Lee Waters AM

Lee Waters is the Welsh Labour and Co-operative Member of the National Assembly for Wales for the Llanelli constituency.

Elected in May 2016 he previously ran the sustainable transport charity Sustrans in Wales, where he led the campaign for the Active Travel Act.

He is now Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, and has always been a champion for active travel, and cycling in particular.

The meeting was held on Wednesday 25 September 2019

Lee was introduced by Chair Gwenda Owen, and began his talk by outlining some key priorities to his approach to getting things embedded, and changes made in the limited  time he would have as Deputy Minister Economy & Transport. For example: identifying “plumbing problems” and prioritising the spending of £30m in areas and on projects where he is convinced “we can spend it well”. This includes:

  • A  review of both the delivery and design guidance for the Active Travel Act
  • Fix the way Local Authorities apply for funds (current system is too complex)
  • Training programmes with professional organisations and LAs to help deliver the ATA
  • Working with Secondees from Sustrans
  • Consultation:  LAs undertaking the 3 year cycle of re-looking at their network plans will have access to apply for funds to enable them to reach people who do not currently walk and cycle (this latter point being a key aim, it’s no use continuing to preach to the converted!).
  • Hard-wiring of the guidance on roads and bridges to embed good practice.  To include a new edition of the Red Book on roadworks signing.
  • [we] will no longer fund stuff because we think you should have it!   We will reward councils for doing the right things. e.g. Cardiff Council put forward a good case and plans that have resulted in a 5.5m allocation for the year – additional support from pressure groups (C=CC) has helped. Cardiff Council need to be rewarded for taking the ATA and integrated network planning on board and implementing changes.
  • There are practical challenges:  Welsh Govt don’t have many people working on this but are still hoping for real advances in the next year or so.

Questions from the room and social media:

Why doesn’t your team have more officers/colleagues working on this?

  • There is a freeze on appointment of new Civil Servants which means appointments can only be made internally.  There are a large number of unfilled posts in Welsh Govt. and there hasn’t traditionally been the specialism that is needed for this team (previous priorities were around roads, then trains). [We are] Looking to ensure TfW mainstream Active Travel commitments and looking to give TfW a role in assessing (“policing”) and becoming “the expert” for the LAs to refer to for help with organisations like Cardiff Cycle City as the critical friend

What can be done about short-sighted Planners and Developers?

  • Cardiff were recently successful in initiating a meeting between developers.  There are issues around education, capacity, skills, training, and culture change that are needed and could be achieved through consultation. The LA integrated network maps and the 15 year visions of where routes should go.

Staffing:  Where there are no lead officers in a Local Authority? Is Cardiff a good model?

  • Cycling/Walking/ Active Travel is not a profession that is valued within LAs. [We] hope that through Regional Working (and a law to be passed next year) and the relationship with TfW, it will be in the interests of the LAs to fund Active Travel routes.  The emphasis though WILL be on active travel routes, NOT leisure routes.

Great to have infrastructure, but what about investment in behaviour change, without which people aren’t going to change.

  • The way money is divided with emphasis on capital rather than revenue spend doesn’t help, but there IS more money available, through committing to Low Carbon Plan, to achieve modal shifts, both of which involve behaviour change. Maybe this is where the opportunity lies.

Taking into account behaviour change and planning: letting agents always advertise distance to properties in Car Driving miles ! 

  • sadly writing to them isn’t going to do much use, some other initiative is needed here, however, I don’t know what that is.

21st Century Schools – the ATA is not included/thought about. The education sector is not engaging ?

  • Leadership IS coming from some schools (e.g. Hamadryad School project). It is true that the ATA has not been high on the agenda but it is now a requirement that any new school will have to feature on the integrated network maps. .

The Obesity Crisis: the 50 min per week exercise target is a compromise. Really we should aim to exercise every day. This is about getting us to use cars less, and driving children to schools is culminating in obese, unhealthy children.

  • Dr Tom Porter is doing work with the Public Service Health Boards to get them behind an initiative to sign up from a health point of view.  Getting all “joined up” is tricky. We have a law, we have design guidance and we need leadership – I may only be in this job another 18 months and whoever comes next may not be as committed to continuing these initiatives.

Many routes in Wales are not suitable for touring bikes, or road bikes.  These are signposted routes and a lot are not fit for any purpose [never mind as active travel routes].

  • What is a cyclist – who are they?  Do we want a one-size-fits-all approach? We need routes for different levels of confidence and roads need to be safe for cyclists to use too. It IS going to take a long while to get to where we want to be with all this.

The type of housing we have doesn’t lend itself to cycle storage – despite willingness and many attempts, we still don’t have much needed cycle hangars in our streets. Are there any plans to provide any to the communities where they are most needed ?

  • Of the 30m available, some is for consultancies, some for the LA’s plan for the next years projects, some for individual improvements and it is in this latter category that applications for Hangars would be appropriate. (Caro Wild informed us at our March meeting that each Hangar would cost a capital amount of £3k, plus the managing of maintenance and ongoing rentals of each hangar – a cost that Cardiff Council can’t currently justify, and which is too high to pass on to renters).  We need a local organisation to take on local maintenance and management of the rentals in order to make any hangar project feasible. It would certainly be possible to apply under the fund for the capital cost of the initial hangars.

How long does it take to complete a full route? It appears to be a complicated process and consultation is great, but engagement is better.  The Weltag system is slowing things down immeasurably and when work eventually begins we get untold flack from businesses, motorists, residents over essentially tiny bits of infrastructure being installed.  How can we get consent and build programme tightened up so we can proceed faster?

  • The stars need to be aligned for each of the routes and it’s hard. The LAs are not putting in the bids for these longer stretches and planning/other blocks are in the way.  TfW will eventually give these routes a chance to succeed.

Cycle Training especially for school children is very uneven across Wales – with some LAs just not engaging at all. Every child should have the opportunity to learn to cycle – how can we get LAs to take this up?  Would an increase in funding help? There needs to be a National Standard for Cycle Training.

  • Another Capital vs Revenue issue – agree there is an uneven picture on training.  There is a current survey on cycling to schools.

How seriously is access for people with disabilities taken across the integrated network maps?

  • applications for monies from the “little improvements pot” would be appropriate for this.

Conclusion:

The Chair thanked Lee for attending, summarising that we are in an amazing place at this moment. Lee is “sticking his neck out” and may well be putting his local votes at risk over his stance, nevertheless this is an amazing opportunity to show the rest of the UK what we can do in Wales and we need to do what we can to support the good initiatives.

 

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