Improving Active Travel across Wales
By Amy Outterside | Wed, May 19, 2021
5 min read
Every three years, all local authorities across Wales update their active travel network plans. This is part of their commitment to the Welsh Active Travel Act 2013, ensuring all Welsh citizens get the opportunity to be involved in planning the future of active travel.
The Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 identified settlements throughout Wales as priority areas for action. These locations were chosen on the basis that they have the highest potential for more people to choose to walk or cycle due to short travel distances to regular amenities, such as schools, leisure centres, employment sites, local shopping districts and transport interchanges. From Anglesey to Bridgend, various local authorities within Wales have launched active travel consultations using Commonplace to engage communities.
Local engagement on a national scale
Using the Commonplace platform for transport planning, local authorities aimed to gather the views of a broad cross-section of people to ensure that their active travel network plan is built on solid foundations and with the support of the community.
For effective consultations, it’s fundamental to gather local information from local people that live and work in the area.
The Welsh Government recognised the value of online consultations in achieving meaningful engagement, particularly in 2020 with the Covid pandemic limiting opportunities for face to face engagement events. They therefore decided to make Commonplace available to all local authorities within Wales to assist them to meet their engagement duties under the Active Travel Act.
The scheme is designed so that each of the 19 local authorities that chose to use Commonplace each have their own project page. This provides information about the project and serves as a place to gather real time dialogue between decision makers and local people.
Inclusivity is crucial for consultation, so ensuring everyone can access the project page is key. In Wales all public bodies are required by law to provide access to information equally in both Welsh and English languages. Commonplace built a Welsh language option into the platform to enable equal access for the Welsh speaking community.
Working with Commonplace to adapt the system for use in Wales has been really straightforward and efficient. They have understood the statutory needs for accessibility and language parity and have been flexible and accommodating to ensure our requirements were met. I also highly recommend Commonplace to clients who are in similar situations where designing a single template for use rolling out across several different areas is the requirement.
- Jane Lorimer, Project Officer, Welsh Government
Phase 1: Understanding the lay of the land
The first phase for the local authorities has been running since November 2020 and will continue up until May 2021, with some of the earliest consultations having come to a close in March this year.
The purpose of phase one is to consult with the community at the outset of the process for updating their active travel network plans. The local authorities needed to gain an understanding of what the current state of active travel is within the area and how the communities feel about it. This needs an open-ended approach that enables the community to raise comments and make suggestions where previously may not have been considered.
All 17 local authorities used a Heatmap for their initial consultation during phase 1. The Heatmap allows users to drop a pin anywhere within an area and have their say. As part of the commenting process, sentiment is captured and displayed giving an idea of the overall consensus from the community on active travel.
Phase 2: Advanced consultation
Following phase 1, the local authorities have the opportunity to take what they’ve learnt from the community and turn it into proposals for active travel within their areas. Phase 2, is where the initial ideas are presented back to the community and the local authorities ask for another round of feedback from local people on their draft network maps.
To gather feedback at this stage, local authorities will continue to use the Heatmap with the new routes layered on top. This stage is designed to be open and flexible, welcoming comments on the initial designs before phase 3.
Phase 3: Advanced feedback
Phase 3 is the final stage and forms the three month statutory consultation. Local authorities will then finalise their Active Travel Network Maps ready for submission to Welsh Ministers at the end of December 2021 .
The feedback from phase 2 will be fed into the final designs for the phase 3 consultation. Here the local authorities will use the design feedback tool on Commonplace to show the community the network plans in more detail
The 3 phases approach means the local authorities are closing the loop with the community throughout the consultation timeline. This ensures that their voices are heard and their needs are reflected in the plans.
One of the reasons Welsh Government chose Commonplace as our preferred supplier for online engagement was because they had different tools available to suit different stages of the process. The design feedback module is ideal for local authorities to use for their statutory consultations as they can include detailed information, and layout the information in a very user friendly way.
- Jane Lorimer, Project Officer, Welsh Government
Continuous & transparent engagement
Transparency, openness, and trust are central to the way we operate at Commonplace and the values that underpin our platform. At a time of rapid change in the way we work and travel, these principles are as important as ever.
Community engagement works best when it is part of an ongoing, continuous process that enables trusting relationships to build and strengthen over time. The Welsh government encourages local authorities to do this by engaging with their communities as part of an ongoing process. As demonstrated in the timeline above, the engagement period spans up to a year with two defined phases spread over long periods, allowing ample time for community engagement.
Furthermore, by having a central hub where all consultations across the nation are posted, people that live in one local authority but work in another, can comment on what is happening in both. The local authorities believe that their consultations need to reflect the flexible and transient lives of their communities, and this method allows them to meet those needs.
Transparency is a core part of the Commonplace platform, keeping an open and visible record of all comments, upholding a key part of the engagement process: being able to read others' comments. As a result, the central project hub for Wales shows current consultations, and also past and future consultations. This means that other local residents and participants can see what their neighbours are saying at different stages in the project. This in itself encourages higher levels of participation. Such a transparent process doesn’t just inform, but ensures the local authorities remain accountable for taking the communities views into account as there is a digital record available for everyone to see.
What have they learnt so far?
The local authorities have learnt just how much their communities wish to have active travel opportunities. There has been a desire from residents across Wales calling to increase the safety and connectivity of travel networks, to enable accessible active travel across all age groups.
Cardiff active travel project has received the most contributions, numbering nearly 20,000. The Vale of Glamorgan, Gwynedd, and Pembrokeshire, have also received impressive feedback, numbering over 4,000 contributions so far.
It has been an absolute pleasure working with the team at Commonplace. They listened to all our comments and made suitable suggestions to the portal so we could gather the information we needed, resulting in great feedback about the project and the platform from the community. The reports have been particularly helpful in enabling us to identify groups of people that we need to engage with more.
- Active Travel Officer , Vale of Glamorgan
One of the key pieces of feedback from the local authorities has been the value of the contributions they have received. In particular, the consultations that chose to promote through Commonplace’s social media advertising saw particularly high volumes of quality engagement.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can promote your consultation through social media, please get in touch.
Currently, there are 6 live Welsh active travel consultations on the Commonplace platform. The closed engagements are under analysis whilst planning for their future phases.
All consultations across the authorities will culminate in a statutory consultation in the Autumn of 2021 ahead of finalised ATNMs being submitted to the Welsh Ministers at the end of December 2021. This will result in newly updated Active Travel plans in early 2022, all shaped by the voices of the community. The plans will be visible on local authorities own websites and also Data Map Wales which is the Welsh Government's geo-spatial platform.