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Backing the Active Travel Bill

02/10/2021

Shadow Transport Minister Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM writes from the Senedd…

In the aftermath of the Olympics and Paralympics this year, there is huge interest in cycling in Wales. We must turn that enthusiasm into results on the ground. The evidence is indisputable- encouraging people to walk and cycle results in widespread social benefits and future savings to health budgets.

Although I represent a rural constituency where car use is still essential, in my national role as Shadow Transport Minister I am keen to explain that Plaid Cymru is committed to sustainable travel. That is why we will be supporting the Welsh Government’s Active Travel Bill.

There have of course been many criticisms of the current Welsh Government’s legislative programme. Not just from our party but from observers such as the former UN ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry. A perception exists that the Government in Wales has not made full use of the legislative powers that were secured in the 2011 referendum. Our criticism largely stands, but the Active Travel Bill is not included in this. This is one Bill where the Government has recognised the previous progress achieved under the One Wales administration, and has decided to act upon it.

The Active Travel Bill aims to create the conditions for walking and cycling to become the normal mode of travel for short journeys. This could also cover commuting in Wales’ urban areas. The main policy instrument of the Bill is to place a duty on local authorities to map out their existing and future cycling and walking routes, and then to gradually fill in the gaps. The weight of Government will therefore be used to try and “nudge” people’s behaviour, which is definitely the way forward when it comes to incentivising better lifestyle choices.

But the Bill alone will not do enough to make the transition to walking and cycling. The provision of safe and appealing cycling routes requires capital investment and a dedicated funding stream. When the Government launched its Local Authority Borrowing Scheme, there was a missed opportunity because it was only designated for “highways’ improvements”. The Minister should have made it clear that the funding could also be used to lay down new cycling routes.

To really give the Bill teeth, we also need to look into more consistent local authority and police enforcement of existing cycling zones. More should be done to ensure that other traffic can’t be parked on them. There is also then a need to ensure that any new cycling infrastructure is well-designed with expert input from the field, and with much better signage than currently exists.
Looking into the future, there may also exciting possibilities for cycling when it comes to using the Welsh Government’s future fiscal powers. At the UK level there are some very modest financial schemes in place to encourage tax-free purchasing of bikes and safety equipment, but far too few people know about them. Tailor-made Welsh policies could do a better job when it comes to encouraging a much more radical shift. Future Governments could start looking at tax reliefs and other incentives at the workplace for people that commute by cycling or integrated public transport. If Wales secures fiscal powers in the future, a world of possibilities will await us across all policy fields, depending of course on what is affordable.

Plaid Cymru the Party of Wales is therefore backing the Active Travel Bill. The sentiment is correct and it is right to recognise that this is ground breaking legislation as far as the rest of the UK is concerned. But we need to get finance in place to make sure the right infrastructure exists, and we also need to bang the drum for financial powers for Wales so Government intervention and encouragement of cycling can happen at the workplace level. The final goal should be to be able to say with honesty that Wales has the most pro-cycling transport policy in Europe.

Image used by tejvanphotos