Walking the walk

Written by on 12 November 2014 in Editorial

Walking is the key to making the country healthier, happier and closer to its environment

More than a decade ago, a draft was drawn up by the Scottish Executive aiming to establish a national walking strategy.
Although it was headed up by the transport department, it was designed to be a cross-cutting programme, bringing together several aspects of policy at both a national and local level, getting more people to walk regularly.
At a time when other key pieces of legislation were being put through parliament, the strategy was never published. But this year a new version has reemerged at a time when getting people more active is at the top of the agenda.
Helped by the impetus of building a legacy following the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Let’s Get Scotland Walking was published in June. Sitting under the Physical Activity Implementation Plan banner of creating a more active Scotland, it covers environment, the workplace, health and social care, education, sport and communication.
A key part of the strategy is creating better quality walking environments with attractive, well-designed and managed built and natural spaces for everyone.
The challenge now is to translate the strategy into action and Paths for All, a national partnership organisation that promotes walking, is now setting up a new delivery forum, with a view to announcing a new walking action plan in early 2015.
Both Ian Findlay, chief officer of Paths for All, and the charity’s development officer, Rona Gibb, sat on the working group for the strategy, while Gibb was seconded to the Scottish Government to lead on the strategy.
Gibb said: “The walking strategy, from a health perspective, is probably one of the easiest ways to actually get people active and keep them active without needing a lot of equipment – a decent pair of shoes and a waterproof jacket is probably all you need.
“It links across all the other policy areas, whether it is the environment, planning, the carbon reduction side of things, transport or education – it pretty much hits the lot.”
Gibb’s role in the sport and physical activity division, now known as Active Scotland, was to drive the strategy forward, including workshops and building on information from previous events, including an Active Travel conference two years ago.
Now that the strategy has launched, a delivery forum will be holding its first meeting on 18 November to take forward the recommendations of the document. While the original working group was wide-ranging, including representatives of VisitScotland, Ramblers’ Scotland and the NHS, this meeting will include an even broader range of about 40 stakeholders and will be attended by Shona Robison, who is the Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for the strategy.
A direct comparison can be drawn between the plans for the walking strategy and what has been drawn up for cycling. 
The Cycling Action Plan, the first version of which was published in 2010, included a headline target of ensuring 10 per cent of journeys should be made by bicycle by 2020.
Findlay says he hopes similar quantitative targets can be part of a walking ‘action plan’.
However, he adds: “We have set the high-level aspiration of being a walking country on a par with some of the Scandinavian countries where walking is by far the most common activity both for recreational and for active travel.
“I doubt we will come up with one target as the Cycling Action Plan has been able to. Walking, I think, is a bit more complicated. But we might be able to come up with two or three high level targets relatable to recreational walking and active travel.”
The action plan will include key performance indicators, giving people responsible for implementing it, such as local authorities and regional transport partnerships – who will be included at the November stakeholder meeting – something to aim for.
According to a Paths for All, Living Streets Scotland and Scottish Government opinion poll, the biggest barriers to walking more were the weather, health problems and lack of time. The vast majority of people surveyed used street pavements for walking and just under two thirds walked in a local park or woodland area while just over half walked in the countryside or on a local path network. More than 50 per cent of respondents said better quality pavements and paths in their local area would encourage them to walk more often and 49 per cent said they would walk more if they had someone to walk with.
Both the walking strategy and Cycling Action Plan have been included in the new National Planning Framework launched by the Scottish Government, alongside the plans for the new strategic walking and cycling route led by Sustrans, Scottish Natural Heritage and Scottish Canals.
Gibb said: “It’s quite an exciting time because we have got all these things in place now. The action plan will be there soon, the delivery forum is in place, and we have a whole number of things lined up that should hopefully help us deliver quite a significant change for people in Scotland.
“If we can get the delivery right on this then the impact for local authorities and the way they spend their money and the benefits they get back could be quite significant.” 

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