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School Journeys by Car

Volume 765: debated on Monday 12 October 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to reduce the number of home to school journeys made by car.

My Lords, local authorities are responsible for promoting sustainable travel and transport. The Government fund a number of schemes to promote and encourage parents, children and young people to make walking and cycling to school part of their daily routine.

My Lords, 23% of peak-time traffic is caused by the school run, causing congestion and pollution, of course. The coalition Government introduced a local sustainable transport fund, which was a success story, and the organisation, Living Streets, has been able to reduce the number of school journeys by 30% in areas where it operates. But that is in only 15 local authority areas. Will the Minister explain the Government’s plans and whether they intend to increase the amount of money available for Living Streets, or similar organisations to work in other areas, so that those benefits can be felt across the whole country?

I agree with the noble Baroness in welcoming the work that Living Streets has done. Certainly this is a priority for the Government. Our cycling delivery plan is a 10-year strategy on how we can increase cycling and walking across England. We have an ambition to increase the number of primary schoolchildren, in particular, walking to school to 55% by 2025. A number of Government schemes are available in which local authorities and schools can participate to help to encourage more walking and cycling to school.

The Minister will be aware that there are some really good practices in terms of walking buses, travel plans and safe cycle routes, but for some schools and local authorities it just becomes a tick-box exercise. How do we incentivise schools and councils to make this important issue take root? It rather fits in with the Question of my noble friend Lady Benjamin about fitness in schools. A kitemark could be something that the Government might consider.

The noble Lord is right that this is a priority, and it is important that we encourage people to be as healthy as possible. As he says, this is an area in which local authorities have a responsibility to work closely with schools to ensure best practice across the system. I shall take back his suggestion to the department.

I am sure the Minister agrees that what is often possible in urban areas is not possible in rural areas. Will she say something about helping children in urban areas who have to travel great distances to get to school so that parents do not feel that they are being stigmatised and are doing the wrong thing? I entirely agree with encouraging walking and running and certainly our rural school helps with that when the children get there. However, some children have to go by car.

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. For instance, many local authorities charge young people a flat fee for bus passes. Particularly in rural areas we find local authorities encouraging buses to pick up children from other points so that they can access public transport. Again, it is the responsibility of local authorities, but they are very well aware of their responsibilities. Many are doing what they can to ensure that young people can access the good school that they need to in their local area.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of School Streets, a scheme in Edinburgh, where streets around schools are closed to motor vehicles for an hour before and after school, which means that children and their parents automatically walk or cycle? There are fewer cars, so less air pollution. It seems to be a winner.

My Lords, more than 70% of parents walked to school when they were children, but now fewer than 50% of children walk to school on a daily basis. Will the Minister say what recommendation she will feed into the spending review to ensure that there are adequate resources for the Government’s cycling and walking investment strategy, so as to encourage more children to walk to school?

I welcome the noble Lord to his position. I assure him that we are focusing on this. In fact, the number of children in England who now walk to school is at a high level—it has risen over the last three years. As I said, a number of government schemes are available to help local authorities. It is also worth remembering that over the last three years local authorities have spent around £1 billion on transport in this area. It is something that they take seriously, despite facing a difficult economic climate.

I would love to. I do not have the exact figures to hand, but I can tell my noble friend that in some areas, for instance in Darlington, local authorities are working very closely with academies and free schools to develop transport plans. In fact, free schools are offering an option for parents to help to create new schools in areas where they have not had a local school. For instance, the Ongar Academy was set up in that town, which has not had a secondary school since 1989. Parents and teachers came together because they did not want children bussed out to other towns. We have seen the same in Ingleby Barwick’s Ingleby Manor academy as well. In their own way, free schools are helping to address this issue.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Prior, advised us that the Government will produce a report on obesity in children. He was not quite certain when that will come out. On this Question, will the noble Baroness say what her department will be inputting into that review? Will she tell the House what she will suggest should be done?

The Department for Education and the Department of Health work very closely and will be in close contact in ensuring that a whole range of issues are included in this strategy.

The Minister has repeatedly said how important it is that local authorities engage with getting children to walk or cycle to school. Part of it is also about enforcement and making sure, for example, that cars do not stop directly in front of schools on zig-zag lines. Why is it, then, that the Government put barriers in the way of local authorities on the use of CCTV and mobile CCTV, which would increase enforcement and make sure that parents cannot drop off their children in an irresponsible fashion?

I am not aware of any examples, but I am sure that the noble Lord is. As I said, local authorities, schools and national government have to work together. Everyone wants to ensure that there is less congestion and pollution around schools. Everyone needs to work together to make this happen.

My Lords, in her reply the Minister said that the Government have a number of strategies for walking and cycling to school. Will she inform the House how much money is being spent on this in total?

As I mentioned, local government has spent £1 billion a year over the last three years. There are a number of schemes. I do not have every single one to hand, but, for instance, there is £90 million on the cycling ambition grants. Some £400 million is available to local authorities until 2020-21. As the noble Baroness said, there is also funding to Living Streets. There is a significant amount of investment going into this and the Government take it seriously.