Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, Sophie Howe has voiced her concerns about safety on and around school streets as Wales prepares to enter a national lockdown later this week.

As part of the firebreak announced yesterday (19 October), primary and secondary (years 7 and 8) schools will remain open after half term, making the need for safe and effective physical distancing more important than ever.

The Future Generations Commissioner, who this week published Manifesto for the Future, is supporting Living Streets’ School Streets schemes.

School Streets see streets closed to vehicles during peak drop off and pick up times. Living Streets Cymru, part of the UK charity for everyday walking, promotes School Streets as a way to reduce congestion and air pollution outside school gates, making the walk to school safer and more attractive. School Streets also allow more space for families to practise physical distancing.

Outdoor exercise will be permitted under the national lockdown and School Streets make it easier for families to walk or cycle to school. Local authorities in Wales, including Cardiff Council, are now implementing successful School Streets schemes.

Sophie Howe will talk about the benefits that School Streets schemes bring to families walking to school and to the community living around the school at a Living Streets Cymru webinar on Thursday 22 October at 12pm.

Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe says:

“As Wales enters the firebreak period, it’s important that the journey to school is made safe and easy for everyone, especially with the need to physically distance. With fewer cars on the road, more people can enjoy the benefits of walking and cycling to school and they need to be supported to do so, safely.

“One of my priorities is to help Wales to deliver on the Well-being goals of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act. Active travel plays a huge role in keeping people happy and healthy. We need to invest in walking and cycling for the improved health of current and future generations. School Streets are vital for the wellbeing of our children.”

Sophie Howe

Active travel plays a huge role in keeping people happy and healthy. We need to invest in walking and cycling for the improved health of current and future generations. School Streets are vital for the wellbeing of our children

Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe
Girl outside a school

The free webinar will provide teachers, parents and local authorities with the skills and knowledge to introduce School Streets in their area. To coincide with the webinar, Living Streets is launching a Welsh language version of its popular School Streets toolkit.

Over 2,000 primary schools in the UK are situated in pollution hotspots, putting children’s health at risk. Air pollution is harmful to everyone but for children, the risk to their health is even higher as their exposure is much greater and they absorb and retain pollutants in the body for longer. Motor vehicles are the biggest source of air pollution and one in four cars are usually on the road at peak times are on the school run. In Wales, only 44% of primary school pupils in Wales walk to school, with parents’ concerns over their children's safety being a major factor.

Rhiannon Hardiman, Manager at Living Streets Cymru, says:  

“We know from our work with schools across the UK that families are put off walking to school by traffic, road danger and air pollution. By removing cars, we remove these barriers. School Streets schemes help to get more people walking, resulting in safer, happier and healthier communities.

“Welsh Government has already shown real leadership in making routes to school safer by committing to introduce 20mph speed limits on urban roads and tackle pavement parking. It has also funded active travel infrastructure during the pandemic.”

“As Wales – and the UK – prepares for tighter lockdown restrictions, we must prioritise walking and work to ensure that routes to school are safer, cleaner and less congested.”

Councillor Caro Wild, Cardiff Council Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning and Transport, says:

“School Streets schemes are a practical way to encourage families to walk or cycle to school – and a big part of Cardiff Council’s vision for active travel. So far, we have introduced 24 School Streets road closures in Cardiff to make sure that children and families can maintain physical distancing measures safely when arriving and departing from school.

“We’ve had a really positive response from school communities and local residents, and we will continue the scheme as part of the Council's Active Travel to Schools programme.”