Category: Planning

New homes, wildflowers and a railway station: a visit to Kidbrooke Village

Kidbrooke Village offers a new lifestyle

Kidbrooke Village is a large new development of some 4,700 homes in the borough of Greenwich, South East London. The development replaced the 1960s/ 1970s Ferrier Estate which was knocked down to build something completely different. The development is a partnership between local government, housing developers, and community stakeholders and consists of an interesting and unusual mix of high density development alongside new parkland and wildlife areas.

Approaching Kidbrooke

We walked to the development from the adjacent suburbs. The street-scape suddenly changed and there we were in Kidbrooke Village. It was a completely different place from the suburbs of the 1930s. Some of new homes were still in construction.

As we walked in, we noticed that there was a bus stop already in place in the area still being built. In Kidbrooke, public transport is an essential component. Parking is very limited for flats with many with no parking (although parking spaces can be paid for if needed). Town houses do have usually one space. It’s anticipated that people will use public transport, walking, cycling, scooters and car-clubs. And from what we could see, they do.

The number of affordable homes at Kidbrooke Village is planned at 35% (including 15% social rented). This is London and property has price tags to match. Town houses with allocated off-street parking and private gardens, offer luxury accommodation.

The accommodation in apartment blocks has the benefit of proximity and views of an extensive green area for walking, picnicking, playing, and enjoying wildlife right despite being in London. The idea is explained in the blog London Wildlife Trust: Bringing Kidbrooke alive with wildlife.

This area was popular with walkers and people sitting out. As explained in the London Wildlife Trust blog about Kidbrooke: ‘Developments don’t have to squeeze out wildlife. The benefits are clear: trees in urban areas improve the view, aid privacy, provide shade and help reduce pollution and flash flooding; community green spaces bring people together; and local parks and woods are valuable placeTs for people to walk, play and unwind in’.

The childrens’ playground has a reputation beyond Kidbrooke Village as a place to come to, with imaginative play equipment for different ages. You can walk to it easily from the new homes. But there are are other outdoor and indoor recreational facilities all within a short distance of the apartments. We found courts for tennis, football, basket ball and netball. There is also Artfix – a cafe, school, workspace and venue.

We saw parts of the development that looked almost European with parking hidden away beneath and streets that are freed more those on foot. There are modern bus stops right next to where people live, a big contrast to the fringe-of-town greenfield developments that we have visited where bus stops do not have a central position like this. There are number of bus routes serving Kidbrooke, including the 132, the 178, 286, 335 and B16.

When we visit new greenfield development we often get lost and there are no maps. But in Kidbrooke Village we found maps showing how far it was to walk to different places, and the location of bus stops and the railway station. The transport side of Kidbrooke village reflects its location in London and the importance that people living there place on sustainable travel.

Kidbrooke station is actually in the development with a square built next to its new entrance. Here we found a supermarket, street food sellers, cafe and a pub. Destinations by train include Blackheath, Lewisham (for the DLR), London Victoria, London Cannons Street and Charring Cross and going out of London, stations to Dartford and Gravesend

We also discovered a large wholefoods store by the station. With such a density development and with so many people living nearby a more specialist shop still thrives. It was interesting to contrast this situation with the very low density greenfield developments we have seen where the establishment of a local centre is difficult.

We caught the train back towards London, reflecting that all in all we found Kidbrooke Village to be an interesting and exciting development and were impressed at the combination of new town houses and apartments, greenery and trees, public transport and many local amenities that you could walk or cycle to. It was such a contrast to the enormous greenfield estates being built around our market towns which are car-based. Kidbrooke Village appeared to offer a different life style of local living and use of sustainable transport.

Wichelstowe: a visit to Swindon’s new urban extension

We started from Swindon station. Swindon’s Signal Point building stands above the town’s train station, but has beeb unused and abandoned for a long time.
The centre of Swindon was in need of regeneration.
A 20 minute cycle ride from Swindon station and we found a path that took us straight into the new development.
East Wichel had been designed as a walkable place but parts lacked greenery completely.
It was great to find the UK Cafe and the Wichelstowe Fish Bar in the middle of the development next to a Coop convenience store.
The pub was easy to walk to on a local street.
After visiting East Wichel a cycle along a distributor road bought us to Middle Wichel which is still being constructed. It has a secondary school, seen here.
View of the extensive canaliside area in Middle Michel and footbridge in the distance.
New town houses in Middle Wichel.
Cycling back from Wichelstowe to Swindon along the canal.

In May 2024 Transport for New Homes visited a new part of Swindon called Wichelstowe, a large urban extension which has been slowly built up over the last 18 years since it was given planning permission in 2006. Swindon centre itself appears to be in bad need of regeneration with the Brunel Shopping centre having suffered the loss of many businesses. We started from Swindon Station.

Wichelstowe as an urban extension began as a collaboration between Swindon Borough Council and Taylor Wimpey in 2002 to jointly fund and provide infrastructure needed for housing on what was known as Swindon’s ‘front garden’ between the town and the M4 motorway. It has its own Wichelstowe wiki page.

The Wichelstowe development is large – 324 hectares and has a very long and complex planning history. The development will eventually have 4,500 homes. The planning history of the scheme involves complex decisions on every aspect of the estate and the original masterplan has altered over the years.

East Wichel has a walkable and village-like feel. The ‘Wichelstowe Design Code’ — imposed by the planning authority, requires most houses to have a different external appearance: no more than two houses in a row look identical. The restrictions also require most houses to be behind a small railed front garden, whilst each parcel of housing must contain some larger houses, some cottage-style houses, and a barn-style apartment building. 

The cycle ride from Swindon station took about twenty minutes. The development is not meshed with the streets of the existing suburban area, but is separate. Luckily we found a way across the green strip between the edge of town and the new estate and before long a group of new homes were welcoming us.

However some parts of the development like the one shown here, lack greenery, perhaps seen as too expensive to provide and maintain.

There is a small local centre in East Wichel with a convenience store and a restaurant and these are primarily designed for arrival on foot although there is parking. The inclusion of a small green area (in the distance in the photo) makes this part of the development feel more friendly. It was great to see an independent business in the development – a restaurant right in the centre. There is a playground and the primary school is incorporated into the development in a traditional manner on-street with limited parking. The pub is equally walkable to and handy for a quick visit.

After stopping at the pub for refreshment we followed the road to the other part of the development area, Middle Wichelstowe which is quite different from East Wichel. Whereas East Wichel has been designed for walkability and on a human scale, the more recent parts of this urban extension appear to be more around the car, in terms of road and junction space, and the general language of the scale of the layout.

The cycle ride to Middlewichel was on a long stretch of distributor road, with pavement, and at the end of it you could an area still partly in construction. Parents with small children were making their way along the road, presumably coming from the primary school and walking home.

The approach to Middle Wichel gives a view of the new secondary school there. The architecture in this part of the development is generally quite different from East Wichel and includes town houses as well as low-rise apartments. Roads are wide although with a 20 mph limit, but rather than a cosy parade of shops and eateries, the place seems to be centred on a very large Waitrose supermarket. The place is used by shoppers from far afield, because of the easy motorway access and the ample car-parking provided. A bus looks almost out of place at this scale of car-based development and seemed almost empty.

Near to the giant Waitrose was the Wilts and Berks canal and on its banks was a modern and landscaped bar and restaurant, making the best use of its waterfront position. It had a large car-park and obviously attracted people from a long way around the area. However may could walk.

Nonetheless the development has a reasonably good bus service for those who don’t drive or cycle (10-30 minute during the day from East Wichel to the town centre) but travel across Swindon to for example, employment areas, leisure centers, or the hospital is much faster by car than bus, because of having the change bus one or more times, and because Swindon is a low density town designed around link roads, distributor roads and roundabouts for the purpose of easy driving. That said the Swindon Bus Company runs some good cross-Swindon service from the newer parts of the Wichelstowe development and stop at the large Nationwide Building Society campus nearby too. We noted a first floor flat in a new apartment block for 200,000.

There were also a number of open spaces and these are being developed for the combined purposes of wildlife habitat and the enjoyment of residents – and there is the Wichelstowe ponds area by the M4 for walks and looking at swans, herons and other wildlife. A new access road is being built for the development. The southern access road, which crosses the M4 motorway to the east of junction 16, provides the fourth access to the Wichelstowe development .

The cycling route back into town ran along the canal for at least some of the way. The cycle route was great except that when it ended it was a matter of negotiating the traffic as usual.

People walking

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.

Image: roundabout in new development

Decarbonising Transport: land use planning is key

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.

Metropolitan line train at Amersham tube station

Planning in the spotlight: the implications of THAT byelection

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?

Photo: Metropolitan line train at Amersham tube station, cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Peter

Photo: cyclists seen from above

‘Beauty’ alone won’t solve the climate crisis

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.

Homes Without Jams

Planning reforms risk adding “a tide of car traffic” to crowded roads, Housing Secretary told

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).