Councillors are taking steps to get more children walking to school in bid to boost the fitness of Cheshire East youngsters.
At yesterday’s Cabinet meeting (October 15) it was decided that a vast network of overlooked and untapped school routes will be assessed for future use, after it was revealed that some had not been evaluated for at least a quarter of a century.
Since then, improvements have been made to the highway, such as pedestrian crossings and town centre bypasses, which have made walking to school safer.
There are believed to be over 100 routes that could be reviewed and opened up so that children who currently take the bus or car to school would be able to walk. The review will start immediately.
Cabinet member in charge of the environment Councillor Rod Menlove said: “With so many pressures on today’s parents, it seems that the humble walk to and from school has been forgotten.
“Driving children to school or placing them on a bus has become the norm due to busier lifestyles and heightened safety concerns.
“But 25 years is a long time and, even though traffic levels have increased, there has been a great deal of work to ensure that pedestrians can now safely share the highway.
“We believe this review will identify a great number of safe paths and cycle routes in Cheshire East that have previously been overlooked and which would benefit children greatly. It will also discount some which are not safe.
“Rediscovering these routes would mean that parents could either consider walking their child to school themselves or joining, or developing, a walking bus in their area.
“Walking not only provides vital exercise, it also facilitates time to talk to young people about school.
“All schools have their own travel plans and we will now be working closely with them to highlight any walking routes that may become available and how they can be put to good use.”
Leader of Cheshire East Council Councillor Michael Jones said: “It is good that we are reviewing this to ensure that as many children as possible can safely walk to school.
“I would like to reassure parents that child safety will be paramount when considering whether or not a child and their parent can use a particular route. Parents should be aware that routes can become prohibited as well as opened up.”
Cabinet member in charge of health and wellbeing Councillor Janet Clowes said: “I support this whole-heartedly as it fits in with Cheshire East Council’s policy to promote a healthier lifestyle for our young generation.”
Government legislation stipulates that primary school children who live more than two miles from their nearest school are entitled to free transport. The distance rises to three miles for secondary school children.
The assessment of new or existing routes could mean that some children who currently qualify for free transport because of distance criteria now have a shorter route to school and so lose out on free transport.
It could also mean that some routes never previously assessed are no longer considered to be suitable and some children may now become eligible for transport assistance.
Councillor Menlove added: “We must acknowledge that there are some things that we, as a Council, cannot continue to fund in these challenging economic times.
“Subsidising school transport when there are reasonable alternatives would not be in Council Tax payers’ best interests.
“The assessments will be very thorough and we will be working with local members where necessary to ensure that community concerns are taken into account.
“The schools will play an integral role in ensuring that any routes that are re-opened – and any initiatives to optimise them - are communicated to families.”