Our asks for the Northern Ireland local council elections 2023

Many people in Northern Ireland are struggling because of rapid increases in the cost of energy, food and transport.

Transport poverty is widespread, with many people finding it harder to make journeys to work, education or to caring commitments because of the costs of running a car or public transport services that are patchy outside core commuting hours.

Helping people access the things they need without a car benefits our communities, local economies and the environment.

It reduces the cost of travel, giving people more money to spend on our high streets and town centres.

It also benefits physical and mental wellbeing, contributes to a cleaner and greener environment, tackles congestion and helps reduce social and economic inequity.

Walking, wheeling and cycling came to play a key role in people’s lives during Covid, either as their form of daily exercise or safe mode of transport.

There is strong public support for investing in active travel and creating more space for cycling infrastructure.

In Belfast alone, walking and cycling takes up to 77,000 cars off the road each day, and every year saves 12,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases and prevents more than 700 long-term health conditions.

Investment in active travel is very high value for money.

We get £5.62 for every £1 we invest and the benefits include: a healthier population; stronger, safer local communities; better access to jobs and education; lower levels of pollution and a reduced impact on the environment.

As reported to Westminster in 2020.

At this May’s Northern Ireland council elections, we urge you to adopt the following policies to make a positive difference to the people you aim to represent.

Increase investment in safe, healthy, sustainable travel

While the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) administers the budget for roads and transport, local Councils have funding pots for capital projects to improve infrastructure in their areas.

For example, City Region Deal funds, Levelling-Up funds and other public realm grants.

We urge Councils to prioritise spending on sustainable transport infrastructure and promote traffic reduction which we know has a negative impact on our health and environment.

Councils can also use their influence to press the Northern Ireland Assembly to increase spending on public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure.

We currently have the lowest per capita spend on active travel in the UK or Ireland.

We urge local council candidates to make walking and cycling a realistic and safe alternative to the car.

Ask: Ensure Local Development Plans prioritise walking, cycling and public transport infrastructure in order to create more vibrant places for people.

Ask: Ensure Council staff are recruited or trained with adequate skills to project manage greenway development. The National Cycle Network should also be improved for everyday journeys and to better connect people to nature and green space. There is DfI funding and support available for this.

Ask: Establish strategically placed Active Travel Hubs to enable people to overcome barriers to walking, wheeling and cycling. These require a revenue funding stream to support behaviour change programmes.

Ask: Increase the amount of prominent cycle parking stands with enough space for adapted/cargo cycles. Provide secure and covered units where possible.

Ask: Enable cycle hire facilities in prominent places on high streets or at destination places. Consider operators who provide electric cycle hire for hillier areas and for those less able.


Enable our children to travel by foot or cycle safely

The latest statistical report from DfI makes for grim reading: as many as two-thirds (65%) of primary pupils in Northern Ireland are driven to school despite many (50%) living within a one-mile radius.

Removing congestion from the roads around schools will create safer streets, keep children’s young lungs safe from harmful air pollution, and incorporate exercise into their daily routine.

Providing safe routes to schools by ensuring there is pavement space and adequate crossings will enable more children to walk, scoot or cycle.

School Streets measures – closing streets temporarily around schools at drop-off and pick-up times – have been proven to be successful in boosting the number of pupils travelling actively to school.

Yet we are the only part of the UK or Ireland that hasn’t implemented this initiative.

Ask: Call on the NI Executive to create a programme for School Streets embedded within neighbourhoods that provide safe, car-free zones around primary schools.

Ask: Ensure every child who can and wants to is able to safely walk and cycle to school and ensure every child that can leaves school trained to cycle safely.


Create more liveable, sustainable places to live

Despite almost every journey starting and ending with walking or wheeling, our streets are not accessible, safe or inclusive.

Too many people find themselves locked into unhealthy, car-dependent lifestyles.

This is partly down to planning decisions that, for example, build new housing developments in remote places without nearby amenities.

Decisions that allow the abundance of ‘drive-thru’ fast-food outlets or build multi-storey car parks in urban areas instead of improving public transport links.

One in four children in Northern Ireland is overweight or obese.

We need to call time on these planning decisions for the sake of our environment and our health.

Ask: Transform towns and cities to put people first by making 20-Minute Neighbourhoods a central principle in local planning, transport, health and economic policy.

Ask: Ensure all new developments and town regeneration schemes prioritise the most vulnerable road users and reduce car dependency to create more vibrant places for people. Every new housing development will be a 20-Minute Neighbourhood and every mixed-use development will be linked by greenways for walking and cycling as well as served by public transport.

Ask: Support 20mph speed limits as the default in residential areas to improve road safety and encourage active travel in neighbourhoods. Examples are Wales and Edinburgh. It’s estimated that a 1mph speed reduction in built-up areas lowers casualties by 6% and roads with 20mph limits have 20% fewer casualties. Support slower rural speeds to increase safety and the perception of safety on our roads.

Ask: Ensure there are adequate powers and enforcement to tackle inconsiderate and irresponsible pavement and cycle lane parking so that people, especially those with disabilities, are enabled to walk, wheel and cycle safely.

Ask: Support calls for an Active Travel Act, similar to Wales, to ensure active travel is embedded in the statutory planning process, and that urban and rural greenway development is a statutory duty of local authorities.


Tackle Climate Change and Air Pollution

As a result of the Climate Change Act, we have statutory obligations to meet net zero and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Northern Ireland.

Active travel can result in reduced emissions of nitrogen dioxide, harmful particulate matter and carbon dioxide helping to tackle climate change and improve air quality.

Recent research reported an estimated 2,600 people on the island of Ireland are dying prematurely each year as a result of air pollution.

Around 900 in Northern Ireland and 1,700 in the Republic are dying from conditions related to heart disease, strokes, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases including asthma.

The air pollution is specifically linked to both transport emissions and solid fuel burning in our homes.

Ask: Support calls for a Clean Air Act in Northern Ireland to reduce the harmful pollutants we are all breathing – transport is the second largest source of air pollution in Northern Ireland.

Ask: Ensure that sustainability and action to reduce our carbon emissions is at the centre of all local government policies and plans.


For further information or to speak to someone in our team, contact our Policy and Communications Manager, Anne Madden.