Freiham is specifically designed as a green and pleasant place for walking and cycling and for using public transport.
All over the country, local authorities are preparing local plans for the future, many of these spanning 15 or 20 years up to and beyond 2035. The manifestation of past local plans has now appeared in the form of new areas of housing, but these are far from green transport-wise. We have visited many large ‘bubbles’ of car-based estates where tarmac and parking take up nearly as much space in residential streets as houses, and where retail, employment and services are often pinned on new road systems, bypasses and larger motorway junctions. Car-based housing is coupled with car-based destinations and lifestyles soon follow.
The government publication Decarbonising Transport – A Better and Greener Britain indicates that this model of development must surely be set to change. It explains:
‘The Government wants walking, cycling or public transport to be the natural first choice for journeys. Where developments are located, how they are designed and how well public transport services are integrated has a huge impact on whether people’s natural first choice for short journeys is on foot or by cycle, by public transport or by private car. The planning system has an important role to play in encouraging development that promotes a shift towards sustainable transport networks and the achievement of net zero transport systems.’
Unless quick action is taken, thousands and thousands of new homes will be built in the wrong places and in the wrong way for ‘the decarbonisation of transport’, and we need to intervene fast as new local plans for the future are firming up.
Changes need to happen at national policy level – our National Planning Policy Framework and associated Planning policy Guidance needs to place sustainable transport right at the heart of planning, which it does not at the moment do.
The first big change will need to be strong guidance on where we build the homes of the future. At the moment many of the locations for enormous housing estates in the countryside are completely wrong for sustainable modes. This is explained in our two reports on visits to new housing and our analysis of ‘garden communities’. At the moment the location of development is largely developer-led. How power will be given to planners to choose where and how best to build will be important.
The second big change in central planning policy must surely be the coordination of many developments with sustainable transport across a wider area. Only when this happens can you plan new-build with a new or improved railway line and a series of stations, or build along a tram route or top quality bus service. Also, the funding of new local stations and mass transit needs to be made much easier and faster. The current barriers for local authorities and developers alike to making progress on these matters cannot be understated.
Cycleways, like public transport, need to link right across an area to multiple destinations. Rather than each developer individually deciding where cycle routes might go on a piecemeal basis, these will need designing and funding early on to link and mesh together a whole area. In the case of being able to walk to and from the development, the importance of continuous streets with adjacent towns is essential. A number of smaller developments may be much better in this respect than giant housing estates that are severed by main roads or several fields away from the edge of the nearest town.
Then comes the obvious change to the planning system which needs to be coupled with the provision of sustainable modes. This shift away from car use means less parking and less need to build new road capacity, giant roundabouts and all the other road paraphernalia which comes with modern ‘mini-America’ type development.
We have seen many residential areas dominated by tarmac: islands of homes in a sea of parking and roads with very little in the way of gardens. National Planning Guidance needs to be quite clear about the reduced emphasis on the car. This saves money and it saves land. It means more homes (with gardens), room for urban trees, and places designed around streets at a more human scale for walkable and local provision.
The government says very clearly that the planning system has an important role to play in the achievement of net zero transport systems. Whether there will be planning reforms to achieve a genuine shift to public transport, walking and cycling when it comes to expanding our town and cities and building new homes in general, remains to be seen.
Join our Homes Without Jams campaign, to reform planning for a green transport future.
Press release: 15 July 2021
Responding to the Government’s Decarbonising Transport plan published yesterday, 14 July 2021, Jenny Raggett from Transport for New Homes said:
“We welcome the positive language about getting people out of their cars onto public transport, walking and cycling. However, there is very little in the document that convinces us that this is going to happen. This is because this plan fails to analyse the mistakes that we are still making in terms of land use planning and the lack of resources to expand towns and cities around modern, integrated transport.
“From our many visits to new housing estates, we know that where these are built, how they are built, and what is financed in the way of infrastructure for an expanding area is critical to how people travel and use a place. At present we continue to see a worsening picture of car-dependency and of new road capacity to enable car-based lifestyles in the context of out-of-town development and sprawl. What is not clear from the Decarbonising Transport plan is how we will build something better in the future and therefore avoid our own car-based ‘mini America’ with the health and environmental issues that go with it. It’s vital that the Government’s upcoming planning reforms tackle this question.”
Notes to editors
Transport for New Homes believes that everyone should have access to attractive housing, located and designed to ensure that people do not need to use or own cars to live a full life. Transport for New Homes is a project funded by the Foundation for Integrated Transport, a registered charity (115 63 63).
The Government’s Decarbonising Transport plan can be read here.
This guest blog by Cycling UK’s policy director Roger Geffen argues that the Government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework makes it commendably easy for councils to reject planning applications which aren’t ‘beautiful’, but creates massive hurdles for councils wishing to reject developments that would entrench car-dependence. The blog was first published on the Cycling UK website.
“The Government is strongly in favour of ‘beauty’. And who wouldn’t be? I certainly am. It’s one of those motherhood-and-apple-pie things that surely everyone agrees with.
In recent years though, ‘beauty’ has become something of a ministerial obsession. Some ministers seem to think you can build pretty much anything, pretty much anywhere – motorways, coal-mines, airports, power stations – so long as they are ‘beautiful’.
I recall a recent transport minister opening his address to a meeting of environmental campaigners by declaring: “I am an aesthete”. He wanted to build lots of roads, but he also wanted them to be in tune with nature – which meant providing plenty of trees and badger crossings, and even cycle crossings (so that kept me happy!). He wanted to build the most beautiful roads possible. I recall an energy minister saying something similar about nuclear power stations.
Two years ago, the Government set up the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. It was co-chaired by the late Professor Roger Scruton and Nicholas Boyes Smith, founder of the charity Create Streets. Its final report to Government, Living with Beauty, was published 2 years later, and makes some very sensible recommendations.
It talks about the importance of creating places (not just houses), integrating nature into the built environment, regenerating ‘left-behind’ places, the importance of local democracy, and the achievement of ‘gentle densities’, where people live close together without requiring high-rise blocks, and where it is therefore easy to get around without depending on cars.
“Highway design can help reclaim streets for people, with the provision of cycle infrastructure or public transport supporting more humane and popular places. This now needs to become the norm, not the exception”
– ‘Living with Beauty’ report by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission
It notes how “highway design can help reclaim streets for people, with the provision of cycle infrastructure or public transport supporting more humane and popular places. This now needs to become the norm, not the exception.”
Unfortunately ministers have taken the report’s title and shorn it of much of the excellent supporting argument. Instead, they proposed in the Planning White Paper that any development deemed to be ‘beautiful’ should get a near-automatic pass through the planning system, almost regardless of where it is located.
This is an absolute recipe for entrenching car-dependence. As I said in a previous blog on the Government’s planning reforms: “A beautiful development in an unsustainable, car-dependent location is still an unsustainable development”.
This flawed thinking also reappears in the Government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). It is instructive to compare the paragraphs from the chapters on design and on sustainable transport, setting out the grounds on which local councils can or should refuse planning permission.
In the design chapter, paragraph 133 is admirably clear: “Development that is not well designed should be refused, especially where it fails to reflect local design policies and government guidance on design.” It goes on to say that “significant weight should be given to […] outstanding or innovative designs which promote high levels of sustainability”. This is all good stuff.
However, contrast this with paragraph 110, the equivalent paragraph in the sustainable transport chapter. “Development should only be prevented or refused on highways grounds if there would be an unacceptable impact on highway safety, or the residual cumulative impacts on the road network would be severe.”
In essence, local authorities cannot refuse planning applications, even where the development’s location means that there will inevitably be significant increases in traffic, unless they can prove that the “residual” impacts (even after providing improved public transport etc) would be “severe”. This is a very high hurdle.
Councils know that if they try to reject an application due to the extra traffic it would generate, the developer would probably use these words to bring a legal challenge, and would probably win. Very few councils have the strength to stand up to car-dependent developments.
So the growth in car-dependence continues. And we hurtle on, out of control, into an increasingly urgent climate crisis – not to mention the crises of urban congestion and pollution, physical inactivity, road danger and lack of mobility for children and other non-drivers.
Cycling UK’s consultation response to the draft NPPF and the accompanying National Model Design Code (a much better document) contains several recommendations for improvements. However, if I could have just one change, it would be to reword paragraph 110. It needs to say, as clearly as paragraph 133 does, that developments whose location is likely to increase dependence on motor-vehicles should simply be refused.”
Roger Geffen, Cycling UK
Cycling UK recently signed a joint letter to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick – together with Transport for New Homes and other organisations – asking the Government to focus its planning reforms on reducing car dependence.
Are you concerned about the Government’s proposals to reform the planning system? Worried that the outcome will be more sprawling, car-dependent housing estates in the countryside connected by more roads?
We have the opportunity right now to make the case for a better way. The Government’s planning reforms are about to pass through Parliament, and there’s a broader debate happening too, about how we build a better future after the pandemic. But we must act now, before proposals become law and we’re locked into a future of car-dependence.
So today we’re launching a crowdfunder which we hope you’ll join.
If we can raise £6,000 together, our Homes Without Jams campaign will work to influence the Government’s planning reforms as they pass through Parliament, making the case for a green transport future.
We know that real change comes from the grassroots as well as from Government, so we’ll help local campaigners oppose car-dependent housing plans with a new campaigning guide.
And we’ll raise awareness among the public of the need for Homes Without Jams with a campaign video.
Transport for New Homes is a non-profit campaigning group which works to shine a spotlight on the problem of car-dependent new housing. In the past, our campaigns have featured on the Today programme and in the Times, the Guardian and the Telegraph. We’ve met with the Government’s Department for Transport and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and been cited by the Committee on Climate Change. So – with you on board – we know we can bring attention to this issue.
Please support our crowdfunder. Any amount that you can afford – large or small – will help towards our £6,000 target. Together let’s campaign to reform the planning system so that new housing is built with local shops, pubs and cafes at its heart… With a network of safe cycle routes and bike parking for every home… And with new stations, trams, modern bus routes and transport interchanges making public transport the easy choice for longer journeys.
Press release: 16 June 2020
Far from being vibrant, green communities, Garden Villages and Garden Towns  are at high risk of becoming car-dependent commuter estates, research by Transport for New Homes  has found. The group examined plans for 20 Garden Communities  and found that they will create up to 200,000 car-dependent households, generating high levels of traffic on surrounding roads including motorways.
Jenny Raggett, Project Coordinator at Transport for New Homes, said:
“Put forward by the government as an alternative to characterless estates, Garden Villages may well end up with more tarmac than garden, limited public transport, and few ‘village’ amenities to walk or cycle to.”
The coronavirus outbreak has placed new emphasis on walking and cycling, with wider pavements and new cycle lanes springing up in cities. The benefits of living more locally have come to prominence. By contrast, Transport for New Homes found that Garden Villages will be largely unsuitable for walking and cycling due to their remote location, their layout and their lack of safe routes in and out of the estate. Local facilities may well never materialise in these car-based developments: non-driving residents will be forced to walk up to seven miles to the nearest town centre .
Looking to the future, the need for modern bus, tram and train networks to avert climate crisis is expected to come to the fore . But rather than new or improved public transport, the group found that plans for Garden Villages and Garden Towns promise major increases in road capacity to cater for a massive expected rise in car use. Garden Communities are not being planned with new metro stations at their hearts, nor are high-quality bus or tram routes assured to serve them in the future.
Many Garden Communities are backed by Government funding, the criteria for which are laid out in the MHCLG’s Garden Communities Prospectus . Communities should “be largely self-sustaining and genuinely mixed-use” with “public transport, walking and cycling” enabling “simple and sustainable access to jobs, education and services”. Instead, Transport for New Homes found strong evidence that:
- All 20 of the Garden Communities examined in detail will encourage car dependent lifestyles with the car the primary mode of transport at every single one.
- These 20 settlements will create up to 200,000 car dependent households.
- Only one settlement (Aylesham – although itself not funded by Homes England) offers amenities and a railway station within 1 mile of every home, though the train service is infrequent and there are no safe cycle routes to access it.
- All other settlements failed to provide access to amenities and a railway station within 1 mile of all new homes with safe walking and cycling routes.
- None of the 20 settlements will provide bus services to all households all day, all week.
- Cycle routes from Garden Villages into nearby towns will often be long and dangerous.
- Residents will have to walk up to 7 miles to access a railway station or go to the nearest town centre.
Jenny Raggett, Project Coordinator at Transport for New Homes, continued:
“It looks like Garden Communities are to become car-based commuter estates just like any other – exactly what the government wanted to avoid. Rather than seeing the emphasis on public transport that the Garden Communities Prospectus promised, with new stations funded at the heart of the development, or firm investment in modern bus rapid transit, light rail or trams, nearly every Garden Community comes with a long list of road improvements such as bypasses, link roads and new motorway junctions. Although the theme of the ‘local’ and ‘self-sufficient’ is the official line, the language adopted in the promotion of Garden Villages makes great play of their strategic location for long-distance commuting. It is doubtful, given this emphasis, that local shops and services will flourish.”
Steve Chambers, Sustainable Transport Campaigner at Transport for New Homes, said:
“Our visits to sites of Garden Towns and Garden Villages highlighted the chasm between the proposed visions and the built reality. We found that because of remote locations, public transport was rarely already provided and funding had not been secured to make it available when residents move in. Walking and cycling were clearly afterthoughts and even in the better examples did not provide safe and convenient routes to basic amenities beyond the development boundary. Garden Villages were typically too small to support any amenities and are not being built on a sustainable scale. Larger Garden Towns typically located new housing beyond a ring road, on the edge of an established town and poorly connected with it. Car dependency is being built into the Garden Towns and Garden Villages by design.”
Steve Gooding, Director of the RAC Foundation and a Chair of the Steering Group for Transport for New Homes, said:
“The vision for garden developments is laudable but is at grave risk of being missed – far from being delivered in a way that would encourage us to leave our cars at home the reality looks set to ingrain car dependence.
“Living completely ‘car-free’ is probably a pipe-dream outside the centres of our towns and cities – the reality is that many of us will still wish to own and use our cars but not want to be forced to get behind the wheel for every trip we make.
“Good road connections matter: they’re vital for buses, bicycles and, as we’ve learnt in recent weeks, delivery vans too, not just for the private motorist. But they have to be designed with a sensible layout, including wide footways so that walking to the local shops or to school is a safe, practical and appealing proposition.”
The recommendations in Transport for New Homes’ report include:
- Commission an urgent reassessment of the sustainability in transport terms of all planned Garden Communities and do not give outline planning permission until it is clear that sustainable transport elements in each vision are fully funded and specified.
- Build close to existing town centres or create strings of developments along public transport routes, rather than scattering developments around the countryside.
- Direct Government funding to public realm, place-making, and sustainable transport including Dutch-style cycling networks, local rail, rapid transit, buses and trams.
- Make sure that sustainable transport infrastructure is funded to extend beyond the site boundary.
- Put kickstart funding and other financial incentives in place to establish shops, cafes, pubs, shared workspaces and other local facilities with the development, creating a walkable community.
Case Study 1: Long Marston Garden Village
Long Marston is a proposed 3,500 home Garden Village within the Stratford-upon-Avon District of Warwickshire. It is typical of Garden Villages in that it is far from major population and employment centres. Located on a former airfield, this Garden Village will be particularly remote and without a sustainable scale will not support amenities, jobs or public transport. It is seven miles from the nearest railway station. Residents will have no option other than the car to see friends, get to work or to the nearest town centre. Visions of ‘express bus connections’ are without funding. There are also unfunded aspirations for new safe walking and cycling routes from the development, but even if they were provided there is little other than open space nearby. This is a good example of a new development in the wrong place.
Case Study 2: Aylesbury Garden Town
Aylesbury is the long established county town of Buckinghamshire. The acquisition of Garden Town status is attached to a transformative vision to create 16,000 new homes. Aylesbury is typical of Garden Towns, with the new housing developments located on the outskirts and without attractive, safe walking and cycling routes to amenities. This Garden Town is like many of the others in that plans are heavily reliant on road building, in this case the completion of a coveted ring road. Bus services are better here than in many places, but all day, all week services to every home lack committed funding. We think Aylesbury could realise its potential by scrapping the community-severing ring road plans, prioritising walking and cycling over car journeys in the way roads are designed, and by funding a rapid transit system for the whole town.
For more details please contact email@example.com
Notes to editors
Photographs from Garden Communities can be downloaded from Flickr.
1. Drawing from Ebenezer Howard’s vision of the Garden City more than a century ago, Garden Communities today are central to the Government’s plans to increase housing supply. Building in rural and semi-rural areas – where housing targets are high – is unpopular. To avoid objections to more estates on the edge of market towns and at the same time exploiting cheaper land to build on, the Government proposes instead building vibrant, healthy and green ‘Garden Villages’: self-contained communities with everything to hand and minimal need to travel. ‘Garden Town’ status similarly puts the emphasis on a lot of new housing, but this time near an existing urban area. The idea is that sustainable travel and green lifestyles then become central to the whole area as the housing is built.The concept is supported by a Garden Communities Prospectus (MHCLG, 2018) and £3.7 million in funding specifically for Garden Communities, as well as a share of the £2.3 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund.
2. Transport for New Homes believes that everyone should have access to attractive housing, located and designed to ensure that people do not need to use or own cars to live a full life. Transport for New Homes is a project funded by the Foundation for Integrated Transport, a registered charity (115 63 63).
3. The report, Garden Villages and Garden Towns: Visions and Reality, can be read online. Datasheets from the 20 developments examined in detail are also online. Transport for New Homes examined master-plans, visions, infrastructure delivery plans, transport assessments and other documentation for a varied range of 20 Garden Communities around England, as well as visiting existing towns with Garden status and sites proposed for Garden Villages. Close examination was made of the funding and policy landscape underlying Garden Communities, including how the Housing Infrastructure Fund is being spent.
4. See Case Study 1, Long Marston, above.
5. In the Department for Transport’s March 2020 report, Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps writes: “Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network.”
6. The MHCLG’s Garden Communities Prospectus can be read online.
Guest blog by Camilla Ween, RIBA, MCIHT, AoU, Harvard Loeb Fellow
The planet is in a climate crisis and the UK is in a housing crisis. We need a paradigm shift in the way we do things so that we can deliver about 250,000 new homes annually, that will not exacerbate our attempts to reach zero carbon and that will not destroy the planet.
The United Nations has outlined 17 Goals for sustainable development, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to help shape a future that delivers decent lives for people, while at the same time protecting our environment. The UK should look to these for guidance over all development that we embark upon, as the SDGs articulate most clearly what sustainable development looks like. UK local and national planning policies are inevitably UK focussed and do not encompass global issues. We should, therefore, use the SDGs to filter proposals and ensure that they fulfil the global aspirations for a decent future. Designs must push against local barriers if proposals fall short.
Transport is responsible for about 26% of greenhouse gas emissions, much arising from personal car journeys. Our society will not be able to achieve the UN goals if we do not change the way we travel; that means we need to create new communities that are NOT car dependent. That means careful consideration of where new development is located, as well as how we design new communities, for example, places that are well connected with high quality public realm and movement infrastructure that encourage people to want to move to a car-free lifestyle.
The design process can and should seize opportunities to deliver sustainable solutions; good connectivity will encourage people to walk or cycle; careful design and layout can include biodiversity corridors and sustainable drainage solutions; pleasant public spaces, that feel welcoming, can help cement social cohesion.
By locating new development near public transport and designing communities that are well connected to the things we need to get to will mean that people are more likely to forgo car journeys. Rail travel has a very low carbon footprint, so developing along rail corridors is obvious and ensuring that the access to it is mainly by public transport, walking or cycling will mean that people will choose the low carbon travel option. That means no more ‘Park & Ride’ facilities.
Many transport projects I have worked on started with very narrow and specific briefs, but with a little discussion it was possible to broaden the remit and include other objectives. For example, a project for the city of Kano in Nigeria simply asked for five freight terminals and five bus interchanges; our design included permeability of the (very large) sites, biodiversity corridors, green infrastructure and walking and cycling networks that would integrate the sites into the city.
A project in Mexico City required interchange between two BRT routes and a commuter rail station. It was very clear that the solution could be very simple, but also that there existed multiple urban issues; the transport infrastructure separated an affluent community from an informal community and everyone from accessing a regional hospital by any other mode than a car and a local park was also inaccessible. We proposed a pedestrian and cycle bridge that would link both communities to each other, provide easy access to all the transport facilities, the hospital and the park and the bonus was a new public space at the heart of the community; the project went a long way to promote sustainable transport as well as social inclusion.
Another project that I am involved with is Connected Cities. This is a methodology which proposes development (which encompasses many of the Garden City principles) along existing rail corridors and no more than 1km from a station. The principle is that compact settlements are created, with access to amenities or a rail station that are no more that 15 minutes away by walking or cycling. A cluster of settlements, each offering social, leisure, retail or education facilities would all be connected together via rail and form a Connected City. By being well connected, dependency on car travel is almost entirely overcome.
The United Nations has recently launched the Urban Economy Forum, which aims to help deliver the UN SDGs. This will be a repository of best practice and learning for future urban development that will create decent lives for people that do not harm the environment.
Camilla Ween is an architect and urbanist at Goldstein Ween Architects and a Harvard University Loeb Fellow. Her work focusses on sustainable urban design and the integration of transport, working in the UK and globally. She is a Steering Group member of the United Nations Urban Economy Forum, a Design Council Built Environment Expert and member of several other design review panels. She is a published author as well as a regular lecturer at international universities and conferences.
We were deeply sad to learn that Simon Norton, a supporter of Transport for New Homes since its inception, passed away in February 2019.
A passionate and thoughtful campaigner for sustainable transport, Simon Norton helped to set up Transport for New Homes and funded the project through the Foundation for Integrated Transport, a grant-making charity that he founded and chaired. Simon was a member of our steering group, and he helped to research our Transport for New Homes report, visiting a number of new housing developments and assessing their public transport provision.
Jenny Raggett, lead author of the report, accompanied Simon on some of these visits. Jenny remembers Simon’s unique approach, his humour and the extraordinary depth of his knowledge:
Simon’s work was guided by a deep concern about climate change and a core belief that good public transport is a human right. Just days after his death, the Committee on Climate Change adopted the key findings and recommendations of the Transport for New Homes report – a great tribute to Simon’s vision.
The Committee on Climate Change says:
This is just one way in which Simon’s legacy will live on.
The Transport for New Homes Charter is dedicated to Simon.