Active travel officers admit driving to meeting to discuss how to encourage people to walk and cycle more
Twm Owen, local democracy reporter
All four council officers who attended a meeting to discuss how to encourage people to walk and cycle instead of using cars have admitted driving to it.
The officials were facing questions from councillors on work to encourage what Torfaen Borough Council calls the “transition from car to active travel”.
Towards the end of the two-hour question session each of the four officers, who included the council’s dedicated active travel officer Donna Edwards, and its group leader for highways and climate change, Michele Mitchell, were asked how they had travelled to the Civic Centre, in Pontypool, for the meeting on Thursday (April 27).
Pat Bates, the council’s road safety stratergy officer, told independent councillor Jason O’Connell – who had asked all the officers if they had arrived at the meeting using active travel – he hadn’t and didn’t believe the question was relevant.
Mr Bates replied: “I used my preferred method of driving by vehicle. We as active travel officers deliver Welsh Government and council policy without fear of favour. Our personal preferences are irrelevant.”
The Llantarnam councillor, described his original question as “cheeky”, then asked if the officers agreed residents might think the team promoting active travel should themselves commute by walking or cycling.
Mr Bates replied: “I disagree. As far as I’m concerned I do plenty of walking with my dogs. I walk at least an hour a day and I don’t need anyone telling me to do more.”
Climate change chief Ms Mitchell said she “totally agreed” with Cllr O’Connell but said walking or cycling isn’t always practical and confirmed she had arrived by car: “It’s a time constraint when you’ve got to be in a meeting by nine o’clock and get to another meeting and that’s something we’re going to face.
“Getting children to school, when parents are working, ideally they would like to walk. I agree with you but I think there are other challenges around that as well.”
Dedicated active travel officer Ms Edwards confessed: “I came by car today but I do try and walk or cycle everywhere I possibly can.”
The council’s highways and climate change deputy, Mark Thomas, said he too was an active driver. He said: “It’s a clean sweep councillor, you’ve got me.”
He said the council is looking at facilities such cycle storage and changing rooms and showers at its core civic centres to help make walking or cycling “an attractive option for our employees”.
He said the council is “fortunate a significant amount” of staff live within Torfaen: “I’m not one of them unfortunately but I do work remotely as much as I can and I’m up in Torfaen maybe twice a week but the other three days I’m working remotely.
“In a previous employment all my travel to work was either cycling or running and I’m really missing that at the moment as you can probably tell by the profile,” said Mr Thomas who rubbed his belly as he finished speaking.
Cllr O’Connell, who like most of the eight committee members took part in the meeting by video link, then told the officers: “I had no intention of tripping anyone up. I wanted to highlight that life gets in the way and the challenges of not taking the car.”
Towards the end of the meeting an unidentified councillor also said they had to leave to “drive to another meeting”.
The cleaner communities committee is to recommend that the council works with “all age ranges” to promote walking and cycling rather than concentrating, as the officers said they do, on work with school pupils. But councillors also said working with schools should be prioritised and recognised the demands on the team and that is should seek partnerships to do so.
It also wants the council to consider how it can work with voluntary groups and community councils to find funding for items such as benches which could encourage the elderly or disabled to walk more.
Members also said they recognised the value of a Welsh Government system to help priorities which walking and cycling routes are invested in but it should be used in conjunction with the system developed by the council.
The committee also said the council should take the lead on a campaign to encourage “behaviour change” to encourage walking and cycling if new guidance from the Welsh Government isn’t forthcoming.
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