Category: Planning

New Checklist to help root out car-dependent housing developments

In the rush to build new homes, too many estates are being built without public transport, local facilities or even pavements, leading to car dependence, congestion, pollution and unhealthy lifestyles. Now Transport for New Homes, a campaign group seeking to halt the spread of such car-based development, has produced a Checklist to enable local authorities, neighbourhood groups and others to easily identify housing plans that are likely to result in car-dependent lifestyles.

Conversely, the Checklist will help good housing plans to gain recognition for giving residents real, sustainable travel choices.

The lead author of the Checklist, Tim Pharoah of Transport for New Homes, said:

“Our country desperately needs more homes, but these must be located and designed to ensure that residents do not need cars to live a full life. Our visits to recent housing developments around the country revealed that too many had been built around car use. When housing is built on green fields, far from jobs, shops and services, with inadequate public transport and poor pedestrian and cycle links, residents are forced to drive for almost every journey.

“With traffic and air pollution blighting neighbourhoods, and transport being the UK’s main contributor to climate change, banishing the scourge of car-dependent housing is long overdue.”

Developed with input from bodies representing planning and transport professionals, as well as planners, academics and neighbourhood groups, the Checklist identifies, under ten broad headings, elements that make up a non-car-dependent housing development. These include:

  • A location within or closely connected to an existing settlement that has a clear centre
  • A welcoming environment, not dominated by car parking
  • Local facilities easily accessible without a car
  • Frequent public transport services in place from Day 1 of occupation

By considering each of these criteria, users of the Checklist can rate a housing plan as either Red, Amber or Green for how well it will avoid car-dependency.

Lynda Addison OBE FCIHT MTPS, Chair of the CIHT Sustainable Transport Panel, said:

“CIHT welcomes this important contribution to the radical changes needed in the way that homes and transport are designed to ensure that people can chose to live healthier and more active lives as part of their daily routine. This complements the forthcoming advice on ‘Better planning, better transport, better places’ that is about to be published by CIHT in partnership with TPS and the RTPI.”

Written without jargon, the Transport for New Homes Checklist is intended for use by local authorities, developers and neighbourhood groups alike to root out car-dependent housing plans. The Checklist will help to identify how such plans can be improved, or why they should be rejected altogether.

The Checklist can also be applied to developments that have already been built so that lessons can be learnt. Transport for New Homes has applied the Checklist to recent housing developments at Bath Riverside in the centre of Bath, and Castle Mead on the fringe of Trowbridge, Wiltshire.

Bath Riverside
RATING: GREEN

Bath Riverside is a development of apartments and some town houses built on the site of a disused gasworks in the centre of Bath. It is well situated for walking to shops, entertainment, the railway station, bus station and bus stops. Car parking is limited and the public realm is shaped around walking. The development has contributed substantially to public transport improvements in the wider area and to new local pedestrian links.

Bath Riverside received high scores for its location, its walking routes and its public transport connections. It also scored well for its density, and for its attractive layout. When rated by different people its overall score ranged from 76% to 81%, giving it a GREEN rating.

Castle Mead
RATING: RED

Castle Mead consists of some 600 homes built on green fields on the fringe of Trowbridge, Wiltshire. The new homes in part financed the construction of a bypass for Trowbridge and this road effectively cuts the estate in half. With few facilities on site, people wanting to walk out from the estate to shops or services either face a circuitous walk including an underpass, or must walk along the bypass with no pavements. Bus links to Castle Mead are infrequent and the station is a forty-minute walk away.

Castle Mead received low scores for its location, its walking and cycling routes and its public transport connections. Its density was low and its streets were dominated by car parking. When rated by different people its overall score ranged from 11% to 22%, giving it a RED rating.

It’s difficult to produce sustainable travel patterns if you don’t build in the right places

Guest blog by Gordon Stokes, Visiting Research Associate at Transport Studies Unit, University of Oxford

Finding the right places to locate large numbers of new homes and jobs in crowded areas of the South East will need great care if we’re trying to encourage modes other than the car. New mapping shows graphically how people travel to work using 2011 census data, which recorded people’s usual residence location, and where they normally worked, and also asked the main mode of transport that they used. It’s by far the best available data available for looking at how travel to work varies between areas, even though there are many caveats about its accuracy.

I’ve mapped the data in a number of ways, and have recently produced a ‘traffic light’ form of mapping that shows the areas where large amounts of car travel are generated, and where there is much less. The two maps below show the relative distance driven to work, for residents (left hand map) and for each job (right hand map).

Kilometres driven per resident (left) and per job (right) in Oxford to Milton Keynes area. Green circles show low mileage and red/mauve high.

Residents near the centre of Oxford are in the lowest quartile of distance driven (green) while those in Bicester are all in the highest quartile (red and violet). While Milton Keynes fares averagely for residents (yellow and amber), for jobs it creates mileage in the highest 10% (violet). And while central Oxford seems relatively sustainable the workplaces to the South and West produce high mileages.

The maps above are part of a series with commentary relating to the ‘Oxford-Cambridge Expressway’, a sort of outer M25 proposed which would come with 1 million extra homes built before 2050. You can interpret the maps in different ways, but to me they show that the problems of locating those homes and related jobs in a way that could be described as sustainable are immense. Oxford and Cambridge are unique in their makeup and ‘traditions’ of cycling, and it’s difficult to replicate that elsewhere. The maps can be viewed on my website. The pages take some time to load and are pretty useless on a phone, due to their complexity and scale – sorry about that if you’re a phone user!

You can remove the introduction and then view different layers of the map, and read about the patterns shown. More general national mapping can be found at the link at the bottom right, or here.

The Oxford-Cambridge maps show the difficulties for the proposed road and building, but other areas of the country show different issues. London’s well developed public transport network, large scale and centralised jobs (in conjunction with the impossibility of high numbers reaching the centre by car) shows that low driver mileage can be achieved there. Other major conurbations don’t fare so well, with strong centres and strong economy being a key issue. Residents in most large cities use cars less, but jobs in centres such as Leeds and Manchester with strong economies produce much more car travel than Liverpool, Hull, Blackpool and others. But it tends to be those with weaker economies and least developed public transport and least centrality that have the highest rate of travel by modes other than driving, active modes and public transport (which mainly means high levels of travel as a car passenger).

My next stage of this work will be to measure how factors such as distance from motorway, and relative concentration of jobs affects driver mileage, which may help provide better explanations for some of the ‘surprises’ in the maps. At the moment, from this mapping, it’s difficult to say how new development and sustainable travel can be synergetic – it just helps show where not to locate. Hopefully more analysis will provide some pointers as to where it should be.

Guest blog by Gordon Stokes, Visiting Research Associate at the Transport Studies Unit, University of Oxford