Beyond the red line: making active travel work in Wales

Active travel advocate and Director of CEWales, Andrew Brown, explains how active travel in Wales will only truly happen if project teams think beyond the red line of their developments

Active travel is an inherently good thing. All of us benefit from exercise and movement – that’s why, even during the worst times of the pandemic, we are encouraged to get out of our houses and walk, run or cycle.

It’s why the Welsh Government introduced the Active Travel (Wales) Act in 2013 and it’s why more funds have been allocated and new guidance provided. So, does the construction industry understand it? Are the principles of Active Travel Act applied at every opportunity?

Research I did at the end of 2019 and early 2020 indicated that aside from some pockets of excellence there was a lot more that could be done and much of the responsibility falls to the construction supply chain – from clients like councils and private developers to the contractors laying kerbs and paving slabs.

Movement is fundamental to human wellbeing, and our modern sedentary lifestyles are a health catastrophe. Our sedentary living now kills more people than obesity. Scientists call activity ‘The Miracle Pill’ – if you could turn incidental daily movement into a drug, it would be the most valuable pill in the world. Most people know physical activity is good for us. And yet 1.5 billion people around the world are so inactive they are at greater risk of everything from heart disease to diabetes, cancer, arthritis and depression, even dementia.

Developers, designers, planners and contractors should be building for future generations and designing in active travel. When we build a new school, hospital or housing development or create a new station the development will only truly succeed if it is connected to the community it serves.

That means making sure active travel is at the core of the project. It means understanding the critical role that the transport infrastructure sector plays in promoting healthy and active lives. Done right integrated infrastructure planning can promote active lifestyles and creates active, social places.

Lack of resource, politics and budget is cited as one reason active travel is not designed and built into schemes. But another major reason is short term, narrow thinking. Clients, contractors, their consultants and design teams have to think beyond the immediate project and determine how it connects with the communities and facilities around it. It is called thinking beyond the red line.

Everything we build in Wales – not just public sector projects – should be delivered with the health and wellbeing of the communities in mind. But to do it right, designers, planners and construction supply chains must think, plan, design and build beyond the boundary of a scheme – we need to go beyond the red line.

The Welsh Government has made clear its desire for a modern, connected infrastructure that supports wellbeing and a sustainable environment – and transport plays a key role. The Well-being of Future Generations Act, the Active Travel (Wales) Act and the revised Welsh Transport Appraisal Guidance (WelTAG) all send the same message: Wales must work towards transport solutions that support the wellbeing of people and planet.

How do we achieve these goals? It’s critical that construction organisations and their clients understand the importance of active travel and how to apply it to their work.

CEWales is looking to run a webinar in early March with support from Welsh Government to highlight the goals of the Active Travel Act, its new guidance, and point to ways to deliver work beyond the red line of developments to make sure we connect our communities and our construction projects to create active, social places.

Wales must be a healthier place. Daily, constant activity was an integral part of humanity for millennia, but in just a few decades movement was virtually designed out of people’s lives, fetishised as chore — “exercise” – or a pursuit reserved for an elite athletic minority. That has to change, and CEWales wants to help the construction sector play its part in creating an active, healthier Wales.