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Schoolchildren swap school run for walk

Nearly 50,000 schoolchildren across Northern Ireland were today swapping the school run for the school walk.

As part of the Travelwise Walk to School Week pupils from well over 200 primary and post primary schools will be learning about the health, environment and financial benefits of walking.

Launching a week-long series of events at Belfast's Holy Rosary Primary School, Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy said: "With fuel costs rising, heavy traffic at the start and end of the school day and childhood obesity levels increasing, there has never been a better time to put your best foot forward and leave the car at home."

The minister said many families continued to take the car each morning when it could easily be exchanged for walking when the school was only a short distance away.

"It is estimated that during the morning rush hour 20% of the cars on our roads are taking children to school, we only need to look at how much clearer our roads are during the school holidays to appreciate how much of an impact the school run has," said Mr Murphy.

He added: "Congestion at the gates is a major problem for many schools as large volumes of traffic can pose a very real danger to children being dropped off."

Mr Murphy said walking to school every day was not possible for everyone, but even once a week would make a big difference - for some it was not an option at all.

But he said for many it was realistic and castigated some parents for setting a bad example to their children.

"Many of the schools we work with have said many parents who live five minutes' walk away still chose to drive their children to school.

"This creates bad habits for later life and does not help their health or the environment. I would therefore encourage families to seek alternatives to the car if at all possible and get out and about and enjoy their walk to school."

Aileen Gault, head of Travelwise NI said they were delighted so many schools had registered for the Walk to School Week this year.

"When we launched this initiative in 2004 a few hundred pupils took part so it's amazing to say that in the last five years we have been able to raise this figure to over 50,000 and it has become an annual fixture in the schools' calendar."

Belfast Telegraph