Parking Charges ‘Should Be Increased' To Force Us To Exercise, Report Suggests

28/11/2012 12:34 GMT | Updated 28/11/2012 12:34 GMT

Parking charges should be increased to encourage more people to walk, health officials have advised.

Employers along with local authorities and the NHS should consider restricting the amount of parking they offer or hiking prices in order to restrain the public's car usage.

The advice was part of a new guidance published today by The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), an independent organisation which sets national health standards, to get more people active.

In the guidance it said: "One way of encouraging people to walk or cycle, as a form of transport, might be to apply greater levels of restraint on car usage in urban areas.

"This could be achieved, for instance, by introducing restricted parking and higher parking charges."

It added that consideration would need to be taken on how it would impact on car owners.

But chief executive of the Tax Payer's Alliance Matthew Sinclair said the "meddling health bureaucrats" were out of touch with struggling families.

He told the Daily Mail: "Things are tough enough for taxpayers already without meddling health bureaucrats trying to make parking more expensive.

"For more people using the car is a necessity, not a luxury.

"Parking charges damage the high street, place an unnecessary burden on struggling businesses and make life harder for households just trying to make ends meet.

"Nice's boneheaded attempts to interfere demonstrates how out of touch they are with the pressures faced by hardpressed families."

Health officials said the nation's lack of physical activity is a "silent epidemic".

Lack of exercise causes the same level of ill health that smoking does but despite this only a minority of people in England get enough exercise.

Strategic and scientific adviser to the National Obesity Observatory Dr Harry Rutter, who worked on the new guidance, said: "Only a minority of people in England get enough physical activity to improve their health.

"This creates a huge and often invisible burden of illness and reduced quality of life, but most people seem unaware of that burden.

"Across the population, lack of physical activity causes roughly the same level of ill health that smoking does.

"We all face barriers in changing our lifestyles and many of us feel we don't have the time or the inclination to add regular physical activity into our lives - it can be very difficult to break old habits and change behaviour.

"But walking and cycling to work, to school, to the shops or elsewhere can make a huge difference.

"This guidance aims to help people in local authorities, public health professionals, schools, workplaces, the NHS and many others to make the changes that are needed to support this safe, healthy and mostly enjoyable physical activity."

He added: "We have a silent epidemic of lack of physical activity and here we have a wonderful opportunity to try and do something about it."

The guidance states that walking and cycling should become the norm for short journeys and should be encouraged in local communities.

Adults should be doing at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity every week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more.

Local communities should implement schemes to encourage more people to cycle and walk, the guidance states. They could include "car free days" or cycle-hire schemes - such as the "Boris bike" initiative in London.

Local authorities could create special signage showing distances and walking times, according to the Nice recommendations.

Transport planners should also examine traffic volumes and speed limits which discourage people from walking and cycling.

Schools should galvanise pupils to be more active by initiating walking groups and "walking buses", the guidance suggests.

Professor Mike Kelly, director of the Centre for Public Health Excellence at Nice, added: "Two-thirds of the population isn't active enough.

"Walking and cycling is an easy way to get active - it is a form of both getting places that you need to and also a form of recreation.

"This guidance is aimed at making it easier for people to do this, as well as explaining the benefits and helping to address some of the safety fears that some people may have."