Monday, 15 June 2015

School Cycling And Walking Heading In Wrong Direction

Ask any parent what they want for their kid and chances are “good health” will be near the top of the list. (A love of Brussels sprouts and good taste in old folks’ homes when the time comes might be other key desires.)

In Scotland we have our work cut out. Figures from a few months back showed that almost a third of Scots children are at risk of being obese, and as a society we’re still falling short of the physical activity guidelines and fruit and vegetable consumption we know can give us the best chance of a long, healthy life.

I’m not a great fan of finger-wagging, and tend to attach more importance to the environment and culture surrounding us as these clearly affect and often limit our choices when it comes to raising healthy kids.

Which is why this piece of publicity put out by East Lothian Council caught my attention.

With headlines such as:

“East Lothian pupils are amongst the most active in Scotland when it comes to travelling to school.”


“East Lothian pupils are also the least likely to travel to school by car, at only 12% compared to the national average of 25.8%.”

It seems the Garden of Scotland is raising rosy-cheeked bairns who are well on the way to enjoying long, active lives.

But of course, a single figure for the whole county - East Lothian is rightly described as Scotland in microcosm - and comparing us to an average rather than looking at a trend could be masking a more interesting story. So I have been digging.

The Sustrans Hands Up survey of schools has been going for 7 years now, and it’s that I’ve drawn my figures from. I’ve focused on Musselburgh as it’s my immediate patch but it’s also the county’s biggest town, facing yet more development, so we‘d be wise to tackle any bad habits rather than grow into them.

Sadly, what I’ve discovered is that at 4 of the 5 primary schools in Musselburgh, the rate of children being driven to school has increased in recent years, not fallen. And the rate of cycling to school in Musselburgh is less than half the East Lothian average.

Could these trends indicate a town whose streets have become less safe for cycling? Are working parents under more pressure to commute for work by car? And what sort of response can we expect from the local council and the Scottish Government?

Across East Lothian the rate of walking to primary school has fallen from 60.3 per cent in 2008 to 48 per cent last year. The rate of cycling increased slightly from 8.1 to 10.7, scootering rocketed from 2 to 11.8 and being driven fell a wee bit from 18.9 to 13. So it seems scootering has replaced walking for many primary pupils, and that’s understandable because it‘s fun and easy to do.

Burgh Primary is the best for scootering in Musselburgh at 9.2 per cent. It’s also the only school in town to have seen a drop in car drop-offs, from 27.6 per cent in 2008 to 13.3 last year. Given the built up catchment area and the morning traffic jams on the roads around the town centre school you can understand that many parents will view walking or scootering as a quicker, less stressful option.

But given the compact nature of the town why the low rates of cycling? If the East Lothian average is 10.7 per cent (hardly budging from 8.1 in 2008) why is Campie at just 3.3, Loretto RC at 4.5, Burgh at 5.8, and Pinkie and Stoneyhill both at 5?

(I’m also amazed to learn the rate of cycling to the secondary school - Musselburgh Grammar - has fallen from 0.7 per cent in 2008 to 0.6 last year. Is riding a bike when you get to S1 just not cool?)

Given the need to encourage active lifestyles we have to get rates of walking and cycling up, and reduce the need for kids to be driven. Creating safe walking and cycling routes across the town must be a priority. I’m aware the junior road safety officers at Burgh school identified risky junctions, crossings and bad parking on surrounding streets last year but those findings have yet to be acted upon by the local authority.

What’s more, if we look at the ring fenced funding being provided to local authorities for safe routes to schools by the Scottish Government, we see this issue is not being taken at all seriously.

The East Lothian Council budget states that “Cycling Walking Safer Streets” funding has fallen from £153,000 in the financial year just past to £120,000 in each of the next two years. Across Scotland this funding has fallen in the Scottish Government budget from £8.2 million last year to just £8 million this year.

With cuts to funding, not to mention local authority staff, we appear to be accepting that this issue is a low priority. The health of our kids? What could be more important? It’s time to shift this up a gear.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Ticket Machine Victory and the View from Yellowcraig

Last night’s meet up for members of the Scottish Greens in Musselburgh gave time for reflection on the Westminster election, plans for Holyrood next year and local government the year after that. Those of us who live in the Honest Toun had the start of a good discussion on a Green vision for Musselburgh. It’s a town with good points but also challenges, and so much untapped potential. I’m looking forward to more of that discussion.

Victory is mine! The ticket machine at Musselburgh station is back in action. I think if we look at the log of Scotrail activity we’ll notice what spurred them into action: Week 1 - no action; Week 2 - no action; weeks 3 to 6 - no action; week 7 - Green Dad appears on the front of a local newspaper looking slightly grumpy; week 8 - machine is fixed!

A week on and I’m still waiting for a reply from either First Group or East Lothian Council’s “environment” spokesman clarifying if First will roll out new low emissions buses to routes in Musselburgh. The company has trumpeted its investment but hasn’t given details. They also said “we support the efforts of our local authority partners to improve air quality for all,” prompting my query to Cllr Norman Hampshire. Given the silence I can only conclude that East Lothian Council has done nothing to make the case for low emissions vehicles on routes through Musselburgh. Cllr Hampshire certainly seems to have time to retweet messages about “SNP muppets” and Nicola Sturgeon on Panorama. Curious.

To the Primary School Show! The Brunton is packed and the kids give us mums, dads, grandparents and carers a great performance of different songs and TV shows from the 60s to today, ending with the school song composed to mark its 50th anniversary.

I’m cheered by the words of Gordon Henderson of the Federation of Small Businesses, writing in one of the local papers. He’s on about cycle tourism and sporting competitions, and how East Lothian has yet to seize these economic opportunities. East Lothian is a great place for both off and on road cycling and it’ll be a great spectacle when the Tour of Britain comes through in September. But we really should be offering the keen cyclist more. The Cycling Scot blog by Colin Baird has some good ideas for how to join up some of our great cycle paths, tourist attractions and railway stations.

I love libraries. If that makes me uncool, so be it. But they’re brilliant! Even better, I’ve discovered I can reserve titles online to collect next time I’m in. On Saturdays I like to read the review sections of the papers and if I spot a new author or piece of non-fiction that sounds good I can look it up online and ask the lovely librarians to put it aside for me. The simple pleasures in life…

To Yellowcraig! This is Wife-features’ favourite beach, and I love the walk through the countryside from Dirleton to get to the coast. As our bus leaves Musselburgh I look out at the fields at Goshen on the way up to Wallyford. There’s a big planning application to carpet this greenbelt land with housing, industrial units and a school, Handy for the buses and the train station, yes, but is building on the last bit of green space between two towns really the only option? There’s a Facebook page run by local campaigners. Worth a look.
The view from Yellowcraig

We get back from Yellowcraig to catch the end of the Junior Cup Final. Commiserations to Musselburgh Athletic but what an amazing result to get to the final. Let’s see if they can go all the way next time.

So, this “City Deal” that East Lothian is part of. Will it make our economy fairer and greener? I have my doubts! Read more about it here. I’ve asked council officials how they intend to measure the success of the deal and what effort will be made so that low carbon investment is a priority, tackling poverty is a priority and that local people get a say in what projects get funding. I’ll be keeping my eye on this one!