We catch up with Ian Waller, Chesterfield Borough Council (CBC) Assistant Director for Health & Wellbeing.
During the first few weeks of lockdown the only outdoor activity people were allowed was an hour walking, running or cycling as residents could be seen looking after their health.
The government pledged to improve walking and cycling infrastructure to support this and allocated money to suitable local initiatives. CBC made changes, which are initially short term, and although useful to some creating safe routes away from traffic for pedestrians and cyclists, they were not very far reaching. We have seen some really ambitious changes in neighbouring cities, why can’t we do this in Chesterfield and enable real change in the way people move around with less dependency on our cars?
I chatted to Ian, over the phone, to see how our council is reacting to this question.
“The ‘Beat the Streets’ project was a great indicator that people are looking for change” explains Ian. “People were encouraged to walk, run, cycle or scoot between Beatboxes. The Sport England part funded project, which was also supported by Derbyshire County Council and Chesterfield Borough Council, engaged primary schools specifically, as well as other schools and organisations. All local primary schools approached came on board. People registered and then tapped as many of the 120 Beatboxes as they could, installed around the borough.
“Feedback from parents and carers is that kids now want to walk”, Ian says. “The uplift in physical activity has a positive impact across all ages, it wasn’t just children who took part in the scheme.
“Unfortunately, the programme was halted due to lockdown, but 13,820 people registered and covered 143,000 miles between them, to obtain their points. The technology in Beat the Street was a great hook to get people involved.”
During lockdown many people started cycling, many returning as they dug out an old bike from the back of the shed or visiting local cycle shops to buy new. Stock was stripped at all price points from £150 to £7500, you still can’t easily find a good stock of bikes.
“British Cycling research has highlighted that a reason for people not cycling is concern regarding riding on busy roads. As roads quietened down during lockdown people picked up their bikes and went out, indicating a desire to change when concerns are removed”’ explains Ian.
Chesterfield has a growing number of segregated safe walking and cycling paths, but I asked if some of the recent changes, for instance on Crow Lane, the route to the hospital, and around the town centre, would become permanent or whether others could be adopted?
“For ongoing change, we need to create the infrastructure for people to change, so people will use it”, answers Ian.
“All change should be an integrated part of our overall plan, and we’re working on a strategic assessment of integrated transport within the Borough to support our communities make the transition to sustainable modes of transport. For instance, lockdown created a massive upswing in walking and cycling so we will look at how we can support this to ensure sustainable transport becomes part of everyone’s way of moving around” Ian explains.
The reviews Chesterfield Borough Council and partners including Derbyshire County Council, as the transport authority, will undertake include all elements of town travel; public transport, engaging with taxi operators, HS2 impacts, the railway station and looking at how people get to and from the station in as green a way as possible.
Another of Ian’s roles covers the Climate Emergency. “In 2019 we declared a climate emergency” says Ian. “I was the lead officer for the development of our climate change action plan which covers a range of key themes impacting on climate change. We produced the plan through co-operation and collaboration with a working group of residents and councillors. This plan, approved in February, has a vision for Chesterfield to become a net zero Borough by 2050, the lockdown has had an impact on some of our activities, but as lockdown conditions change we will be well placed to carry on our work on the plan.”
For many of us who are able, working from home over the past few months has shown that maybe we don’t need to travel into the office as regularly. Technology has enabled people to work effectively and it’s unlikely that people will drift back to the office in the same way as before lockdown. Services have continued to be provide and it’s been a bit of an eye opener for the future.
“The working from home agenda is now at the top of many people’s way of working and it’s important that we embrace and work with it.
“An integrated transport system would need to support this, a real change away from the traditional 9 to 5 to reduce peak hour congestion. Not everyone can work at home but where people can they’ll hopefully continue with this, where appropriate”, Ian says.
Ian gave me the impression that there is a desire to make change, but that change needs to be part of the bigger picture and an integrated plan. Once this is sorted, they will know where to start and can start putting building blocks in place.
“Sustainable transport means different things for different people’, says Ian. “Not everyone, wants to or can easily walk or cycle, so our challenge across the borough is to deliver an infrastructure that is easy for people to adapt and use."
Words: Paul Chapman
Image: Adobe stoock