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.
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?
When infrastructure such as a new rail line is built, the value of the land around it goes up: suddenly this land is desirable for housebuilding because people want to live near the new rail route. Landowners hit the jackpot. The problem is that such infrastructure projects are often tricky to get funding for in the first place. It ought to be possible to take some of that potential uplift in land value, and invest it in the good infrastructure to get projects such as new rail lines off the ground.
This idea is called Land Value Capture (LVC). LVC has the potential to solve one of the big issues we face – that it’s easier and cheaper to build roads for new housing rather than public transport. LVC helps solve this problem, and also gives landowners and developers incentives to build higher density developments with less space for cars.
LVC is being put into practice by Dr George Hazel of E-Rail, who has written this guest blog for us.
“For the last ten years, E-Rail has been working on a way to plug the funding gap for new investment (primarily in rail) by developing a means of capitalising on the uplift in land value around infrastructure projects and using it as a funding source.
This is known as Land Value Capture (LVC) and it is a way for communities to recover and reinvest land value increases that result from public investment and government actions. The concept of LVC is not new. It was used for the Canadian Pacific Railway completed in 1881, providing 12,500 miles of new track, and the London Metropolitan Line, 41 miles of underground and 34 stations, which opened in 1863. More recently, the Ørestad metro, that opened in Denmark in 2002, was also funded using LVC.
The historical schemes were done in an age of different planning and procurement rules and regulations, and the Ørestad project used land wholly owned by the Danish State and the City of Copenhagen. It is not so easy to do it here and now, given the necessary constraints of independence and discretion required by current procurement and planning rules and regulations, especially when seeking to secure contributions from multiple private sector landowners and developers interested in maximising their return.
E-Rail spent many years researching and developing a method of capturing and sharing this uplift created by a new transport facility between the provider of the service and the landowners and developers who benefit. The process was not easy, but we have now developed, tested and delivered a method that is unique in the UK. We’ve been doing this as we care about improving our infrastructure and developing sustainable communities.
In the north east we have proved it can be done, working with Northumberland County Council (NCC) to secure between 25% and 30% of the capital funding required for a new passenger rail line from Land Value Capture (LVC). This project will have a massive benefit to communities, improving connectivity without increasing the number of cars on the road.
The line – which Beeching closed for passengers in the 1960s – was allocated £34m to commence early works by the Department for Transport (DfT) on 23 January 2021 and will see 18 miles of track upgraded and six new stations. This will be the first time our methodology has been used globally. [See a map of the Northumberland Line].
Our method can be applied to any fixed infrastructure transport scheme – heavy and light rail, metro, BRT, roads, bridges, ferries and potentially flood prevention schemes. It can apply to single stations or to large multi-station schemes where land value uplift will occur.
As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the economy recovers, support from LVC could play an important role in funding future transport infrastructure.
We know that there are more opportunities for this to work elsewhere. In fact, there are a significant number of rail projects, both heavy and light, around the UK that local transport authorities want to deliver for social and economic reasons. Funding for many of these projects has historically been constrained, and this will be further exacerbated by the unplanned government spending on the COVID-19 pandemic. We have already seen a reduction in central government infrastructure funding for Network Rail and Transport for the North and the current economic outlook suggests that this is just the start. We believe LVC could be a critical building block to economic recovery.”
About George Hazel
Dr George Hazel is a Director of E-Rail, E-Rail International and the George Hazel Consultancy. E-Rail was set up in 2010 to help secure and deliver private sector money raised from land value capture to help contribute significant capital cost towards the building of new public transport infrastructure. The company has worked around the world introducing its methodology which is being explored throughout the UK, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.
Guest blog by Richard Tamplin
”When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
Of course, we all know what sustainability means – don’t we? It’s now almost 40 years since the United Nations, concerned by the rapidly deteriorating natural environment, established the World Commission on Environment and Development to devise a plan for achieving “sustainable development”. The Brundtland Report, named after its Chairman, defined the term as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The United Kingdom signed up to the principles of the Brundtland Report by endorsing the Rio Declaration of 1993. And, when the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published in 2012, it announced, “The purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development.” (para 6)
That being so, how it is possible to describe as sustainable development one of the latest proposed ‘garden villages’, to be built at the end of the A326 described locally as ‘the longest cul-de-sac in Europe’, over 18km from the closest train station and served by one bus per hour taking about an hour to reach any significant centre of employment? But that is how the two Local Plan Inspectors described the proposed allocation of land comprising the former Fawley Power Station for up to 1380 dwellings plus business uses when approving the New Forest District Local Plan in 2019.
Perhaps they were thinking of the proposed re-opening of the passenger service on the Fawley branch, which ceased in 1965; a good idea in principle. But today the line ends in the Exxon Refinery, an HSE Major Hazard, so on safety and security grounds impossible for a public passenger service. And if the line ends short at the former Hythe station, would occupiers of the “garden village” use the service? Fawley Waterside is to have a yacht basin and boat stack able to take up to 60m long superyachts, with neo-Georgian town houses or bijou cottages along green ‘droveways’ where ponies will wander freely, not to mention almost 4,000 parking spaces. (Artists’ images of the proposed development – complete with ponies – can be seen on the Fawley Waterside website.)
These occupiers will shop, dine and be entertained in the mega-centre of Southampton’s West Quay or in gastro pubs and restaurants in and around the New Forest. None of these is easy or convenient by public transport as users of Southampton station know. Worse, the existing but financially fragile Hythe to Southampton ferry is likely to close as Hampshire County Council would probably move its subsidy from the ferry to the branch passenger service. Already Hampshire have miraculously found money to ‘improve’ the A326, after denying for years there is any possibility of such funding.
Yet why do this when anyone familiar with this part of the New Forest knows that the everyday situation cries out for fewer cars, not more, when all roads are single carriageway, often single lane, and used, not only by walkers and cyclists, but also as of right by cattle, sheep, pigs and the well-known New Forest ponies, none of the latter having learned the Highway Code. Consequently, satnav predictions of 23-minute journeys between Fawley and Brockenhurst Station via Beaulieu are hopelessly over-optimistic, especially during summer holidays and in bad weather, when the journey may take an hour or more. On the A326 frequent road works and accidents cause similar long delays for commuter journeys to and from Southampton.
The answer to why this is now ‘sustainable development’ is to be found in the updated NPPF of April 2012 which introduced “The presumption in favour of sustainable development … which should be seen as a golden thread.” (para 14) On its face, this phrase appears to be a move closer to Brundtland and the Rio Declaration, but things are not how they appear in the looking glass world of Government. For plan-making this means that, “strategic policies should meet objectively assessed needs”, while for decision-taking it means, “approving development proposals that accord with the development plan without delay.”
This guidance was tightened in the NPPF 2018 to require “objectively assessed need” to be met as a minimum (my emphasis). Henceforward, sustainable development meant local plans must provide enough land for housing, irrespective of local circumstances. Yet the provision of land is a supply side issue, whereas need expresses the demand for homes and in a market economy must relate that demand to price. And to discover what “objectively assessed needs” means we must turn to Planning Practice Guidance, the on-line document of several hundred pages which can and does change frequently, with little or no notice, and without leaving a record of its earlier versions. This says the first step of the procedure for calculating the minimum local housing need is to identify the baseline using the household projection growth of 2014.
Why 2014? Because since then, despite biennial updates by the Office for National Statistics, the 2014 figures showed higher household growth than in any subsequent year, but Government has refused to recognise this changing situation. Therefore, projected housing needs for many local authorities to 2030 are now over-inflated by significant amounts and nowhere near that amount of housing land is required. This is particularly true in the South-East where ever-rising housing costs have choked off new household formation.
In the New Forest this absurd situation has led the District Council to seize any chance of land for housing, despite most of it in or adjoining the National Park, nature conservation sites of international importance, extensive safety protection zones or liable to serious flood risk due to climate change. The former Fawley Power Station site has all of these characteristics. However, as ‘brownfield’ land, it is a gift horse not to be turned away. But sustainable development it is not.
Guest blog by Richard Tamplin
Richard was inspired to go into planning when still at school after encountering Eric Lyons’ Span Developments in the early 1960s. Following a planning degree at Newcastle he worked for local authorities and for himself, taught planning, established an eco museum, and represented community groups. He became a Planning Inspector in 1986 and since retiring has sought to promote good planning as a public benefit.
Guest blog by Camilla Ween, RIBA, MCIHT, AoU, Harvard Loeb Fellow
The planet is in a climate crisis and the UK is in a housing crisis. We need a paradigm shift in the way we do things so that we can deliver about 250,000 new homes annually, that will not exacerbate our attempts to reach zero carbon and that will not destroy the planet.
The United Nations has outlined 17 Goals for sustainable development, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to help shape a future that delivers decent lives for people, while at the same time protecting our environment. The UK should look to these for guidance over all development that we embark upon, as the SDGs articulate most clearly what sustainable development looks like. UK local and national planning policies are inevitably UK focussed and do not encompass global issues. We should, therefore, use the SDGs to filter proposals and ensure that they fulfil the global aspirations for a decent future. Designs must push against local barriers if proposals fall short.
Transport is responsible for about 26% of greenhouse gas emissions, much arising from personal car journeys. Our society will not be able to achieve the UN goals if we do not change the way we travel; that means we need to create new communities that are NOT car dependent. That means careful consideration of where new development is located, as well as how we design new communities, for example, places that are well connected with high quality public realm and movement infrastructure that encourage people to want to move to a car-free lifestyle.
The design process can and should seize opportunities to deliver sustainable solutions; good connectivity will encourage people to walk or cycle; careful design and layout can include biodiversity corridors and sustainable drainage solutions; pleasant public spaces, that feel welcoming, can help cement social cohesion.
By locating new development near public transport and designing communities that are well connected to the things we need to get to will mean that people are more likely to forgo car journeys. Rail travel has a very low carbon footprint, so developing along rail corridors is obvious and ensuring that the access to it is mainly by public transport, walking or cycling will mean that people will choose the low carbon travel option. That means no more ‘Park & Ride’ facilities.
Many transport projects I have worked on started with very narrow and specific briefs, but with a little discussion it was possible to broaden the remit and include other objectives. For example, a project for the city of Kano in Nigeria simply asked for five freight terminals and five bus interchanges; our design included permeability of the (very large) sites, biodiversity corridors, green infrastructure and walking and cycling networks that would integrate the sites into the city.
A project in Mexico City required interchange between two BRT routes and a commuter rail station. It was very clear that the solution could be very simple, but also that there existed multiple urban issues; the transport infrastructure separated an affluent community from an informal community and everyone from accessing a regional hospital by any other mode than a car and a local park was also inaccessible. We proposed a pedestrian and cycle bridge that would link both communities to each other, provide easy access to all the transport facilities, the hospital and the park and the bonus was a new public space at the heart of the community; the project went a long way to promote sustainable transport as well as social inclusion.
Another project that I am involved with is Connected Cities. This is a methodology which proposes development (which encompasses many of the Garden City principles) along existing rail corridors and no more than 1km from a station. The principle is that compact settlements are created, with access to amenities or a rail station that are no more that 15 minutes away by walking or cycling. A cluster of settlements, each offering social, leisure, retail or education facilities would all be connected together via rail and form a Connected City. By being well connected, dependency on car travel is almost entirely overcome.
The United Nations has recently launched the Urban Economy Forum, which aims to help deliver the UN SDGs. This will be a repository of best practice and learning for future urban development that will create decent lives for people that do not harm the environment.
Camilla Ween is an architect and urbanist at Goldstein Ween Architects and a Harvard University Loeb Fellow. Her work focusses on sustainable urban design and the integration of transport, working in the UK and globally. She is a Steering Group member of the United Nations Urban Economy Forum, a Design Council Built Environment Expert and member of several other design review panels. She is a published author as well as a regular lecturer at international universities and conferences.