The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act is the Welsh Government’s latest piece of pioneering legislation that puts you and I front and centre.
To help us understand what it is all about, we need to talk about what is known as the Social Determinants of Health.
The Social Determinants
In order to live a healthy life, there are a few factors that we need to consider:
- Economic Stability
- Access to health and health care —including health literacy
- Neighbourhood and built environment
- Social and Community Context
The Act recognises that in order to keep people healthy, happy and productive different parts of the public, private and third sectors need to work together. People need to be economically active, educated, capable of looking after their own health and also living in an environment that makes living a healthy, active life easy.
You cannot, for example, expect people to live a healthy, happy life if you decide to place a fracking well under their homes. You pollute their water supply and subject them to constant noise. You also cannot expect people to live a healthy, happy life if you put a busy road through the middle of their neighbourhood. People are not going to get out and exercise as much; you destroy social cohesion and you expose them to high levels of air and noise pollution.
Similarly, if people are not able to afford to eat a balanced diet, even with the best will in the world, those people are going to struggle to remain healthy. Good education is often a pre-requisite for economic activity.
So, under the Act, which has strong links to the Environment (Wales) Bill and the Planning (Wales) Bill, public bodies need to make sure that when making their decisions they take into account the impact they could have on people living their lives in Wales in the future.
It will expect them to:
- work together better
- involve people reflecting the diversity of our communities
- look to the long term as well as focusing on now
- take action to try and stop problems getting worse – or even stop them happening in the first place.
So what does this have to do with cycling?
It seems so obvious, but the more we think about it the more we believe that cycling is the magic bullet. It’s an egalitarian form of travel, available to those on the lowest of incomes; it burns through calories like they’re going out of fashion and it produces no pollution whatsoever (well, apart from the process of actually manufacturing a bicycle, but that’s an article for another day).
In terms of ticking boxes against sustainability, public health, social cohesion and the economic activity of citizens, it ticks all of them.
However, in order to re-establish cycling as the default mode of travel (believe it or not, bikes were here first…) some things need to change.
This is why we also have the Active Travel Act (Wales) 2013. It forces councils to actually take walking and cycling seriously.
The waiting game
The frustration here is that legislation takes time to bed in. Not only do councils plan years in advance, it will also take time to a) change attitudes and awareness of staff within the council and b) start to see the sorts of ambitious projects we’d like to see Cardiff Council embark on.
We’re going to see implementation of the Act evolve at a painfully slow and somewhat frustrating pace. We’d all love for Utrecht’s fantastic facilities to be transplanted onto the streets of Cardiff instantly, but it isn’t going to happen. It’s going to take time to change the minds of the motorists whom could be cycling to work and it’s going to take time to undo decades of urban planning geared towards motor vehicles.
There’s a long list of milestones that need to be checked off the list before we start seeing major dedicated infrastructure projects –we need to increase our numbers for one; reduce the speed of the traffic; help the council learn by providing feedback on their projects; and we need to bake cycling into our culture. These are all things that we, along with groups like Cardiff Cycle City can help with.
We’re going to see infrastructure that doesn’t work so well; that doesn’t go far enough or is less useful than no infrastructure at all. Let’s try not to get too disheartened though, we need to be in this for the long haul.
It’s going to be a fun ride though…