One of the targets is to treble the number of Welsh children cycling to school from a baseline in 2006 of, ages 7-11: 2% and ages 11-16: 1%.

The latest research suggests that currently 1-2% of children aged 16 and under are cycling to and from school on an average day. So basically no change there.

The news for the number of people cycle-commuting to work – where the target was also to triple the baseline figure – is not much better. From a figure of 1.4% in 2007, the percentage of Welsh employees pedalling to their place of work now stands at 1.6%.

While the number of men regularly riding to work has gone up from 1.9% in 2007 to 2.8% in 2010 the corresponding figure for women has dropped from 0.7% to 0.3%.

As for the target of doubling the number of those cycling for recreation in Wales from a baseline in 2004/5 of 5% there has been some progress and while no up-to-date figure is available the 2008/09 figure is 8%.

A government spokesperson said: "The Welsh government is currently prioritising the National Transport Plan and following that exercise we will review the Walking and Cycling Action Plan including the targets.

"Although the most recent statistics made available are interim we will also be looking to assess the suitability of the data sources used to ensure that we have accurate information to monitor the targets effectively.

"Work is also ongoing to introduce a bill that will legislate to put a duty on Local Highways Agencies to provide and maintain cycle paths which will help make walking and cycling a more practical and enjoyable option."

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