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Decarbonising transport: let’s get planning reform right

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.

Three changes we’d like to see to the plans for the planning system

By Steve Chambers and Jenny Raggett, Transport for New Homes

When the government consulted on proposed upcoming changes to the planning system in August 2020 we responded based on what we’d learned from our visits to new housing estates, which is summarised in our 2018 and 2020 reports.

We don’t think the current planning system is working, especially when it comes to transport, so we were excited to learn what the government planned. But we had some concerns about the policies proposed. In short, we didn’t think they would make things better.

The government has now suggested that proposals as consulted are far from the final outcome and the new planning system is as yet unwritten. With that in mind we thought we’d bring together the most important changes we think should be brought forward in upcoming planning reform.

1. Change how infrastructure is funded

When new buildings are proposed the planning system ensures any negative impacts are mitigated by planning obligations and contributions. This should ensure that new homes have pavements and other transport options available as soon as they are occupied. This is either provided by an obligation where the developer provides the infrastructure or a cash contribution that funds the work being carried out by or on behalf of the local authority.

The consultation suggested the replacement of planning obligations and contributions with a flat rate infrastructure levy. This change might have brought simplicity but it would also have created inequity. New communities or extensions of old ones would be built without the most basic infrastructure because of lack of contribution and mitigation from developers. For example we already see new homes built without pavements connecting up to nearby bus stops and shops. Further reducing planning obligations and contributions risks exacerbating this problem.

Whilst we do not think the infrastructure levy could ever be a complete replacement for existing systems of planning obligations and contributions, we do think transport provision at new homes must be properly funded. Local and combined authorities should be able to set appropriate local rates of levy in order to fund sustainable transport. Whereas the flat rate system would have ignored local context, the setting of infrastructure levies locally would ensure local needs are met.

And what do we mean by infrastructure? Many people take ‘infrastructure’ to mean ‘roads’ and indeed we have seen how new or wider roads are assumed to be essential to take the new traffic generated by large greenfield housing estates. This emphasis we think is associated with an outdated model of development and future investment needs to be different. This could be the basic things like connecting smaller urban extensions to town centres by safe and convenient end-to-end walking and cycling routes or more ambitious plans like rapid transit systems for significantly expanding towns and cities. When we looked at garden towns and villages these were the top two shortcomings of them. The money wasn’t there. Light rail and rapid transit are especially important to pull together newly built and existing urban areas. However substantial funding is needed. If central government cannot supply the funds, then a local level levy with contributions pooled from several large developments may be a way forward.

2. Give the chance to consider developments so that sustainable transport is not forgotten

One of the aims of the reformed planning system is to build more homes and quickly. Whilst this is a laudable approach in a housing crisis, we already know that lack of proper planning consideration is causing developments to be built in the wrong places far from basic amenities and without sustainable transport options.

Several mechanisms have been proposed to streamline planning. These include moving the decision-making part of planning to be much earlier in the process, at the local plan stage, or instructing local authorities to designate areas for growth where scrutiny will be reduced.

Typically under the current system a larger site is considered three times in the planning process: at the local plan stage, at outline planning permission and at final planning permission. Each stage operates at a different scale and provides opportunities to ensure the development integrates well with existing towns and villages. Removing any of these strategies entirely runs the risk of forgetting about sustainable transport. New roads and easy access are often top priority but the walking, cycling and public transport connections in and out of the estate are considered secondary or left out completely.

We propose that the future planning system continues to provide opportunities for consultation and deliberation of development at the local plan, outline and final permission stages in relation to frequent and modern public transport and safe overlooked walking and cycling routes in and out of the development, even if the principle of new housing on the site has already been agreed.

3. Improve the local plan making process

New technologies could make plan making better, but proposed changes to the plan making process could jeopardise the opportunity.

Planning new homes and other development is often done piecemeal with several large new housing estates proposed without consideration of the interactions between them, other kinds of development, and nearby urban areas.

Plans often stop at the local authority border rather than being genuinely coordinated with those of neighbouring authorities. The result may be several large new urban extensions or ‘garden villages’ in the countryside uncoordinated in terms of better public transport provision or cycling and walking routes.

Each development comes with a complex transport assessment which models the effect of that development on the road system, and to a very limited extent, sustainable transport. However, the way people will travel around the area as a whole without a car, is not considered.

This uncoordinated approach is something which our future planning system may correct by the use of technology.

One of the most promising parts of the planning proposals is the use of data and geographic information systems (GIS). This, the government suggests, should inform every part of the planning process. By using maps in combination with data, different scenarios can be tested and a proper perspective achieved on a whole area, with the maps working seamlessly across local authority boundaries and the ability to zoom in and out to understand the implications of new build, whether it is in the right place, and how to get the associated infrastructure right. In terms of sustainable transport, the coordination of land use with new stations and/ or rapid transit can then be examined and options for where to build logically decided. The cycle network needed for a whole area can be discussed and mapped out with clarity. The disadvantages of choosing the wrong parcel of land to build on become apparent and mistakes avoided. With GIS the process of planning can become much more accessible to ordinary people because a shared interactive map means discussions can take place in an open way.

GIS has the big advantage over paper in that it can bring into focus a number of datasets and overlay them graphically. In terms of building in the right place and in the right way, data from many sources can be taken into consideration and viewed together. These datasets might cover anything from wildlife records to sustainable transport, from landscape to favourite walking areas, from air quality to type and density of housing. Maps can test out different scenarios so that the knowledge and expertise of our planners can be put to good use and the public can genuinely participate. The availability of data and GIS gives the opportunity to make much better decisions about planning generally, and especially about sustainable transport.

But planning authorities will need adequate time and resources to take advantage of these new technologies. Otherwise the opportunity to make better local plans will be lost in the rush to comply with arbitrary deadlines.

The planning system is in need of reform and new housing is desperately needed. But speeding the process up won’t necessarily make things better. In order to get more equitable and sustainable outcomes from the planning system we need to see infrastructure properly funded, automatic permission tempered by realistic expectations about transport provision and a plan making process that has the power to guide the places that are created.

We are crowdfunding for our Homes Without Jams campaign, which works to influence the government’s planning reforms, making the case for a green transport future for new homes. Please support our crowdfunder which closes in a matter of days.

A tale of two developments: why new planning reforms threaten to entrench unsustainable lifestyles

This blog by Steve Chambers, sustainable transport campaigner at Transport for New Homes, was first published by as a guest blog by Green Alliance.

In 2018, Transport for New Homes produced an initial report that revealed the deep flaws in the planning system which leave new housing developments with inadequate walking, cycling and public transport connections to surrounding areas. With limited facilities locally, residents are, for the most part, forced into car dependency.

With lockdown starting to ease in England, we wanted to find out how some of the communities we featured in that report had been getting on over the past year. We visited two new developments in the west of England: Castlemead on the edge of Trowbridge and Bath Riverside in the centre of Bath. How had the developments influenced the lifestyles of residents? Were they delightful and sustainable places to live? And, if not, why not?

Castlemead, Trowbridge

Castlemead is part of large ongoing development on the edge of Trowbridge, Wiltshire, adjacent to the planned Ashton Park urban extension. The context is a series of large distributor roads and roundabouts. Castlemead has one of these roads going right through it: a developer funded bypass for Trowbridge.

Planning permission for both Castlemead and Ashton Park has been plagued by difficulties, including the need to ‘mitigate’ the impact on several bat species, such as the very rare Bechstein bat which has a maternity roost in woodland right next to the developments. In fact, some roads in Castlemead are named in memory of the bats affected, such as Bechstein Meadow and Pipistrelle Crescent.

Castlemead roundaboutCastlemead is too far from the centre of town to be walkable for some people. It is one and half miles to the main shopping district and two miles to the railway station. There is one pedestrian route into Trowbridge but this is not safe in the dark, without pavements for some stretches. Furthermore, once they reach the town, pedestrians need to negotiate a large dual carriageway inner ring road. Walking and cycling are not supported by ‘end-to-end’ infrastructure.

This development is designed around car use with no front gardens because space has been given over to parking. Some homes also have very small back gardens for the same reason. Car based living is necessary because, other than the primary school and a single convenience store, there is nowhere you can easily go without a car. Indeed, even the convenience store is just off a roundabout with a parking area encouraging even local shoppers to visit using their cars. Bus services are also infrequent and inconveniently timed which rules out using public transport for evenings and weekends out.

Castlemead parkingOur research found that residents’ cars are outgrowing the spots provided for them, which means they are encroaching on the pavements and further reducing space for walkers. Tellingly, we didn’t see anyone on foot on the residential roads which must have made it a very isolated place during the pandemic.

How might planning have improved this place? With more homes intended for the area, it is getting closer to the scale that might support a shop or other amenities. But upcoming planning reforms look like they will make it much harder for councils to designate land for general use class E, which covers most local services. Changes to permitted development rights could end up with estates of housing with nowhere at all to shop, work or play, also adding to the pressures on established schools, doctors’ surgeries and other facilities in the nearby town and necessitating car journeys to reach them.

Bath Riverside

Bath RiversideOver the border in Somerset is Bath Riverside. This is another development that was in its early stages when we reported in 2018 and is now substantially complete. About half a mile from the shopping district at the centre of town and 0.8 miles from the railway station, it is immediately apparent that location is everything. It is well within walking distance of the centre.

But what is noticeably different about Bath Riverside is the provision of amenities within the development. What was once a restaurant will reopen post-lockdown as a shared workspace, charging by the day. We found cafes, outdoor gyms, good quality public space, public art and places to sit in the shade. Good sized trees and flower beds have been planted. Many amenities had been added since our last visit, transforming the place.

There were many people travelling on foot, with lots of places to go, even despite lockdown restrictions, both within the development and just beyond.

The development does have some shortcomings. An unnecessary amount of space has been given over to car parking, possibly due to parking standards. This means entrances to homes are being obstructed by cars. That said, thought has been given to minimising the impact of parking with several attempts to hide it away, including underground.

Bath RiversideBath Riverside is a world away from Castlemead. And many of its best public realm improvements, including integration with the existing city, have come about because of planning conditions and mitigations. Without those tools this development could have been very different.

Upcoming reforms threaten to jeopardise such important planning provisions. For instance, the recently released model design code will do little to prevent the car dominance we found at both these estates. The reforms don’t deal with anything as substantive.

Changes to permitted development rights of use class E could also risk the ability to include the cafes and coworking spaces we saw at Bath Riverside. We hope not. The density of Bath Riverside means there are enough people to support these types of businesses which benefit from it being a walkable place.

So, where, out of these two developments, would a family choose to live? The car dependent sprawl of Castlemead or the walkable liveability of Bath Riverside? Sadly, for reasons of affordability and the lack of suitable family sized units in Bath, car dependent Castlemead is a far more likely option.

Instead, we should be building housing in the most sustainable locations in existing towns, where walking and cycling are the natural choice to get around. It would be a grave mistake, both for liveability and our need to become a low carbon society, for planning reforms to make it easier to build car dependent sprawl, far from places of work and other facilities, than to aid sustainable living. From what we’ve seen of the government’s proposals so far, we are at risk of taking the wrong path.

Transport for New Homes is crowdfunding for its Homes Without Jams campaign that works to influence the government’s planning reforms, making the case for a green transport future for new homes. It also supported the development of Green Alliance’s briefing ‘Ensuring investment in transport through the Infrastructure Levy‘.

For housing fit for the future, let’s get these policies right

The Government is consulting on changes to the National Model Design Code and National Planning Policy Framework. Together, these documents will set the direction for the housing that we build in the near future. With hundreds of thousands of new homes needed, it’s vital that these two documents take transport properly into account: we must do much better at building housing around local amenities and sustainable transport.

Transport for New Homes has responded to the Government’s consultation, which closes on 27 March. We’ve summed up our views below. If you have views on housing and transport, please respond to the consultation here.

National Model Design Code

Jenny RaggettTransport for New Homes Project Coordinator Jenny Raggett writes…

Transport for New Homes is much concerned with the quality of new housing developments. We were therefore interested to read the proposed National Design Code and associated Guidance and can see much good material with respect to the design and layout has been incorporated. However, we believe that unless the National Design Code goes further and addresses the wider issues of location of development and its orientation around sustainable transport modes, its intentions regarding good design will often fail ‘in real life’.

The draft National Design Code looks at new development in terms of different ‘contexts’: ‘town/city centre’, ‘urban neighbourhood’, ‘suburbs’, ‘outer suburbs’, ‘local centres’, ‘villages rural settlements’ and ‘industrial areas, business, science or retail parks’.

Once the context has been established, there follows a discussion for each regarding movement, nature, built form, identity, public space and so on as applied to that context. In terms of ‘movement’ the guidance has sections on subjects such as connected streets, junctions and crossings, car parking, cycle parking, density, gardens and balconies, meeting places, local services and so on.

So far, all well and good. But Transport for New Homes, has found an important omission in the Design Code. The ‘context’ most commonly chosen to accommodate housing targets in Local Plans, are the greenfield urban extension and the garden village. Yet these have been left out of the National Design Code completely. The Code does not cover the urban extension or the garden village as a ‘context’.

Does this omission matter? We think it does because it will mean that many developments being progressed in Local Plans are likely to fail most of the guidance straightaway, because of their location and their car dependency. The fine words describing green and well-designed places with pleasant local centres, meeting places, gardens and so on, and even good public transport links, are great. But if you are building (a) in a place that cannot be connected to existing streets to an existing town (b) around a new road system because you travel nearly everywhere by car, then the rest of the Guidance is hardly likely to be implemented.

The problem is ‘double trouble’. On one hand it is the excessive influence of the car and the sheer amount of space devoted to roads, parking and driveways in housing that we have seen in the places we have visited, in turn means less greenery, often tiny gardens and little space for urban trees. On the other hand it is the lack of modern public transport alternatives to enable people to avoid having to travel everywhere by car, and the lack of local shops and community provision to walk to. These also become univiable in a place where people are encouraged to just drive out.

In conclusion then:

  • The National Design Code needs some kind of explanation about mistakes made in the past and how and why changes are needed.
  • The Code needs to be better supported by the NPPF when it comes to sustainable transport provision, parking and the layout of estates.
  • There needs to be more discussion about how the right location is important and that certain locations are unsuitable.
  • Urban extensions and garden villages are two contexts that are omitted and these need their own sections in the National Design Code Guidance.
  • There needs to be more made of the way that stations, busways, tramways and cycleways are key components in the section on movement, and need early consideration in terms of the overall and local layout and design of an area.

National Planning Policy Framework

Steve ChambersTransport for New Homes Sustainable Transport Campaigner Steve Chambers writes…

Rather grandly the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is now proposed to include the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. We note Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities says “By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons”.

We know from our research that planning outcomes currently fall far short of these goals. In particular we have found that new housing developments are predominately car dependent and lacking in sustainable transport systems, such as good walk and cycle provision as well as public transport. The NPPF should give stronger weight to the necessity of these features to ensure that only development that is compliant with these goals receives consent.

We are concerned with what the proposed revision to the NPPF doesn’t say. It is a missed opportunity to bring land use and transport planning together at the local level. It emphasises “sustainable development” throughout, but nowhere is this defined. The UN goals are mentioned, but these cannot be readily interpreted at the local level.

It doesn’t acknowledge that transport is inextricable from spatial planning. Demand for travel is derived from the spatial arrangement of activities/facilities. It has no independent function. Transport must therefore be integrated with the land use planning process.

Chapter 9 (Sustainable Transport) has not been revised, and remains very weak. It is insufficient for transport issues to be merely “considered” (para 103). This section is therefore now inconsistent with the strengthened paragraph 11. The proposed revision does not include any requirement to prioritise development within the existing urban envelope, over and above greenfield sites or previously used sites that are remote from the urban envelope (for example, and especially, airfields, which are almost by definition remote from urban areas).

It does not explicitly require local planning authorities to designate land for development that is accessible by sustainable modes of travel, or to exclude land that is not. Most fundamentally, the absence of sustainable transport provision is not given as a reason for the refusal of planning applications.

The NPPF has been revised, it appears, mainly in response to the report from the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. Around half of all the proposed new words are in chapter 12 “Achieving well-designed places”. It is to be hoped that NPPF will be further revised in the short term, specifically to address the issue of integrated transport and spatial planning.

It claims that “the planning system should be genuinely plan-led” (page 8, para 15). We agree that it should be. However, the present planning system is to a great extent led by, or at least heavily influenced by developers and landowners, not by plans that have been carefully devised to meet sustainable development objectives. In particular, development sites are selected from those offered by the private sector, not from those that can meet public (and other sustainable) transport accessibility criteria.

You can find our full response here.

If you would like to respond to the consultation you can do so here before 11:45pm on 27 March 2021.

Main photo © Stephen Craven (cc-by-sa/2.0)

So, what else could we build?

In our recent report, Garden Villages and Garden Towns: Visions and Reality, we explain that, although the visions for garden communities are often very good, we fear ‘business as usual’. Rather than enabling people to walk, cycle and use public transport to go about their daily lives, these developments will generate high levels of traffic by condemning their residents to car-dependent lifestyles. Local shops, cafes and other amenities will fail to materialise because people will just get in their cars and drive off!

This is because new homes are often built in the wrong locations, and without consideration of the very important role that transport plays in shaping a place.

In this blog we set out to demonstrate some of the things that our report talks about by using a sequence of annotated images from Google Maps, and to show different ways that settlements have been planned, both in the UK and beyond.

1. How it's done today: the 'urban extension'
2. New development around a garden town
3. A future garden village
4. Mixed development and walkability
5. Vibrant community with excellent public transport
6. New place from scratch for 45,000 people
7. A completely new large town with dedicated busway, new railway stations and extensive cycle network
8. Almeer, continued
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These are just some examples – we are very interested in any others. We invite readers to contact us with any other examples of good and bad practice that could be added to our discussion.

By Jenny Raggett, Project Coordinator

The vision and reality of Garden Communities

Green promises broken: Garden Villages and Garden Towns will be dominated by the car

Press release: 16 June 2020

Far from being vibrant, green communities, Garden Villages and Garden Towns [1] are at high risk of becoming car-dependent commuter estates, research by Transport for New Homes [2] has found. The group examined plans for 20 Garden Communities [3] 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 [4].

Looking to the future, the need for modern bus, tram and train networks to avert climate crisis is expected to come to the fore [5]. 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 [6]. 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 studies

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.

Contact details

For more details please contact Jess Fitch, Communications Coordinator, Transport for New Homes: jess.fitch@transportfornewhomes.org.uk

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.

Camilla Ween

Looking to the UN Sustainable Development Goals to guide good urban growth

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.

Development projects are often framed in very narrow and specific ways. However, if we keep an open mind and look broadly for opportunities, then by simply tweaking the design we can achieve so much more for little or no extra cost. Every design project offers the opportunity to include design features that help us achieve the SDGs’ aspirations.

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.

Kano, map of development

 

Kano, image of development

 

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.

Mexico City project

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.

Royal Arsenal Riverside

Transport for New Homes Award: Royal Arsenal Riverside

Royal Arsenal Riverside was announced as winner of the Transport for New Homes Award 2019 in the metropolitan category. Judge Tim Pharoah, who visited the development, tells us why.

London needs many more homes, and high-density developments are required. At Woolwich Arsenal, the impact of tall blocks is lessened by the generous provision of open spaces and pedestrian only walkways. The riverfront location also provides a dramatic setting for the new residential buildings. A further advantage is the presence of many preserved 18th Century buildings from the days when the Arsenal was a major location for the manufacture and testing of guns and other military hardware. These old buildings give the area a special character, while the cannon that remain dotted around the site provide popular play equipment for children.

Despite the large scale – there are already more than 1,700 homes completed with many more on the way – there has not been a focus on catering for a significant increase in traffic. The expectation is that people mostly will use public transport, walking and cycling to get about.

So often, the marketing blurb for new housing schemes turns out to be optimistic or even downright misleading. But Berkeley Homes seem to have struck the right note when they say: “With extensive river frontage, a landscaped park and unrivalled travel connections, Waterfront III at Royal Arsenal Riverside puts you at the centre of everything that is great about living in London. Plus with an outstanding choice of amenities already on your doorstep, local life here could not be more convenient.” There is nothing to disagree with here.

The public transport available within an easy walk is truly staggering, with national rail, Docklands Light Rail and 11 bus routes passing the site. Bus frequency is more than one every minute in each direction! In addition, the development is facilitating the delivery of a new Crossrail station within the site, expected to open in late 2020 or early 2021. As if this weren’t enough, the site is also served by the Thames Clipper riverboat service to the City and West End, running at least half hourly through the day and late into the evening.

The Thames cycle path goes through the development, offering a traffic-free route east and west, and secure cycle parking is available for residents, although cycle parking for visitors is sparse.

Royal Arsenal Riverside

With all this transport, one might be tempted to leave Woolwich Arsenal, but it is also an attractive and convenient place to stay in. Whether relaxing by the water, playing with the kids in one of the safe green spaces, or catching up on some laptop work in one of the cafes, the development provides a lot of facilities and a very interesting environment.

I spoke to a couple with their two young children, who had been living there for a year. “We absolutely love it here, and the kids do too. We wouldn’t consider living anyway else now.” And do you have a car? “Yes, but we hardly ever use it. The cost of the parking garage is quite high, and we might try to sell it on when the kids are grown up.” (Parking spaces are £25,000 freehold)

Most of the parking is tucked away underground, leaving the ground level more or less traffic free, and making it safe and quiet to wander. There are car club vehicles and electric vehicle charging on site.

Given the low volume of vehicle movement, it is strange that some of the detailed street design is not geared to the pedestrian. For example at side streets, the dropped kerb crossing point is offset, requiring pedestrians to divert. Of course no-one does, and so people walk in the road. So often it is the highway engineering details that let a scheme down.

In high-density developments especially, open space has to be carefully designed and managed. The quality of landscaping at Woolwich Arsenal has already been recognised by picking up the inaugural award for landscape at the Sunday Times British Homes Awards.

Overall, Woolwich Arsenal Riverside development is a bold and imaginative regeneration project, providing a wide range of housing with excellent sustainable transport facilities. For many if not most of the residents, the car would seem to be redundant!

Responsible for Royal Arsenal Riverside:
Developer: Berkeley Homes (East Thames)
Architects: Allies and Morrison
Planning consultants: Barton Willmore
Transport planning consultants: URS
Council: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Bath Riverside

Transport for New Homes Award: Bath Riverside

Bath Riverside was announced as winner of the Transport for New Homes Award 2019 in the non-metropolitan category. Judge Tim Pharoah, who visited the development, tells us why.

All too often new housing is built around car use, but Bath Riverside bucks the trend in a positive way by providing really good walking, cycling and public transport options. One resident remarked: “My car is parked in the underground car park, but mostly I just walk or cycle”.

All new developments should be located so that people living them are not required, or even tempted, to use cars for getting around. Generally the best way of achieving this is to locate new homes within the existing urban envelope of the town or city. Bath Riverside is an excellent example of this.

The development of apartments – and some town houses – occupies the site of a disused gasworks about 1 km west of the centre of Bath. Located on the banks of the River Avon, it is well situated for walking to shops, entertainment, the railway station, bus station and bus stops. Car parking is limited and mostly out of sight, while the public realm is shaped around walking.

Attractive and direct pedestrian routes through the development link up with two traffic free walking routes into the centre of Bath. One of these is a shared walking and cycling path (the well-known Bristol-Bath traffic-free route). The annual monitoring report for the scheme shows that the great majority of residents walk or cycle to get about the city.

The development is also highly accessible by public transport, with local bus stops a few minutes’ walk away on main roads either side of the development, served by no fewer than 14 bus routes, some of them operating at high frequency. A bus into the centre arrives every 5-10 minutes, and the key bus stops have real-time information screens. A free one month bus pass is on offer to every Bath Riverside household, as well as free car club membership and a £100 cycle voucher.

Bath Riverside, built by Crest Nicholson, exploits its position on the south bank of the River Avon with two attractive public spaces and views across the river from many of the apartments.

When checked against the Transport for New Homes Checklist, Bath Riverside received high scores for its location, its walking routes and its public transport connections. It also scored well for its density, which maximises the benefits of the location, and for its attractive layout. There are many facilities nearby, including an excellent playground for children of all ages within Victoria Park. Bath Riverside has already won several other housing awards, including the WhatHouse? award in 2017.

Unfortunately the quality of the walking and cycling environment outside the development itself is quite poor. The local highway authority should be giving much greater priority to the environment for active travel modes. The bus stops also could be better located, and with better pedestrian access across the main roads. Come on, City of Bath, you can do more to support the new riverside developments!

Responsible for Bath Riverside:
Developer: Crest Nicholson
Architect: The masterplanning architect was Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios. Five other firms of architects were used for the design individual phases.
Planning Consultant: Savills.
Transport Planning Consultant: WSP.
Local Authority: Bath and North East Somerset Council.

Poundbury

Transport for New Homes Award: Poundbury

Poundbury is an urban extension to the Dorset county town of Dorchester, built according to the principles of Charles, Prince of Wales, on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. Poundbury was highly commended in the Transport for New Homes Awards 2019. Judge Jenny Raggett, who visited the development, tells us why.

One of the few properly walkable places we found, with a full diversity of community provision integrated with new homes, was Poundbury in Dorset.

Although the architectural feel of Poundbury might not be to everybody’s liking, as a greenfield urban extension it is highly unusual in its achievement of a new walkable community, much along the lines of the visions we have seen for the new ‘garden settlements’ that the government hope we will build. Poundbury is green with urban trees and parks. There is a mix of all kinds of homes including rented and affordable accommodation, with offices, cafes, pubs, small shops, a garden centre, supermarket, community facilities and school all within the actual fabric of the town. There are over 2,000 people working in Poundbury and this daytime influx of people, in addition to the 3,500 residents themselves, creates a good footfall during the day for the many eating establishments and shops close by.

We have seen so many greenfield sites that are essentially housing estates with little else apart from a primary school and perhaps a convenience store by the ring road. There is normally a very large supermarket by a roundabout out of town, with a large car park, and the business park off another large junction also comes with a large car park. The nature of destinations as much as the housing itself tell the story. Out of town retail, employment and leisure on separate parcels of land mean driving everywhere.

Poundbury is completely different in this respect. The garden centre with its cafe and the supermarket are right in town, and so is everything else. You can collect the children from the school and walk to the supermarket or other shops; you can go to one of the parks or have tea. If you work in one of the offices or factories you can enjoy a meal out at lunch or pop into the shops without jumping into the car. Walkability is a lot to do with having things to actually walk to – and in the case of Poundbury there are many.

Poundbury

Perhaps it helps also that walking around Poundbury is interesting compared to the other urban extensions we have seen. Different views greet the pedestrian and the varicose nature of the streets beckons you on to see what is around the corner. The number and variety of urban trees very much add to the public realm.

Many urban extensions are cut off from their parent towns so that you can’t reach them on foot or cycle along overlooked streets. In the case of Poundbury, great care has been taken to integrate the new area with its parent town Dorchester so that streets join up – an entirely different model from the roundabout and link road concept so often seen in the ‘classic’ urban extension. What this means is that the new area and its shops and its many community facilities are accessible to a wider population, not just to Poundbury residents.

What about public transport? If you come from a small town in the rural south west as I do, the bus services in and out of Poundbury seem remarkable. The number 10 bus which goes between Weymouth, Dorchester and Poundbury (at Mansell Square) runs 7 days a week at turn-up-and-go frequencies, and continues into late evening, albeit at reduced frequency. Other buses go through Poundbury itself, providing services to Dorchester (half hourly) and to Bridport and Axminster (2 hourly), though not in the evenings or on Sundays. There are two railway stations in Dorchester and if you don’t want to take the bus, there is always the option of cycling to them from Poundbury (10 minutes) or you might enjoy the half hour walk with pavements all the way.

For a greenfield urban extension, Poundbury is eminently liveable; for this it earned the high commendation of our judges.

Poundbury bus

Responsible for Poundbury:
Estate Director: Ben Murphy
Masterplanner: Léon Krier
Architects: Ben Pentreath of Ben Pentreath Ltd and George Saumarez Smith of Adam Architecture
Highways Consultant: Andrew Cameron of Andrew Cameron & Associates
Council: Dorset Council (from April 2019, previously West Dorset District Council)