Transport Minister Danny Kennedy and the Public Health Agency jointly launched a major £1.2million sustainable transport initiative to encourage children to walk and cycle to school safely.
The Active School Travel Initiative is funded by the Department for Regional Development and the Public Health Agency and will deliver a programme of cycling and walking skills to 180 schools across Northern Ireland over the next three years. The programme will also work with parents and teachers to support schools to develop a culture of active travel.
The Minister was accompanied at the launch by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Elizabeth Mitchell.
Speaking during the launch at St. Joseph’s Primary School in East Belfast, the Minister said: “It is important any child cycling or walking to school have the necessary skills to enable them to walk or cycle to and from school safely. Children need to be aware of road space and the potential dangers when crossing roads. We need to invest in giving our children these vital skills and this is why I have asked Sustrans to deliver this Programme to 180 schools here over the next three years.
“Walking or cycling to school is a great way to keep fit and healthy and helps lower emission fumes in our environment. It is also, of course, fun. Exercise helps pupils to concentrate on school work and keep a healthy mind as well as a healthy body.
“I would like to commend pupils and staff at both St Joseph’s and Strandtown primary schools for their huge level of commitment to the Programme. October is International Walk to School Month and it’s great to see the number of schools growing who are taking part in sustainable travel activities.
“I would like to see at least 36% of primary school and 22% of post primary schools pupils walking or cycling to school as their main mode of transport by 2015.”
Mary Black the Assistant Director of Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement at the Public Health Agency said: “The Public Health Agency is delighted to support this important new initiative which will really help ensure that more children can take part in physical exercise, so important for their growth and development, not to mention the fact that it is good fun. Too many of our children do not get enough exercise and this poses real, long term risks to their health and wellbeing.
Director for Sustrans in Northern Ireland Gordon Clarke said this was an exciting strategic programme which would make big changes to the way young people travel. He said: “The enthusiasm from the schools shows there is great potential to embed a culture of active travel in our schools and young people, developing healthy habits for a lifetime. Pupils, their parents and the communities around the schools will be healthier and more active, while learning how to navigate roads safely.”
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