Picture: Yiwen via Unsplash

Department for Infrastructure reverses funding cut to Active School Travel programme

The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has reversed its decision to scrap funding for a scheme that encourages active travel for school age pupils in Northern Ireland.

Previous DfI proposals meant that when schools returned in September, the Sustrans led Active School Travel (AST) programme, which helps pupils develop the skills to walk and cycle safely to school in 48% of schools, was going to be cut.

Following a campaign led by Cycling UK and Sustrans, which was supported by 120 schools and hundreds of parents and carers, the department has now assured the two charities sufficient funding to continue the programme will be available for the next school year.

Cycling UK and Sustrans highlighted to the department that cutting the programme would have had a detrimental impact on children across Northern Ireland, potentially locking in car dependency for another generation and making net-zero goals more difficult to achieve.

Andrew McClean, Cycling UK’s spokesperson in Northern Ireland said: “This is a victory for common sense and will benefit the future generations of Northern Ireland. Cycling UK applauds DfI for listening to parents, schools and individuals on the impact and importance of teaching cycling and walking to children across Northern Ireland.

“Civil servants are having to make difficult decisions in the face of budgets cuts and in the absence of a Minister and an Assembly, but this reversal is the right decision for a greener and healthier Northern Ireland. Officials have recognised minor savings from cutting the Active School Travel programme is disproportional to the huge benefits it delivers in schools and local communities.

“Cycling UK hopes this is a sign of positive change within DfI, as Northern Ireland needs to see investment in active travel as a long-term saving. Every person we can support and encourage to drive less, and cycle – or walk – more instead will lead to better health, cleaner air, and more pleasant communities across Northern Ireland.”

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The AST programme is jointly funded by the DfI and the Public Health Agency (PHA) at an approximate cost of £450,000 per year. It is the only initiative to encourage active travel on the school run over the use of cars in Northern Ireland.

It encourages children to walk, scoot or cycle; improving their health, road safety and congestion during school pick up and drop off hours.

Sustrans is now recruiting for the autumn term and encouraging interested schools to contact: schoolsNI@sustrans.org.uk

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