IT was a proud moment for South Yorkshire when our England football stars shone in the World Cup last month.
Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Jamie Vardy and Gary Cahill were all born in our region (and were joined by Fabian Delph from Bradford).
And our sporting excellence is just as well-known off the football pitch as on it, as the exploits of Jessica Ennis-Hill, Joe Root, Sarah Stevenson and Ed Clancy all attest.
But, while we boast world-class athletes and a deep-rooted sporting heritage, we still have a long way to go when it comes to encouraging people to incorporate physical activity into their everyday lives. This is particularly the case when it comes to active travel choices.
Travelling on foot or by bike has a host of benefits. It leads to cleaner air and improved physical and mental health.
The Mental Health Foundation has found that physical activity can be as effective as medication and counselling. It has also been proven to reduce obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, which is the highest cause of death in the UK.
As people increasingly find it difficult to fit exercise into their daily routine, small changes in the way we travel will make a real impact on our health.
What’s more, it can help you save money, it can help businesses reduce days lost to employee ill-health and it can reduce the pressures on public services - not least our NHS.
In fact, the Department for Transport’s own figures show that active travel schemes can generate a return on investment many times higher than a lot of road building schemes.
So the evidence is clear. But if we want to help more people get active, then we need to make sure walking and cycling are safe, easy and enjoyable options.
It means having a proper network of routes that people want to use, whether that is as part of their daily commute or simply to get outdoors and enjoy our amazing local environment.
The time to act is now. That’s why, as Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, I’m pushing forward my commitment to active travel by bringing together some of the best people in the field to work with local groups, politicians and businesses to develop our own approach locally.
I will be working with Professor Steve Haake, from Sheffield Hallam University’s world-leading Advanced Wellness Research Centre (AWRC), to review active travel strategies from around the world and identify examples of best practice.
We can then use these examples to inform our own decision-making here in the Sheffield City Region.
It’s crucial that the people of South Yorkshire are involved in this work from the very start. I’ll therefore host a summit to discuss plans and gather views from academics, policy experts, sustainable transport groups, local residents and other stakeholders. And I will also ensure that any devolved Transforming Cities Fund resources include a focus on the promotion of active travel.
At the heart of this will be an Active Travel Commissioner who will lead this work. Their role will be similar to the fantastic work being done by Olympic gold medal cyclist Chris Boardman in Greater Manchester. Last week I met Mayor Andy Burnham to learn more about their planned “Beelines” network of safe walking and cycle routes, and will be using this example to inform changes we could make here in South Yorkshire.
If we are to succeed, it will need the support of all our communities, from individuals to community groups, employers and to leaders designing the future infrastructure of our towns and cities.
I want employers to get involved by providing secure cycle parking for their staff, changing and shower facilities, and to look at incentives for those employees who travel on foot or by bike. In my own office, I’ll lead by example.
This week I was pleased to collect my own Mayoral bike, on loan from a local independent bike company, and I am leading South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive’s “Little Big Changes” campaign which shows how little changes can make a big difference.
And it’s also important that local authorities across our region prioritise active travel, ensuring that cycle routes, safe crossings and pedestrian spaces are designed into future developments.
I know that there are already several examples of good practice across our region, but there is more that we can, and will, do to join things up.
Building on the strong foundations of our sports heritage and world-leading physical activity research at the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, we will create a place where all of us are fitter, healthier and more active.
A place where everyone, from schoolchild to sporting star, makes active travel choices. And a place where active travel becomes embedded in our culture.
Dan Jarvis is Mayor of the Sheffield City Region.