Skip to main content Skip to footer

Working together to get more people walking

Our Public Affairs Coordinator, Callum Coleman, tells us about Living Streets’ presence at this autumn’s political conferences – and how we're influencing change to create better streets for pedestrians.

Living Streets is a charity founded on campaigning, so engagement with politicians is an important part of our work to create better streets for pedestrians.

And in my role at Living Streets, I work with officials at all levels – from Secretaries of State to town councillors – to influence change to support progress towards transport policy that improves streets for walking.

I work with politicians from all parties, and my tour of the UK over the past week has been a great example of that. Between recent debates on ULEZ, the 20mph rollout in Wales, and Rishi Sunak’s ‘Plan for the Motorist’, active travel is now making the headlines across the UK. It is more important than ever that we stand up for better streets.

Last week, Living Streets held a led walk at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. The walk brought together Conservative MPs, local officials including the Greater Manchester Cycling and Walking Commissioner Dame Sarah Storey, and others including the Dutch Ambassador to the UK. We went for a short walk around Manchester to show examples of good practice and highlight potential improvements to the walking environment.

We held a similar walk last weekend at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, which was attended by a range of Labour MPs and councillors from all over the country. The walks prompted some useful reflections from councillors on how the infrastructure in Liverpool or Manchester might be used in their own local authorities.

The walk at the Labour Conference was preceded by an event on ‘Labour Streets’, co-sponsored with Cycling UK, that invited speakers to outline their vision for better streets after the next General Election. Our Chief Executive Stephen Edwards was joined by a broad expert panel, including Lee Waters MS, Deputy Welsh Minister for Climate Change, and Heidi Alexander, former Deputy Mayor of London for Transport.

"People must be given better choices in transport, but our current system too often leaves people with little choice but to drive."

The panel emphasised that people must be given better choices in transport, where our current system too often leaves people with little choice but to drive. This is particularly important in the context of the school run, as children are repeatedly found to prefer walking or cycling to school, rather than sitting in traffic. The cartoon to the left summarises some of the key talking points. 

Between the two conferences, I travelled down to Cardiff to meet with colleagues and lead a walk to mark the 10thanniversary of the Wales Active Travel Act, where Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Plaid Cymru officials gave speeches on the Senedd steps. We were also joined by Chris Boardman, the national Cycling and Walking Commissioner for England. I joined a panel discussion, which focused on the future of active travel.

One key discussion point at all three events was how the sector could better market itself. As Chris Boardman put it, ‘we don’t have a problem with our product; (active travel) is great – it benefits our health, economy, and makes for better places to live – but we do have a marketing problem’.

Throughout the week, I heard a range of ideas on how to better engage with those who campaign against active travel initiatives, but the fundamental message was clear: we need to communicate our ideas better.

It’s been a whirlwind week at a time when our agenda has never been more prominent in the political debate. Supportive comments came out of the Liberal Democrat and Green conferences, while the major party conferences saw a more open debate on the future of active travel.  What is clear is that there is the will across party lines to make change happen.

Our events this week have been an excellent opportunity to promote the benefits of walking for our economy, health and climate, helping us work towards our core mission to create safer streets and get more people walking.”