SHROPSHIRE Council is being urged to follow other areas of the country in implementing ‘school streets’ to improve road safety and allow for social distancing at the beginning and end of the school day.

Under the initiative, roads outside schools are declared traffic-free zones for short periods while children are being dropped off and collected.

Campaigners say this encourages more families to walk and cycle to school, improving their health and the environment.

The scheme has gained momentum in light of the coronavirus crisis with families being discouraged from using school transport if possible, and social distancing at the school gates required.

Councillor David Vasmer, who represents the Underdale division in Shrewsbury, has now asked Shropshire Council to implement ‘school streets’ across the county, using some of its £432,000 emergency active travel fund government grant.

A motion tabled by Cllr Vasmer, and supported by the Liberal Democrat group, to a full council meeting next week says: “As Covid-19 restrictions ease, the government is encouraging people to walk and cycle, where possible, instead of taking public transport or returning to their cars.

“The Government has stated that it aims to have all school children returning to school in September 2020.

“The Government has specifically stated that it wishes more children to walk and cycle to school.

“The secretary of state for transport, Grant Shapps, issued new statutory guidance on May 9 to all highways authorities, requiring them to deliver ‘transformative change’ within an urgent time frame.

“Measures listed under the statutory guidance include, but are not limited to, ‘pop-up’ cycle facilities, widening footways, ‘school streets’ schemes, and reducing speed limits.

“The guidance further states that ‘measures should be taken as swiftly as possible, and in any event within weeks, given the urgent need to change travel habits before the restart takes full effect.’”

Cllr Vasmer asks the council to swiftly identify all schools suitable for the scheme and implement school streets in time for the first day of the new school year in September.

He further says that schools not deemed to be suitable should see alternative measures introduced to promote walking and cycling.

The motion adds:  “School streets improve road safety for pupils, encouraging active travel to school and a modal shift out of cars. They also enable social distancing outside schools, and additionally improve the air quality and environment at the school gates.

“Prior to Covid-19, school streets schemes have already been successfully introduced or were being trialled at multiple local authorities across the UK.

Since then, planning and implementation of ‘school streets’ has accelerated, with many more councils introducing these schemes before schools reopened in June.

“Shropshire Council has already made a number of road alterations to assist with active travel and social distancing associated to town centres, but none specifically targeted at schools. It has also taken the first step to improve safety outside schools by adopting a 20mph blanket policy for all schools in December 2019.

“As promoted by the secretary of state, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take the next step and positively impact travel choices, including the associated benefits on health, air quality and road safety.”

Local authorities that have adopted the scheme include Birmingham City Council, Bristol City Council, Cardiff Council and several London boroughs.

The motion will be debated by councillors at a meeting next Thursday.