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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.

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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

Riverside development

Planning reform is on the way

Planning reform is on the way. But will it lead to better development in the right places, and stop car-based sprawl?

From the point of view of Transport for New Homes, and the many others who are appalled at the spread of car-dependent new housing dominated by roads and parking, planning reform should be about enabling positive planning. It should be aimed at bringing about new development in locations where it will be well served by, and will encourage the use of, sustainable transport – walking, cycling and public transport – and where people will not feel dependent on using cars to meet their everyday needs.

So far, however, the reform the Government has in mind is focused on getting more homes built, and involves the slackening of planning controls to make this happen. This might well boost the housing numbers, but will it address the problem of poor quality?

Transport for New Homes agrees that more housing is needed, much more. The shortage of homes, and especially affordable homes, is clear. But boosting the numbers is not enough by itself. We are pressing for quality as well as quantity, namely:

  • Building in the right places, with good public transport connections
  • Creating mixed communities with a good range of local facilities
  • Ensuring that people are not dependent on the car
  • Designing places that are attractive for all stages of people’s lives, not soulless estates dominated by roads and parking

Delivering this kind of diverse and high-quality growth does not have to involve more planning, but it does need the right kind of planning. The most important requirement is for development to be in the right place. That means having a plan which coordinates development with sustainable transport options, and prioritises sites within existing urban areas over greenfield sites. The drive for sustainability requires compact development, not suburban sprawl or remote estates. It also requires the building of communities, not just houses.

Making it easier for developers to convert offices and other buildings to residential use could have a positive impact, re-purposing space made redundant by increased home working since COVID-19. Such conversions are also likely to be in locations well served by public transport. But controls are needed to ensure that we don’t end up with sub-standard, cramped flats without adequate daylight or outdoor space or facilities. If anything, new homes will need to be bigger, to provide for greater homeworking.

At the moment, the planning system is largely reactive to private sector initiatives and lacks ways of coordinating development with sustainable transport measures. At a minimum, reform of the planning system needs to address this problem. Under the current system transport considerations are mostly confined to building road capacity to deal with extra traffic from new developments. This is completely at odds with avoiding car dependent housing, and decarbonising transport to meet climate change targets.

A way must be found to plan sustainable transport measures alongside new developments, on the same timescale, and with coordinated and fully committed funding. It is not rocket science, nor does it need to involve more bureaucracy and red tape. It does mean creating more certainty in what gets built where, and when. The benefits of this approach can be seen in other countries. Transport for New Homes have visited, for example, Copenhagen (Denmark), Freiburg (Germany), Montpelier and Nantes (France), and Almere and Ijberg (Netherlands). In these places new developments follow an integrated transport and land use plan, based on high quality public transport such as tram or urban railway. Even in some car-dependent north American cities we can see a move towards this approach.

Local authorities should certainly facilitate housing growth, but they should also be required to determine what gets built where. Instead of waiting for landowners and developers to bring forward development sites that suit their interests, local authorities should be given powers to assemble sites in accordance with their plans. Local Plans should be prepared and scrutinised alongside Local Transport Plans, and funding should be arranged to fit the timetable for transport and development schemes. The plans themselves should be based on the principles of “brownfield first”, and transit-oriented development (TOD). This means developing in locations that are or will be made accessible by public transport. In areas of high growth especially, there should be statutory plans covering wider areas, with a duty on local authorities to agree both the spatial distribution of future development and the transport facilities that will serve it.

We are therefore calling for reform of the planning system that will rectify deficiencies in the current system. In particular:

  • End the reliance on centrally-determined housing targets that pay no regard to transport or other impacts;
  • Decide development locations based on actual or planned accessibility, rather than wherever land owners are willing to sell at huge profit, and private developers see a market;
  • Integrate planning processes that currently are carried out in separate silos, in particular the planning of sustainable transport and land use;
  • Fund active travel and public transport facilities in advance of development taking place, not just roads.

This programme of planning reform is urgently needed to bring development practice into line with environmental and community objectives. It does mean wider powers for local authorities, but it shouldn’t mean adding layers of bureaucracy. Instead the focus of planning effort should shift from the scrutiny of private sector proposals towards pro-active involvement in the location and shaping of new development.

Meanwhile, plans for hundreds of new car-dependent housing estates (including those dressed up as “garden villages”) remain on the table, and are in need of urgent review.

By Tim Pharoah, Transport and Urban Planning Consultant

Cyclists

If Active Travel England is set up right it could increase walking and cycling for residents of new homes

On 28 July 2020 the UK Government announced the creation of Active Travel England, a funding body for walking and cycling provision in England and also an inspectorate of the work of highways authorities. This formed part of the Gear Change: A bold vision for cycling and walking plans set out the same day.

The document endorses our findings. It notes that “developments often do little or nothing meaningful to enable cycling and walking. Sometimes they make cycling and walking provision worse”, and includes the welcome statement that “we expect sustainable transport issues to be considered from the earliest stages of plan-making and development proposals, so that opportunities to promote cycling and walking are pursued”.

Transport for New Homes welcomes the creation of Active Travel England to put these ambitions into practice, and in particular the powers it will have over the planning of new homes. It will be vital if the government is to release the potential of walking and cycling to achieve their transport decarbonisation plan.

We’ve been acting as an active travel inspectorate of sorts ourselves for the past few years with our many site visits to new housing developments. We’ve learned a lot from what we’ve found and have some tips about how to do things right.

The new body will be a statutory consultee for new developments over an as-yet unspecified volume of homes. Very large single applications are rare. When we looked at the garden village proposals we saw applications in the low thousands. And in the larger garden towns the area is divided into smaller developer areas, each with their own applications. The threshold needs to be set low enough to capture enough applications.

There is also the question of resources. The organisation has many functions and will need to be properly funded to deal with the volume of work anticipated. We’ll have some sense of how serious intentions are when the new National Cycling and Walking Commissioner is announced. They’ll need to be a true active travel advocate prepared to fight for the money and people required to do the job right.

Responding properly to planning applications takes time and expertise. The organisation will need to be properly funded and have the right skills to fulfil its town planning and transport planning role. The task of reviewing every highway authority annually is a substantial undertaking. Reviewing planning applications, as we’ve found, can eat up a lot of time.

There is concern about the weight Active Travel England consultee responses will be given. The planning authorities cannot ignore the rules of planning no matter what a consultee says. Planning rules are getting more light touch, with an expectation of further deregulation on the way. It would be a shame to set up an effectively powerless new body.

That said, the greatest power of Active Travel England could be its grant giving. We know from our recent report Garden Towns and Garden Villages: Visions and Reality that the number one thing holding up good active travel provision in new housing isn’t the planning system or stakeholder will. It is money. If Active Travel England can step in at the planning stage to fund active travel in new developments it could be transformative.

The plans for Active Travel England suggest it will have £2billion to give on walking and cycling grants. This sounds a lot, but will soon get used up. If you divide by the number of highways authorities it isn’t very much per area at all. The plans talk about further funding being available down the line. It would be transformative if some of that money was committed to new housing developments.

Perhaps one of the more interesting roles of Active Travel England is the envisaged role as a centre of excellence, providing both technical advice and expertise on stakeholder management. These are appropriate but resource heavy undertakings that will require a number of skilled practitioners within and perhaps outside Active Travel England. We’re available if they need a hand!

By Steve Chambers, Sustainable Transport Campaigner

Roof trusses

Planning and COVID-19

Back in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic we noticed that planning and development were continuing. We asked you to get in touch about what was happening in your local area, to tell us how decisions were being made about new housing. We worried that changes to oversight of planning might mean that proper transport provision for new homes might be neglected.

Thank you to the many of you who got in touch. We had replies from all over the country. You told us that councils approached the problem of planning in different ways. Some moved to online planning committee meetings right away and others delayed decisions. It was difficult to keep up with the volume of applications for some authorities, so more decisions were delegated to officers.

Online planning committees were sometimes reserved for the biggest applications. As we were busy finalising our Garden Communities report we were interested to know if any of them were going through planning and affected by COVID-19. Many Garden Towns and Garden Villages are progressing through the planning system.

Just before our report launched a planning inspector approved some and threw out other new Garden Communities as part of a local plan in Essex. On the day our report launched, Buckinghamshire Council met to approve the garden town plan in Aylesbury.

One thing many of you told us that is concerning was the reduction or complete elimination of the opportunity to speak at planning committee because of COVID-19 and remote working. The reasons for this varied from the limited amount of time available, technical limitations or because a decision had been delegated to officers.

Overall, we found a mixed bag of council planning responses to COVID-19. But what linked them all was a reduction of the ability for residents to make their voices heard. It is harder now to make the case against car-based sprawl and for sustainable transport. We think councils should return to their previous ways of working as soon as is practical and restore public involvement as soon as they can.

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.

Building site

Let us know how changes to the planning system are affecting your area

Planning and the making of planning decisions have not stopped because of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis. The Coronavirus Act 2020 gave councils the ability to run planning committees remotely. However, even before this legislation became law many authorities were making new arrangements for planning decisions, including delegating decisions to officers and council leaders rather than scheduling committee meetings in a council chamber where the public could submit questions and statements and also speak.

Councils are acting under pressure from central government to keep planning consents and development going. You might have seen in the news or noticed in your own community that site work continues. This is because planning and development are not on hold.

We know that good planning decisions with committee scrutiny and public involvement are crucial for getting new homes with good sustainable transport. We are concerned that changes to the system might have an impact on the quality of what gets built.

Can we ask you to spend a few minutes answering some questions about how your local council is adapting their planning decision making process? If you let us know about any big developments that are due to be decided soon that would really help too.

Once we’ve got a picture of what is going on we hope to produce some advice on challenging large developments that come through planning at this time, with a view to ensuring sustainable transport isn’t forgotten when new homes are built.

It would be great to get your input by 18 May.

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Royal Arsenal Riverside

Transport for New Homes Award: Royal Arsenal Riverside

Royal Arsenal Riverside was announced as winner of the Transport for New Homes Award 2019 in the metropolitan category. Judge Tim Pharoah, who visited the development, tells us why.

London needs many more homes, and high-density developments are required. At Woolwich Arsenal, the impact of tall blocks is lessened by the generous provision of open spaces and pedestrian only walkways. The riverfront location also provides a dramatic setting for the new residential buildings. A further advantage is the presence of many preserved 18th Century buildings from the days when the Arsenal was a major location for the manufacture and testing of guns and other military hardware. These old buildings give the area a special character, while the cannon that remain dotted around the site provide popular play equipment for children.

Despite the large scale – there are already more than 1,700 homes completed with many more on the way – there has not been a focus on catering for a significant increase in traffic. The expectation is that people mostly will use public transport, walking and cycling to get about.

So often, the marketing blurb for new housing schemes turns out to be optimistic or even downright misleading. But Berkeley Homes seem to have struck the right note when they say: “With extensive river frontage, a landscaped park and unrivalled travel connections, Waterfront III at Royal Arsenal Riverside puts you at the centre of everything that is great about living in London. Plus with an outstanding choice of amenities already on your doorstep, local life here could not be more convenient.” There is nothing to disagree with here.

The public transport available within an easy walk is truly staggering, with national rail, Docklands Light Rail and 11 bus routes passing the site. Bus frequency is more than one every minute in each direction! In addition, the development is facilitating the delivery of a new Crossrail station within the site, expected to open in late 2020 or early 2021. As if this weren’t enough, the site is also served by the Thames Clipper riverboat service to the City and West End, running at least half hourly through the day and late into the evening.

The Thames cycle path goes through the development, offering a traffic-free route east and west, and secure cycle parking is available for residents, although cycle parking for visitors is sparse.

Royal Arsenal Riverside

With all this transport, one might be tempted to leave Woolwich Arsenal, but it is also an attractive and convenient place to stay in. Whether relaxing by the water, playing with the kids in one of the safe green spaces, or catching up on some laptop work in one of the cafes, the development provides a lot of facilities and a very interesting environment.

I spoke to a couple with their two young children, who had been living there for a year. “We absolutely love it here, and the kids do too. We wouldn’t consider living anyway else now.” And do you have a car? “Yes, but we hardly ever use it. The cost of the parking garage is quite high, and we might try to sell it on when the kids are grown up.” (Parking spaces are £25,000 freehold)

Most of the parking is tucked away underground, leaving the ground level more or less traffic free, and making it safe and quiet to wander. There are car club vehicles and electric vehicle charging on site.

Given the low volume of vehicle movement, it is strange that some of the detailed street design is not geared to the pedestrian. For example at side streets, the dropped kerb crossing point is offset, requiring pedestrians to divert. Of course no-one does, and so people walk in the road. So often it is the highway engineering details that let a scheme down.

In high-density developments especially, open space has to be carefully designed and managed. The quality of landscaping at Woolwich Arsenal has already been recognised by picking up the inaugural award for landscape at the Sunday Times British Homes Awards.

Overall, Woolwich Arsenal Riverside development is a bold and imaginative regeneration project, providing a wide range of housing with excellent sustainable transport facilities. For many if not most of the residents, the car would seem to be redundant!

Responsible for Royal Arsenal Riverside:
Developer: Berkeley Homes (East Thames)
Architects: Allies and Morrison
Planning consultants: Barton Willmore
Transport planning consultants: URS
Council: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Bath Riverside

Transport for New Homes Award: Bath Riverside

Bath Riverside was announced as winner of the Transport for New Homes Award 2019 in the non-metropolitan category. Judge Tim Pharoah, who visited the development, tells us why.

All too often new housing is built around car use, but Bath Riverside bucks the trend in a positive way by providing really good walking, cycling and public transport options. One resident remarked: “My car is parked in the underground car park, but mostly I just walk or cycle”.

All new developments should be located so that people living them are not required, or even tempted, to use cars for getting around. Generally the best way of achieving this is to locate new homes within the existing urban envelope of the town or city. Bath Riverside is an excellent example of this.

The development of apartments – and some town houses – occupies the site of a disused gasworks about 1 km west of the centre of Bath. Located on the banks of the River Avon, it is well situated for walking to shops, entertainment, the railway station, bus station and bus stops. Car parking is limited and mostly out of sight, while the public realm is shaped around walking.

Attractive and direct pedestrian routes through the development link up with two traffic free walking routes into the centre of Bath. One of these is a shared walking and cycling path (the well-known Bristol-Bath traffic-free route). The annual monitoring report for the scheme shows that the great majority of residents walk or cycle to get about the city.

The development is also highly accessible by public transport, with local bus stops a few minutes’ walk away on main roads either side of the development, served by no fewer than 14 bus routes, some of them operating at high frequency. A bus into the centre arrives every 5-10 minutes, and the key bus stops have real-time information screens. A free one month bus pass is on offer to every Bath Riverside household, as well as free car club membership and a £100 cycle voucher.

Bath Riverside, built by Crest Nicholson, exploits its position on the south bank of the River Avon with two attractive public spaces and views across the river from many of the apartments.

When checked against the Transport for New Homes Checklist, Bath Riverside received high scores for its location, its walking routes and its public transport connections. It also scored well for its density, which maximises the benefits of the location, and for its attractive layout. There are many facilities nearby, including an excellent playground for children of all ages within Victoria Park. Bath Riverside has already won several other housing awards, including the WhatHouse? award in 2017.

Unfortunately the quality of the walking and cycling environment outside the development itself is quite poor. The local highway authority should be giving much greater priority to the environment for active travel modes. The bus stops also could be better located, and with better pedestrian access across the main roads. Come on, City of Bath, you can do more to support the new riverside developments!

Responsible for Bath Riverside:
Developer: Crest Nicholson
Architect: The masterplanning architect was Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios. Five other firms of architects were used for the design individual phases.
Planning Consultant: Savills.
Transport Planning Consultant: WSP.
Local Authority: Bath and North East Somerset Council.