Could car-free Welsh streets be the answer to growing child health problems?

Car-free housing developments could become part of the solution to childhood obesity in Wales - a debate by Assembly Government Ministers, building contractors and architects have been considering on Tuesday, March 10, 2009.

Jane Davidson, Welsh Assembly Government Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing, chairrf the debate set up by Play Wales, the national organisation for children’s play, and sustainable transport charity Sustrans, to discuss ways of reversing the decline of children’s activity levels.

Heavy snowfall postponed the original meeting on 3 February, appropriately leaving many vehicles immobile and giving children the chance to claim back their streets for play.

Sustrans Director Lee Waters said: “The heavy snow that postponed this debate first time around was a very real demonstration of how, when cars are taken off the roads, children take the opportunity to play freely outdoors, socialise with friends and neighbours, and connect with their surroundings. This is precisely the vision we have for a network of car-free streets in Wales .”

New research has shown that between 1973 and 2006, the proportion of children playing out on the streets fell from 75 per cent to 15 per cent*, and this inactivity is part of a growing obesity problem among young people in Wales .

One in five thirteen-year-olds in Wales is overweight or obese, and Welsh children have some of the highest body mass indexes in the World, according to the Welsh Assembly Government.

Lee continued; “The lack of opportunity for children to play safely in their own street is contributing to an obesity epidemic which puts Wales near the top of the world’s fat league tables.

“Too many urban areas are clogged by traffic when they could be safe public spaces where children can play safely outside their front doors and travel independently.”

The event will hear from Millennium Centre architect Jonathan Adams of Capita Percy Thomas and representatives from groups including the South Wales Highway Development Control Forum and building contractor Leadbitter.

Sustrans and Play Wales will call on planning authorities to lead the UK in creating housing which gives a high quality of life for all its residents, particularly children and young people.

Play Wales Assistant Director Marianne Mannello said: “Time after time children tell us that they prefer to play outside with their friends than anywhere else – it is time that we adults heard and responded to what they have to say. Where children feel they can play out there is a sense of community and vibrancy that benefits everyone – let’s take steps to make every community a play-friendly place.”

The debate will take place in Ty Hywel in Cardiff Bay at 6pm, and follows on from calls by Assembly Members to urgently address the shortage of affordable housing in Wales.

Source: Sustrans