Warwickshire takes action to make cycling and walking ‘the norm’

Warwickshire residents are being encouraged to ditch the car as part of Department of Transport funded projects, led by Warwickshire County Council, to make healthier forms of transport, like walking and cycling, the norm for short journeys and for accessing public transport.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), the government’s health advisory body, recently called upon local councils to do more to make walking and cycling an easier option in local communities, in the face of what it calls a “silent epidemic” of inactivity posing a risk to the health of people in England.

Warwickshire County Council has been successful in securing funds from the Department of Transport’s Local Sustainable Travel Fund. £300,000 has been awarded to improve accessibility to Warwick and Leamington Spa train stations and increase the number of people using sustainable transport, like cycling, to get there.

A further £500,000 has been secured as part of the Stratford Parkway project and will be spent on improving access and encouraging the use of sustainable travel at Stratford Parkway station and within the town when the station opens next year.

Both projects are being rolled out with a number of events and initiatives, under the banner of “Choose How You Move Warwickshire”.

Warwickshire’s annual Quality of Life report, published recently, says that although levels of traffic in an area can be an indicator of economic vitality, there are negative impacts too, particularly on people’s health and their overall quality of life.

NICE believes people should shun their cars if a trip could be done in 15 or 20 minutes on foot or bike. Dr Harry Rutter, who led the NICE study, says “Only a minority of people in England get enough physical activity to improve their health. Walking and cycling – to work, to school, to the shops or elsewhere – can make a huge difference.”

The advisory body says local authorities need to take action, as levels of inactivity are costing lives. Latest figures suggest that, nationally, six in 10 men and seven in 10 women are not doing the recommended levels of physical activity.

In Warwickshire, one in four adults is estimated to be obese, which equates to nearly 110,000 people.

Warwickshire’s funding will be used to improve cycle and pedestrian access to Leamington Spa, Warwick and the new Stratford Parkway train stations. According to the Quality of Life report, the number of train journeys made to, from and within Warwickshire is already on the up, and rose to 6.56 million in 2011/12, an increase of 8%.

Cllr Peter Butlin, WCC’s Portfolio Holder for Highways and Transport, said: “Better health for local people is just one of the very important outcomes we want to achieve in Warwickshire, using the Local Sustainable Travel Fund money we’ve been awarded by the Department of Transport.

“Our hope is that by improving access by bike and foot to our train stations, we will see an increase in levels of physical activity, helping to tackle the growing issue of obesity.”

The projects are already underway, with free bike servicing events being held recently for cyclists at Leamington Train Station who use their bikes and the train to commute to work. Next year, cycle parking at Leamington station will be increased, and in Warwick there will be footpath and cycle path improvements around the station.

The opening of the new Stratford Parkway station next year will see the introduction of bike hire and the installation of a cyclist-friendly Toucan crossing to help people get to the station. More cycling events, such as organised group bike rides from Warwickshire’s train stations, are also planned.

The council will also be linking up with Walkit.com, the urban walking route planner, as well as launching a new travel website for the county. New town travel maps are being produced for Stratford, Leamington and Warwick. These will also be produced for other Warwickshire towns in the future.

Cllr Peter Butlin concludes: “We welcome the report by NICE, as it echoes the findings of our own Quality of Life report in Warwickshire, and we feel we’re one step ahead of other local authorities in our efforts to make walking and cycling an easier option for our residents.”

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