Buses to benefit from cash to get people walking

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FORGET trains, planes and cars, the Government's new transport strategy is about walking. New guidelines for local authorities, to be issued tomorrow, will tell councils they must develop a Local Walking Strategy or risk losing millions of pounds of government investment.

In future, councils will have to set targets for walking if they want to win government cash for improving buses, parking and roads. They will have to make sure that pavements are clean and safe and that people can stroll around in comfort without the risk of being run down by a vehicle.

Ministers are also planning to send monitors on to the streets to find out how many people walk in the local area. The Department of the Environ-ment, Transport and the Re-gions intends to monitor local councils' walking policies in annual progress reports.

The policy, to be issued tomorrow, says: "A Local Walking Strategy should be included in the Local Transport Plan. This could take the form of a stand-alone document, or be integrated into a wider sustainable transport strategy. Walking is a low-cost, healthy and socially inclusive way of travelling. Investment in it can benefit everybody."

The new approach to transport was welcomed by the Ramblers' Association, which held its annual conference yesterday. "With the growth in awareness of the importance of fitness, and the greenhouse effect, it is clearly more and more important for people to take walking seriously," said its spokesman, Paul Rees. "The growth of car-use in recent years has meant people have taken walking as a practical mode of transport less and less seriously."

Local authorities will now have to show, through the new strategy, how they are "making it easier, safer, more pleasant and more secure to get around locally by walking". Ministers are worried that children may be losing their road sense because their parents are ferrying them around town. They also believe that walking will help keep "couch-potato" children fitter.

A spokeswoman for the DETR said: "The whole thrust of this policy is looking at transport holistically. We want local authorities to take walking seriously and to stop people jumping into the car for a trip to the shops." She added that alternatives such as the walking bus - adult-guided "crocodiles" of pupils going on foot to school rather than by bus - would be encouraged.

The 1999 Guidance on Provisional Local Transport Plans will set the objectives the councils must meet. The Government will for the first time give local authorities money to pursue a "strategy" rather than just individual transport projects.

But each council strategy must include plans for cutting down on congestion, making sure taxis and minicabs are safe, and ensuring buses are reliable and regular. Their walking policies should include initiatives to get children to walk to school and encourage families to leave the car at home.

An extra pounds 700m will be allocated to help councils form the new transport plans - with more money for reaching targets related to getting people out of their cars.

The guidance also says that councils should plan for road charges and fees for parking at work.

The document states that the parliamentary Bill making road charges necessary has not been introduced but that councils can plan in advance for charging and should estimate how much money they could make from the new tolls.