Cycling and Walking Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris joined pupils at Nightingale Primary School in Hackney today (6 October, 2020) to see a School Street in action and celebrate Living Streets' Walk to School Week.

Walk to School Week is a five-day walking challenge from charity Living Streets. Children are encouraged to walk, cycle or scoot every day of the week and share their experiences with classmates through interactive activity packs.

Choosing healthier and more sustainable ways to travel has been made easier for pupils in Hackney since the introduction of School Streets – which see cars prevented from driving up to the school gates at drop off and pick up times.

Hackney Council has been leading the way with School Streets, successfully implementing schemes at 38 of its schools to date.

Minister heads back to school
Pupils at Nightingale Primary School have been celebrating Walk to School Week.

Chris Heaton-Harris, Cycling & Walking Minister said:

“Being active is not only good for health and happiness but also helps children to be more alert and ready to take on the school day – so it’s essential everyone can safely walk to school.

“We know well designed walking schemes are hugely important for improving safety, cutting rat-running traffic, and boosting air quality, which is why as part of our £2bn commitment we’re supporting councils that put in place good quality walking infrastructure that meets the needs of their communities – and why we’ve extended our million-pound fund to support local school communities get more children active on the school run.”

School Streets
Choosing healthier ways to travel has been made easier for families thanks to School Streets.
Mary Creagh and Chris Heaton-Harris
Mary Creagh, Living Streets CEO joins Chris Heaton-Harris for the walk to school.

The Minister’s visit comes after new research this week revealed that a majority of parents with children of school age (4-18 years) support safer crossings (60%), 20mph speed limits (53%) and car-free zones outside schools (50%).

The YouGov survey commissioned by Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking, also found support for banning pavement parking (49%) and efforts to reduce rat-running (44%).   

The parents polled believed the biggest benefits of walking to school for their children were being physically fitter (88%), getting fresh air (84%), being cost-free (72%) and reducing congestion (71%). Respondents also commented that physical distancing “is easier when walking” and that walking to school allowed their children to learn road safety and independence skills.

Despite these benefits, fewer than half of primary school children currently walk to school.

The Government has provided £225 million for councils to install emergency active travel measures that meet the needs of their communities. Some councils’ schemes have attracted controversy, but the poll reveals a “silent majority” are in favour. Living Streets is campaigning for action to encourage families to choose to walk, scoot or cycle to school.

The Minister was joined on the walk by the Mayor of Hackney, Philip Glanville and Mary Creagh, Chief Executive of Living Streets.

Mary Creagh said:

“Every child should be able to walk to school safely, and enjoy the fresh air, freedom, friendship and fun that it brings.  It’s clear from our research that parents see the benefits, but concerns around rat runs and air pollution are putting them off.

“Across the country, there is a silent majority of parents in favour of safer crossings and slower speeds, but too often, their voices are drowned out by a vocal minority who often live outside the area.

“It’s vital that we scale up for walking, to protect children and families from the physical and social isolation the pandemic has brought, and to tackle the twin epidemics of loneliness and obesity.”

The Department for Transport last week announced £1m funding to support children to walk to school, which will include 300 additional schools taking part in Living Streets’ Walk to School Week.

We know well designed walking schemes are hugely important for improving safety, cutting rat-running traffic, and boosting air quality, which is why as part of our £2bn commitment we’re supporting councils that put in place good quality walking infrastructure that meets the needs of their communities – and why we’ve extended our million-pound fund to support local school communities get more children active on the school run.

Chris Heaton-Harris, Cycling & Walking Minister