Why aren’t we worried about transport when it comes to housing sustainability?

Why aren’t we worried about transport when it comes to housing sustainability?

Our Product Manager Dan Saunders explores the issues around why transport provision might be overlooked when planning new housing developments in his latest blog:

There has been a fair bit in the news recently about housing and how new housing isn’t sustainable, meaning that when new housing is developed, it is assumed that access by car will be the predominant mode, and in many instances it seems that access via walking, cycling and public transport is an afterthought. There have been groups set up, such as Transport for New Homes, who look to tackle the issue and also localised councils that want to promote transport sustainability. However, this seems to be the minority rather than the norm and my main gripe on the matter is the lack of consistency throughout the country. The reason for me writing this blog is that we recently heard from a potential client about using our TRACC software to help aide them with their planning proposals and providing site travel plans. The issue we had was that while the planning consultancy could see the value in knowing how far away amenities are from the new site, and that these improvements should be done, this was seen as a nice to have and not essential. When you delve further into this it seems that the local authority they submit evidence to, is happy with a circle approach to calculations. The circle approach, for instance, would show that there is a school within 2km using the crow flies, and those that have read my blogs know how I feel about circles! So why is this happening? Why on one hand are there new organisations being setup to promote new site sustainable transport, but it’s not being followed through? I have a couple of thoughts on this:-

  1. It’s not a priority for a council planning department. Since the localism agenda, there is no longer a national indicator that requires local authorities to report back on accessibility to key services by public transport, meaning there is in essence no oversight on what a local authority does with regards to public transport access. If you cut 80% of the subsidised bus routes resulting in many rural communities being unable to access healthcare, foodstores, jobs or education by public transport, would anyone know apart from those affected? A recent BBC article highlighted how there are 90 million fewer bus journeys available in a year on year comparison.   Is it assumed that these local residents will have access to a car, or will rural demand responsive transport kick in?
  2. Buses aren’t sexy.  We require a mindset shift as many people outside of London are quite anti bus and it’s not seen as a good mode of transport, dirty, unreliable and expensive. Actually though a bus is a way of transporting many people quickly and sustainably. While people see the long term future to be autonomous vehicles, or electric vehicles, these will still take up much needed space on our roads and causing congestion. There are many graphics around that show the amount of room taken by 100 people on a bus, bicycle and car are vastly different, and how, or what, that car is makes no difference at all. We need to change the mindset and give buses the respect they deserve. To be fair buses have upped their games in recent years with charging points and wifi.
  3. No firm guidance on planning. While there is criteria out there regarding distance to a public transport stop, we know that many people in London use the vastly inaccurate PTAL methodology so there needs to be more firm guidance. A new development must be within 30 minutes’ walk using safe roads to a primary school (with enough spaces) and must have a local shop on the doorstep and access to jobs within 30 minutes by public transport for example.

I was chatting to a neighbour who has lived on my road at home for 40 years, I asked her what the biggest change has been, she said the motorcar. There used to be grass verges next to the pavement and a few garages around a corner for vehicles. Now each house seems to have three cars, all in use which means the road is littered with vehicles. There is a large office block a 5 minute walk away, all the people that work here also park all over the residential streets, and we have just had a primary school open nearby. All of this results in carnage on the roads at 8:45am with parents driving their kids to school, employees frantically trying to find somewhere to park and residents heading off to work causing both pollution and stress. My neighbour said 10 years ago we had three bus services that ran locally but now we have only one hourly service. While I am not saying that putting the bus on will solve the issue,  if you combine the amount of parking available, education of students at primary school to promote park and stride and have a decent workplace travel plan, we can maybe start to make a dent on the number of journeys being made by car on our roads.