Cheshire East is in the running to host an innovative pilot scheme that would see GPs prescribe walking, cycling and even leisure centre sessions for residents.
The council has been awarded £50,000 by the Department for Transport (DfT) to develop a feasibility study into the pilot ‘active travel social prescribing’ project, which, if further funding is approved, would see new cycle and walking routes created in Crewe to help boost the health and wellbeing of residents.
The scheme would receive £600,000 of government funding over the next three years.
Cheshire East was among local authorities that successfully submitted an outline proposal to the DfT to improve cycling and walking infrastructure. It is part of the government’s Active Travel Fund, which helps councils make it easier for people to increase walking, cycling and scooting in their daily routines.
Cheshire East’s scheme would see health teams prescribe cycling or walking to residents, where appropriate, and make available cycles, cycle training and access to cycling groups and peer support.
The plans for central Crewe could include additional cycle and walking routes, improved lighting and signage, access to Crewe Lifestyle Centre showers, bike maintenance classes and secure cycle storage – and enhance other active travel projects in the town.
Councillor Craig Browne, chair of Cheshire East Council’s highways and transport committee, said: “This is fantastic news for local residents and is another example of our commitment to a more joined-up, collaborative approach to improving people’s health.
“We want to make it easier for residents to be active in their everyday lives and this pilot scheme would see improved cycle and walking routes in Crewe, which will help support people to make healthier choices.
“Increasing physical exercise can also play a major part in boosting mental health and is key to achieving healthier outcomes for residents and will help tackle the health inequalities within some of Crewe’s most deprived areas – which are among the 20 per cent of most deprived areas of England.
“Cycling and walking rates in Crewe are also among the lowest in the borough and air quality in parts of the town is poor due to high volumes of traffic. This project supports the council’s drive to encourage more people to be more active and to build walking and cycling into their everyday lives, especially for shorter journeys.”
‘Social prescribing’ connects people to practical and emotional community support, through social prescribing link workers, based in GP practices, who take referrals from a variety of local agencies. The council’s leisure services provider, Everybody Sport and Recreation, would participate in the pilot by providing personalised support plans.
Cycling and walking minister Trudy Harrison said: “This funding will allow us to explore whether GPs could prescribe active travel to treat a variety of conditions and I’m very pleased that Cheshire East is interested in this valuable and fascinating research.”
Dr Andrew Wilson, of NHS Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “This award is a fantastic achievement and is testimony to the work and collective ambition of Cheshire East partners towards improving the health and wellbeing of our local populations.
“NHS Cheshire CCG, along with all our Cheshire East partners, recognise the importance of improving the ability to access green and outdoor spaces as a way of improving people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. We are delighted to be partners supporting this aim.”
The pilot project would include works to fill missing links in the walking and cycling network. This would include circular loops for leisure incorporating links to green spaces, such as Queens Park and Valley Brook Park, and crucial linear links to Leighton Hospital, the town centre and key workplace areas.
The council would also link in with local walking and cycling groups, including Bikeability training, and community and voluntary groups to encourage and support more people to take up cycling and walking as part of their daily routines.
Ambitious schemes are already being developed in Crewe to transform access to the HS2 Hub and wider town centre under Future High Street Fund, Levelling Up Fund and Green Link Towns Fund initiatives.
The detailed pilot scheme proposals, which would be submitted with a bid for full funding, are the latest in a series of Cheshire East Council schemes to boost active travel across the borough, expand take-up of greener, more-sustainable travel, support decarbonisation and improve air quality. This is set out in the authority’s corporate plan and air quality strategy.
Cheshire East’s 2017 cycling strategy aims to double the number of cyclists by 2027.The council’s health and wellbeing strategy and place health and care partnership five-year plan prioritise the need to reduce inequality in Crewe.
The joint programme delivering the HS2 Hub and regeneration through the Future High Streets Fund, Towns Fund, and anticipated Levelling Up Fund, provides an unparalleled opportunity to link into this investment, business growth and regeneration, with associated job opportunities and infrastructure improvement.
The recent announcement of Town’s Fund and Future High Street funding will bring £36m of investment into the town.