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

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

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

National Model Design Code

Jenny RaggettTransport for New Homes Project Coordinator Jenny Raggett writes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

In conclusion then:

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

National Planning Policy Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can find our full response here.

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

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

Homes Without Jams

Planning white paper risks more car dependent sprawl

Our country needs more homes. What we don’t need is more sprawling, car-dependent estates far from town centres and public transport links. The proposed planning reforms will cause the same problems as the current system when it comes to transport and new housing.

At Transport for New Homes we looked at the proposed reforms and considered what would be different on the ground if they were implemented. We considered the places we examined for our 2018 and 2020 research reports. We concluded that planning reform must take transport seriously or it will result in more traffic jams and air pollution, carbon emissions and unhealthy, isolated living.

We had several concerns with the reforms as proposed. The first, and for us most concerning, is that the proposals barely mention transport at all. We need to address how we will provide and fund public transport to the new places we plan to build.

We thought the division of all England into three categories: ‘growth’, ‘renewal’ and ‘protected’: is just too simplistic. The classification of most of the countryside as ‘growth areas’ would lock in a future of car-based sprawl around major road construction.

The proposals around local plans concerned us. Combined with the proposal to eliminate the outline planning permission stage from ‘growth area’ developments puts undue burden on the local plan stage and will not provide good outcomes. Removing cross-boundary planning responsibilities makes it even harder to properly plan transport at a relevant scale.

We thought the proposals around digital planning were interesting, but would do little to improve the quality of planning if the reforms were implemented as proposed.

When asked what one thing we’d like to see changed in order to stop the unsustainable tarmac estates, we usually point to funding. We need funding for sustainable transport. Walking and cycling infrastructure, bus services and new railway stations and lines. The infrastructure levy proposals do nothing to fix this problem and will almost certainly make things worse as transport has to fight with affordable housing and other development mitigation.

Are we defending the current system? No. Do we think these proposals would be better? Also, no.

Other organisations share our concerns

We were pleased to see our research was cited in the consultation response of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), Railfuture, Cycling UK and the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation (CIHT). The RTPI echoed our concern that car dependent sprawl would continue unabated by the proposed reforms. CIHT highlighted our findings about choice of remote sites for new housing development and how this has caused places with no pavements or public transport. The proposed new system doesn’t offer anything to help with that and could make things worse.

Join our campaign for Homes Without Jams

Planning needs to be reformed. But not like this. Our Homes Without Jams campaign will pursue the Government’s proposals through Parliament, making the case for a better way.

Join our Homes Without Jams campaign

This article was first published (in a slightly different form) in The Planner.

Royal Arsenal Riverside

Transport for New Homes Award: shortlist announced

Over the summer, we asked members of the public, professionals and developers to nominate recent UK developments of more than 500 homes for the Transport for New Homes Award 2019, run in partnership with the Transport Planning Society as part of its Transport Planning Day. We wanted to celebrate places that buck the trend of car-dependency: recent, large developments which have been located and designed so that residents do not need cars to live a full life.

The way we combine new homes with transport will determine how we travel and therefore the way we live for decades to come. Cutting back on car use and instead being able to walk, cycle or use public transport on a daily basis is all part of the lower carbon and healthier lifestyle that many people aspire to. Today we’re pleased to shortlist five developments that buck the trend for out-of-town car-dominated estates, places where real attention has been paid to sustainable transport and quality of life.”
Jenny Raggett, one of the award judges

Today at a Parliamentary Reception hosted by Lilian Greenwood MP, Chair of the Transport Select Committee, we were delighted to announce the shortlist:

Bath Riverside

Bath Riverside

Bath Riverside [above] is a development of apartments and some town houses built by Crest Nicholson on the site of a disused gasworks in the centre of Bath. Planned to comprise 2000+ homes, its density is sufficient to support local facilities and public transport. In fact the development has contributed substantially to public transport improvements in the wider area and to new local pedestrian links. Located on the banks of the River Avon, it is well situated for walking to shops, entertainment, the railway station, bus station and bus stops. Car parking is limited and the public realm is shaped around walking; good quality and direct pedestrian routes are located across the development. The development is also highly accessible via public transport, with local bus stops a few minutes’ walk away. A free one month bus pass is on offer to every Bath Riverside household, as well as free car club membership and a £100 cycle voucher.

Kidbrooke Village

Kidbrooke Village

Developed by the Berkeley Group, Kidbrooke Village [above] in the London Borough of Greenwich will have 4,800 homes when complete; it currently comprises 1,300. The housing density, at 165 dph, is much higher than in urban extensions or new towns. Residents here are not automatically expected to use a car as their main form of transport, and not all of the flats come with parking spaces. There is good public transport access, including a rail station within the site, which is receiving a new station building; regular buses pass through the site. Direct walking and cycling routes have been put in place, and old pedestrian subways replaced with surface-level crossings. There is also a good amount of green space in the parks bordering the new flats. The developers are working together with London Wildlife Trust to improve these spaces for wildlife and local residents. There is even a temporary village centre, to provide shops and services for residents while waiting for the permanent facilities to be built.

Kilnwood Vale

Kilnwood Vale Phase 1 and 2

Kilnwood Vale [above] is a major urban extension to Crawley, which will contain up to 2,500 dwellings. The first phases are now largely occupied and include about 900 dwellings. Typically on such developments residents in the early stages are very poorly served by bus, and sometimes not at all. Crest Nicholson has worked with the local bus operator to allow an existing bus service passing the site to serve the initial phases of the development. The bus route offered to phase 1 provides regular links not just to Crawley but also Horsham, and early and late journeys also serve rail commuters. Crest agreed to a temporary bus turning arrangement and established a high-quality shelter with Real-time Passenger Information at the site entrance, thus signalling to prospective purchasers that a high quality public transport choice is available.

Poundbury

Poundbury

Poundbury [above] is an urban extension to the Dorset county town of Dorchester, built according to the principles of Charles, Prince of Wales, on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. It is currently home to approximately 3,800 people. The compartmentalisation of retail and business into out-of-town areas has been avoided: Poundbury has residential and commercial buildings, offices, shops, pubs, cafes, communal areas and even a cereal producing factory right in the town centre. The community provides employment for over 2,300 people, and over a quarter of commuters here walk to work. The walking environment is varied and green, with urban trees and planted areas planned very early on, all part of an overall design and layout designed specifically for walkability. Parking is kept off the streets in parking courts to the rear of houses. Public transport to Poundbury was considered before development. Two railway stations are within a 20 minute walk. A new electric bus service connects Poundbury with the centre of Dorchester and Dorchester South railway station. The number 10 bus from Dorchester to Weymouth starts and finishes at Poundbury, and the X51 from Dorchester to Bridport and Axminster also passes through the development.

Royal Arsenal Riverside

Royal Arsenal Riverside

Royal Arsenal Riverside [above] is a large regeneration project in Woolwich, south east London, being undertaken by Berkeley Homes (East Thames). It currently comprises 3,200 homes; once completed it will have over 5,000. The new Crossrail Woolwich station is being delivered on site. Woolwich Arsenal station is also nearby, as well as more than 10 different bus routes, and there is a Thames Clipper Pier at the centre of the site for a boat service into central London. There is a cycle route into central London along the riverfront and all homes have secure cycle parking. The central parts of the site are pedestrianised and all roads open to vehicles have safe pedestrian paths. Walking is encouraged by the peaceful public realm, which includes benches and green spaces. Car parking is hidden away in the basements of the buildings; there is no on-street parking with the exception of some disabled bays and car club spaces. There are a number of electric car charging points publicly available on site. The site includes many amenities such as cafes, pubs, food shops and sports and leisure facilities, and there are light industrial units to the east of the site which accommodate larger employers and local start-ups, all of which reduce the need to travel.

We are now visiting the shortlisted developments and assessing them against the Transport for New Homes Checklist. The winner will be announced on Transport Planning Day (20 November).

Whichever development is chosen, it will have much to teach us about how new housing can address climate change and sustainable travel as well as providing good, healthy living environments.