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Councils still promoting out of date street designs, says UDG


14 September 2018

Many local authorities in England are using out of date street design standards that promote road traffic and fail to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty, urban designers have told the DfT.

The Urban Design Group (UDG) has highlighted the out of date practices in a letter to transport minister Nusrat Ghani. This week the UDG shared the findings of a soon-to-be-released report on the topic with LTT. 

The UDG has about 1,000 members involved in the masterplanning of residential and mixed use development. 

It wants the DfT to ask councils to update their practices to reflect the 2007 document Manual for Streets, which marked a shift away from traffic functional street designs. 

“Many highway authorities continue to use street design standards based on the withdrawn Design Bulletin 32 (DB32) and its antecedents, none of which address the Public Sector Equality Duty,” says UDG director Robert Huxford in his letter to Ghani.

He also asks the Government to prepare “comprehensive, detailed street design guidance to assist local authorities”.

“Developers and designers continue to experience problems with the absence of common street design standards across local authorities,” says Huxford, Noting that there are “many Acts, regulations, and guidance documents” addressing street design issues, he adds: “It would be very helpful if the DfT and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) could produce or procure consolidated, comprehensive detailed street design guidance that treats streets and street infrastructure corridors in an integrated way, and which is based on current science and statistically significant evidence.

“Local authorities are suffering from very significant skills shortages, and have a dearth of qualified highways and design staff. It is all the more important that they receive the necessary support and leadership from the DfT and the MHCLG.”

The UDG’s report, Street design in the UK,  reports the findings of a survey by 140 ‘recognised practitioners’ – members with an established level of education and experience – into council practices. Assessments were made of 33 highway authorities across Britain.

The practitioners say 18 per cent of the authorities were using policies and practices based on Manual for Streets or equivalent; 45 per cent said they were using these practices but in reality were not; and 36 per cent were still using policies and practices based on DB32 residential roads and footpaths – layout considerations or equivalent. The DfT withdrew DB32 when Manual for Streets was published in 2007.

“Nearly one-third of highway authorities were reported as employing professional staff who were not up-to-date [in their knowledge],” says the UDG. “These individuals will be in breach of their professional codes of conduct if they are undertaking work they are not competent to do. By breaching codes of professional conduct they may invalidate their professional indemnity cover.

“County councils were rated the worst performing of all authorities,” says the UDG. “The effect is seen in new housing estates where pedestrians, cyclists, children and elderly and disabled people are treated in an inferior way compared with large refuse collection vehicles. The layouts involve excessive amounts of surfaced highway leading to increased land-take, loss of countryside, plus increased maintenance costs and flood risk.”

Huxford has told Ghani that out of date practices noted include: 

• Distributor roads with no frontage access or natural surveillance. “Manual for Streets warns that these roads are often very unsuccessful in terms of placemaking and providing for pedestrians and cyclists.”  

• Use of Design Manual for Roads and Bridges ‘standard roundabouts’ within urban areas. “Manual for Streets warns that conventional roundabouts are not generally appropriate for residential developments.”  

• Wide corner radii on side-road entrances. “Radii used (such as six, 10.5 and even 15 metres) create long paths across the mouth of the side road for all pedestrians, faster pedestrian-vehicle impact speeds, and difficulty for elderly people in assessing oncoming or turning traffic. Manual for Streets encourages tight corner radii.”

• Prohibitions on crossroads or permitting them only as an exception. “Manual for Streets states that crossroads are convenient for pedestrians, as they minimise diversion from desire lines when crossing the street.” 

• Speed limits and design speeds that are beyond the capabilities of children to safely judge, and place pedestrians and cyclists at increased risk of death and serious injury. 

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