When he opened up the debate on the final stages of the Active Travel Bill last night (Tuesday 1st October), John Griffiths, the Minister leading the legislation, said that other parts of the UK were watching and Wales could provide the framework for legislation there.
Transport Minister Norman Baker has said that the Department for Transport will be conducting an assessment of the Act.
Sustrans Cymru led the call for this legislation to be introduced, teaming up with businesses such as BT and Royal Mail six years ago to introduce a petition to the Welsh Assembly. It has been hard work along the way, but the outcome is legislation that Wales can be proud of.
So what does this world first legislation mean for the rest of the UK?
Firstly, it means that Wales is leading the way in delivering on the recommendations contained within the ‘Get Britain Cycling’ report – with annual reports in the Senedd; clear political leadership from the First Minister; ensuring new highways developments take into account the needs of pedestrians and cyclists; and even more.
One of the main reasons Sustrans called for legislation in Wales was that many local authorities were doing little or nothing to increase provision for cycling. There have been some successes in other parts of the UK – the Community Links project in Scotland, and the Local Sustainable Transport Fund in England - but recent research from the Campaign for Better Transport shows that across much of England, cycling schemes are marginalised.
The new Act in Wales means that all local authorities must prepare a strategic plan for a network of active travel routes and work towards delivering it. New high quality design standards will sit alongside the Act, meaning people across Wales can expect the highest quality routes when they see them marked on one of the new maps.
It is not to say that because legislation was the right solution for Wales that it must be the answer in other parts of the UK, but the Active Travel Act now provides a framework for other countries to respond to. In many ways, we shouldn’t need to legislate to deliver new cycle routes, but while there are isolated pockets of good practice across the UK, it’s clear that not enough has been done. Legislation ensures that wherever people live in Wales, their council will have to plan to make cycling a more desirable form of travel for short, everyday journeys.
The political battle for cycling is intensifying, and it will play a more significant role in the 2015 General Election than ever before. The Active Travel Act in Wales will play a key part in that debate. It could also become a campaigning point in the other devolved parts of the UK. Wales is once again leading the way – and there is every chance that other parts of the UK will follow.