Councils should improve the quality of footpaths by repairing potholes and stopping motorists from parking on pavements to encourage people to become more active, a health body has said.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has published guidance which calls for local authorities to widen footpaths and ensure street lighting is working to improve routes for cyclists, pedestrians and other users.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, said local authorities were already implementing such measures but “significant funding pressures” meant the list issued by Nice was “more idealistic than realistic”.
The guidance follows research which showed that more than a quarter of adults in England were classified as inactive, as they carry out fewer than 30 minutes physical activity a week.
Increasing physical activity can prevent more than 20 serious health conditions, including cancers, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity.
The Nice guidelines state that footpaths and cycle routes must be convenient, safe and attractive to use, and maintained to a high standard including the removal of any hazards, such as tree roots.
They also call for additional support for those with limited mobility, including step-free access on public transport and adapted crossings.
The recommendations also refer to its recent guidance on air pollution, which advised that smoother driving would reduce fumes and help improve air quality.
Professor Mark Baker, director of the centre for guidelines at Nice, said: “Handing back some of the roads to pedestrians and cyclists will help people to become more active.
“Simple things such as ensuring street lights along footpaths are working and hedges are kept trimmed makes walking a more attractive option which will lead to people living healthier lives.
“People with limited mobility need extra help from their surroundings such as adapted crossings, public transport that can be used with a wheelchair and step-free access. With a little thought these measures can be designed into our public spaces to help everyone be more active.”
The guidance also recommends those who are planning and designing hospitals and universities ensure the sites are linked by accessible walking and cycling routes.
LGA transport spokesman Councillor Martin Tett said: “This guidance reflects what councils are already striving towards for the benefit of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, but with significant funding pressures this list of expectations is more idealistic than realistic.
“Councils have made some progress in tackling the backlog of road repairs, filling a pothole every 21 seconds.
“However, increasing traffic levels and more cars on our roads means that Government needs to keep the funding of local roads as a priority in its spending plans to enable councils to embark on the widespread improvement of our roads that is desperately needed.
“Councils know the environment can play a major role in improving people’s health and wellbeing, and are already taking steps to change the environment by promoting active travel and physical activity, with greater provision and access to green spaces.”