Walking friendly neighbourhoods

Ensuring that our high streets have a range of essential shops and services within reasonable walking distance helps ensure that people can and want to use their streets to get around their neighbourhood. It can also help to bring communities together and stop older and vulnerable people from becoming isolated.

Watch our short film, Walking Friendly Neighbourhoods, which follows Trevor and Christine around their local community.

Why walking friendly neighbourhoods?


People are at the heart of thriving neighbourhoods where we all want to live, walk and play. We want to see a planning system that gives local communities more power – to keep the shops and services we value within walking distance.

Why are walking friendly neighbourhoods so important?

Too many people can’t get to local shops and services such as libraries, schools, shops selling fresh food, post offices, GPs, banks and community pubs on foot. New YouGov research commissioned by Living Streets reveals that more than a quarter (28%) of GB adults feel isolated, or have a friend or loved one who feels isolated, because of a lack of access to essential shops and services within walking distance.

Walking – and being able to walk for everyday journeys – is hugely important. Yet nearly half (47%) of those aged 55+ in Britain cannot walk to their nearest GP’s surgery, while 58% cannot walk to their nearest bank. This trend is leading to isolation, lack of physical exercise and neighbourhood decline.

Where former local services have changed use, this has often caused other problems. Living Streets’ YouGov research suggests that over half ofUKadults have seen an increase in fast food outlets on their nearest high street since moving to the area. Nearly a third reported an increase in betting shops. Yet people aren’t happy with loopholes such as the fact that a bank can change to a betting shop without planning permission – 81% think that communities should have a say when the use of a building is changed.

If the government wants to give communities the power to shape their neighbourhoods, these concerns must be addressed. Living Streets is calling on the Government to give councils and communities a voice when essential shops and services are under threat from unwanted changes of use, and for national planning policy to ensure that new housing is located within reasonable walking distance of essential shops and services.

Facts and figures about walking friendly neighbourhoods

Without walking-friendly neighbourhoods:

  • Older, disabled and less well-off people are isolated. More than a quarter (28%) of British residents feel isolated, or have a friend or loved one who does, because of difficulty accessing shops and services.
  • Nearly half (47%) of those aged 55+ across Britain feel that their nearest GP is not within walking distance, in urban as well as rural areas.
  • More than half (58%) of those aged 55+ across Britain cannot walk to their nearest bank. Over 40 per cent of UK bank branches have closed since 1990.
  • Half of UK low-income households do not have access to a car.
  • The health of local people gets worse. A lack of physical activity is a risk factor for conditions such as obesity and heart disease. Walking for everyday journeys around the neighbourhood is a simple way to integrate regular exercise into the daily routine.
  • Nearly 30% of children aged two to 15 were overweight or obese in 2006.
  • More car journeys also means more air pollution – already a major problem according to half of Manchester residents and 77% of Londoners.
  • According to new YouGov research, 70% of British adults would walk more if they had all the shops and services they needed within walking distance.
  • The neighbourhood declines. Where walking isn’t the natural choice, there’s less interaction, fewer people out spotting problems on the streets, and less vitality in the local economy.
  • In a recent study, people living in streets with high car traffic where walking was not the norm had 75% fewer local friends than those in streets with low car traffic.
  • People with problems such as graffiti, litter and dog mess in their neighbourhood are around 50% less likely to take enough physical exercise.
  • Over half of British adults have experienced an increase in fast food shops, and nearly a third in betting shops, in their nearest high street since they started living in the area – potentially discouraging investment and bringing other problems.

What needs to be done to keep our neighbourhoods walking friendly?

Shops and services within walking distance should be at the heart of any changes to planning regulations. With local cuts to libraries and drop-in centres starting to bite, pubs closing at a rate of 29 per week, and the government’s planning reforms being hotly debated, now is the time to make sure that communities can keep their local streets and neighbourhoods walking-friendly.

  • Communities need more power to safeguard local shops and services under threat - 81% of British adults think communities should have a say on changes of use in their local area.

  • We need to safeguard the neighbourhoods of future generations today. Living Streets wants the National Planning Framework to recognise the value of walking-friendly neighbourhoods and state that new residential developments should have access to local shops and services within walking distance.

  • In Scotland we are campaigning for communities to have more of a say over protecting their local services and assets and greater power to help shape their neighbourhoods.