“Supporting Healthy and Active Lives and the role of infrastructure”
On Tuesday 26th November 2019 CECA Wales launched it’s joint report on “Active and Healthy Lives : the role of infrastructure” at the Pierhead, Cardiff. The event was sponsored by Jenny Rathbone AM and the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, Lee Waters, gave us his response.
The report was produced as a public and private sector collaboration including CECA Wales, the Association of Consulting Engineers (ACE) Wales and the County Surveyors Society (CSS) Cymru who represent the local authorities of Wales and in particular the directors of environment and highways. And that mix of public and private sector expertise, experience and knowledge was critical in the development of this report.
And the launch generated widespread interest across the political and professional spectrums.
Lee Waters, Deputy Minister Economy and Transport with Ed
The stimulus for the report was our joint annual conference, held in March, on the theme of “Health, Wellbeing and Active Lives”. In previous years we’ve focused on subjects like “streamlining public procurement” and “transporting our future generations” and we’ve produced reports on these themes too and used them to engage with others, to influence, to drive change and, yes, to lobby. If any of you are interested our theme for our 2020 Conference it will be “Decarbonising our infrastructure”.
But back to this year’s theme of “Active and Healthy Lives”! As we face increasingly difficult funding challenges across the public sector, an ageing population and mounting pressures on the NHS there are increased demands for infrastructure which will encourage and allow us to lead healthier and more active lives. The conference gave us the perfect forum to look at the challenges and opportunities for the infrastructure sector with colleagues from both the public and private sectors. We were also joined by a number of speakers from across the public and private sectors to share their thoughts and to stimulate debate amongst delegates on how the infrastructure sector can rise to these challenges. We heard about the positive experiences at Waltham Forest, London, the views of Public Health Wales in terms of safety and air quality and then Transport for Wales shared their plans to put active travel at the heart of their work. We thenposed a number of questions to the delegates and they came up with some challenges, some solutions and some “blockers” to progress – nationally and locally.
And here’s a link to the report https://www.ceca.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Healthy-and-Active-Lives-Annual-Conference-report-2019.pdf
In terms of launching the report we adopted a very simple format which consisted of a short summary of the report from me and a response from the Deputy Minister for the Economy and Transport, Lee Waters, who I was very pleased could join us given that he’s played a huge part in moving the Active Travel agenda forward in Wales. I was also very grateful to Jenny Rathbone, the AM for Cardiff Central, for agreeing to sponsor the event and who set us off with some words to get us going.
And the key questions from the conference?
Is stronger political leadership required?
Yes. But this isn’t about a whinge. This isn’t about trotting out the usual thing about “Welsh Government need to do this, that and the other” which at times is an excuse not to do something. To be fair the government has been very clear about the direction of travel and has legislated for it. And, yes, investment is being made.
But progress has been slow and that’s why we’re asking for much greater impetus and direction from other tiers of government – local authorities and health boards in particular. Because integrating health, wellbeing and transport policies, particularly at a local level, is a major undertaking that goes against the grain of traditional practices.
And it will take strong political will and leadership to tackle this at all levels.
What evidence do we need to justify investment?
If we’re going to change our “active travel culture” then we’ll need a major shift in attitude not just in those who travel but by those who fund infrastructure. We need to rethink the way we justify investment and base it on the Wellbeing of Future Generation Goals. We need to cost the health benefits of investing in transport infrastructure alongside decarbonisation, economic performance and other factors. But we need the evidence to back this up.
We were all adamant that current funding structures need to be overhauled – we need to challenge who pays and who benefits. A small fraction of the health budget should help fund infrastructure projects to encourage active travel and deliver health benefits.
Who will take responsibility?
An integrated approach needs collaboration, of course. But realistically someone needs to take responsibility (and be accountable) for connecting public sector “silos” and coordinating policy delivery :
- A role for the Welsh Government in bringing the various parties together? Not really. Maybe kick start things?
- What about regional arrangements impacting the transportation debate? Possibly. Jury’s still out!
- But isn’t Transport for Wales (TfW) well placed to ensure that local transport schemes align with the active travel agenda. Yes, they have a lot on their plate at the moment but I’m confident that they will sort out the trains and move on!
Overall the Conference felt that TfW should play a central role in developing and implementing an integrated transport system for Wales. But, either way, this needs to be settled before any real progress can be made otherwise progress will continue to be fragmented.
How can we win hearts and minds?
Much of the practical change will take place at local level, so it’s crucial that local authorities, local health boards, residents, private businesses and other local stakeholders are engaged and on board.
But there needs to be a shift in culture, behaviours and attitudes within our sector as well. The private sector needs to play a much stronger role, alongside the public sector, in showing what can be achieved through better infrastructure.
So, our 4-point plan of action? I guess it’s as much of an offer as anything – an offer to our partners to :
agree and drive forward an integrated transport policy that champions active travel and healthier living – there’s a myriad of plans out there, it just doesn’t feel that they’re well connected at the moment
gather evidence and research to help make the case for justifying active travel investment in line with the Wellbeing Goals – a precursor to a new way of justifying investment?
let’s better integrate the planning and funding of active travel initiatives across health and transport portfolios – identify and break down the barriers that prevent this happening locally (Public Service Boards??)
support the “mainstreaming” of good practices in active travel across the infrastructure sector – if I was coming at this from a “what can CECA Wales and infrastructure partners most contribute to” it would be this one
Wellbeing is rightly at the heart of the Welsh agenda as we move forward into a future shaped by the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. And our sector has a really important part to play in promoting healthy and active lives? We’d argue that the sector’s role is crucial. So many health issues can be traced to our transport networks and the way we conduct our daily lives. Our focus on car use, especially in urban areas, at the expense of public transport and active modes of travel has led to rising volumes of traffic, increased air and noise pollution, safety concerns, challenges for walkers and cyclists, community disconnect and social isolation for many.
Yes, we know that we still need investment in major transportation projects, but the way we identify and prioritise our investment needs to change.
And as a nation we’ve never been more inactive – which is frightening.
But tackling the problem piecemeal isn’t working. Despite having an Active Travel Act we’ve struggled to make significant advances in five years. Attitudes within our sector also need to change.
There’s no magic wand but we do need to step up the pace of progress and I certainly hope that our offer will be accepted – by whoever wants to make these things happen.
Director, Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) Wales