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Plus ça change…

Updated: Feb 15



…c'est la meme chose? As of this week Northern Ireland has a govvernment and we ask ourselves, are we now finally moving forward or entering a period of déjà vu?


We have been here before, when Northern Ireland’s legislative assembly was still sitting. What am I talking about? I am talking about our new/old minister for Infrastructure, John O’Dowd. He who before the 2022 election stated that he would support an Active Travel Act and, after being elected and chosen as MfI, decided that wasn’t an idea worth pursuing. He now has the opportunity to correct that misjudgement.

 

Let's remind ourselves where we are: climate change is real, Northern Ireland is having trouble meeting its Net Zero targets and the NHS is facing an obesity crisis - the statistics for Northern Ireland are shocking. Active Travel is a great tool for addressing all of these pressing issues and we urge Mr O’Dowd to reconsider and proceed with the introduction of an Active Travel act in Northern Ireland. Wales passed one in 2013, Parliament set up Active Travel England with ambitious goals in 2020, Scotland got its act together in 2022 while Northern Ireland twiddled its thumbs and sidelined its executive. Our Department for Infrastructure and Mr O'Dowd have a lot of catching up to do.

 

The World Health Organisation published evidence that Active Travel reduces mortality by at least 10% and that active commuting lowers cardiovascular risk by 10% and Type 2 diabetes risk by 30%. Cancer-related mortality is 30% lower for bike commuters compared to other forms of commuting!

 

We should point out that the Department for Infrastructure should spend 10% of its annual budget on Active Travel. In the current financial year that works out to a measly £52.3m. Given that the department stopped funding for waste water treatment, reduced essential road maintenance to emergency response only, eliminated winter road service apart from snow clearance, stopped the community transport programme, switched off streetlights and stopped flood prevention programmes, we suspect that the actual spend on Active Travel this year will be approaching zero. We feel another Freedom of Information request coming on...


The funding situation across the Irish Sea is only marginally better. Of particular concern is that Parliament is aware of the dire situation yet nothing is being done by the UK Government to address it. We would urge those in DfI tasked with developing an Active Travel policy here to read this parliamentary report first to avoid making the same mistakes.


Last Tuesday Mr O'Dowd said, “There is a lot of work to be done in terms of improving the road and rail network, getting greenways in place, improving active travel, making sure we are prepared for floods, ensuring our planning system is working effectively.”

 

Here are our suggestions on where to start, Mr Dowd:

  • First, consult and digest the 2022 Changes to the Highway Code, then review your 2030 Road Safety Strategy, amend it, and adopt those changes. Please ensure your commitment to Road Safety includes vulnerable road users.

  • Require Translink to review its bike policy which prevents multi-modal commuters from using trains before 09:30. Ask why it’s building a £250m travel hub in Belfast with short platforms that are unable to take longer trains, making future capacity increase impossible.

  • Don’t focus just on greenways, install cycle paths that are fit for purpose.

  • Put your money where your mouth is and not only pass an Active Travel act but commit to spending 10% of your department’s funding on Active Travel.

  • While you’re working on flood prevention and the planning system, make sure NI Water actually invests in bringing its sewage infrastructure up to 21st century standards. Northern Ireland’s waterways are full of sh!t and Lough Neagh is dying because of NI Water’s underinvestment. What’s more, in Bangor new developments cannot go ahead because NI Water does not have enough sewage capacity.

 

Yes, we know all that costs money, but Northern Ireland has been short-changed by the UK Goverment for a long time. We've got an election coming up, ask for more funding from the Treasury as the funding package agreed in January is insufficient.


Not to put too fine a point on it: Northern Ireland expects!

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