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I'm calling time on slow progress of change in travel habits and I need you

Nichola Mallon

Infrastructure Minister pledges for change by turning the curve on active travel


The coronavius pandemic has radically changed travel patterns

The coronavius pandemic has radically changed travel patterns

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

The coronavius pandemic has radically changed travel patterns

Change can be slow, which can be frustrating, but it will come.

Since taking up office, I have been clear that the type of society we currently have, is not good enough.

Citizens deserve more, people deserve delivery. After three years of being denied a government, people wanted their new Executive to deliver the change they have waited so long for, and have so long been promised.

A year on, we have witnessed unprecedented challenges with coronavirus and Brexit, but while these factors have been disruptive, they cannot be destructive.

The promises made to our citizens must be honoured and in my own department delivering on the promises of New Decade, New Approach are high on my priority list.

Travel has become a pillar of change within towns and cities.

Since becoming Infrastructure Minister, my eyes have been opened to the way in which our society has been left behind in the global change happening around travel. In an effort to cut emissions, to improve health and wellbeing, to better connect families and communities, across the world active travel has become a pillar of change within towns and cities.

Our island deserves no less.

That is why I am calling time on the slowness of change here and pledging that I am determined to turn the curve on active travel.

During the pandemic more and more of us have been leaving our cars behind in favour of walking, cycling and wheeling. These actions are to be encouraged because of the significant well-being gains to be achieved particularly in mental and physical health improvement.

They also help our environment by reducing pollution and are essential if we are serious about addressing climate change; reducing carbon emissions; and improving air quality. I believe investing to promote and encourage more sustainable transport also presents opportunities to create sustainable, liveable places that benefit all of our communities.

We must adopt new behaviours and think about making greener, more sustainable travel choices.

Since taking up office in January 2020, I have committed my department to advancing a new agenda which has sustainable public transport, blue/green infrastructure and active travel at its core.

I have invested and prioritised to reflect this commitment, including through an initial allocation of £20million to support a range of initiatives including pop-up cycling lanes, greenways, greener alleyways and more attractive and walkable places.

Along with the investment I am making to green our public transport system, I hope this will make active travel and public transport more attractive – encouraging people out of their cars wherever possible.

Over the last year I have met many people and heard their passion and ideas for change. Those conversations continue and with the consultations underway on the Programme for Government Draft Outcomes Framework and the draft Budget 2021/22, I encourage you to make your voice heard about these important issues.

If we are to see real lasting change, we must adopt new behaviours and think about making greener, more sustainable travel choices.

I will continue investing over the coming year to do all that I can to support people to make those new choices, but I cannot make the change alone.

If we want happier, healthier places, we will need to continue work together and embrace opportunities.

If we want to seize our chance for change, if we want to increase opportunities and see a thriving Northern Ireland, a more connected Ireland, then we need to be ambitious but more importantly, we need to deliver on those ambitions.

That means having the difficult conversations. It means a total culture change when it comes to travel. It means giving society the chance to choose better options.

I am realistic. I know the challenges within government and outside of it, but I’m taking those challenges head on because change is needed.

Change is coming. So let’s get on with it.

Belfast Telegraph