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Decarbonising transport: let’s get planning reform right

All over the country, local authorities are preparing local plans for the future, many of these spanning 15 or 20 years up to and beyond 2035. The manifestation of past local plans has now appeared in the form of new areas of housing, but these are far from green transport-wise. We have visited many large ‘bubbles’ of car-based estates where tarmac and parking take up nearly as much space in residential streets as houses, and where retail, employment and services are often pinned on new road systems, bypasses and larger motorway junctions. Car-based housing is coupled with car-based destinations and lifestyles soon follow.

The government publication Decarbonising Transport – A Better and Greener Britain indicates that this model of development must surely be set to change. It explains:

‘The Government wants walking, cycling or public transport to be the natural first choice for journeys. Where developments are located, how they are designed and how well public transport services are integrated has a huge impact on whether people’s natural first choice for short journeys is on foot or by cycle, by public transport or by private car. The planning system has an important role to play in encouraging development that promotes a shift towards sustainable transport networks and the achievement of net zero transport systems.’

Unless quick action is taken, thousands and thousands of new homes will be built in the wrong places and in the wrong way for ‘the decarbonisation of transport’, and we need to intervene fast as new local plans for the future are firming up.

Changes need to happen at national policy level – our National Planning Policy Framework and associated Planning policy Guidance needs to place sustainable transport right at the heart of planning, which it does not at the moment do.

The first big change will need to be strong guidance on where we build the homes of the future. At the moment many of the locations for enormous housing estates in the countryside are completely wrong for sustainable modes. This is explained in our two reports on visits to new housing and our analysis of ‘garden communities’. At the moment the location of development is largely developer-led. How power will be given to planners to choose where and how best to build will be important.

The second big change in central planning policy must surely be the coordination of many developments with sustainable transport across a wider area. Only when this happens can you plan new-build with a new or improved railway line and a series of stations, or build along a tram route or top quality bus service. Also, the funding of new local stations and mass transit needs to be made much easier and faster. The current barriers for local authorities and developers alike to making progress on these matters cannot be understated.

Cycleways, like public transport, need to link right across an area to multiple destinations. Rather than each developer individually deciding where cycle routes might go on a piecemeal basis, these will need designing and funding early on to link and mesh together a whole area. In the case of being able to walk to and from the development, the importance of continuous streets with adjacent towns is essential. A number of smaller developments may be much better in this respect than giant housing estates that are severed by main roads or several fields away from the edge of the nearest town.

Then comes the obvious change to the planning system which needs to be coupled with the provision of sustainable modes. This shift away from car use means less parking and less need to build new road capacity, giant roundabouts and all the other road paraphernalia which comes with modern ‘mini-America’ type development.

We have seen many residential areas dominated by tarmac: islands of homes in a sea of parking and roads with very little in the way of gardens. National Planning Guidance needs to be quite clear about the reduced emphasis on the car. This saves money and it saves land. It means more homes (with gardens), room for urban trees, and places designed around streets at a more human scale for walkable and local provision.

The government says very clearly that the planning system has an important role to play in the achievement of net zero transport systems. Whether there will be planning reforms to achieve a genuine shift to public transport, walking and cycling when it comes to expanding our town and cities and building new homes in general, remains to be seen.

Join our Homes Without Jams campaign, to reform planning for a green transport future.

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.”

Ends

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.

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.

Support the crowdfunder

Support the Homes Without Jams crowdfunder!

Are you concerned about the Government’s proposals to reform the planning system? Worried that the outcome will be more sprawling, car-dependent housing estates in the countryside connected by more roads?

We have the opportunity right now to make the case for a better way. The Government’s planning reforms are about to pass through Parliament, and there’s a broader debate happening too, about how we build a better future after the pandemic. But we must act now, before proposals become law and we’re locked into a future of car-dependence.

So today we’re launching a crowdfunder which we hope you’ll join.

If we can raise £6,000 together, our Homes Without Jams campaign will work to influence the Government’s planning reforms as they pass through Parliament, making the case for a green transport future.

We know that real change comes from the grassroots as well as from Government, so we’ll help local campaigners oppose car-dependent housing plans with a new campaigning guide.

And we’ll raise awareness among the public of the need for Homes Without Jams with a campaign video.

Transport for New Homes is a non-profit campaigning group which works to shine a spotlight on the problem of car-dependent new housing. In the past, our campaigns have featured on the Today programme and in the Times, the Guardian and the Telegraph. We’ve met with the Government’s Department for Transport and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and been cited by the Committee on Climate Change. So – with you on board – we know we can bring attention to this issue.

Please support our crowdfunder. Any amount that you can afford – large or small – will help towards our £6,000 target. Together let’s campaign to reform the planning system so that new housing is built with local shops, pubs and cafes at its heart… With a network of safe cycle routes and bike parking for every home… And with new stations, trams, modern bus routes and transport interchanges making public transport the easy choice for longer journeys.

Thank you.

Image: roundabout in new development

The Planning White Paper – how to respond

Sorry, this consultation has now closed.

The government is consulting on proposals to reform the planning system in England. Unfortunately, Transport for New Homes is concerned that the reforms are likely to encourage more car-based sprawl.

Read the ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper

If you share our concerns about the transport implications of the White Paper, please respond to the consultation. Here are two ways to respond:

  1. You can respond in detail via the government’s online questionnaire. Below you’ll find Transport for New Homes’ suggestions for things to include in your response.
  2. If you’re short of time, you can respond quickly and easily using our short form instead.

Sorry, this consultation has now closed.

Things to include in your response

If you would like to respond via the government’s online questionnaire, here are some suggestions. Our concerns about the White Paper fall into 10 categories. You’ll see that we’ve included reference to the questionnaire questions which we think are particularly relevant to these concerns.

Concern 1: Transport is left out of the planning white paper – hardly a mention (Question 5)

Planning and transport fail to come together in the white paper, with transport hardly mentioned. It is fundamental that you need to consider development and transport together. It’s common sense.

Location, location, location. Building in the wrong location will lead to more traffic, car-based living, more isolation and less walking or cycling. We shouldn’t be forcing people to live car-based lifestyles in the future.

The white paper needs to address how we will provide and fund public transport to the new places we plan, and to build where people can walk and cycle in and out of new housing areas.

Concern 2: Division of all England into three categories: ‘growth’, ‘renewal’ and ‘protected’: too simplistic (Proposal 1, Question 9a, Question 9b)

The ‘zoning’ idea in the white paper, whereby England is divided into just three categories fails to capture the physical, social and environmental aspects of the country and is wrong.

The white paper is clear: ‘All areas of land would be put into one of these three categories’ . Much countryside without a national designation will likely be in the ‘growth area’ even if valuable in other ways. Use of maps and data should reflect a proper evidence base for more intelligent planning, with land uses and transport detailed so that people can see where best to develop.

The division of England into just three categories for the purpose of planning is not useful to planning properly.

Concern 3: More development in the countryside – more car-based sprawl (Proposal 1)

The classification of most of the countryside in many local authority areas as ‘growth areas’ is concerning in terms of future car-based sprawl around major road construction.

A combination of high housing targets for rural and semi-rural areas, away from jobs and services is likely to lead to even more urban sprawl, traffic, severance, pollution and sedentary and isolated lifestyles. This is not a model for a low carbon future.

Concern 4: Fewer local planning policies for your area – central government to take more command (Proposal 2, Question 6)

Local policies on housing, employment, biodiversity, landscape, flooding, transport etc. are proposed to be much reduced in local plans. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) then becomes the primary source of policies for your area.

Although local plans are often too verbose and complicated, and take a long time to agree, planning reform should not mean less local input and local data shaping an area. The white paper hinges on a new centrally produced planning policy in the form of the NPPF. But we do not know what the new policy will be.

It is hard to judge what is really on the table and whether sustainable transport will really feature with firm language to make its importance plain. Consulting on a white paper with an important component in the form of the NPPF missing, makes it hard to make an informed response.

Concern 5: Local sustainability tests scrapped in favour of single central government test (Proposal 3, Question 7a)

The sustainability appraisal currently used in local plan development looks at housing, transport, biodiversity, carbon, flooding, water and much more. This is proposed to go, replaced again by a single ‘sustainability test’ devised by central government.

The risk is that many local aspects of planning will receive less thought, and that the definition of what is ‘sustainable’ will be centrally specified in ways that might pick up sustainability issues in a local area. It is unclear at this stage what would be deemed as ‘unsustainable development’ yet this is key to responding to the white paper.

The white paper without detail on the sustainability test is not a coherent document. We need to see what this sustainability test will contain because it’s absolutely critical and will be used to judge local plans.

Concern 6: A local authority is not an island. But cross-boundary planning is missed out (Proposal 3, Question 7b)

Less coordination in planning across a wide area is a mistake. The duty to cooperate with adjacent authorities on planning is removed and it remains unclear how adjacent local authorities should plan together to build targets for new homes and plan a wider area intelligently.

The white paper concentrates on local authority areas and misses out the benefits of wider ‘strategic’ planning, which is essential. Only with a wider view can developments be coordinated along public transport routes.

Planning across a wide area can test out different scenarios to see where best to build, considering transport, job density, service provision, ecology, favourite countryside etc. It can’t be left out – that’s bad geography and will result in uncoordinated sprawl.

Concern 7: Housing targets without geography, let alone transport. (Proposal 4, Question 8a)

High housing targets are proposed for rural and semi-rural areas which are already being covered with car-based sprawl will lead to the wrong pattern of development. Targets neglect to take into account the locations of jobs, services and amenities, or the right places to build for sustainable transport. We need to build close to major areas to enable people to travel where they want to without long journeys by car.

As further high housing targets are given to rural and semi-rural areas it looks like a recipe for even more car-based sprawl. We need a more measured consideration of how much to build where, putting proximity to jobs, increasingly centralised services and community provision rather than building ‘out in the sticks’.

Concern 8: Missing out the outline planning stage means a lack of scrutiny at a critical stage in the local planning process. (Proposal 5, Question 9a)

The white paper indicates that development in a ‘growth area’ will be fast-tracked and that developments will get automatic outline planning permission. At an outline planning everything from transport and access, to community provision, ecology, flooding and supply of utilities are considered.

Missing this stage out will result in mistakes being made and will fail to locate the transport and other needs of a large site. Especially if the local plan was produced some while ago, the development needs review closer to its actual build date.

Concern 9: Digital mapping needs to be more than a presentational tool (Proposal 7, Question 11)

The white paper talks about the use of digital mapping to show people what is planned for their area. This is an exciting idea, but it depends how and for whom the system is set up.

Digital mapping as a planning tool for everyone’s use is a great idea but what will the maps show and how will they be used? Will they work cross-boundary, enabling zooming in and out to see both development and transport infrastructure and services in the next local authority area?

How will maps be used to decide where best to build? What data sets will be shown in the different layers and will all be available to the public to look at? It is important to think now about the role of digital maps much more clearly.

Concern 10: Less money for pleasant, walkable and vibrant places to live (Proposal 19, Question 22a)

The new infrastructure levy to replace developer contributions risks being split too many ways. It is needed for affordable housing but then there will be less in those places for community provision and other infrastructure.

It is unclear how we can build pleasant places to live which are also affordable without adequate funds. There is a risk that pavements, urban trees, cycleways, gardens and community provision will not materialise for many new areas. The funding and provision of public transport remains unknown. The idea of ‘beauty’ of place as described many times in the white paper comes with a price tag – will it be for the few or the many?

How will beautiful places be made if each home has parking for two or three cars with the usual roundabouts, access onto a bypass and so on? What is to say that we will not just build more ugly tarmac estates as opposed to mixed walkable neighbourhoods that form a real community?

Thank you for taking the time to read our suggestions and respond to the ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper.

Fawley Power Station site

Sustainability Through the Looking Glass

Richard TamplinGuest 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.

The vision and reality of Garden Communities

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

Press release: 16 June 2020

Far from being vibrant, green communities, Garden Villages and Garden Towns [1] are at high risk of becoming car-dependent commuter estates, research by Transport for New Homes [2] has found. The group examined plans for 20 Garden Communities [3] and found that they will create up to 200,000 car-dependent households, generating high levels of traffic on surrounding roads including motorways.

Jenny Raggett, Project Coordinator at Transport for New Homes, said:

“Put forward by the government as an alternative to characterless estates, Garden Villages may well end up with more tarmac than garden, limited public transport, and few ‘village’ amenities to walk or cycle to.”

The coronavirus outbreak has placed new emphasis on walking and cycling, with wider pavements and new cycle lanes springing up in cities. The benefits of living more locally have come to prominence. By contrast, Transport for New Homes found that Garden Villages will be largely unsuitable for walking and cycling due to their remote location, their layout and their lack of safe routes in and out of the estate. Local facilities may well never materialise in these car-based developments: non-driving residents will be forced to walk up to seven miles to the nearest town centre [4].

Looking to the future, the need for modern bus, tram and train networks to avert climate crisis is expected to come to the fore [5]. But rather than new or improved public transport, the group found that plans for Garden Villages and Garden Towns promise major increases in road capacity to cater for a massive expected rise in car use. Garden Communities are not being planned with new metro stations at their hearts, nor are high-quality bus or tram routes assured to serve them in the future.

Many Garden Communities are backed by Government funding, the criteria for which are laid out in the MHCLG’s Garden Communities Prospectus [6]. Communities should “be largely self-sustaining and genuinely mixed-use” with “public transport, walking and cycling” enabling “simple and sustainable access to jobs, education and services”. Instead, Transport for New Homes found strong evidence that:

  • All 20 of the Garden Communities examined in detail will encourage car dependent lifestyles with the car the primary mode of transport at every single one.
  • These 20 settlements will create up to 200,000 car dependent households.
  • Only one settlement (Aylesham – although itself not funded by Homes England) offers amenities and a railway station within 1 mile of every home, though the train service is infrequent and there are no safe cycle routes to access it.
  • All other settlements failed to provide access to amenities and a railway station within 1 mile of all new homes with safe walking and cycling routes.
  • None of the 20 settlements will provide bus services to all households all day, all week.
  • Cycle routes from Garden Villages into nearby towns will often be long and dangerous.
  • Residents will have to walk up to 7 miles to access a railway station or go to the nearest town centre.

Jenny Raggett, Project Coordinator at Transport for New Homes, continued:

“It looks like Garden Communities are to become car-based commuter estates just like any other – exactly what the government wanted to avoid. Rather than seeing the emphasis on public transport that the Garden Communities Prospectus promised, with new stations funded at the heart of the development, or firm investment in modern bus rapid transit, light rail or trams, nearly every Garden Community comes with a long list of road improvements such as bypasses, link roads and new motorway junctions. Although the theme of the ‘local’ and ‘self-sufficient’ is the official line, the language adopted in the promotion of Garden Villages makes great play of their strategic location for long-distance commuting. It is doubtful, given this emphasis, that local shops and services will flourish.”

Steve Chambers, Sustainable Transport Campaigner at Transport for New Homes, said:

“Our visits to sites of Garden Towns and Garden Villages highlighted the chasm between the proposed visions and the built reality. We found that because of remote locations, public transport was rarely already provided and funding had not been secured to make it available when residents move in. Walking and cycling were clearly afterthoughts and even in the better examples did not provide safe and convenient routes to basic amenities beyond the development boundary. Garden Villages were typically too small to support any amenities and are not being built on a sustainable scale. Larger Garden Towns typically located new housing beyond a ring road, on the edge of an established town and poorly connected with it. Car dependency is being built into the Garden Towns and Garden Villages by design.”

Steve Gooding, Director of the RAC Foundation and a Chair of the Steering Group for Transport for New Homes, said:

“The vision for garden developments is laudable but is at grave risk of being missed – far from being delivered in a way that would encourage us to leave our cars at home the reality looks set to ingrain car dependence.

“Living completely ‘car-free’ is probably a pipe-dream outside the centres of our towns and cities – the reality is that many of us will still wish to own and use our cars but not want to be forced to get behind the wheel for every trip we make.

“Good road connections matter: they’re vital for buses, bicycles and, as we’ve learnt in recent weeks, delivery vans too, not just for the private motorist. But they have to be designed with a sensible layout, including wide footways so that walking to the local shops or to school is a safe, practical and appealing proposition.”

The recommendations in Transport for New Homes’ report include:

  • Commission an urgent reassessment of the sustainability in transport terms of all planned Garden Communities and do not give outline planning permission until it is clear that sustainable transport elements in each vision are fully funded and specified.
  • Build close to existing town centres or create strings of developments along public transport routes, rather than scattering developments around the countryside.
  • Direct Government funding to public realm, place-making, and sustainable transport including Dutch-style cycling networks, local rail, rapid transit, buses and trams.
  • Make sure that sustainable transport infrastructure is funded to extend beyond the site boundary.
  • Put kickstart funding and other financial incentives in place to establish shops, cafes, pubs, shared workspaces and other local facilities with the development, creating a walkable community.

Case studies

Case Study 1: Long Marston Garden Village

Long Marston is a proposed 3,500 home Garden Village within the Stratford-upon-Avon District of Warwickshire. It is typical of Garden Villages in that it is far from major population and employment centres. Located on a former airfield, this Garden Village will be particularly remote and without a sustainable scale will not support amenities, jobs or public transport. It is seven miles from the nearest railway station. Residents will have no option other than the car to see friends, get to work or to the nearest town centre. Visions of ‘express bus connections’ are without funding. There are also unfunded aspirations for new safe walking and cycling routes from the development, but even if they were provided there is little other than open space nearby. This is a good example of a new development in the wrong place.

Case Study 2: Aylesbury Garden Town

Aylesbury is the long established county town of Buckinghamshire. The acquisition of Garden Town status is attached to a transformative vision to create 16,000 new homes. Aylesbury is typical of Garden Towns, with the new housing developments located on the outskirts and without attractive, safe walking and cycling routes to amenities. This Garden Town is like many of the others in that plans are heavily reliant on road building, in this case the completion of a coveted ring road. Bus services are better here than in many places, but all day, all week services to every home lack committed funding. We think Aylesbury could realise its potential by scrapping the community-severing ring road plans, prioritising walking and cycling over car journeys in the way roads are designed, and by funding a rapid transit system for the whole town.

Contact details

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

Notes to editors

Photographs from Garden Communities can be downloaded from Flickr.

1. Drawing from Ebenezer Howard’s vision of the Garden City more than a century ago, Garden Communities today are central to the Government’s plans to increase housing supply. Building in rural and semi-rural areas – where housing targets are high – is unpopular. To avoid objections to more estates on the edge of market towns and at the same time exploiting cheaper land to build on, the Government proposes instead building vibrant, healthy and green ‘Garden Villages’: self-contained communities with everything to hand and minimal need to travel. ‘Garden Town’ status similarly puts the emphasis on a lot of new housing, but this time near an existing urban area. The idea is that sustainable travel and green lifestyles then become central to the whole area as the housing is built.The concept is supported by a Garden Communities Prospectus (MHCLG, 2018) and £3.7 million in funding specifically for Garden Communities, as well as a share of the £2.3 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund.

2. Transport for New Homes believes that everyone should have access to attractive housing, located and designed to ensure that people do not need to use or own cars to live a full life. Transport for New Homes is a project funded by the Foundation for Integrated Transport, a registered charity (115 63 63).

3. The report, Garden Villages and Garden Towns: Visions and Reality, can be read online. Datasheets from the 20 developments examined in detail are also online. Transport for New Homes examined master-plans, visions, infrastructure delivery plans, transport assessments and other documentation for a varied range of 20 Garden Communities around England, as well as visiting existing towns with Garden status and sites proposed for Garden Villages. Close examination was made of the funding and policy landscape underlying Garden Communities, including how the Housing Infrastructure Fund is being spent.

4. See Case Study 1, Long Marston, above.

5. In the Department for Transport’s March 2020 report, Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps writes: “Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network.”

6. The MHCLG’s Garden Communities Prospectus can be read online.

Camilla Ween

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

Guest blog by Camilla Ween, RIBA, MCIHT, AoU, Harvard Loeb Fellow

The planet is in a climate crisis and the UK is in a housing crisis. We need a paradigm shift in the way we do things so that we can deliver about 250,000 new homes annually, that will not exacerbate our attempts to reach zero carbon and that will not destroy the planet.

The United Nations has outlined 17 Goals for sustainable development, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to help shape a future that delivers decent lives for people, while at the same time protecting our environment. The UK should look to these for guidance over all development that we embark upon, as the SDGs articulate most clearly what sustainable development looks like. UK local and national planning policies are inevitably UK focussed and do not encompass global issues. We should, therefore, use the SDGs to filter proposals and ensure that they fulfil the global aspirations for a decent future. Designs must push against local barriers if proposals fall short.

Transport is responsible for about 26% of greenhouse gas emissions, much arising from personal car journeys. Our society will not be able to achieve the UN goals if we do not change the way we travel; that means we need to create new communities that are NOT car dependent. That means careful consideration of where new development is located, as well as how we design new communities, for example, places that are well connected with high quality public realm and movement infrastructure that encourage people to want to move to a car-free lifestyle.

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

The design process can and should seize opportunities to deliver sustainable solutions; good connectivity will encourage people to walk or cycle; careful design and layout can include biodiversity corridors and sustainable drainage solutions; pleasant public spaces, that feel welcoming, can help cement social cohesion.

By locating new development near public transport and designing communities that are well connected to the things we need to get to will mean that people are more likely to forgo car journeys. Rail travel has a very low carbon footprint, so developing along rail corridors is obvious and ensuring that the access to it is mainly by public transport, walking or cycling will mean that people will choose the low carbon travel option. That means no more ‘Park & Ride’ facilities.

Many transport projects I have worked on started with very narrow and specific briefs, but with a little discussion it was possible to broaden the remit and include other objectives. For example, a project for the city of Kano in Nigeria simply asked for five freight terminals and five bus interchanges; our design included permeability of the (very large) sites, biodiversity corridors, green infrastructure and walking and cycling networks that would integrate the sites into the city.

Kano, map of development

 

Kano, image of development

 

A project in Mexico City required interchange between two BRT routes and a commuter rail station. It was very clear that the solution could be very simple, but also that there existed multiple urban issues; the transport infrastructure separated an affluent community from an informal community and everyone from accessing a regional hospital by any other mode than a car and a local park was also inaccessible. We proposed a pedestrian and cycle bridge that would link both communities to each other, provide easy access to all the transport facilities, the hospital and the park and the bonus was a new public space at the heart of the community; the project went a long way to promote sustainable transport as well as social inclusion.

Mexico City project

Another project that I am involved with is Connected Cities. This is a methodology which proposes development (which encompasses many of the Garden City principles) along existing rail corridors and no more than 1km from a station. The principle is that compact settlements are created, with access to amenities or a rail station that are no more that 15 minutes away by walking or cycling. A cluster of settlements, each offering social, leisure, retail or education facilities would all be connected together via rail and form a Connected City. By being well connected, dependency on car travel is almost entirely overcome.

The United Nations has recently launched the Urban Economy Forum, which aims to help deliver the UN SDGs. This will be a repository of best practice and learning for future urban development that will create decent lives for people that do not harm the environment.

Camilla Ween is an architect and urbanist at Goldstein Ween Architects and a Harvard University Loeb Fellow. Her work focusses on sustainable urban design and the integration of transport, working in the UK and globally. She is a Steering Group member of the United Nations Urban Economy Forum, a Design Council Built Environment Expert and member of several other design review panels. She is a published author as well as a regular lecturer at international universities and conferences.

Simon Norton

In Memoriam Simon Norton

We were deeply sad to learn that Simon Norton, a supporter of Transport for New Homes since its inception, passed away in February 2019.

A passionate and thoughtful campaigner for sustainable transport, Simon Norton helped to set up Transport for New Homes and funded the project through the Foundation for Integrated Transport, a grant-making charity that he founded and chaired. Simon was a member of our steering group, and he helped to research our Transport for New Homes report, visiting a number of new housing developments and assessing their public transport provision.

Jenny Raggett, lead author of the report, accompanied Simon on some of these visits. Jenny remembers Simon’s unique approach, his humour and the extraordinary depth of his knowledge:

 I could describe the unique experience of going to Priors Hall’s Park housing estate with Simon as part of the Transport for New Homes visits. This could include the detailed knowledge that Simon had of the naming of bus stops and the exact departure times of buses at Corby station on the way, the fruitless pursuit of somewhere for tea in the enormous development without any facilities, how we got a tour in the developer’s 4×4 because he had rarely seen any pedestrians and wondered what we were doing, and how Simon designed a bus service in his head on the spot and told the developer all about it in detail. Then there was a cross country walk afterwards organised by Simon to see a nice village followed by a race across a field with a very tall crop to get the bus back, Simon waving an OS map saying that the footpath was definitely this way and that if we missed the bus there wasn’t another one that day. We did catch it…”

Simon’s work was guided by a deep concern about climate change and a core belief that good public transport is a human right. Just days after his death, the Committee on Climate Change adopted the key findings and recommendations of the Transport for New Homes report – a great tribute to Simon’s vision.

The Committee on Climate Change says:

 New developments should enable sustainable travel, which should be a primary consideration from the beginning of the planning process. This includes planning neighbourhoods around infrastructure to encourage walking, cycling, the use of public transport and electric vehicles. Walking and cycling routes should be well lit, feel safe and be segregated from busy traffic. Integrating consideration of sustainable transport into plans for new houses should ensure developments are easy to serve by public transport. Local authorities must consider where best to locate new homes to minimise the need to travel to work and amenities such as shops and schools.”

This is just one way in which Simon’s legacy will live on.

The Transport for New Homes Charter is dedicated to Simon.