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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.

Homes Without Jams

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

As the Government prepares for a Planning Bill to be announced in next week’s Queen’s Speech, ten organisations have written to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick urging changes to the Government’s proposed planning reforms to avoid adding a tide of car traffic to already overcrowded roads and undermining the Government’s wider social, economic and environmental goals.

Organisations including CPRE, RAC Foundation, Sustrans and the Transport Planning Society caution that new housing is being sited in places that cannot be served well by public transport, are inaccessible on foot or cycle and often have few or no local facilities. In addition, the design and layout of many developments inhibit walking, cycling and bus service provision; some developments even have no pavements. The Government’s proposed reforms to the planning system do not address this, and threaten to increase car dependence, air pollution and carbon emissions.

Jenny Raggett, coordinator of Transport for New Homes, which organised the letter, said:

“At present, sustainable transport is all too often treated as an afterthought or even ignored when new housing is being considered. Our on-the-ground research shows that this results in estates where people have to drive everywhere, because they have no alternatives. Future lifestyles are then built around the car. The Government’s planning reforms are an opportunity to address this and create attractive places for people to live with good public transport and local facilities that people can walk or cycle to rather than soulless car-based estates.”

The letter calls upon the Government to focus its planning reforms on reducing car dependence, by:

  • Revising the National Planning Policy Framework to give much more weight to developments around public transport and with good local services, and to discourage car-based developments.
  • Revising the housing targets system so as to locate more development in urban areas and close to public transport.
  • Bringing planning and transport closer together: integrating local plans with transport strategies.
  • Making funding available, including through the Housing Infrastructure Fund, to support sustainable transport for housing rather than big new roads and junctions.

Steve Gooding, Director, RAC Foundation, said:
“However ambitious the government’s targets are for the construction of new housing it will only ever be a fraction of the total housing stock year-by-year, but surely it is incumbent on us to ensure that whatever and wherever new housing is built it does not perpetuate the problems of the past? The worst – yet still avoidable – outcome would be to end up with cars parked in ways that obstruct walking, cycling and buses because the design of new developments has been poorly thought through, and for whose residents the alternatives to driving aren’t available because their location leaves them with poor connectivity to the services they need.”

Sarah Mitchell, Chief executive, Cycling UK, said:
“Last year, the Government set out a bold vision to make cycling and walking the norm for day-to-day local journeys. Yet the planning system is still providing housing in remote car-dependent locations, with dangerous road and junction layouts, making it difficult for people to get by without a car. This must change if we are to tackle the crises of congestion, pollution, inactivity-related ill-health and the climate, while enabling children and other non-drivers to get around independently.”

Paul Tuohy, Chief Executive, Campaign for Better Transport, said:
“Planning reforms must ensure that new developments do not lock in car-dependency. New housing should have basic amenities within easy walking distance and connectivity to employment, shopping and leisure by public transport, walking and cycling, creating healthier communities for generations to come.”

Mary Creagh, Chief Executive, Living Streets, said:
“The Planning Bill provides us with an opportunity to bake walking-friendly design and sustainable transport into new housing developments. We should build towards a green recovery from COVID-19, not stumble back into car dependency.”

Chris Todd, Director, Transport Action Network, said:
“History has shown us that we cannot build our way out of congestion. The current approach is creating a vicious circle as more roads lead to more car-based developments, leading to calls for more roads. This is fuelling a climate and health emergency. More cars result in more carbon emissions, more pollution, fewer and smaller areas for green space and increased sedentary lifestyles undermining quality of life and growing pressure on the NHS.”

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity said:
“Planning and transport should be two sides of the same coin. By ensuring all developments include low carbon public transport and active travel infrastructure that fit into people’s lives, we can begin creating healthy, carbon neutral communities. But right now our planning system is doing the opposite, producing dislocated, car dependent and land-hungry developments, especially in the countryside.
“These ill-conceived developments lock in car dependency and drive up carbon emissions that fuel runaway climate change. But there is a golden opportunity in the upcoming planning bill to change this approach and ensure all developments put public transport links, walking and cycling firmly ahead of road building. It’s high time the government steps up and locks in low carbon public transport for the nature friendly and healthy homes communities are calling for.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

1) The letter to Robert Jenrick has been signed by Transport for New Homes, Campaign for Better Transport, CPRE the countryside charity, Cycling UK, Living Streets, Possible, RAC Foundation, Sustrans, Transport Action Network, and Transport Planning Society and can be read in full here.

2) Transport for New Homes’ “Homes Without Jams” campaign aims to reform the planning system so that new housing is built around sustainable transport. A crowdfunder to support the campaign closes in 5 days.

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

Three changes we’d like to see to the plans for the planning system

By Steve Chambers and Jenny Raggett, Transport for New Homes

When the government consulted on proposed upcoming changes to the planning system in August 2020 we responded based on what we’d learned from our visits to new housing estates, which is summarised in our 2018 and 2020 reports.

We don’t think the current planning system is working, especially when it comes to transport, so we were excited to learn what the government planned. But we had some concerns about the policies proposed. In short, we didn’t think they would make things better.

The government has now suggested that proposals as consulted are far from the final outcome and the new planning system is as yet unwritten. With that in mind we thought we’d bring together the most important changes we think should be brought forward in upcoming planning reform.

1. Change how infrastructure is funded

When new buildings are proposed the planning system ensures any negative impacts are mitigated by planning obligations and contributions. This should ensure that new homes have pavements and other transport options available as soon as they are occupied. This is either provided by an obligation where the developer provides the infrastructure or a cash contribution that funds the work being carried out by or on behalf of the local authority.

The consultation suggested the replacement of planning obligations and contributions with a flat rate infrastructure levy. This change might have brought simplicity but it would also have created inequity. New communities or extensions of old ones would be built without the most basic infrastructure because of lack of contribution and mitigation from developers. For example we already see new homes built without pavements connecting up to nearby bus stops and shops. Further reducing planning obligations and contributions risks exacerbating this problem.

Whilst we do not think the infrastructure levy could ever be a complete replacement for existing systems of planning obligations and contributions, we do think transport provision at new homes must be properly funded. Local and combined authorities should be able to set appropriate local rates of levy in order to fund sustainable transport. Whereas the flat rate system would have ignored local context, the setting of infrastructure levies locally would ensure local needs are met.

And what do we mean by infrastructure? Many people take ‘infrastructure’ to mean ‘roads’ and indeed we have seen how new or wider roads are assumed to be essential to take the new traffic generated by large greenfield housing estates. This emphasis we think is associated with an outdated model of development and future investment needs to be different. This could be the basic things like connecting smaller urban extensions to town centres by safe and convenient end-to-end walking and cycling routes or more ambitious plans like rapid transit systems for significantly expanding towns and cities. When we looked at garden towns and villages these were the top two shortcomings of them. The money wasn’t there. Light rail and rapid transit are especially important to pull together newly built and existing urban areas. However substantial funding is needed. If central government cannot supply the funds, then a local level levy with contributions pooled from several large developments may be a way forward.

2. Give the chance to consider developments so that sustainable transport is not forgotten

One of the aims of the reformed planning system is to build more homes and quickly. Whilst this is a laudable approach in a housing crisis, we already know that lack of proper planning consideration is causing developments to be built in the wrong places far from basic amenities and without sustainable transport options.

Several mechanisms have been proposed to streamline planning. These include moving the decision-making part of planning to be much earlier in the process, at the local plan stage, or instructing local authorities to designate areas for growth where scrutiny will be reduced.

Typically under the current system a larger site is considered three times in the planning process: at the local plan stage, at outline planning permission and at final planning permission. Each stage operates at a different scale and provides opportunities to ensure the development integrates well with existing towns and villages. Removing any of these strategies entirely runs the risk of forgetting about sustainable transport. New roads and easy access are often top priority but the walking, cycling and public transport connections in and out of the estate are considered secondary or left out completely.

We propose that the future planning system continues to provide opportunities for consultation and deliberation of development at the local plan, outline and final permission stages in relation to frequent and modern public transport and safe overlooked walking and cycling routes in and out of the development, even if the principle of new housing on the site has already been agreed.

3. Improve the local plan making process

New technologies could make plan making better, but proposed changes to the plan making process could jeopardise the opportunity.

Planning new homes and other development is often done piecemeal with several large new housing estates proposed without consideration of the interactions between them, other kinds of development, and nearby urban areas.

Plans often stop at the local authority border rather than being genuinely coordinated with those of neighbouring authorities. The result may be several large new urban extensions or ‘garden villages’ in the countryside uncoordinated in terms of better public transport provision or cycling and walking routes.

Each development comes with a complex transport assessment which models the effect of that development on the road system, and to a very limited extent, sustainable transport. However, the way people will travel around the area as a whole without a car, is not considered.

This uncoordinated approach is something which our future planning system may correct by the use of technology.

One of the most promising parts of the planning proposals is the use of data and geographic information systems (GIS). This, the government suggests, should inform every part of the planning process. By using maps in combination with data, different scenarios can be tested and a proper perspective achieved on a whole area, with the maps working seamlessly across local authority boundaries and the ability to zoom in and out to understand the implications of new build, whether it is in the right place, and how to get the associated infrastructure right. In terms of sustainable transport, the coordination of land use with new stations and/ or rapid transit can then be examined and options for where to build logically decided. The cycle network needed for a whole area can be discussed and mapped out with clarity. The disadvantages of choosing the wrong parcel of land to build on become apparent and mistakes avoided. With GIS the process of planning can become much more accessible to ordinary people because a shared interactive map means discussions can take place in an open way.

GIS has the big advantage over paper in that it can bring into focus a number of datasets and overlay them graphically. In terms of building in the right place and in the right way, data from many sources can be taken into consideration and viewed together. These datasets might cover anything from wildlife records to sustainable transport, from landscape to favourite walking areas, from air quality to type and density of housing. Maps can test out different scenarios so that the knowledge and expertise of our planners can be put to good use and the public can genuinely participate. The availability of data and GIS gives the opportunity to make much better decisions about planning generally, and especially about sustainable transport.

But planning authorities will need adequate time and resources to take advantage of these new technologies. Otherwise the opportunity to make better local plans will be lost in the rush to comply with arbitrary deadlines.

The planning system is in need of reform and new housing is desperately needed. But speeding the process up won’t necessarily make things better. In order to get more equitable and sustainable outcomes from the planning system we need to see infrastructure properly funded, automatic permission tempered by realistic expectations about transport provision and a plan making process that has the power to guide the places that are created.

We are crowdfunding for our Homes Without Jams campaign, which works to influence the government’s planning reforms, making the case for a green transport future for new homes. Please support our crowdfunder which closes in a matter of days.

A tale of two developments: why new planning reforms threaten to entrench unsustainable lifestyles

This blog by Steve Chambers, sustainable transport campaigner at Transport for New Homes, was first published by as a guest blog by Green Alliance.

In 2018, Transport for New Homes produced an initial report that revealed the deep flaws in the planning system which leave new housing developments with inadequate walking, cycling and public transport connections to surrounding areas. With limited facilities locally, residents are, for the most part, forced into car dependency.

With lockdown starting to ease in England, we wanted to find out how some of the communities we featured in that report had been getting on over the past year. We visited two new developments in the west of England: Castlemead on the edge of Trowbridge and Bath Riverside in the centre of Bath. How had the developments influenced the lifestyles of residents? Were they delightful and sustainable places to live? And, if not, why not?

Castlemead, Trowbridge

Castlemead is part of large ongoing development on the edge of Trowbridge, Wiltshire, adjacent to the planned Ashton Park urban extension. The context is a series of large distributor roads and roundabouts. Castlemead has one of these roads going right through it: a developer funded bypass for Trowbridge.

Planning permission for both Castlemead and Ashton Park has been plagued by difficulties, including the need to ‘mitigate’ the impact on several bat species, such as the very rare Bechstein bat which has a maternity roost in woodland right next to the developments. In fact, some roads in Castlemead are named in memory of the bats affected, such as Bechstein Meadow and Pipistrelle Crescent.

Castlemead roundaboutCastlemead is too far from the centre of town to be walkable for some people. It is one and half miles to the main shopping district and two miles to the railway station. There is one pedestrian route into Trowbridge but this is not safe in the dark, without pavements for some stretches. Furthermore, once they reach the town, pedestrians need to negotiate a large dual carriageway inner ring road. Walking and cycling are not supported by ‘end-to-end’ infrastructure.

This development is designed around car use with no front gardens because space has been given over to parking. Some homes also have very small back gardens for the same reason. Car based living is necessary because, other than the primary school and a single convenience store, there is nowhere you can easily go without a car. Indeed, even the convenience store is just off a roundabout with a parking area encouraging even local shoppers to visit using their cars. Bus services are also infrequent and inconveniently timed which rules out using public transport for evenings and weekends out.

Castlemead parkingOur research found that residents’ cars are outgrowing the spots provided for them, which means they are encroaching on the pavements and further reducing space for walkers. Tellingly, we didn’t see anyone on foot on the residential roads which must have made it a very isolated place during the pandemic.

How might planning have improved this place? With more homes intended for the area, it is getting closer to the scale that might support a shop or other amenities. But upcoming planning reforms look like they will make it much harder for councils to designate land for general use class E, which covers most local services. Changes to permitted development rights could end up with estates of housing with nowhere at all to shop, work or play, also adding to the pressures on established schools, doctors’ surgeries and other facilities in the nearby town and necessitating car journeys to reach them.

Bath Riverside

Bath RiversideOver the border in Somerset is Bath Riverside. This is another development that was in its early stages when we reported in 2018 and is now substantially complete. About half a mile from the shopping district at the centre of town and 0.8 miles from the railway station, it is immediately apparent that location is everything. It is well within walking distance of the centre.

But what is noticeably different about Bath Riverside is the provision of amenities within the development. What was once a restaurant will reopen post-lockdown as a shared workspace, charging by the day. We found cafes, outdoor gyms, good quality public space, public art and places to sit in the shade. Good sized trees and flower beds have been planted. Many amenities had been added since our last visit, transforming the place.

There were many people travelling on foot, with lots of places to go, even despite lockdown restrictions, both within the development and just beyond.

The development does have some shortcomings. An unnecessary amount of space has been given over to car parking, possibly due to parking standards. This means entrances to homes are being obstructed by cars. That said, thought has been given to minimising the impact of parking with several attempts to hide it away, including underground.

Bath RiversideBath Riverside is a world away from Castlemead. And many of its best public realm improvements, including integration with the existing city, have come about because of planning conditions and mitigations. Without those tools this development could have been very different.

Upcoming reforms threaten to jeopardise such important planning provisions. For instance, the recently released model design code will do little to prevent the car dominance we found at both these estates. The reforms don’t deal with anything as substantive.

Changes to permitted development rights of use class E could also risk the ability to include the cafes and coworking spaces we saw at Bath Riverside. We hope not. The density of Bath Riverside means there are enough people to support these types of businesses which benefit from it being a walkable place.

So, where, out of these two developments, would a family choose to live? The car dependent sprawl of Castlemead or the walkable liveability of Bath Riverside? Sadly, for reasons of affordability and the lack of suitable family sized units in Bath, car dependent Castlemead is a far more likely option.

Instead, we should be building housing in the most sustainable locations in existing towns, where walking and cycling are the natural choice to get around. It would be a grave mistake, both for liveability and our need to become a low carbon society, for planning reforms to make it easier to build car dependent sprawl, far from places of work and other facilities, than to aid sustainable living. From what we’ve seen of the government’s proposals so far, we are at risk of taking the wrong path.

Transport for New Homes is crowdfunding for its Homes Without Jams campaign that works to influence the government’s planning reforms, making the case for a green transport future for new homes. It also supported the development of Green Alliance’s briefing ‘Ensuring investment in transport through the Infrastructure Levy‘.

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.

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.

So, what else could we build?

In our recent report, Garden Villages and Garden Towns: Visions and Reality, we explain that, although the visions for garden communities are often very good, we fear ‘business as usual’. Rather than enabling people to walk, cycle and use public transport to go about their daily lives, these developments will generate high levels of traffic by condemning their residents to car-dependent lifestyles. Local shops, cafes and other amenities will fail to materialise because people will just get in their cars and drive off!

This is because new homes are often built in the wrong locations, and without consideration of the very important role that transport plays in shaping a place.

In this blog we set out to demonstrate some of the things that our report talks about by using a sequence of annotated images from Google Maps, and to show different ways that settlements have been planned, both in the UK and beyond.

1. How it's done today: the 'urban extension'
2. New development around a garden town
3. A future garden village
4. Mixed development and walkability
5. Vibrant community with excellent public transport
6. New place from scratch for 45,000 people
7. A completely new large town with dedicated busway, new railway stations and extensive cycle network
8. Almeer, continued
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These are just some examples – we are very interested in any others. We invite readers to contact us with any other examples of good and bad practice that could be added to our discussion.

By Jenny Raggett, Project Coordinator