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Over-engineered roads and parking ‘blight new housing’


Andrew Forster
24 January 2020
The team of auditors


Too many new housing developments in England are blighted by over-engineered roads and intrusive car parking, although residents do not necessarily recognise the problems, says a report by University College London (UCL).

Researchers reviewed the design characteristics of 142 large-scale housing developments built across England since 2007. The work was commissioned by countryside charity the CPRE and the Place Alliance.  

A team of auditors assessed 17 design considerations for each development. The most frequently reported aspects of poor design were “overly engineered highways” and the poor design of car parking and storage space, such as for bins. 

The report authors recommend that developers and local authorities should “deal once and for all with the highways/planning disconnect”. 

“Highways authorities should take responsibility for their part in creating positive streets and places, not simply roads and infrastructure.”

Council highways design and adoption functions “should work in a wholly integrated manner with planning (development management), perhaps through the establishment of multi-disciplinary urban design teams (across authorities in two-tier areas), and by involving highways authorities in the commissioning of design reviews”.

The authors also recommend that housing should be built to higher densities, saying higher density developments in the research often featured better design. 

“The best schemes averaged 56 dwellings / hectare, approaching double the current national average of 31 dwellings per hectare.”

The Government should prepare new guidance on the design of parking. 

“How parking is handled can make or break the design of residential environments. 

“National research on the successful integration of parking across different densities should be commissioned as the basis for guidance to be adopted on the subject nationally and locally.”

Despite the poor scores given to many of the developments studied, the report says most residents appeared to like their neighbourhood. 

Of 278 residents interviewed, 78 per cent were happy with their development and only six per cent were not. 

The report questions, however, whether residents are a good judge of the quality of the environment in which they live. 

“A number of studies suggest that unless something has gone dramatically wrong to change their opinion, residents are unlikely to criticise their new home environment and implicitly their own judgment in making the purchase. 

“For this reason, taken in isolation, resident satisfaction is not regarded as a reliable measure of the quality of the built environment.”

Common aspects of poor highway design identified by the auditors were: a failure to address the highway as an integral part of the street space; poor transitions between developments and their surroundings, for example the use of large roundabouts; and the over-dominance of monotonous hard landscape materials.

Developments were scored according to  how obtrusive car parking areas were. 

“What is apparent is that the parking of cars is fundamentally incompatible with other urbanistic design objectives. For example, providing rear parking courts ensures that many cars are kept off the street, allowing streets to be used for social activities such as children’s play, but this is done at the expense of private garden space and leads to the opening up of the rear of properties to crime and predation.”

It is difficult to reconcile the objectives of good design and car parking demand, says the report. “Because of the location of many developments (with poor public transport connections), cars are often a necessity in many new residential areas and the availability of plentiful, convenient parking has become an overwhelming concern of residents.” 

The best examples of parking and highway design were found in developments in Greater London and the South East. 

The report suggests that the obtrusive nature of parking elsewhere may be because lower land values encourage lower density housing developments, meaning that more space can be devoted to parking. 

“In London and the South East – perhaps reflecting the higher land values – ways to accommodate car parking seem to have been addressed with greater care and creativity.” 

Provision for walking and cycling was variable, with the best scores again in Greater London and the South East. Nevertheless, the authors say that even where provision for walking and cycling was poor, “the low vehicle volumes on many roads meant that, despite the dominance of roads, schemes typically functioned tolerably for other users”. 

The report follows two other critical reviews of new housing developments, the Foundation for Integrated Transport’s Transport for New Homes (LTT 17 Aug 18), and the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation’s Better planning, better transport, better places (LTT 30 Aug 19). 

The new research was led by Professor Matthew Carmona of UCL’s Bartlett School of Planning, who chairs the Place Alliance that promotes high quality built environments.

An advisory group comprised representatives from CPRE, the Home Builders Federation, UK Green Building Council, the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation, Civic Voice, Arup, the Design Council, the Academy of Urbanism / URBED and the Urban Design Group.  

Supporting consultancies were Arup, JTP, Spawforths and URBED.

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