HC Deb 24 January 2002 vol 378 cc315-56WH

[Relevant documents: Eleventh Report from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee Session 2000–01, HC 167–1, and the Government's response thereto, CM 5277.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Ainger.]

2.30 pm
Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to introduce this debate on the Select Committee's report on walking in towns and cities. I record my appreciation of the hard work of the other members of the Committee, of the Clerk and all the other people in the Clerk's Department who helped us to prepare it. In particular, I thank our advisers, Tim Pharaoh and Rodney Tolley, who gave us a great deal of advice during our inquiry.

This inquiry was part of the Select Committee's continuing work in the last Parliament. We looked into all the issues around urban renaissance, such as allotments, parks, cemeteries and public spaces, and the urban White Paper. Returning to walking was another opportunity for us to look at all the issues surrounding the public environment.

A contradiction has developed in the past 40 years, in that many of us can say that we have become much more a part of a global village. We have friends and acquaintances all over the world yet many of us know little about the people who live down our street. Our lives have become more fragmented; work, shopping and leisure activities all take place increasingly further apart.

The fragmentation of our lives works perfectly well, but only up to a point, and that is the crucial issue. Such fragmentation places extreme demands on resources. Air travel guzzles up fuel, and along with car travel, it is a major cause of global warming. Furthermore, a lot of people are excluded from that global village and the fragmentation of our daily lives is inefficient.

I would argue that the key is to start reassembling the urban environment to reduce the amount of travel that people have to do. Is it really necessary that people have to travel 30 or 40 miles at the weekend to go to a country park, so that they can stroll for 15 minutes, because the local park is in such an appalling state? Do we really need to have people travelling along a traffic-snarled motorway to get to some out-of-town shopping centre because we have destroyed the local high street? Do we want to have out-of-town cemeteries or crematoriums because the space in local cemeteries has been used up? Is it logical for people to drive to a fitness centre to walk on a treadmill because the local street is covered in dog fouling and litter, and it is such a yucky place that people do not want to walk there? Once we start thinking about those issues, it is really a question of putting our environment back together. Once we start talking about putting our environment back together, we see that walking is a central issue.

Let us face it—walking is efficient. For journeys up to half a mile, it is quicker than almost anything else, even the bicycle. If one takes into account the time that it takes to get the bicycle out and then lock it up, walking is more efficient for short journeys. Walking is very cheap. I suppose that one has to pay eventually for the shoe leather, but apart from that it costs nothing. Walking is also available the instant one wants it. There is no question of queuing for the bus or having to wait; it is right there. Walking is efficient.

Probably the most important thing for our inquiry was the reminder to everyone that walking is healthy. One of the worst public health problems in this country is the number of people who suffer from heart disease yet we are told that one of the best ways of preventing heart disease is to have two 15-minute walks a day. That is a relatively short walk, but it will do more to improve health and keep heart disease at bay than almost anything else.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

I know that the hon. Gentleman sets a good example because he walks a great deal for leisure. Will he tell us how far his Committee walked during the inquiry?

Andrew Bennett

I can surprise the hon. Gentleman; the Committee visited Europe and the members were very good. They walked a substantial amount. One or two members of the Committee are not built for walking, but some of the members walked a considerable distance. Although it is easy for MPs to cast stones at others, the way in which the Palace of Westminster is laid out encourages walking. The distance that an MP walks in the building during the day is surprising. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Committee walked a substantial distance while considering the issues.

Walking is healthy, and it is educational. If one goes into the centre of London and walks about, one can see a marvellous collection of stones and rocks that have been used in the buildings. It is an opportunity to have a walking geology lesson. Couch potatoes could watch "Changing Rooms" or "Ground Force", or they could walk around the neighbourhood and stare without too much trouble into other people's front rooms and see what colour of decoration they have, look at the work that they are doing in their gardens, and talk to them as well. Walking is an enjoyable and social activity.

The Committee discovered that during recent years, walking had declined as an activity. It has decreased by 13 per cent. during the past 15 years. I have some reservations about the figures. If I travel to the local hardware shop, I will walk for about a quarter of a mile, there and back. If I tick a statistical box, that counts as a walking trip. However, if I travel to B&Q by car, that counts as a car journey. However, when I arrive at B&Q, unless I am lucky, I find a substantial number of other cars in the car park, and by the time that I have walked across the car park, and then up and down the aisles, I have probably walked further than I did to the hardware shop. I am sceptical about the figures. It is standard for a Select Committee to ask for better statistics, but it would be helpful if we had more information.

However, there is obvious evidence that walking is declining. For most parents and grandparents, it is a tremendous thrill to see their 16-month-old child making those first stuttering steps across the carpet. Most youngsters have learned to walk efficiently by the age of two. The trouble is that, by the time they are five or six, they have decided that walking is not fashionable, and that the best thing to do is to persuade parents to ferry them around in cars to school, to see their friends, to parties and everywhere else.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South)

The nub of the matter is that in parents' eyes it is safer to drive the children to school than to let them walk. Is that not one of the areas that we looked at?

Andrew Bennett

It certainly is. In fact, the next point on my list is the urban environment. Too often, it is a hostile jungle for walkers—adults and, even more so, youngsters. Sadly, in this country, there are about 10 deaths from road accidents each day, and a large proportion of the victims are pedestrians. We should work much harder to make the urban environment safe for children and adults.

In far too many areas, there are narrow pavements and railings. We cannot do it this afternoon—we are not allowed to—but it would be interesting for us all to walk towards the abbey and watch people crossing the road. They have to go through a series of pens and are allowed to cross only one bit at a time, supposedly for their safety. We should also remember that, while people are corralled in pens, waiting to cross the road, they are subject to the worst of diesel and petrol fumes. Whether young children are in a pram or holding an adult's hand, their heads are almost exactly at the level of the exhaust pipes.

What can be done to encourage walkers and reclaim the urban environment for them? One of the most important initiatives is pedestrianisation. It is possible to carry out successful pedestrianisation schemes that would make the urban environment in town centres much more attractive. The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) asked how far the Committee had walked. One of the places that we visited was Milan. On a very cold day, the Committee walked a substantial distance through the centre of Milan in a pedestrianised area. Traffic going from one side of the city to the other is completely cut out. The city also has pedestrianised areas in some local neighbourhoods.

If it is possible for a city such as Milan to have a pedestrianised core, why not London? After great fanfare, the Mayor of London's plan for a pedestrianised area from the National Gallery to Parliament has been watered down to merely removing the buses from the front of the National Gallery. Just think how it would have changed the centre of London to be able to walk in a pedestrianised area from the National Gallery, across Trafalgar square and down Whitehall to Parliament. At present, Parliament square is a barren area.

Bob Russell (Colchester)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such a scheme would make it very difficult for Ministers' cars to get to the Houses of Parliament?

Andrew Bennett

There is a simple solution—let Ministers walk. It would be perfectly reasonable for the Prime Minister to come out of Downing street and walk to Westminster. I suspect that it would be as efficient as using a car. Of course, there is the slight problem of Members of Parliament getting their cars into the car park, but such problems are solved in other cities. Parliament square, which is no more than a grotty roundabout, could be opened up. We could have stone paving in the centre of it.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

I speak as someone who regularly commutes by rail to Westminster. In defence of the Prime Minister, there are security concerns around his walking in central Westminster. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a fascinating point, and I hope that the Minister will make a commitment to give up his car and walk between his Department and Westminster.

Andrew Bennett

I will not push the Minister. However, Parliament square could be an attractive place for people. At present, I do not think that anyone would argue that it is. We could have one or two pavement cafés. Perhaps a café on one corner could do Speaker's teas and one on the other corner could do Lord Chancellor's cream teas.

There can be some humour about these matters, but if we start to look to develop pedestrianised areas, we can make them attractive. A large number of cities across Europe have pedestrianised areas. Why not here? People tell me that one of the reasons why we cannot pedestrianise areas and have pavement cafés and such attractions is the climate in Britain; that it rains too much. That is nonsense. Some of the pavement cafés in big cities in Europe are in wetter and colder places than London, but they still thrive. It is an attitude. I suggest that pedestrianisation can work. The Select Committee heard some good evidence from Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and York that pedestrianisation schemes work, that the local population and visitors like them and that they encourage walking.

To a certain extent, we were pleased with the Government's response to the report. One of the issues is guidance on crossings. I plead with the Minister to look more carefully into giving clear guidance to local authorities on complicated zig—zag crossings. They are expensive, discouraging to walkers and they do not improve safety. We must do more about getting youngsters to use their feet and walk. There have been some successes such as walking buses, in which a group of parents collect children and bring them to school on foot, but a great deal more could be done.

We must make sure that the streets are safer. Fear of crime is part of the problem. The best way to get over it is to make sure that there is not one isolated person but lots of people walking down the street. That creates the feeling that it is safer. Apart from on very crowded streets where there may be pick-pocketing, it makes walking far safer on the whole.

We would like the Government to commit to a national walking strategy. They could edge in that direction. I know that some Ministers claim that they do not want to be known as the Minister for silly walks, but that is a defensive position—[Interruption.]

Mr. Clifton-Brown

The parrot sketch.

Andrew Bennett

I am not sure whether all these comments are going on the record and who is going to be the dead parrot.

When the Committee published its report and some of the evidence, there was some sad feeling about conflict between walkers and cyclists. It seems sad that two groups who do not do well out of the transport strategy in this country should almost be at war.

The hon. Member for Cotswold asked where the Committee went. One of the places was Ferrara—an interesting example of a city which has squeezed out the motor car. It is virtually entirely pedestrianised, with cobbled streets, and cyclists and walkers get on together perfectly well. One member of the Committee could comfortably have been riding a bicycle and would not have looked out of place. I make a plea to walkers and cyclists in urban areas in Britain to get on with each other rather than be in conflict.

One of the problems is that a lot of local authorities have given a low priority to walking so there is a lack of skilled people within local authorities to promote walker-friendly street design. I hope that the Minister can tell us something about what the Government are doing to encourage the development of skills and best practice in local authorities.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

I am not sure whether this matter was covered in the report, but it is important. We must always ensure that pedestrians are properly consulted about traffic calming schemes. There are some areas in which such schemes have become highly controversial and motorists see them as totally negative departures. In such cases, the pedestrian loses both ways. Traffic calming schemes have been changed or ripped up but, more important, we often do not consider from the outset how much safer an area should be for the pedestrian. The relevant authorities must ensure that they listen to pedestrians as well as drivers.

Andrew Bennett

Is it important for the authorities not only to listen to pedestrians but to ensure that they have people with expertise who understand walking. One problem seems to be that local authorities are pushed into big schemes. Expenditure on big bypasses or roads is seen as a priority to which staff will pay much attention, while smaller changes that would make walking more attractive are ignored. We must ensure that local authorities can examine and aggregate a series of schemes in their transport strategies and realise that improving facilities for walkers may be much better value for money than a big scheme.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

The hon. Gentleman has been generous in giving way and is making a thoughtful and serious speech. Does he agree that local planning officers often pay great attention to the number of car parking spaces in new developments but completely ignore the pedestrian? Crime, particularly at night, is a problem, and there are many innovative ways involving architecture by which the risk could be reduced for walkers.

Andrew Bennett

I accept that, and it is important to consider such developments in the round and ensure that it is easy for people to walk to and from them.

I could go through the list of recommendations in the report, but it would not be helpful. I hope that the majority of hon. Members have read the report, and anyone who has not can find it on the Committee website. I commend the report and hope that we hear the Government telling us that they will give higher priority to the encouragement of walking.

2.52 pm
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

I apologise for being a couple of minutes late at the start.

I speak as a member of the Select Committee, but one who was appointed to it after the report was completed and it became the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee rather than the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee. The report is valuable and important, and makes some salient points. I am sorry not to have been around for the inquiry, particularly as I did not have the opportunity to walk round Milan and other cities with the Committee's members.

The report is important for many reasons. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) referred to a variety of issues, including health. As we have seen from many recent reports, obesity and lack of exercise are becoming particular problems in this country, and ones to which I plead at least partially guilty. The lessons in the report are well taken by both Committee members and those outside the House.

As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to raise the issue of health and the contribution that walking can make. Recent statistics show that one in five of the population is officially classified as obese and that obesity is directly linked to several serious and life—threatening illnesses. Tackling the problem will be a fundamental part of improving the quality of health of our society as a whole, and walking is undoubtedly one way of doing that. Our time is precious, we all live in busy environments, and many people have substantial work or family commitments. In a world where sports facilities, such as a gym, are often not close to hand during the routine day, walking has a crucial role to play in improving public health. The charity Weight Concern said recently that Britons could be described as the fat people of Europe. In that context the report is very welcome. It is a timely reminder to the Government and the people of this country of the role that walking can play.

I want to pick up on a number of recommendations in the report. The report is right to cite the changes that have taken place in our urban and suburban environments over the past 30 or 40 years as a significant factor in reducing the amount that people walk. If one looks at the developments that took place in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, it is clear that communities were built around the car. One simply has to look at the way that towns such as Milton Keynes, Warrington and others have been laid out to understand what a driving force the car was in the development of those communities. In later years we have all come to realise that that cannot be the only driver of community development.

Three or four years ago, I went regularly on business to Detroit, and I was struck by the fact that it was almost impossible to cross the road on foot. To go to the shopping mall across the road from the office, one had little choice but to drive, even though it was only a few hundred yards. In this country we would not have thought twice about making that journey on foot. There it was impossible, given the domination of the car in the environment. It would be wrong for future community development in Britain to allow the car to be as dominant as it has been. Equally, we would be wrong to develop without thought for the motor car. As in all things, a proper balance must be struck.

The realisation that the motor car cannot be the only factor in generating community development is one of the reasons why we have seen a change of emphasis over the past 15 years in a number of areas. There has been a resurgence of interest in the railways and in travelling by train, and in the early 1990s trams were reintroduced for a first time in a generation. It is also the reason why walking and access to walking has to be a priority in future developments in our society.

The ability to walk to a local centre is an important part of the development of a new area. An area of new housing has been built to the west of Epsom over the past seven years. It was planned 20 years ago. Residents are profoundly unhappy: effectively a number of linked housing estates have been built on the fringes of Epsom and they want a heart to their community. At the moment there is a debate about the construction of a primary school, but they need more than that. Communities of a substantial size—that one will eventually comprise 5,000 people—need access to a small local shopping centre, public amenities and a general practitioner's surgery. We must learn from what has been done in the past. We must build centres that people can walk to and walk around, as well as simply creating drop-in points for cars. Everyone in those new communities says that they want that and we would be foolish to ignore them.

Given all that, why are the Government taking their current approach to planning? They are enforcing the construction of up to a million new houses in the south-east over the next 15 to 20 years. Similar developments are taking place all around the country, such as an area near to where my family lives in Cheshire, and in the west country. When the plans are turned into real construction sites, the impetus for constructing houses tends to come from developers who buy parcels of land that they eventually push through for development. Local planners sometimes look around until they find the least controversial option for new housing developments. The proposals create the prospect of planning being imposed from the centre. Where is the strategy to create new communities that would support people walking around them rather than driving from centre to centre? Where is the strategy to create an environment that supports walking in small communities? The report rightly states that new housing developments have been and continue to be constructed at the edge of towns or villages at densities too low to support local services. The proposed new housing for the next 15 years will worsen that situation. I hope that the Government, even at this stage, will change their approach to planning and think more about the community implications of their proposals. I hope that the Minister takes that message back to his colleagues.

We need to encourage community development that creates an environment in which people will walk. We also need to concentrate future developments in places where development is integrated with existing communities or creates new communities. The possibility of strengthening village communities, as well as creating new ones, has always existed. Development regenerates areas of our cities; we should not simply build over green land but should bring people back into the heart of the cities, giving them communities around which they can walk and of which they can be part. Doing so will prevent the threat of green areas disappearing and being swamped by increased traffic levels. However, I fear that we will continue with the process that the Committee rightly highlighted of pock-marking new developments around the south-east without any community strategy.

The report also looked at the implications for walking of out-of-town shopping. We should not try to turn back the clock. Whether we like it or not, people do not want the shopping environments of 30 or 40 years ago. They do not want to carry heavy bags of shopping up and down high streets from shop to shop. They want to drive their car to a supermarket, fill the trolley with the week's shopping and drive home again. To believe otherwise is foolish. They want to go to substantial shopping environments, such as Bluewater and Lakeside. One need only look at the queues at such centres at sale times, bank holidays or even just on Saturdays, to know that we cannot go back to the traditional high street as the sole focus of shopping.

I entirely support the principle of encouraging walking, but we must not do so by chasing cars out of town centres; that is the surest way of killing town centres. I am concerned by what the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish said about pedestrianisation—not because it does not have a role to play but because it can have a devastating effect if it is done wrongly. The town centres closest to me—one in my constituency and one just outside—are Epsom and Leatherhead. Some years ago, Leatherhead pedestrianised the whole high street; since then the centre has virtually died. Indeed, the council is now looking at ways of bringing cars back into it. By contrast, Epsom has never pedestrianised its town centre. Some people complain bitterly about the volumes of traffic but Epsom is a noticeably more flourishing shopping centre than Leatherhead.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

I know the town centre in Epsom well because my parents live in Epsom. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's assessment: other factors are also involved in the fact that Leatherhead is going downhill. Epsom, with its one—way system, is an unattractive environment and would benefit from a different traffic scheme, possibly pedestrianisation.

Chris Grayling

I was going to say that I believe in a well-thought-out mix of pedestrianisation. I have specific ideas about how Epsom could achieve that.

In the hon. Gentleman's borough, Sutton, the town centre integrates pedestrianisation well. However, the car is still present. The smaller centres, which endure the competition that centres such as Kingston generate, suffer when they drive the car out of the centre. I look at Leatherhead and think that that was a mistake.

When the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish says that pedestrianisation has to be the way forward, I do not fundamentally disagree, but a balance has to be struck. Pedestrianisation must give the walker greater access to town centres. The old days of walking through town centres on narrow pavements, where one falls off the edge as a bus or a flood of cars rushes past, cannot be right. To drive cars well away from the town centre would kill businesses and push the shoppers into the competing out-of-town centres.

The report is clearly critical of the Government's local transport plans, and the balance between their resourcing of those and large projects at the centre. The Select Committee said: The Government has opted to fund big rather than small schemes in its 10 Year Plan, but does not know which offer the best value for money. This oversight must be addressed. We recommend that the Government ensure that in future a higher proportion of funds in Local Transport Settlements, commensurate with the importance of walking as a mode of transport, be spent on the measures put forward in the National Walking Strategy we propose. That point was reinforced by the Civic Trust in its submission: Unfortunately too much of the money made available through the Ten Year Transport Plan will be directed towards big infrastructure projects that benefit inter-urban travellers. Investment in the walking environment was given a low priority Those two contributions highlight the fact that a balance must be struck between major transport schemes that absorb substantial amounts of money, and locally generated smaller schemes that can make a difference to people's quality of life. Big plans grab headlines and create a sense of dynamism and momentum. The funding required to build Crossrail for London is about £5 billion. However, for the same amount of money, 20 light rail schemes could be built, and for a small proportion of that, hundreds of pedestrian and traffic improvements could be built. As the Government plan spending on transport, they should be mindful of the impact of smaller schemes.

Other barriers to walking are visible to those of us, such as the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who represent urban constituencies. Fear of crime, as the report highlights, is a powerful driver of people off their feet and into cars. If we want people to walk into urban environments, we need tough action on major and minor crime. We must have zero tolerance in town centres because people will not walk around centres if they are constantly bumping into people who are drunk, urinating in the gutter, or behaving in a rowdy manner. That is particularly true of the older generation, who—perhaps wrongly—are intimidated by gangs of young people. Although we have to achieve a common-sense balance in the use of our streets, police officers reassure pedestrians, particularly the older generation, that they are walking in a safe environment.

It is a particular problem in town centres in urban areas that have become centres of entertainment as much as centres of shopping. That is certainly true in Wimbledon, where I lived before, and it is becoming true in Epsom. I imagine that it is also true in Sutton. More and more, centres are becoming a focal point for pubs, clubs and other entertainment facilities. For many centres, that is a necessary transition, because competing with big shopping outlets and big centres such as Kingston is increasingly difficult. Those centres have little option other than to diversify, but they must do so thoughtfully and avoid causing undue disruption to their communities.

Diversification can work only if local people still feel free to walk in their own town centres. That is why community policing is so important, and I pay tribute to Surrey police, who have put an increased focus on getting police on to the streets. We have excellent beat officers in Epsom town centre and around the area, and their presence is extremely important in reassuring pedestrians that they can go out and walk.

It is equally important to tackle problems such as vandalism and graffiti. Whether we are talking about people walking in town centres or down alleyways, if they are in a dirty, unkempt, vandalised and graffiti-ridden environment, they will feel uncomfortable about being there and will be driven off our streets. The Committee's report rightly points that out. The fact that street crime is rising so fast in places such as London is a real concern, even in areas that are not directly affected to the same degree as some of the city's central parts.

Mr. Donohoe

Does the hon. Gentleman concede the point that was made by the Select Committee's Chairman? If more pedestrians were around, that crime would not happen.

Chris Grayling

In making a judgment, we need to consider the reasons for the crime. Clearly, there is a chicken and egg scenario. If more people are around, there is a greater disincentive to crime, but in reality some crimes take place in broad daylight in packed town centres. I am referring to the theft of mobile phones and quick bag snatching. Street crime does not always take place down dark alleyways. In that respect, the presence and visibility of police in an urban centre is particularly important.

The report rightly points out that speed is a serious problem for pedestrians: The proximity to fast-moving traffic is unpleasant for and intimidates pedestrians and it puts many people off walking altogether. I hope that the Government will hear and take seriously that important and salient point. I hope that the Minister will take seriously the Committee's comments on danger reduction, because too often decisions about safety are taken after an accident instead of before. I want us to think about dangerous blackspots for pedestrians before, rather than after, someone is seriously injured or killed.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

My hon. Friend may have raised one of the most important points in the debate. Is he aware that our pedestrian fatality rate of 2.2 per 100,000 walkers is the 10th worst record in Europe? Indeed, a recent report suggested that as many as a third of all deaths of boys between 10 and 14 could be attributed to accidents while walking. Clearly, traffic speed and dangerous driving are very serious issues.

Chris Grayling

My hon. Friend raises a significant issue, which the Select Committee will investigate shortly. I hope that the Government will take careful note of the report and recommendations that arise from that particularly important investigation.

Traffic calming is not always the solution. I am particularly concerned because, under Government guidelines, speed cameras are to be installed after, rather than before, accidents have taken place. I am also concerned about some of the restrictions on highlighting speed limits. Next week, I shall introduce a ten-minute Bill to address the illegality of putting up repeater signs in 30 mph speed limits. That is nonsense, so I hope that the Government will support the Bill, which will give local authorities the right to put 30 mph speed limit repeater signs in areas where they feel that that is appropriate.

Walking requires the space to walk. One of the things that the Committee has learned in its more recent inquiry about the new planning guidelines, PPG17, is the importance of good management of our open spaces. We heard a number of items of evidence, not least that from the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), about the absence in many areas of open spaces. It is a matter of careful thought and planning to ensure that urban open spaces are there, that they are well looked after, and that they are well protected.

Like the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, I praise the many initiatives that have taken place to reduce the number of cars doing the school run. The walking buses in many parts of the country, which the hon. Member mentioned, are an admirable initiative to be commended. With the support of the Government, I also commend those local authorities, like my own in Surrey, that are investing in a new school bus scheme, based on the United States model.

Equally, we must remember that walking to school is not practical for all families. Often parents have children at different schools and have little option but to take the car in the mornings. That means that we must place in the hands of local authorities, adequate resources to make sure that provisions for proper pedestrian crossings close to schools are made for pupils. Recently, there was a tragic case in my constituency where a young girl was killed on a stretch of road that parents had raised concerns about for a number of years. Happily, that stretch of road will now have a pedestrian crossing, but it is tragic when an accident of that kind has to occur to generate the momentum to put one in place.

For a number of years, I have had concerns about cyclists in cities, who pay scant regard to pedestrians. They will go through pedestrian crossings at high speed and when the lights are against them. They will weave in and out of traffic where pedestrians are crossing the road. I would like to see a greater enforcement of our highways regulations for cyclists, as well as motorists.

The report also raised the issue of subsidies for local centres. Should we be providing support—in the way that we do in some places to village shops—to smaller local urban centres? I ask the Minister to look carefully at this issue. I know that it has been a matter of some debate in recent months, but it is the case, as all too many of the retailers in my constituency tell me, that their business rates are calculated on the same principles and the same frontage basis as the giant supermarkets. That cannot be right.

The report has revealed many issues that drive to the heart of the strength and weaknesses of today's communities. It has made a number of salient and important points. I hope that the Government will listen and take stock of this valuable contribution from the Select Committee.

3.18 pm
Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South)

I welcome the report. I was a member of the Committee, and visited those wonderful European cities. One of the things that I discovered from that visit, and also from other visits that we made within the United Kingdom, was that there is no simple solution to the problem. The Urban Affairs Sub-Committee will be looking at new towns. Although I am not on that Committee, I will no doubt want to contribute at some point. Having stayed in a new town, and having stayed in the same town before it was a new town—indeed, having stayed there since I was a young boy—I can say that the new town, even with many of the engineering feats that it created in trying to improve the lot of the pedestrian, actually went back a way. I remember as a kid going for a walk around the town every Sunday with my father. This was well before any pedestrianisation. It took three or four hours to walk around the town, and we were able to do it without any great problems. I am a standing token of the fact that I was not damaged in any way, although some might argue that I was. However, I managed to get through that period.

Since the creation of the new town, there have been problems in every respect. The shopping centre in the middle of the town was well frequented when I was a boy. There was a direct road through the middle of it, but the shops were busy and well used. The high street was pedestrianised, and today the street is dead. It is full of litter and has charity shops but nothing else. They knocked down the bridge that was a focus of attention in the town before it became a new town and built a shopping centre, which I describe as the biggest toilet in Europe, across the river. The shopping centre has been disastrous for the high street. In the past two or three years, the development of a retail park on a brownfield site has drawn the centre of gravity even further away from what was the town centre when I was a boy.

Pardon the pun: people vote with their feet. They go where it is most convenient. In the main town in my constituency, the people vote with their feet and do most of their shopping in the new centre, yet a great proportion of households are without a car. The people have to walk. A clutter of buses in one street demonstrates that. I do not say anything against them, but the people in the west of Scotland and in my constituency have perhaps the greatest chance of suffering ill health. As I said, there is not a simple solution to the problem.

The town's environment has become worse as well. There is litter everywhere. If they are challenged, people have the cheek to say that it is the council's fault. They do not think that they should not drop litter but that the council should pick it up. Clearly, that is part of the problem. One of the things that gets my goat more than anything else is chewing gum dropped in the streets. All the beautiful walkways that have been created in the pedestrianised areas are littered with chewing gum. Perhaps the Government could do something about that. Finally, the beautiful pedestrianised area has the most vandalism. There was none of that when I was a youngster, and the Government should give it far more consideration than they have.

One of the more positive aspects of the new town was the creation of cycle paths. Even though the Chairman of the Committee might not think so, I actively try to keep my weight down. One of the things that I do is cycle on the paths. However, I have had more cheek from people out walking their dogs than anyone else. They will not give way to cyclists. One day, a guy with a hawk confronted me on one of the cycle routes. He was going to release it if I did not get off my bike and walk past him. Those are the problems that we face. The Chairman mentioned the conflict between cyclists and pedestrians. I put it down to the fact that there is less courtesy between people now than when I was a youngster. It is not all doom and gloom, and this week the shopping centre has a new owner. Having talked to him, I believe that he is more likely to bring a change to the environment and a change of culture among the members of the public who use the shopping centre.

I turn to more general points. We are on the eve of the Burns night celebrations. As someone who has already attended five Burns suppers and who is attending one tomorrow and one on Saturday—

Bob Russell

What about tonight?

Mr. Donohoe

Tonight I am travelling home, and I have to say that I am not walking. It seems appropriate to mention a little competition. Members who are into the internet could key it up at www.haggishunt.com. They could win a weekend in the Gleneagles hotel if they spot the golden haggis. One of the webcams shows a picture—this is why I relate this story—of the pedestrianised area of Buchanan street in Glasgow. I have watched it all morning out of curiosity. It changes every 60 seconds. One of the greatest problems with pedestrianised areas is delivery vans. The drivers show no courtesy to people. There must be more restriction on the movement of traffic around the shopping centre. In many cases, the pedestrianised areas have been destroyed by the intrusion of buses, which have been allowed in. The Government have not considered that as they might.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett), the Chairman of the Select Committee, mentioned the Parliament square crossing, which the Committee considered. It is heavily used in the evidence that we presented to the Government as an example of where pedestrians have been treated in the wrong way. There was a simple argument: to look at the flow of traffic from the pedestrian's point of view. If any hon. Members have used the crossing—I am sure that they have—they will realise that it is the wrong way round. Pedestrians could and do walk from the House over to Millbank. In that circumstance, one would imagine that the pavement would go in the opposite direction. We made great play of that in taking evidence from those responsible, yet they have done nothing about it. I wonder which organisations have actually read the report and whether there has been any resultant activity by organisations that gave evidence and were given clear indications as to where things were wrong.

So what am I looking for from the Government? I am looking for more activity and for the necessary co-ordination between Departments, which does not exist. We mentioned children and school buses, which is a good initiative, but the Government do not seem to be putting over the message that this is something that should be created. There are problems with crime. There is no indication that the Government are taking action to address problems relating to vandalism and crime.

The topic that concerns me most is chewing gum. When the Transport Sub-Committee visited Chicago, we found that, unbelievably, the British consulate is in the Wrigley building. Outside that building is a man with an ice hammer—an ice blow thing—removing chewing gum from the pavement. Here is the corporate headquarters of the chewing gum company that has done so much to ruin the streets and the expensive stone plate pavements that have been created, and yet it has the same problem. The Minister might reflect on that, as it makes me think that the Singaporeans have got it right in banning chewing gum. The one thing that I have learned from years of negotiation is that we should try to leave the negotiating table with something. We should not ask for much, and if the Minister can do something about chewing gum, he will have made my day. I look forward to his response.

3.30 pm
Bob Russell (Colchester)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) on the first class and comprehensive way that he introduced his Committee's report and I commend the Committee for its various conclusions and recommendations. I regret that the Government have not taken on board all the recommendations, which were the result of considered thought. We live in hope that the Government are moving in the right direction, albeit slowly, and we look forward to further progress.

I am not anti-car and those who want to be pro-walking and cycling must stress that all forms of transport have their place. What is shocking is that successive Governments of all political parties have been guilty of decades of over-emphasis on the motor car to the exclusion of any other form of transport, including public transport—buses, rail, light railway or tram systems. Cycling and walking are very much at the bottom of the pile when it comes to central Government and local government thinking. I speak as someone who had many years' experience as a local councillor, and it seems that money for road schemes is more easily available than for cycle paths or pavements. That is surprising when we are told that walking accounts for more than a quarter of all trips and 80 per cent. of trips are under one mile.

Many hon. Members will know of other people—it is always others, not ourselves—who get in their car to travel just a few hundred yards. Although I made a relatively cheap point earlier, I believe nevertheless that leadership by example would do more than any number of Committee reports and presentations. On one famous occasion in May 1997 the Prime Minister walked from Downing street to the Palace of Westminster, but I have no recollection of a repeat trip being made. I invite the Minister to encourage his ministerial colleagues and civic leaders throughout the country to lead by example. Walking accounts for three times as many trips as all forms of public transport combined and 18 times as many trips as cycling. I am grateful to Living Streets, the new name for the Pedestrians Association, because it has been in the vanguard of promoting walking.

Walking is an excellent means of maintaining physical fitness. I am greatly amused, as we all are, by the fact that it tends to be young men who will travel in fast cars to a leisure centre, spend about an hour in the torture room and then head up to the bar for a drink and a few fags before driving home. They would save more money and their health would be better if they took a brisk two-hour walk instead.

Successive Governments have not helped by their attitude towards education. The freedom to go to whichever school one chooses has dramatically undermined the neighbourhood school. We know when it is school half term or holidays, as the number of vehicles on the road reduces by between 10 and 25 per cent., depending on the area, because many pupils are not being driven to schools on the other side of town by their parents. In the good old days, when the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) was a young lad, most people went and walked to their local school. In the spirit of joined—up government, I invite the Minister to have a friendly word with his colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills and inquire whether education policy, particularly at secondary school level, is helpful to the concept of people keeping fit and walking to school. If they are being driven several miles past several other schools, it adds to congestion on the roads and ensures that they will be less fit.

Chris Grayling

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that to promote walking we should remove parental choice, which has been such an important part of improving standards in education in the past 20 years?

Bob Russell

I invite parents to consider the consequences. They must decide whether invoking parental choice to drive their child five miles to a so-called better school because they perceive that they will receive a better academic education is in the long-term life interests of their child if, as a consequence, they get breathing, mobility and heart problems at an earlier age than they would if they were fit. I would prefer that all of my children—all of whom went to their local state schools—walked or cycled to the local neighbourhood school and were fit than were driven five miles to a school that was perceived to be better and were less healthy as a result. That is parental choice, but central Government should put it on the line that perceived higher academic achievement may be at the cost of their children's health. I leave it at that.

Regular walking is a highly effective way to tackle the health problems that I mentioned. Obesity and coronary heart disease are on the increase—20 per cent. of four-year-olds are already too fat and the figure has been increasing year on year by one percentage point. No one has to be much of a rocket scientist to realise that if that continues, today's young people will hit health problems at an earlier age.

Streets and public space perform a vital role in community life and we have heard some lovely examples of how walking enhances people's quality of life. I recognise that shopping trends cannot be reversed in this generation, but equally it is up to central Government to give fiscal encouragement to the neighbourhood shops in residential suburbs and villages. We are talking today about walking in towns and cities and the Government would greatly help the survival of neighbourhood shopping areas, as well as those in town centres, if there was a fiscal encouragement to the shops. The Government should revisit their bold plan of a few years' ago, which they quickly dropped, to put some form of tax on out-of-town shopping centre car parks to subsidise the public transport network. I will leave the Minister with that thought because I suspect that he privately agrees, although he may not be allowed to say so publicly.

We have heard about speeding traffic, cracked flagstones, litter, graffiti, vandalism and the fear of crime, which all blight our streets. What has not been mentioned is street lighting. We must not assume that walking is a daylight activity only. I am not suggesting that people walk the streets at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning in Colchester, and those who do may be up to other activities, but the point is that on dark mornings and evenings, we need improved street lighting for pedestrian safety, but local authorities are strapped for cash, successive Governments have underfunded local authorities, and additional street lights in pedestrian areas do not feature highly on lists of priorities. Whenever my local council wants to rearrange the roundabout or move a pedestrian crossing 20 yd, central Government can apparently find money to pass down to Essex county council.

There is strong public dissatisfaction at the state of the street environment. If we want more people to walk, we have to make the streets more user friendly. We have to create communities where it is possible to walk. That involves several Government Departments, other public agencies, the private sector, the chambers of commerce and so on. A holistic approach must be adopted. We must also take account of the non-traffic function of the streets: street cafes, dare I say it, morris-dancing in the summer, street theatre or whatever are part and parcel of making our town centre streets more user friendly. People from the residential neighbourhood have to be got into the towns, however. That can be done by car—no one disputes that—but it can also be done by cycling and, wherever possible, by attractive pedestrian routes, either safely along main road arteries into the town, through suburban streets, or through parkland settings.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) touched briefly on light railways and trams. I urge the Minister to look at this. The Victorians got it right, but we lost the plot in the 20th century. I hope that in the 21st century we can realise the value of trams and light railways in our towns and cities. The Minister should see whether a tram or a light railway route is the answer to various problems in the relatively smaller towns with a population of about 100,000. Just to stick more buses on to congested roads and to say that it is public transport is not the answer. There must be another way.

It is disappointing that the Government have not taken on board some of the recommendations in the report. I am sure that the Committee will return to those and will continue to push for them. Why, in a 100-page, 10-year plan were only 10 paragraphs devoted to walking when it accounts for more than a quarter of all trips? I welcome the report. I welcome what has happened so far. Will the Minister confirm that this is merely the first step of the great march?

3.42 pm
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) for suggesting this important issue for consideration by the Select Committee and for the way in which he chaired the inquiry. We often ignore the simplest things. We take walking for granted or simply do not think about it at all. During the inquiry we came to appreciate how important walking in urban areas is for urban regeneration and as something that is both enjoyable and healthy. I hope that the publication of the report will contribute to the process whereby walking is recognised as increasingly essential for health, good living and enjoyment and a significant part of urban renaissance and city renewal.

That renaissance must tackle social exclusion and promote sustainable development, making our surroundings more visually satisfying and more accessible and raising the standard and quality of living for all our citizens. That means that we need co-ordination in planning and implementation. Government, local and regional authorities have to work together to promote civic pride and respond to the needs and wishes of local communities. Those authorities must work closely with the voluntary sector and community groups, which often know the issues and can propose improvements to local environments. If the Minister assures us that the Government will do all that they can to secure co—ordination and encourage local and voluntary groups to suggest ideas and develop them wherever possible, we will have taken great strides forward.

Liverpool is an excellent example—[HON MEMBERS: "Hear, hear]—of a city in the process of renaissance and regeneration. I find it encouraging that my hon. Friends and the Minister are aware of the renewal of Liverpool and its importance as a city of great pride and strengths. Part of that regeneration is related to making the city attractive to those walking. The importance of walking in Liverpool is known to those promoting tourism and education. Liverpool's tourist guides have made a great contribution to the importance of walking by showing the fine attributes of Liverpool to visitors. The heritage trail, developed by the late and very lamented Sir Richard Foster and instigated by the national museums and galleries on Merseyside, has played an important part in increasing social awareness in Liverpool. The sculpture trails conducted by eminent sculptor Robin Riley, have shown residents and visitors the importance of artistic developments and public design on the streets of Liverpool.

Much of the excitement of Liverpool can be appreciated only through walking. I draw particular attention to the Hope street quarter, promoted by the Hope street association. Its significance was not recognised in the past, but today it is seen as an important place. If people walk the short distance along Hope street, between the Roman Catholic and the Anglican cathedrals, much of the splendour and many of the achievements of Liverpool can be seen and enjoyed.

The Royal Philharmonic hall is home to the splendid Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. That orchestra performs excellently in its city centre premises, but it also reaches out to local communities, conducts workshops for local children, and conducts concerts and workshops in Toxteth and other local areas, thus ensuring that young people from areas where they often do not realise their opportunities are encouraged to develop their musical abilities. In the same area, in Mount street, lies the home of the late poet Adrian Henri. There are refurbished buildings, such as Blackburn house, a national leader in promoting women's training, and the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, supported by Sir Paul McCartney, which is now a European centre for excellence in training for the performing arts. There is also the city farm, the Unity theatre, the Everyman theatre, the Liverpool School of Art and Design, Liverpool university and Liverpool John Moores university. Rodney street nearby is the home of the eminent photographer, the late Edward Chambre Hardman, whose photographic work was set to leave Liverpool until the National Trust stepped in. The trust will regenerate his home as part of the heritage centre in Liverpool with, I hope, the support of the heritage lottery fund. It will then be a centre that people can visit.

That half-mile walk in the city centre would show Liverpool's excellence in art, music, learning and enterprise. Walking there is enjoyable for what can be seen and experienced. I hope that that will contribute to the city's bid to become the capital of culture, to which hon. Members will hopefully lend their support. The bid is for the whole of the north-west, not just for the city of Liverpool. The north-west now recognises Liverpool's pre-eminence in the arts and other areas.

There is one flaw in the excellence of that area—the safe access of pedestrians to the facilities. There is no pedestrian crossing at the busy corner of Hardman street and Hope street. It is difficult to understand why the city council has not seen fit to provide a crossing there, in spite of repeated representations. Given the vastly increased funding that the Liberal Democrat—led city council received from the Government, I would hope that it could see fit to use some of the money to provide that pedestrian crossing. I wonder if the Minister could prevail on it to do so? That is an important example of the significance of crossings to allow people to circulate easily in areas of great importance.

Walking is important in city centres, but ease of access also matters for local neighbourhoods. I hope that walking will be seen as a priority in the local neighbourhoods in Liverpool such as Dingle, Smithdown, Kensington and Everton, where the work of regeneration companies and other initiatives—including Government-inspired initiatives—is under way. Local amenities in those areas should be encouraged and supported, so that people can shop in their area and find the facilities that they need without having to travel a long way. We also need to encourage the development of safety initiatives.

I welcome the increased funding that was given to the Merseyside police and the introduction of the crime-fighting fund, which has meant that about 200 extra officers can be on the beat in Liverpool. I hope that there will be a continual concentration on neighbourhood policing to make local areas safer and make people feel safer. I also hope that the initiative taken by the Eldonian Group in Vauxhall to promote neighbourhood wardens will be taken up in other parts of the city.

As I said, walking in Liverpool city centre is enjoyable and shows the city's fine buildings, squares and achievements. However, it is marred by the number of formerly fine buildings that have been allowed to fall into disrepair as a result of blatant neglect. I praise the "Stop the Rot" campaign initiated by the Liverpool Echo for the example of civic leadership that that local newspaper has shown in drawing attention to the unacceptable dereliction of formerly fine buildings in the city centre. The paper has held meetings at which it has tried to hold the property developers and the city council to account and to secure action. I am pleased that the Rope Walks area is undergoing regeneration with Government support and European funding.

The biggest scandal concerns the Casartelli building, which fell down because of years of neglect. It was shameful that the city council allowed that to happen. I am also sad about the continued neglect of St. Andrew's church in Rodney street, which has been allowed to fall into dereliction and decay and now blights the local business area as well as the local environment. Again, Iurge Liverpool city council to act.

Perhaps, above all Iurge that action be taken about the empty post office site in the city centre, which has been virtually abandoned by the Walton group. It bought the site more than 10 years ago, but can only show us a list of broken promises. It stated that it would redevelop the site, but there has been no action. Indeed, my experience is that every time attention is drawn to the matter, a vehicle appears on the site but disappears a few days later. That site in the middle of the city centre, which is undergoing fast regeneration, still remains vacant. I call on the city council to act, through a compulsory purchase order if there is no other way. I ask the Minister to ensure that, as the Government review the criteria for compulsory purchase orders, some of the proposals made in the consultation process that is taking place are followed up. In particular, I ask them to recognise the importance of regeneration as a reason for seeking such an order when all other means have failed.

Liverpool Vision, the regeneration company set up by the Government, has a great opportunity to redesign the city centre, which has been identified as an engine of growth for the city and the sub-region. It is imperative that the city centre is accessible to all, that the magnificence of its old buildings and squares is preserved, that public spaces are expanded and that public transport links people to amenities. I hope that the light rail system for Liverpool, which was proposed somewhat belatedly, will be a successful part of the public transport network that links people to amenities and the city centre.

I ask the Minister to consider our planning policies and the recommendations in the Select Committee's report, in particular, our suggestion of a national walking strategy and local walking strategies. When assessments are made of planning issues, accessibility to amenities for pedestrians and ease of walking should be among the criteria against which judgments are made.

The Government have provided a lot of funds to Liverpool for regeneration purposes—£356 million in the past four years—and it is time for the city council to provide civic leadership, working with local voluntary groups, to ensure that the money is used to best effect.

I hope that the report and the Minister's response will help to give a higher profile throughout the country to the importance of walking for health, enjoyment and regeneration. I hope that that will contribute to renewing the city of Liverpool to bring enjoyment of its past, present and future to those who are enabled and encouraged to walk around the city.

3.59 pm
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) on ensuring that this matter is debated. I echo many of his points, particularly the one about the pathological hatred of cyclists that some people seem to have. They forget that pedestrians are at much greater risk of injury from car drivers than from cyclists. Such hatred was best demonstrated by the incident that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) referred to, in which a man with a hawk encouraged him to get off his bike while he was using a cycle route.

I also agree with his point about reducing crime and the fear of crime by increasing the number of people who walk. However, it is not as simple as that. We must ensure that people use appropriate walking routes. For example, the shortest routes through the areas of Bramblewood close and Buckhurst avenue in my constituency are down small alleys at the back of people's houses. Unfortunately, there is a lot of graffiti along those routes, many garages are burgled and houses can be accessed from the back. We must enable people to use the shortest walking routes whenever possible, but some of them may not always be appropriate.

In other cases, the walking routes will be the most suitable and will be a significant improvement on what exists. The Roundshaw estate in my constituency is undergoing major renovations to change the 1960s system of streets in the sky—which means that there are no pavements beside the roads—to a more natural system of roads with pavements. People will be able to walk with a much greater degree of safety along the routes that they want to use, rather than being forced along routes that they do not want to take.

Perhaps I might commiserate with the Minister briefly, as he has been nominated by hon. Members here today as the Minister for silly walks and chewing gum. I do not know which of those he is demonstrating at the moment by leaving the Chamber. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) made some sensible comments, but he lost me when he started talking about the chicken and the egg; it is a pity that he is not here to explain that. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, South referred to chewing gum. Perhaps we should consider a levy on chewing gum manufacturers so that they contribute financially towards the substantial costs of clean-up.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) made several telling points, including one about the consequences of parental choice in education. Incidentally, choice is more often than not the school choosing the pupil, rather than the parent choosing the school. However, there are health consequences for children if distances are too great to walk; for example, children who commute 20 or 30 miles by car from the south coast.

I welcome the contribution of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) about the renaissance of Liverpool. I will draw that to the attention of the members of that authority. It seemed as though a substantial proportion of the comments made by the hon. Lady focused on attacking the city council, rather than on improving pedestrian facilities or commenting on the Select Committee report.

As I was coming to the House this morning, I decided that I would make a case study of my journey. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish referred to pens. There are pens on the corner of Stafford road and Woodcock road, and I always try to avoid them if the traffic is not too heavy by taking the shortest but riskier route along the so-called "desire lines". That sounds exciting, but it is not.

Andrew Bennett

The hon. Gentleman should push the traffic lights button so that he stops the traffic, even though he takes the desire line.

Tom Brake

I would be happy to push the button, but unfortunately there are no traffic lights. I follow the desire lines, which, for hon. Members who may not know, are the shortest line that the pedestrian would like to take between two points rather than being forced through sheep pens. The shortest route to Wallington station involves a steep flight of steps, which is not encouraging for pedestrians. One can always guarantee that one, two or three drivers will jump the red lights at the Vauxhall Bridge road and Victoria street junction not far from Victoria station. That happens every time I come home in the evening. The same tends to happen at the junction on St. Margaret's street. One or two drivers think that they are entitled to drive straight through a red light, because it has been red for only a couple of seconds. Those are some of the obstacles that are put in the way of pedestrians and the Government when they seek to increase the number of people who take trips on foot.

There are few signs that the Government will be in a position to tackle those problems. The signs in London are not good, as some of the police involved in controlling traffic speed will be posted elsewhere, thereby increasing the risk of speeding, which works against pedestrians. We have heard figures confirming that the issue needs to be addressed. A significant number of people walk, and many more journeys are made on foot than most people realise; as has been said, some 25 per cent. of journeys are made on foot. There is a need to assist them, and to promote walking for health and environmental reasons.

The Government's response has been welcomed reasonably warmly in different quarters. Living Streets said that the Government's reply included several positive commitments. Intelligent Space is a planning consultancy that specialises in pedestrian movement and safety issues, and I am grateful to its representatives for briefing me about their views on the proposal. They also welcomed the Government's response. However, that does not mean that there is no scope for improvement.

We need to address certain obstacles so that we can maximise the number of pedestrians. We need to tackle the increase in traffic and the underfunding of local authorities. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside that everything is fine and dandy and that local authorities throughout the country have received a bonanza of grants. That is not the view up and down the country.

Mrs. Ellman

I want to emphasise that Liverpool city council has received vastly more funding under this Government than it did under the previous Government. I do not suggest, however, that what it has is adequate to meet all needs. I continue to press for more funding.

Tom Brake

The hon. Lady did not make that point earlier in the debate. I welcome the fact that she does not consider the funding to be adequate and that she will continue to press for more funds for the city council and the Liverpool area. We need to address the almost exclusive focus on large transport projects and the ill-health implications of reduced walking, although that is clearly a vicious circle. We need to address the lack of strategy, and, more fundamentally, the lack of data on pedestrian movements on which a strategy can be built, and the failure to disseminate best practice.

Intelligent Space is in favour of a national walking strategy provided there is an associated budget. The Government are in favour of providing advice to encourage walking. Perhaps the Minister could say when they intend to reissue their document, as I understand that a new version is to be issued. They are broadly in favour of a strategy, but not of one with targets. According to "Encouraging walking: advice to local authorities", The Government has decided not to adopt national targets, which are difficult for any of us to relate to our everyday behaviour". However, the Government have adopted a plethora of targets in relation to many other areas where one could equally argue that it is difficult to relate them to our everyday behaviour. I am not sure why targets cannot be applicable in this instance.

Andrew Bennett

The hon. Gentleman was a member of the Select Committee. Sadly, he has left us. He will now know that one of the main targets for the Department is to reduce the number of targets.

Tom Brake

Indeed. I regret that I am no longer a member of the Select Committee. I would be happy if we introduced a target for walking and got rid of, say, 10 other targets in its place. There does not seem to be a satisfactory explanation as to why, for instance, a target for increasing rail journeys by 50 per cent. is one that we can relate to our everyday behaviour, but a target to increase the number of pedestrian trips is not. That does not seem to make sense. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain.

The Select Committee's report states that it supports national targets, but only if it can be demonstrated that they can be measured with sufficient accuracy. Intelligent Space, which specialises in this work, says that there is no problem with the ability to measure targets. The only problem is that no one is carrying out any measuring and monitoring. According to Intelligent Space, in regeneration schemes there is little, if any, measuring of what happened before and after or of the impact on pedestrian journeys. If that work is carried out, it will be much easier for the Government to measure trips and possibly to implement targets and measure progress against them.

The Government state on page 4 of their response that they are putting together a research strategy. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us what progress is being made. Intelligent Space pointed out that, because we do not have monitoring or the body of research, and because planners are not attuned to the idea of measuring pedestrian movements, we are probably missing out on significant quick gains in town centres where relatively small and inexpensive changes could be made to increase the number of people going to them. Benefits for local businesses could soon be demonstrated in terms of more people using the shops.

The Government say that they favour a national walking forum to disseminate best practice. I certainly support that. As the Government suggested, a website could be ideally suited to providing that forum. I want to know from the Minister whether a budget has been identified to set up such a website, because even a website will require money to get it up and running.

We need to tackle traffic and encourage more people to take trips on foot. One of the key recommendations from the Select Committee was to declassify some roads to give greater priority to pedestrians. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain why the Government do not see a case for the wholesale reclassification of urban roads or for a review of the criteria for determining their status.

The Government need to answer a number of other questions, particularly in relation to the small schemes. Are the Government in a position to demonstrate that small schemes can provide better value for money than the larger schemes? The Government are saying that they cannot look at the small schemes in the same way as the large schemes. Therefore, they are not able to demonstrate that the small schemes represent the same value for money as the larger schemes.

I hope that the Minister will look at that again. I suspect that, if there were a system for measuring the small schemes and making a direct value-for-money comparison, he would probably find that the addition of 1,000 pedestrian crossings, the removal of 1,000 sheep pens, or the creation of 1,000 cycle routes would probably contribute more economically, environmentally and from the point of view of health than one large project. However, we are not in a position to demonstrate that because there does not seem to be a system to make those comparisons. The Government need to address this as a matter of some urgency.

Is there any scope for allowing the small schemes to be bundled together in a large package of over £5 million? Are the Government encouraging local authorities to do that? Once the Government have looked at the local transport plans, will they attempt to provide any analysis of what they think will be the total benefit in terms of pedestrian schemes? Is that something that they are considering?

To demonstrate the Government's commitment, it would be useful if the Minister could comment on how the staffing levels have changed—clearly he will have to do this in writing—in the charging and local transport section of the Department for Transport, Local Government and Regions since 1995. I understand that the DTLR is specifically responsible for the National Cycling Forum, the National Walking Strategy Steering Group and the development of home zones. To see how the numbers within that Department have changed over the past seven years would demonstrate what level of commitment has been made to walking, cycling and home zones. It would give us a feel for where the Government are going.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester used the phrase, "One step in the great march." I invite the Minister to put his best foot forward and demonstrate personally and politically that he is committed to the pedestrian's cause.


Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

It is great to see you in the Chair Mr. Conway, for this wide-ranging debate this afternoon. In a short speech, it will be impossible to cover everything that has been raised.

I recommend walking with dogs as an excellent way of losing weight. My hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Grayling) pointed out that one in five of the population is obese. I am sure that we would all benefit from walking a little more. It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett). He and I started as ordinary members of the Committee some 10 years ago: he is now the Chairman and I am now the Opposition spokesman. He made an excellent and wide-ranging speech. I will cover many of the things that he covered such as safe crossing, walking buses, the national walking strategy and greater priority for walking from local authorities.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) quoted from Living Streets, formerly the Pedestrian Association, and that is the best point to start in summarising the debate. It states: Speeding traffic, cracked flagstones, litter, graffiti, vandalism and the fear of crime blight streets and public spaces in communities throughout the UK. That is a fair summary of why people do not walk more. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish alluded to the raw statistics and said that the Committee was sceptical about them. Nevertheless, they are on the Department's website and are perhaps worth putting on the record. The website states: According to the 1993/95 national travel survey, walking accounts for 29 per cent. of journeys, including 82 per cent. of journeys under I mile It goes on to give some of the more alarming statistics to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Main drivers of cars walk half the distance of adults living in households without a car. It adds that there was a 12 per cent. drop between 1985–86 and 1993 to 1996 and, perhaps more alarmingly: The fall in the average distances walked fell by even more (18 per cent.) largely reflecting that it was the longer walk journeys that have declined most steeply in recent years. The fall was largest for those aged 11 to 15. That is particularly worrying. Our adolescents are becoming more susceptible to the problem of obesity. That will set the pattern for the rest of their lives. I see the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) nodding. I shall come on to speak about walking buses and reducing reliance on transport to take children to school.

Other hon. Members referred to the briefing that we received from Intelligent Space, which is an independent research consultancy specialising in pedestrian movements. We live in an age where it is possible to analyse these problems in greater depth than ever before. It makes five key points. It says that it is now possible to model pedestrian flows for new developments. Many people, including me in an intervention, said that the planning authorities could design new developments with walking much more in mind and also design urban regeneration schemes to give a greater primacy to walking.

The hon. Member for Colchester mentioned modern design techniques, and there are other innovative ways of making straight walkways through estates rather than having blind alleys. There are a number of other ways to reduce crime and make walking safer. The Government should look at that and consider whether it should be made part of the planning policy guidance so that all planning authorities have to consider those aspects, as my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell pointed out.

The briefing goes on to say that research shows that pedestrian movement is strongly influenced by desire lines-dreadful jargon, which the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington mentioned. It says that walkers prefer to use simple, direct journeys. Desire lines analysis can be used to provide an objective basis for design guidance". It goes on to say that segregation of pedestrians away from normal streets in most infrastructure works in the past 50 years would reduce pedestrian accidents and casualties—for which I have quoted the appalling figures. We could consider cycle and pedestrian lanes that are separated from busy roads by high kerbs to remove the risk of pedestrians and cyclists being inadvertently involved in an accident by cars straying into a cycle lane or on to a pavement. We should perhaps make parking on pavements and mounting pavements more serious offences—driving in London, one sees people mounting the pavement every day to avoid traffic jams. The law enforcement agencies should take such actions more seriously.

I recently visited my local branch of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, which told me that parking on pavements is a major problem for blind people because when they come across those huge objects, they do not know whether they are in the road or still on the pavement. We need to consider that problem far more seriously. Intelligent Space goes on to say: Accident risk is greater if road crossings facilities are not located on 'desire lines' for pedestrian movement. Hindrances to crossing such as barriers are often of limited value in reducing risk in this respect". It says finally: Part of the social problems on many Council Estates may be attributed to their very unusual layouts". I have commented on that.

We need new thinking on policies that encourage walking in our cities, incorporating better quality city parks, city centres and main highways so that people can walk more easily in cities and towns. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) mentioned urban renaissance. The former right hon. Member for Henley, Michael Heseltine, started the urban renaissance in many of our big cities. Indeed, some of the most successful urban regeneration schemes, such as the London Docklands scheme, were major renaissance schemes. I have seen such schemes in Glasgow and Leeds. Where we have successfully pedestrianised, we can encourage people to walk more because there is no other way of travelling in pedestrianised areas.

We have debated whether pedestrianisation is the right way forward. As a chartered surveyor, I declare an interest. I have studied town centre management schemes in detail and am keen on town centre management schemes, whereby the local authority, voluntary groups and, above all, businesses, become involved in drawing up schemes for the regeneration of our towns and cities. Getting all the stakeholders involved means that every interest, particularly business, feels ownership of those schemes and encourages others to make best use of them so that they work.

In case anyone thinks that such schemes do not work, I commend hon. Members to look at the scheme that was successfully launched in New York, which completely transformed the centre of the city. Litter was cleaned up, crime considerably reduced and more people encouraged to walk because large areas were pedestrianised. The Minister and the Government should consider such 21st-century innovative schemes. We need to examine how the schemes can be more easily funded because if they are going to work they need a small amount of funding.

I have already said that the quality of our public and municipal parks needs to be improved. Some local authorities take a proactive role. One need only look at Wandsworth to see some well kept parks, but some areas in our cities, including London, are not so well kept. When I did a three-week stint at the by-election in Leeds city centre, the main park was in an appalling state. Many schoolchildren used to walk through the park to get to school, and one could see hypodermic syringes every day. I walked through the park many times each day, and there did not seem to be any effort by any official to clear away those highly dangerous objects. It is no wonder that people find it unattractive to walk in parks when they see such rubbish being left around.

We should examine how we can restore our parks. The Victorians and Edwardians laid out the parks that are the vital green lungs of our cities and the essence of what walkers should be able to enjoy in our city centres. They set out the parks, and we in the 20th and 21st centuries have let them decay. I hope that the Minister will encourage local authorities to ensure that the parks are regenerated, because it would benefit the general feeling and well-being in all our citizens. Features such as bandstands, lakes, pavilions, tea shops and, dare I say it, public conveniences should be smartened up so that they can be used and enjoyed.

Many hon. Members mentioned the planning and infrastructure of our country. I should declare that I am a chartered surveyor and deal with the planning department of my two local authorities almost every day. When I get complaints from my constituents about the design of developments, it is usually because the developments are too dense. The local planning authority pays great attention to the number of car parking spaces, but rarely does it insist on any section to deal with walking. Even walking to the local shop, school or surgery can provide beneficial exercise, and for many older people in our society who, for one reason or another, cannot drive, those walks are an absolute necessity. We should make it easy for our elderly people to walk.

Putting proper ramps for the disabled in our residential estates would be a start. How often do we see people struggling with a wheelchair because there is no drop kerb to allow them to get up and down? Other innovative changes could make our walkways and roads safer. We could make much greater use of closed circuit television cameras, and with digitalisation and mass production, CCTV cameras have become much smaller and cheaper. We use them in our city centres to protect shops and roadways, but not often in alleyways and walkways. Why not? That would be a major method of reassuring people and encouraging them to walk in the higher-crime areas.

Another step would be to have more free telephones, so that any incident could be reported and someone could respond more quickly. All too often in this country, we find dimly lit alleyways in which we cannot see from one end to the other. They are a long way from anywhere and exactly the sort of place at which someone gets mugged. Such changes would be a major incentive to reduce crime and encourage people to walk more, and we should make our urban streets and walkways more attractive.

Andrew Bennett

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the evidence shows that the numbers of street muggings of people out walking is low? The problem is the fear of crime, and if he is not careful, some of his suggestions will simply make people feel that the streets are less safe than they really are.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I accept the hon. Gentleman's point, and we must reassure people that it is safe to walk on our streets. If they are not walking and are frightened of crime, we must consider other methods to reassure them, and some of my suggestions would do that. I have a constant dialogue with my local police authority, and I tell them that policemen do not provide the same level of reassurance sitting in cars as they do walking on the beat. The authority says that it can use the men sitting in cars more productively because they can watch not only for traffic offences, but who is moving about. I believe that we need to get more police back on the beat, to provide precisely the reassurance about which the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish spoke.

Chris Grayling

Given the comments of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, will my hon. Friend consider that as there is a clear need for reassuring those who use cut-through alleyways, there would be practical benefit in the use of systems such as CCTV? The incidents that take place in those corners are often not serious crimes but gangs of kids writing graffiti on the walls. That is less likely to happen if cameras are there, and it is the presence of such graffiti and a dingy environment that makes such places unattractive to walk through.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

My hon. Friend has, as usual, been prescient. The attractiveness of our streets, alleys and pavements is important. If people feel that areas are unsightly and insalubrious, they will not walk in them.

We should have a major drive against litter and graffiti. In preparation for this debate yesterday, I walked not three minutes from here to Leake court. I have a little picture that I should like show to the Chamber. It shows a nice old Georgian building that is now empty, boarded up and in a serious state of decay, and it shows me kneeling down with some litter. That is not the worst of it, as about 10 yd away, there was some nasty and unpleasant litter, including human excreta. Interestingly, the picture also shows a little notice, which says: The West Lambeth Health Authority excludes liability for loss or damage to property. Removed vehicles may be reclaimed". That notice is partially obscured by graffiti, which shows how often Lambeth health authority must have been round to check.

We should take a little more pride in our cities. It may have been the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) who said that if people did not drop litter in the first place, the council would not have the problem of collecting it. Just around the corner from Leake court, I found that where Lambeth council had provided litter bins, everything was spotlessly clean. There is a lesson to be learned—we need more litter bins, and they need to be emptied regularly. One goes around London and sees litter bins overflowing, particularly from fast food takeaway shops, and the litter going miles down the street. If they were emptied regularly, that would not happen. If we took pride, it would encourage more people to think that it was safe and salubrious to walk in such areas.

Other hon. Members mentioned the problem of school runs. The problem is a serious one, and the solution proposed by the Committee of encouraging schoolchildren to walk, where it is safe to do so and having provided the reassurances and mechanisms that I outlined, is a win-win situation. The so-called walking buses system described by the hon. Member for Colchester, whereby groups of children get together and walk to and from school, is an admirable idea. That is preferable to a parent driving one child to school in a big four-wheel drive vehicle, belching out fumes of every description. If we could encourage fewer parents to drive children to school, and more children to walk to school—perhaps under parental supervision—that would be a win-win situation. The children would be healthier, there would be fewer emissions from cars and less congestion, and those cars that need to be on the road would be able to travel more freely.

In certain places in London—Chelsea or Lewisham, for example—at 8.30 am and 3.30 pm, traffic comes to a standstill because people drive their children to school, and often commit the heinous crime of parking on the pavement. They block both traffic and pedestrians trying to get to the school.

We have covered much ground in the debate, and I want to allow the Minister plenty of time to wind up. The report made several recommendations, which have not all been taken up. I would like to ask the Minister questions about his intentions concerning those recommendations. The Government were criticised for their failure to publish a national strategy for walking, a point made by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington. We have already discussed targets, but realistic targets have a part to play. They were also criticised for their failure to set up a national walking forum or a mechanism to judge the value for money of small transport investments compared with larger ones. Why do the Government think that it would be impractical to assess the costs and benefits of small walking and road safety schemes, using the same criteria applied to major road schemes?

What plans do the Government have to develop their appraisal techniques? I have referred to some of the new computer-generated analytical schemes. How will they develop their techniques to allow the value for money of small schemes to be allow with larger ones? How will the Government allow or encourage local authorities to bundle up small schemes so that they pass the £5 million threshold for major schemes in the local transport plan guidance? Why were only 10 paragraphs of the 100 page, 10-year-plan devoted to walking, when it accounts for a quarter of all trips? That is a lacuna in the plan.

Do the Government plan to publish their analysis of the total spending in local transport plans on schemes that benefit pedestrians? What plans do they have for revising the standard design guidance, such as the design manuals for roads and bridges, to take greater account of pedestrians? Planning policy guidance might be amended to oblige local planning authorities to pay greater attention to walking. Why have the staffing levels in the charging and local transport section of the DTLR not changed since 1995, a period covering the publication of the national cycling strategy? If officials in his Department thought about that strategy in more depth, we might make progress.

The debate has been wide-ranging and interesting. It covers many Departments, and the Minister answers for only one, albeit the lead one. I end where I started: we could all walk a little more. I mean everyone, including MPs, which is why I jocularly asked the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish how many miles the Select Committee had walked during its study. When I was a member of a Select Committee, we did not walk all that far. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Cunninghame, South laughs. I meant to ask him about his study of www.haggishunt.com. It seems that he has spent all morning looking at this little creature running one way and then going in the opposite direction. I wonder how he had time to prepare his speech. That may be a subject for another day; no, he is going to intervene to tell us.

Mr. Donohoe

While watching the screen, it is still possible to work. The hon. Gentleman should know that.

Bob Russell

He can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Indeed, and work at the same time, too. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, South is obviously of a very dextrous mind and able to do many things at once.

Chris Grayling

Not chew gum, though; he wants to scrap that.

Mr. Derek Conway (in the Chair)


Mr. Clifton-Brown

I think we are getting too jocular, Mr. Conway. This is an important debate.

There are many things that the Government and, as the representative of the lead Department, the Minister could do to encourage walking. Our grandparents used to do far more of it. These days it is too easy to get into the car to go five miles up the road—or 500 yd up the road in many instances—to do the shopping. Before we get in the car in future, we should all think would it not be better to walk?

4.45 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. David Jamieson)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) on securing this debate on behalf of the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions. I also congratulate him on the quiet, calm and measured way in which he introduced the subject. The debate has been helpful and well considered, and the Government welcome the publication of "Walking in Towns and Cities", the report produced by the former Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs. I thank the Committee for that important contribution to the debate.

Creating the conditions that encourage people to walk more is a vital part of our integrated transport policy. We want to make walking safe, easy and convenient, and we want more people to feel able to make walking, in combination with public transport, a first choice for both short journeys and longer distances. The percentage of journeys made on foot has fallen from 35 per cent. in 1985–86 to 27 per cent. in the period 1997 to 1999. The proportion of journeys of less then a mile made on foot fell by less, from 83 per cent. to 80 per cent.

In introducing this debate, my hon. Friend made some important points. One of the first dealt with the contribution to health that can be made by walking. That is an important underlying message for us all. The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) also mentioned it. My lissome form is evidence that I do a little walking myself. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman's diameter indicates the same—perhaps he will tell us more about it.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I take great pleasure in taking my dogs for a walk—the trouble is that they live in my constituency, so I can only take them out at the weekend. However, I walk to and from the Palace of Westminster every day.

Mr. Jamieson

I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to say that he likes exercise so much that he could watch it all day.

The hon. Gentleman made the point that walking on the streets can sometimes be a very educational exercise. I like walking in urban areas, particularly the more attractive ones. It can be as nice an experience as walking in the countryside. I am not sure about his suggestion that one might walk around the streets looking in the windows. In parts of my constituency, one might end up with broken legs rather than exercised legs if one spent too long looking in windows.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish emphasised the importance of cleaner air and cleaning up the environment along our roads so that people can enjoy walking. We have had considerable success in that respect, especially through working with our European colleagues to clean up emissions from engines, especially those of large vehicles. The new fuels that have come on to the market in the last few years, and the even cleaner fuels that we will have in future, will help to ensure that the urban environment in particular will become much cleaner.

The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) is obsessed with how Ministers travel and asked about ministerial cars. Of course, being a Liberal Democrat, he will never know the inconvenience of travelling by ministerial car, but I assure him that I sometimes go on foot, even if my red boxes go by car. He has tabled written questions about whether Ministers travel by tube, and I can tell him that I travelled by tube today.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) is becoming quite a major player for the Opposition on transport issues. He regularly contributes to these debates and makes sound points. The hon. Member for Cotswold should watch out: someone behind him is coming up strongly.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

indicated assent.

Mr. Jamieson

The hon. Gentleman seems to agree.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell asked questions similar to those asked by the hon. Member for Colchester. He made a strong point about the contribution that walking could make to improving health and appearance and to reducing obesity. That is particularly true for children, many of whom become very overweight early on. It is disappointing that so many children are overweight. I recently visited Japan, where many more children walk to school and look far healthier than some children in this country. That is partly due to their diet and the type of exercise that they take. In addition, parents in Japan feel that their children are safe walking on the streets even in the evening and in busy and congested parts of cities. That perception has contributed to making their children healthier.

Out-of-town shops and people's ability to use their cars were mentioned. The constituency of the hon. Member for Cotswold may be better heeled than mine and perhaps some of my hon. Friends', but I ask him to bear in mind the fact that 40 per cent. of people in my constituency do not have access to a car. Often, walking to the local shops is the only choice, especially for some elderly people, younger people with families, and poorer people. For them, going by car is not an option. Simply to encourage out-of-town shopping without thinking about quality of life and local shops would be nonsensical.

We must find a balance between car use, public transport and pedestrianisation. I believe that that is possible. I had the pleasure of walking around Solihull in the west midlands; there is a large pedestrianised area, which is excellent and a pleasure to walk round. The town is clean and inviting, but there is also substantial car parking. Those who want to come into town by car can do so, but there are good bus and rail links as well, and people travel long distances into town by those forms of transport. In such ways, a compromise can be reached and a good environment for walking created.

Chris Grayling

I am delighted that, for once, the Minister has the opportunity to make a full speech; normally he ends up with a 10-minute run-through of the important points.

I endorse the need to protect local centres. My constituency, like his, has many people without cars, especially elderly people. Will he consider talking to his colleagues in the Department about the rating of small shops? A perennial issue facing small shopkeepers in my constituency is the fact that their rateable value is based on the same principles of shop frontage as that of Sainsbury's; they feel that they lose out as a result. If the Minister's Department addressed that issue, it would make a real difference to small local centres.

Mr. Jamieson

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I shall not respond directly because it is outside my brief, but the point is well made and I will ensure that he receives a response.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) spoke graphically about the need for a quality environment in which people can walk. He drew on his childhood experiences, and as he went down memory lane, I remembered my own childhood. He made important points about health, but then got onto the sticky issue of chewing gum on pavements.

Bob Russell


Mr. Jamieson

There is more. I should declare an interest: most of the chewing gum in this country is made at Wrigley's in my constituency. My constituents are major contributors to the manufacture of chewing gum, but the antisocial behaviour of people who discard chewing gum on pavements is not the fault of the people who make it.

I am sure that news of this debate will reach The Herald, the local newspaper of my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South. I can see the headline now: "Chewing Gum on Pavement: MP Steps In."

Bob Russell


Mr. Jamieson

I said it would get worse. Now the Liberal Democrats are going to step in.

Tom Brake

I said earlier in the debate that the hon. Gentleman was the Minister for silly walks and chewing gum. He has now confirmed that he is merely the Minister for chewing gum.

Mr. Jamieson

The hon. Gentleman has made another well-considered contribution to the debate, for which we are grateful.

Mr. Donohoe

My hon. Friend is concerned about the headline in only one newspaper, but there are at least four local newspapers on my patch: the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, The Irvine Herald and Kilwinning Chronicle, the Irvine Times and the Ayrshire Leader.

Mr. Jamieson

I am certain that all those newspapers will report in considerable detail my hon. Friend's excellent comments about chewing gum and other matters.

The hon. Member for Colchester followed the usual Liberal Democrat line. He spoke about the need for more money for various road schemes, not for walking. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) did in her area, I suggest that he go to his local authority and find out how much of the extra funding provided by the Government for local transport plans has been used to address the needs that he raised. So many hon. Members say that the Government should be doing this, the Government should be doing that; I suggest that they find out about their local authority's transport plans and the contribution it makes to the projects for which they have ambitions in their area.

Bob Russell

Is the Minister aware that in the shire counties the highways authority is the county council, not the district council, as in Basildon or Colchester? My point was that the highways authority finds funds to spend on road schemes but not on alternatives. If he checks the record, he will find that that was what I said.

Mr. Jamieson

I do not need to check the record; that was his point. However, there is a fallacy in his remarks. The aim of creating better space for walking can be included in local transport plans. It is up to councillors and Members of Parliament to ensure not only that such objectives appear in the local transport plan but that the generous amounts of money that have been allocated by the Government are spent to achieve them. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman holds his highways authority to account and ensure that it is spending money on the projects that he supports.

Bob Russell

The authority may reply that the Government's priorities are illustrated by the fact that they had only 10 paragraphs on walking in a 100-page document; in other words, it is following the Government's line.

Mr. Jamieson

The local authority must consider its priorities and include them in its transport plan. Councillors consult their electorate and develop priorities. Members of Parliament may make a contribution as well. The number of paragraphs in our document is irrelevant. The hon. Gentleman should examine his local council's transport plan and ensure that it is carried out.

The hon. Members for Colchester and for Cotswold criticise our 10-year transport plan, but at least we have a plan. There is no hope of the Liberal Democrats ever being in government, but the last Conservative Government did not even have one paragraph, let alone 10. At least we now have 10 paragraphs about walking, which is more desirable than none at all.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Jamieson

In a moment. I an not quite done with the hon. Member for Colchester. He advanced a most extraordinary argument about restricting choice in secondary schools so that children would walk to their local school. Recently, I read in a national newspaper that the Liberal Democrats' leader had abandoned the penny on tax ambition for education. It is not the job of the Government to lecture parents or tell them where they should send their children to school. What is important is that we must create the right environment, so that parents feel able to send their children to a school that they can walk to. For a Government to start restricting people's choices about where they send their children—[Interruption]. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I got the strong impression—the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell agrees with me—that it is now Liberal Democrat policy to restrict parents' choice of secondary schools so that their children can walk to their local school. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman will provide some clarity on that matter.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Under the last Conservative Government, we had a road-building programme, but under the Labour Government, hardly any money is being spent on new road projects. If the Minister were to come to my constituency and ask highways authority officials about how much money they have to spend in the local transport plan, they would tell him that they do not have enough money to carry out the minor road schemes they want. Things may be different in the inner cities, but if the Minister wants to encourage more walking in the shire counties, he will have to provide some mechanism to encourage local authorities to consider walking, just as the local planning authorities need more encouragement to consider walking when making planning decisions.

Mr. Jamieson

I am staggered by what I have just heard. The Labour Government have a plan, not only for rail, but for roads, for creating better access to buses, for walking and for all the other issues that we have discussed today.

I have travelled around this country opening or digging the first turf on new bypasses and roads. I often hear Conservative MPs express their pleasure about local developments. When I was up in Norfolk recently, the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), along with many Conservative local councillors, was full of praise for the amount of money that the Government, through the Highways Agency, are spending on many of that area's roads.

I return to the hon. Member for Colchester—I have still not finished with him. He complained that there is insufficient money for repairing or improving local roads. He should go back and look at what is being provided in the local transport plans. I challenge him to do that. Does he know how much is being provided in his local transport plan?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I have looked at the local transport plan, and it is a very small sum compared to what is needed. If the Minister thinks that the settlement is generous, why did he, when considering the local transport plans, not give the go-ahead for the eastern spine road—an important scheme sponsored by the Wiltshire and Gloucestershire highways authorities? When he was lobbied and he was sympathetic, yet when it came down to a decision, he ruled it out of the local transport plan saying that there was not enough money.

Mr. Jamieson

I will not walk down that road. Instead, I will stroll on to other matters of importance. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside took us for a nice walk around Liverpool, which she called a city of renaissance. An excellent city, it also has some excellent MPs, one of whom is in the Chamber today. I know Liverpool very well and I recognise that it has had particular and special problems over the years, so I am delighted to hear of the renaissance. My hon. Friend said that much of Liverpool's environment can be appreciated by walking around it. I was also interested to hear her use the expression "the capital of culture". Liverpool has a long and fine record of cultural activity, so I was pleased to hear what she said, and I have some sympathy with it. She spoke of what is needed in the area, such as road crossings and other improvements for walking.

I listened to my hon. Friend with pleasure. However, listening to the hon. Member for Colchester, I thought how different are the ambitions of Liberal Democrats in Parliament to the ambitions of Liberal Democrats in charge in local government. Liberal Democrat Members are often embarrassed when they hear what Liberal Democrat councils are doing and how pitifully little they contribute to some of the issues that they raise.

Chris Grayling

I was going to help the Minister by reminding him that a Liberal Democrat council said recently that it had two policies—one local, the other national.

Mr. Jamieson

I thought that the Liberal Democrats had a different policy for every doorstep. I remember that the roads policy of Somerset county council, a Liberal council, was described as "benign neglect", but that is not what we hear from Liberal Democrat Members. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has touched a nerve.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) asked about the walking strategy document. The revised version will be published later this year. I am curious about the idea of a quota or target for walking. It sounds like an Albanian system under which so many million miles have to be walked and if they are not walked people are conscripted to do it. More important is creating an environment and places where people feel able to walk, and giving them opportunities to do so. That is more important than what the hon. Gentleman seems to want.

Tom Brake

I agree that it is important to create the environment for walking, but how will the hon. Gentleman, as Minister, know that he has been successful in his endeavours? On what will he focus if he has no targets?

Mr. Jamieson

We shall look out of the window and see more people walking.

Mr. Donohoe

You could try a dot.com.

Mr. Jamieson

Yes, we could look at the haggis website to see what is going on in Scotland.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked about research. The answer is in the Government's response. The hon. Gentleman asks many questions, which are written out meticulously by his excellent researchers. Perhaps I should refer them to the documents, in the hope that they find the answers that the Government have already given.

The hon. Member for Cotswold raised several issues, and encouraged us to undertake various schemes, such as pedestrianisation, but those are things that the Conservative Government never did. It is rather curious—he must have undergone a process that made him change his mind. Perhaps he should contribute to his party's policies. He might then be able to tell us what those polices are.

Having tried to answer some of the specific points raised today, I shall try to flesh out our approach on walking in cities. Improving conditions for walking will help to increase the number of journeys made on foot, the many benefits of which have been mentioned today. Making it easier to walk safely can reduce social exclusion and improve access to jobs, schools and health care. Improving the walking environment can also revitalise many of our communities and make residential areas safer, better places. If more people walk in an area, crime and vandalism may be deterred. Walking can also play an important role in enhancing fitness and health, as hon. Members explained so well.

Our policies on planning, good urban environments, reallocation of road space, the establishment of home zones, traffic calming and ease of access to public transport tackle physical issues and enable people to choose to walk more. The important point is to create an environment in which people can actively make that choice, which is the point that I was trying to make to the hon. Member for Cotswold. Links with health and education policies, the road safety strategy, the speed policy review, developments in personal security and mobility issues, and policies on air and environmental quality also help to establish the conditions in which people may choose to make journeys on foot.

We want to tackle the issues that prevent people from feeling that they can walk: crime and the fear of crime, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish, concerns about speeding vehicles, and the poor quality of walking routes which prevents easy access. We are having some success in that respect, although the number of people killed on our roads is still distressingly high. I am pleased to say that that number is the lowest in the world, and we should be proud of that, but we must drive it down further still.

My hon. Friend mentioned getting children to walk to school, which is about creating safer environments around schools and improving road safety. However, there is a vicious circle: journeys to school are often made more dangerous by parents taking their children in the car—evidence shows that children on foot are often injured by parents driving their children to school. We must break that vicious circle, and several measures have been mentioned. Making journeys to school safer is vital not only to improving health, but to creating better environments for children.

We recognise that more needs to be done. We have created a policy framework to allow local authorities to take positive action to improve the walking environment in their area. I was surprised to hear some Opposition Members suggest that big Government could solve all the problems. In fact, it is often local people who must act, because they know best what is required in their area. We must get local authorities to come up with solutions. Gloucester is a good example: our funding helped to create a much better environment for walking and general road use, but only because local people used it to come up with local solutions. We can all learn from that example.

Under our integrated transport policy, we have encouraged local authorities, as part of their local transport plans, to develop walking strategies and encourage walking, both on short journeys and when accessing public transport. Local plans should include clear, measurable targets; it is up to the local authorities to include them and to determine what they should be.

Andrew Bennett

May I be a little mischievous? How many local transport strategies has my hon. Friend examined and how many contain local targets?

Mr. Jamieson

My hon. Friend is not being mischievous at all. I have looked at a lot of strategies and most contain plans for walking. Many authorities include such measures, but we must tackle those that do not and ensure that our funding is used to better effect. Members of Parliament and local councillors should monitor such issues in their areas.

Mr. Donohoe

Will my hon. Friend give a commitment to write to local authorities that do not mention walking policy to insist that they give some thought to what they are about?

Mr. Jamieson

Such thoughts were going through my mind. Perhaps other hon. Members should look at their own local transport plans and see what is in them. It is up to local people to determine what their priorities are; it is not for us to do so.

Bob Russell

When the Minister goes back to his Department, will he inquire into the definition of "local people" and "local authorities"? If the highways authority is the county council, in a huge county like Essex, whose population exceeds 1 million, decisions are made, in effect, at county hall and not in the towns around the county.

Mr. Jamieson

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that there are no local councillors to represent each part of the area? There must be councillors in Colchester who represent the people there. If they are not doing their job, I suggest that he goes out and campaigns to get them replaced. I do not know whether they are Liberal Democrats; perhaps he should look into that. Furthermore, it is for district councils to make representations as to what they want in their area.

Bob Russell

indicated assent.

Mr. Jamieson

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me about that.

If we are to make walking a more attractive option in our towns and cities, we must ensure that we have a network of attractive and safe pedestrian routes. In their annual progress reports, local authorities highlighted the steps that they have taken to create facilities to encourage walking. In 2000–01, authorities established 91 km of new footways and footway improvements. Examples include the millennium bridge in Lancaster, which provides a link for cyclists and pedestrians between the city centre and the urban area to the north of the river Lune; a new pedestrian route from Newark to Peterborough; and a new three-mile pedestrian and cycle route along the banks of the Thames at Thurrock. Those developments have been made by local authorities using the excellent and generous grants that the Government have given them.

In April last year, the Prime Minister set out the Government's proposals for improving the quality of life in our towns and cities. The Government aim to tackle the minor nuisances that make our towns and cities unattractive places to live in. We are currently undertaking a cross-cutting review to examine what policies and funding are required to ensure improvements in the quality of public spaces. That review is due to be completed in March and will feed into the forthcoming spending review.

We are doing a lot to make people safer on our streets—that has been mentioned throughout the debate. The visibility of police on the street is being increased, and we are supporting a new neighbourhood warden programme that will help to prevent the antisocial behaviour which was mentioned by a number of speakers and which deters people from using the streets. We are also providing support for more CCTV projects across the country.

One of the clearest lessons that we can learn from successful towns and cities is to design spaces that suit the needs of people, not of traffic. Well designed streets and squares encourage people to use them and make walking a safe and pleasant experience. Places designed solely for the movement and parking of vehicles fail people, making walking an inconvenient and uncomfortable experience. Such places do not stand the test of time.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Listening to the Minister, one would think that everything to do with walking was absolutely wonderful under the present Government, but—whatever the statistics say—there has been a decline in the number of people walking in the past 10 years. When do the Government think that that trend will be reversed by the marvellous policies that the Minister is expounding?

Mr. Jamieson

I am not saying that everything is wonderful, but things are much better than they were when his party was in power. We are introducing measures to enable local authorities to tackle some of their problems. Why does the hon. Gentleman think that I am hard on Conservative Governments? He probably subscribes to the idea that there should be a great national act of amnesia. I can assure him that I shall not allow that to happen: we shall constantly remind people of how little his party did in government on some of the issues that he has mentioned. A debate on this subject would have been wholly different five years ago. We would not have talked about improvements, but about the sterile wasteland of cuts and neglect that typified the Conservatives' period in government.

Questions have been asked today about planning. We are reconfiguring our planning policies to deliver places for people. PPG3, planning for housing, is a good example, as is PPG13, in which we set out our transport planning policies. We have supported our policies with good practice guidance on design and better places to live, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside made graphically clear.

Our planning policies are designed to encourage walking in many ways. For example, in town centres we expect greater priority to be given to the needs of pedestrians, both in getting to town centres and getting around when they arrive. Our aim is attractive town centres: they should be places to be, not merely places to pass through in the car. We want day-to-day facilities to be located in local centres so that they are accessible by walking. We expect local councils to pay attention to the design of new development, wherever it is located, so that it helps to promote walking rather than hindering it.

We want an environment that values and encourages walking as a method of travel by integrating it with cycling and motorised modes. In some cases, that will mean a different allocation of road space. It can be reallocated by making physical changes to the layout of the carriageway and footway, and by adjusting the timing of traffic signals and pedestrian crossings. We cannot simply say that walking should be given the highest priority in all cases, as we must allocate road space in accordance with local needs and uses. In some cases, that will mean more space for pedestrians and slower vehicle speeds. It is also important to recognise that some routes will need to have higher vehicle priority to allow them to function effectively.

Tom Brake

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Jamieson

I will, but briefly, as I am mindful of the time.

Tom Brake

The Minister touched on small projects. I asked about that and I hope that he will now answer my question, which was about whether the Government were trying to assess the value-for-money nature of small projects as opposed to large ones. If they can develop a methodology that compares the two, they might find that they want to redirect money to small projects from large ones.

Mr. Jamieson

The hon. Gentleman makes a sensible point. Given the time restrictions, perhaps my Department will send him a note. I am sure that he will appreciate that, and he can then tick that question off the list that he makes of questions that we do not answer.

Tom Brake

One down; 300 to go.

Mr. Jamieson

The hon. Gentleman often contributes far more than I do to such debates. He talks on, and I have little time to answer. I have had more time than usual today to answer questions.

Tom Brake

You've had 45 minutes.

Mr. Jamieson

Yes, but I have given way many times to several hon. Members, including the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, who is now falling asleep.

The Department's local transport notes 1/95 and 2/95 provide guidance on assessing the need for a crossing, and deciding the type of crossing and the detailed design. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish raised such issues. We believe that the advice is sound: it does not advocate any specific form of crossing, but provides a decision framework and advice that should lead to good, safe and consistent pedestrian crossing design.

Some of the supplementary advice explains how puffin crossings can provide a straight crossing with a central island, rather than the staggered arrangement that was mentioned in connection with pelican crossings. Pedestrian crossings are only part of the walking environment. We believe that policy and technical advice for planners and engineers is needed to emphasise the importance of creating and maintaining complete walking routes and networks. We intend to develop such guidance.

The Government are committed to the development of home zones throughout England. Home zones are residential streets in which the road space is shared between drivers of motor vehicles and other road users, bearing in mind the wider needs of residents, including children and people who walk and cycle. I was delighted when earlier this month we announced that we would fund 61 schemes through the home zone challenge.

Despite all the work that has been done to create conditions that will allow an increase in walking, more action is needed. We agree with the Committee's recommendation that there is a need for a national walking strategy. We have begun to consider the content of that document and hope to publish it later in the year.

I am aware that my hon. Friend the. Member for Denton and Reddish wants to speak, but I shall conclude my remarks first. We also agree with the Select Committee that a forum to share good practice on walking and provide outside advice on policy should be established. We believe that an interactive website would be more useful than the traditional regular meeting of interest groups. We will explore that idea with other bodies that we know are interested. As a Government, we are committed to increasing levels of walking throughout the country. We have set in place the policy framework to allow that to happen. We will work with local authorities and other bodies, so that action is taken and we put the right conditions in place to enable people to choose to walk.

I am grateful for having been able to listen to hon. Members from both sides of the Chamber. There have been some excellent speeches. I am also grateful for the privilege and opportunity to present some of the Government's ideas on such an important subject.

5.25 pm
Andrew Bennett

I thank all hon. Members who have participated, especially my colleagues from the Select Committee, for whose support I am grateful. I want to make three brief points.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) was concerned about the number of staff in the walking section of the Department. The Committee was concerned about that as well, and we pressed the permanent secretary on the subject when he appeared before us 10 days ago. He assured us that if the people involved in that section felt that they needed extra staff, he could at least find those staff for them. I hope that the message has reached them; it reassured the Committee.

I was impressed by the description that the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) gave of private affluence and public decay in this country, but I am not sure that his leader has the same message. Tackling public decay involves public expenditure, and the money has to come from somewhere.

I was grateful for the full response from my hon. Friend the Minister. On the chewing gum issue, perhaps he might persuade Wrigley to create more jobs in his constituency to clear up the mess that it creates.

The Committee will return to the report later in the year. We look forward to what the Minister has promised—the guidance, the strategy, the website—being up and running, perhaps for Easter.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes past Five o'clock.

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