Close roads on Sundays to let kids play? You must be mad


Plans to close residential roads on Sundays to let children play in them have been met with a mixed reaction from motoring groups.

The health minister, Anne Milton, recently said she has been looking at a scheme in South America where roads are closed to traffic on Sundays. She believes this could help tackle the growing problem of childhood obesity.

But her plans have been branded as "policy made on the hoof" by some with most motoring organisations asking how it would be enforced.

"On Sundays, they close certain streets so that everybody can play in them. That is an outstanding idea," said the minister, during a debate at Westminster.

"Before constituents email to complain about their streets closing, I should say that I accept it would not work everywhere. It could, however, work in some places."

Although in principal it sounds like a good idea – many quiet residential streets, especially cul-de-sacs, would be prime candidates – but the problem lies in the fact not everyone has kids, but most people have a car.

The Association of British Drivers' chairman Brian Gregory has led the charge of opposition against the idea. "It's not so long ago that the government assured us it was ending the war on the motorist," he said. "We pay several times over to use our roads, not be banned from them.

"Has Ms Milton also considered that many people drive out with their families for sporting and other healthy leisure activities on Sundays?"

He's not the only one angry. Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, told Autoblog: "This sounds like policy being made on the cheap and on the hoof. Promoting places to play is a great idea but children need to be outside on more than one day a week – and the middle of the road is not the best place."

The AA's head of road safety, Andrew Howard, said the plan "had attractions" but in reality he believed it would be difficult to implement.

"We can't just close roads on Sundays and let no-one in or out," he said. "The car is part of life, and Sunday is part of the 24/7 society. Cars can't be trapped at home all day. In older, urban Britain you could do this, but alternative routes would have to be provided, and there may be many battles about which streets get the traffic ban and which ones get the traffic."

Road safety groups have their reservations too. Adrian Walsh, of charity Road Safe, said: "Any such decision would, under the government's road safety policy, be made at local level. Roads are often closed and I would see some neighbourhoods welcoming such moves. A better option might be to embrace the shared space model which has been used in many cities to good effect."

Claire Armstrong, from action group Safe Speed, was even more concerned saying it could teach children a "bad, if not lethal, habit".

"There is great pressure on today's roads for many purposes, and closing them off would require police services which are already stretched," she explained. "It may also deprive many people, including those without children, from having proper, necessary and rightful access when there are such few alternatives.

"We need to be responsible by teaching children to respect the roads and question the wisdom to teach them that they are sometimes playgrounds."

While the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents didn't have a particular view on the plan one way or another, a spokeswoman did ask how it would be enforced.

"What would residents who park on those roads or driveways do if they wanted to go out in their cars on a Sunday, or have visitors?" she said.

"It could be a good example of localism, though, if the local community was keen and didn't mind the restrictions - perhaps that should take precedence over the inconvenience of other motorists who use the road but don't live on it."

Autoblog contacted the health minister and put these points to her. As yet she has not responded. What do you think of the minister's proposals? Let us know by posting your comments below.