A shortage of revenue funding for promoting active travel in Wales risks a political backlash against investment in cycling and walking routes, the Welsh Local Government Association has warned.
The pioneering Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 focuses on the infrastructure needed to encourage walking and cycling. However, the WLGA said capital investment must be supported by revenue funding for both maintenance and travel behaviour change campaigns.
“Local authorities are finding it difficult to fund any local promotion,” the WLGA told a National Assembly for Wales committee. “Most communications/engagement budgets have been reduced significantly across most local authorities.
“This has meant that the consultation processes that have happened have sometimes struggled to reach beyond the already active and understand what the rest of the community needs to become more active.
“Without this parallel behaviour change process there is a danger that where infrastructure is developed and not well used, it becomes a stick to beat local elected members with, as a sign of wasteful investment.
“This will potentially negatively influence the local approach to this type of work. If there is no provision for maintenance and the routes deteriorate, this will only exacerbate the situation.”
Transport secretary Ken Skates told the committee that the Government’s active travel board had talked about the split between capital and revenue funding. “It’s something I’m considering as part of the review of wider support for active travel.”
He said persuading people to change their behaviour would “take most of our effort”, from across the public sector and private businesses. He was disappointed by recent statistics showing a decline in active travel by young people since the Act was passed, and there was a risk of a widening gap between people who were physically active, as they had been for some years, and those who were not.
Skates compared the challenge to the change in attitudes to recycling, often led by young people. Committee member Lee Waters, a Labour AM and formerly director of Sustrans Cymru, said the recycling success was achieved through 15 years of big campaigns, but there was no central resource to promote behaviour change on active travel.
Skates disagreed. “The central resource idea is somewhat redundant because we have so many potential partners to drive active travel,” he said. “The promotion is coming from so many, but it’s not co-ordinated, necessarily, in the right way.
“We fund a number of organisations to promote active travel and promote the purpose of active travel. So the central resource is being used, I don’t think it can be said there is insufficient central resource.”
Skates said schools and Public Health Wales ran numerous programmes promoting physical activity but Waters suggested they were at “a trickle level”.
Skates said resources, particularly from public health budgets, should be channelled into those support systems that had proven records of returning on the public purse. “To a great extent, we’re going to become more ruthless in terms of the organisations and the schemes that we fund … because we need to be funding on the basis of the outcomes.”
Skates said updated design guidance supporting the Active Travel Act would be published in May. This is being led by consultant Phil Jones Associates.
TfW recruits active travel team
Transport for Wales is to take on staff who will provide expert help for councils delivering the Active Travel Act.
TfW, owned by the Welsh Government, has so far concentrated on public transport, primarily procurement of the next Welsh rail franchise.
But Rhodri Griffiths, the Government’s deputy director of transport policy, planning and partnerships, told the Assembly that, as the active travel focus shifted from policy work to delivery, TfW needed a “mandate to deliver that expertise”, supplementing the Government’s transport department and the wider team across Government.
Transport secretary Ken Skates said: “They will be taking on that expertise.”
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