Freiham is specifically designed as a green and pleasant place for walking and cycling and for using public transport.
Over the summer Transport for New Homes presented ‘Upside-down Geography‘ at events in London, Birmingham and Bristol. The geography of planning has become upside-down because of a failure of national strategy. Locations for new housing are not considered in terms of sustainable transport, access to services, employment or environmental impact. Instead, achieving local authority housing targets has led to a dispersed pattern of development that is very difficult to serve by public transport or other sustainable modes of travel.
In an ‘upside down geography’ world, we build new homes according to algorithms that place very high housing in rural places, where the car ends up the only way of getting about, and where employment, education and other services are in short supply. The ‘cowpat’ developments then results, built around new roads and car-based living, an english interpretation of US-style car-based sprawl. A different more modern approach is needed, much less orientated around the car.
On this theme, Transport for New Homes ran two workshops at the Transport Action Network conference in Birmingham. This was primarily a conference for campaigners against road schemes but we showed another aspect of major road construction, which is that it lays the foundation for greenfield development, opening up land for hundred of thousands of new homes in car-dependent estates. The problem is so widespread that the 2021 census now shows that our urban areas are losing population to rural and mainly rural areas, in the south west, south east, midlands and eastern part of the country.
A better model: transit-oriented development
It seems that we have missed out in England on choosing sites for new development integrated with mass transit systems, either existing or extended, and development of small and large brownfield sites. As part of a ‘zero carbon’ solution we seem to favour development off new roads instead, but a different model is possible.
A better way of building is along new or improved public transport corridors. One way of achieving this is with land value capture. We were delighted to have George Hazel speak at our Manchester event on the success of the Northumbria Line. This approach appears popular with land owners and developers. Land and property within 1km of the construction of a new metro, light rail or heavy rail station increases in value and developers are keen to build once they know that new infrastructure and services are coming soon. Six stations are proposed on the line, and Northumberland Park passengers will be able to change onto the Tyne and Wear Metro.
Twenty minute neighbourhoods
One much discussed topic recently is the idea of “20 minute neighbourhoods”, the idea that people will be able to access all the services and goods they need within a 15 or 20 minute journey on foot or bike. This is very laudable in principle, but as TfNH has been pointing out is far from the reality in many of the places it has visited. In some cases councils and developers are measuring the 20 minutes by straight lines (as the crow flies) rather than by real roads and footpaths, and there isn’t much of a check on the quality of those walking and cycling routes, or indeed access to public transport. TfNH adviser Stephen Joseph gave a presentation to Leeds City Council, in which he set out the origins of 15-20 minute neighbourhoods and some of the issues to consider.
Planning is (still) all up in the air
Our planning system has been in a state of uncertainty, reflecting the recent political turmoil nationally. Local Authority planners have been similarly unsure about how to proceed. We have heard of delays in local plan work over housing requirements and uncertainty of national policy. Some reports say that Local Plan making has ground to a halt. Some campaigners might have been happy to hear Boris Johnson speak out against greenfield development but this idea did not find itself translated to planning policy or legislation. There seems however to be little or no talk about the important contribution made by transport and the way that our continuing emphasis on road building to open up land is not helping matters.
Liz Truss campaigned on the notion of abolishing ‘stalinist top-down housing targets’ in the run up to the election of a new Prime Minister. The planning press then reported that Whitehall-led housing needs figures will be dropped under the new Truss administration. However the 300,000 homes per year national target appears to remain. In late November 2022 roughly 50 Conservative MPs rebelled against housing targets on the basis these are so high in many rural and semi rural places that they force large swathes of the countryside to be covered in car-dependent sprawl.
However at Transport for New Homes we have noted that there is little talk about building in a different way, for example around mass transit systems, sustainable modes and so on, although the concept at least, of building on brownfield sites is popular. The Department of Levelling Up Homes and Communities (DLUHC) needs we think, to integrate sustainable transport provision much more into the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) than is currently the case. Where and how we build is key.
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.
Blog by Jenny Raggett, Transport for New Homes
There has in recent days been much talk about the Chesham and Amersham byelection, a constituency that has always been Conservative but has now been won by the Liberal Democrats. An important election issue was the Government’s proposed changes to the planning system, with fears that planning reform will reduce the voice of local people and that this distancing from what local people want will facilitate planning permission for yet more enormous housing estates on treasured countryside, including in Buckinghamshire.
The idea that new homes are needed is generally accepted. Rarely discussed in the popular press however, is the kind of development that we do want, the sort of homes to be built and for whom, and how to make sure that new housing is not car-dependent but walkable and furnished with modern public transport. Transport is not a detail. Building out-of-town, car-based estates presents a landscape of often small houses, deserts of parking lots and roads, these taking up valuable space where there might be gardens, trees and pavements and more spacious living accommodation. It also means that residents have to buy a car, or two or even three cars per household which may be unaffordable. Destinations also quickly become car-based in this new-built sprawl and drivers fill our roads with yet more traffic. Problems further arise as those living in the sprawling greenfield estates travel into cities in their cars, places where people are trying meanwhile to reclaim the streets for pedestrians.
Returning to the Chesham and Amersham byelection, the politicians are already on the case. Yesterday there was an opposition debate in the House of Commons, entitled ‘local involvement in planning decisions’, which debated the motion: ‘That this House believes planning works best when developers and the local community work together to shape local areas and deliver necessary new homes; and therefore calls on the government to protect the right of communities to object to individual planning applications.’
MPs were rightly concerned that local communities should be involved in planning their area and should not be ignored. However what was not tackled or debated is what happens when we build in the wrong location in terms of access to jobs and services, why we end up with monoculture ‘tarmac’ housing with land wasted on so much parking, and how we make it possible to travel in and out of the new area on foot or bike, or indeed by modern public transport.
The developments proposed around Chesham and Amersham are on countryside a long way from the station and, as campaigners point out, will compel any new residents to commute by car thereby further worsening local traffic congestion and the already bad air quality in the town. A local group advocating brownfield not greenfield has formed and has been very active in the Local Plan process; but it is the mention of the station that is interesting to us.
Chesham and Amersham are at the end of the Metropolitan Line, famous for its role in stimulating the development of new suburbs north west of London. Could a reformed planning system talk about the importance of new stations and new metros as the centrepiece of new development – an idea suggested also by the Connected Cities project who have done much work on this notion? Local services and employment would be then meshed in with homes and profit from the public transport accessibility, with stations a kind of centre for the development, just as they are in the various suburbs along the Metropolitan Line. With less need for parking and road access, altogether different places could be built. A pipe dream? Perhaps. But the Metropolitan Line did it and it was successful.
We have seen on our visits that many large towns and cities are growing substantially now with hundreds of thousands of new homes planned for areas with poor public transport. Forget housing around new bypasses, ring roads, motorway junctions and bigger roundabouts. The metro may well have an important role to play in the future. Why not?
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.
As the Government prepares for a Planning Bill to be announced in next week’s Queen’s Speech, ten organisations have written to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick urging changes to the Government’s proposed planning reforms to avoid adding a tide of car traffic to already overcrowded roads and undermining the Government’s wider social, economic and environmental goals.
Organisations including CPRE, RAC Foundation, Sustrans and the Transport Planning Society caution that new housing is being sited in places that cannot be served well by public transport, are inaccessible on foot or cycle and often have few or no local facilities. In addition, the design and layout of many developments inhibit walking, cycling and bus service provision; some developments even have no pavements. The Government’s proposed reforms to the planning system do not address this, and threaten to increase car dependence, air pollution and carbon emissions.
Jenny Raggett, coordinator of Transport for New Homes, which organised the letter, said:
“At present, sustainable transport is all too often treated as an afterthought or even ignored when new housing is being considered. Our on-the-ground research shows that this results in estates where people have to drive everywhere, because they have no alternatives. Future lifestyles are then built around the car. The Government’s planning reforms are an opportunity to address this and create attractive places for people to live with good public transport and local facilities that people can walk or cycle to rather than soulless car-based estates.”
The letter calls upon the Government to focus its planning reforms on reducing car dependence, by:
- Revising the National Planning Policy Framework to give much more weight to developments around public transport and with good local services, and to discourage car-based developments.
- Revising the housing targets system so as to locate more development in urban areas and close to public transport.
- Bringing planning and transport closer together: integrating local plans with transport strategies.
- Making funding available, including through the Housing Infrastructure Fund, to support sustainable transport for housing rather than big new roads and junctions.
Steve Gooding, Director, RAC Foundation, said:
“However ambitious the government’s targets are for the construction of new housing it will only ever be a fraction of the total housing stock year-by-year, but surely it is incumbent on us to ensure that whatever and wherever new housing is built it does not perpetuate the problems of the past? The worst – yet still avoidable – outcome would be to end up with cars parked in ways that obstruct walking, cycling and buses because the design of new developments has been poorly thought through, and for whose residents the alternatives to driving aren’t available because their location leaves them with poor connectivity to the services they need.”
Sarah Mitchell, Chief executive, Cycling UK, said:
“Last year, the Government set out a bold vision to make cycling and walking the norm for day-to-day local journeys. Yet the planning system is still providing housing in remote car-dependent locations, with dangerous road and junction layouts, making it difficult for people to get by without a car. This must change if we are to tackle the crises of congestion, pollution, inactivity-related ill-health and the climate, while enabling children and other non-drivers to get around independently.”
Paul Tuohy, Chief Executive, Campaign for Better Transport, said:
“Planning reforms must ensure that new developments do not lock in car-dependency. New housing should have basic amenities within easy walking distance and connectivity to employment, shopping and leisure by public transport, walking and cycling, creating healthier communities for generations to come.”
Mary Creagh, Chief Executive, Living Streets, said:
“The Planning Bill provides us with an opportunity to bake walking-friendly design and sustainable transport into new housing developments. We should build towards a green recovery from COVID-19, not stumble back into car dependency.”
Chris Todd, Director, Transport Action Network, said:
“History has shown us that we cannot build our way out of congestion. The current approach is creating a vicious circle as more roads lead to more car-based developments, leading to calls for more roads. This is fuelling a climate and health emergency. More cars result in more carbon emissions, more pollution, fewer and smaller areas for green space and increased sedentary lifestyles undermining quality of life and growing pressure on the NHS.”
Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity said:
“Planning and transport should be two sides of the same coin. By ensuring all developments include low carbon public transport and active travel infrastructure that fit into people’s lives, we can begin creating healthy, carbon neutral communities. But right now our planning system is doing the opposite, producing dislocated, car dependent and land-hungry developments, especially in the countryside.
“These ill-conceived developments lock in car dependency and drive up carbon emissions that fuel runaway climate change. But there is a golden opportunity in the upcoming planning bill to change this approach and ensure all developments put public transport links, walking and cycling firmly ahead of road building. It’s high time the government steps up and locks in low carbon public transport for the nature friendly and healthy homes communities are calling for.”
Notes to Editors
1) The letter to Robert Jenrick has been signed by Transport for New Homes, Campaign for Better Transport, CPRE the countryside charity, Cycling UK, Living Streets, Possible, RAC Foundation, Sustrans, Transport Action Network, and Transport Planning Society and can be read in full here.
2) Transport for New Homes’ “Homes Without Jams” campaign aims to reform the planning system so that new housing is built around sustainable transport. A crowdfunder to support the campaign closes in 5 days.
3) 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 funded by the Foundation for Integrated Transport, a registered charity (115 63 63).
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.
What will the likely transport impact of a new development be? How many trips is it likely to generate? To work this out, transport planners use TRICS, which is a database of information about the trips generated by past developments.
In the past, TRICs has been used as part of a ‘Predict and Provide’ paradigm, which tends to mean ‘predict how many people will want to drive places, and provide road space for them’.
But this year the consortium behind TRICS released new guidance calling on transport planners to instead ‘Decide and Provide’: decide on the preferred future and provide the means to work towards that. In this guest blog, Lynn Basford of BasfordPowers Ltd, which helped to produce the guidance, explains its implications.
The way that we think about planning for the future is beginning to change and needs to change in light of the UK’s commitment to decarbonising its economy, the Covid-19 pandemic and the digital connectivity that we are now presented with.
As Professor Glenn Lyons recognises in his Foreword to the new guidance released by TRICS this year, “We live our lives within a “Triple Access System” comprised of different and interacting means of being able to access people, jobs, goods, services and opportunities” (the Triple Access System refers to the transport, land-use and telecommunications systems). This needs to be reflected in the way we approach planning for homes and services.
We as land use and transport planners need to embrace the requisite for change and ensure our Local Plans and site specific plans reflect these societal shifts.
The tools that we use in land use and transport planning, and how we use them, need to reflect changing consumer and travel behaviour.
A very well used tool in transport planning is TRICS. TRICS has an ever growing database (some 7,150 transport surveys) of observed trip rates associated with different types and scales of development. It has been a well-used if not default source for supporting the estimation of trip rates associated with new developments. Such measurements have guided the requirements for transport infrastructure and services.
The common use of the ‘Vehicle Only’ TRICS calculation which looks at vehicle and cycle trips can conspire against sustainable development if not used carefully and can lead to the over provision of highway capacity and the potential under provision of walking, cycling and public transport infrastructure and services. This common use (whilst heavily guarded against in the TRICS Best Practice Guidance 2021) equates to a Predict and Provide approach to planning new development.
TRICS does provide multi modal data (walking, cycling and public transport trips), and it is this information along with the analysis of historic trends data that needs to be used to shape developments and plan for sustainable developments.
So how do we stop being insane and planning the same over and over again?
In February 2021 TRICS launched its new Guidance on the Practical Implementation of the Decide and Provide approach. This approach starkly constrasts with the Predict and Provide approach. Its focus is upon deciding on the preferred future and providing the means to work towards that which can accommodate uncertainty. The Decide and Provide approach provides the opportunity to meaningfully prioritise a modal hierarchy giving greater upfront consideration of walking and cycling and asking the three key questions:
- What sort of place are we creating?
- What kind of activities do we need or desire to travel for?
- How will we provide for mobility?
Visioning is central to the Decide and Provide approach. It is essential that transport and land use planners jointly vision development proposals, whether in private sector planning or the public sector development management.
The TRICS new guidance provides us with a detailed methodology for applying the Decide and Provide Approach. For those out there who say that this approach can’t work, TRICS has helpfully provided a set of worked examples including for food retail, discount food retail, large residential, medium residential, residential brown field sites and small residential. Something for everyone!
One of the key take-aways from the guidance is that the TRICS data is showing that trip rates associated with developments are changing and we can change them further by the way we plan new developments.
I believe that we can avoid insanity by embracing this new approach in transport planning which supports the new paradigm of Decide and Provide and we can genuinely get sustainable, adaptive development planning that supports social, economic and travel behaviour change.”
Director and Founder of BasfordPowers Ltd
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 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 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.
Our 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.
Over 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 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‘.