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As the bodies responsible for local planning and transport, and managing vital infrastructure like paths, streets and green spaces, local authorities have long been key to keeping Britain on its feet. Now, with their renewed responsibilities for public health, councils are even better placed to reap the huge benefits of promoting walking.

Local councils need the support of central government here and, through working in partnership, the next government has the opportunity to radically improve people’s lives through investing in walking. This would leave an enduring legacy of increased public health and wellbeing, reduced congestion and carbon emissions, robust and sustainable local economies and a liveable local environment.

Physical inactivity is fast becoming a health challenge on a par with smoking, with millions of people insufficiently active and 37,000 people a year suffering early deaths in England. The economic costs to our already overstretched health service and to the still fragile wider economy are huge, recently estimated at £20 billion a year for the UK.

Walking is the closest thing to perfect exercise, so we’re asking the next government to put walking at the centre of efforts to tackle physical inactivity, and to introduce a properly funded strategic programme to promote it in England.

And since keeping active in natural, green surroundings makes a vital contribution to both mental and physical health, we also need the next government to support people’s ability to do this.

That requires protecting the places where people walk. We need to look after our parks and green spaces and create safer and more attractive walking environments. Footpaths must be kept open, with more accessible and affordable public transport and stronger protections for our beautiful landscapes.

Beyond this we need increased public access, particularly to woodland, open countryside and our magnificent coastline, and better support for existing resources, such as our glorious National Trails.

The outcome of next year’s General Election could present local authorities with a fantastic opportunity to make the vital connections between health, transport, planning, education and the environment which will help to create a happier, healthier Britain. All it requires is for politicians to think with their feet. Vote for a Walking Britain!

You can read more about Ramblers policy proposals for the new government in our Manifesto for a Walking Britain.