Active Travel — [Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:46 am on 9th July 2019.

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Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Minister of State (Department for Transport) 10:46 am, 9th July 2019

I am happy to explore that issue. I will ask my officials to liaise with Highways England about it, and I will write to the hon. Lady.

Our ambition is to make cycling and walking the natural choices for short journeys, or as part of longer journeys, by 2040. That ambition will be realised through the statutory cycling and walking investment strategy. The strategy represents a shift in approach from the short-term, stop-start and spasmodic interventions of previous Governments, which were referred to by hon. Members, and towards a strategic, long-term approach up to and beyond 2040.

In the short term, the Government have set an aim to double cycling activity to 1.6 billion stages per year, increase walking to 300 stages per person per year, and increase the percentage of children aged five to 10 who usually walk to school to 55% by 2025. Far from a lack of investment, this Conservative Government have massively increased the budget and the ambitions for cycling and active travel generally.

We know what the benefits are, but it is worth rehearsing them. Increased levels of active travel have huge benefits, including for health, mental health and wellbeing; road congestion; air quality; economic productivity, which was mentioned by Ruth Cadbury; and increased footfall in shops. For society as a whole, it means lower congestion, better air quality and more vibrant and attractive places and communities. As a former tourism and heritage Minister, I recognise that attractive places help with wellbeing, but also help economies.

In relation to health, illness as an outcome of physical inactivity costs the NHS up to £1 billion per annum, with further indirect costs calculated at £8.2 billion per annum. As forms of physical activity, cycling and walking can and do provide particularly high benefits for physical and mental health. Walking or cycling for just 10 minutes a day can contribute towards the 150 minutes of physical activity that we want adults to do per week, as recommended by the chief medical officer.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Witney, who called this debate, recognises that our aims and targets are challenging, particularly that of doubling cycling activity within five or six years, by 2025. Achieving our ambitions requires co-ordination of a complex delivery chain comprising Government Departments, yes, but also agencies, third sector organisations and hundreds of local authorities.