I was struck by the UK Government’s recent announcement that it would no longer fund Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and councils would have to find their own resources to deliver them.
At the same time, transport secretary Mark Harper heralded the DfT’s £200m funding allocation for projects that “provide people with attractive choices to use cycling and walking for local journeys”.
So, it’s safe to say that Liveable Neighbourhoods, or call them what you will, are here to stay.
If anything, demand is going to grow as they spread out across the UK. The narrative around them is developing, as councils engage with the public, residents, businesses and other stakeholders. It's clear that local visions need to be developed with communities and this engagement plays an important part in risk mitigation, especially if not all sections of the community buy into a vision.
People value their time. Those who have more of it, often engage more. That can often lead to conversations that focus on certain demographics and doesn't consider the needs of children, young adults (particularly females) and those of protected characteristics.
How do we develop our engagement strategies to ensure the conversation is representative of the whole community? And when do we start becoming comfortable with being outside our comfort zone, and go to those who are often seldom engaged with or heard?
The language we use is critical, for example, ‘anti-car’ or ‘pro-people’? Road closed or street open? We need to appreciate that whilst we might deal with this on a daily basis, a lot of the community don't, so we need to consider how we cater for that in our narrative.
People also have a natural resistance to being told what to do. So, how do we incentivise people to walk and cycle more, and consider public transport for some trips instead of the car? It's clear the message from the UK Government is providing people with choices, which will include the car.
Liveable Neighbourhoods can offer a significant dynamic when it comes to delivering behaviour change, particularly around our travel habits. They can also help foster social cohesion and provide improved accessibility to greenspaces, particularly for those in the more deprived areas (we really must find a better way to describe those areas).
We also need to consider this from an internal perspective as well as with the public. LNs will impact on almost every service in a council. A roads project, they are not.
It requires a holistic approach. It's not just on councils to deliver these schemes. It requires a collaborative approach with external partners. Local utility companies, transport providers and health organisations have significant interests in how our streets function for people.
A collective approach can help identify and share resources and the risk. It can also help share knowledge and data, and help develop experience which can be carried forward on to other schemes.
Firstly, LNs are resource intensive and councils are quickly learning this. Engagement takes time. Done right, it can get the local community on board and help empower them to take ownership of some elements going forward, which can help reduce the burden on council maintenance resources.
Secondly, data is key. Both qualitative and quantitative. Information around traffic counts and speed is important, but it only provides a snapshot and doesn't reflect the 'lived experience' of the area. That is where engaging with the 'local experts' is critical, to help understand how the neighbourhood and streets function (or don't in most cases) for people.
Our climate is changing, very quickly. We are experiencing more rain and hotter temperatures. Our streets need cooling and manage rain water locally, reducing the pressure on fragile infrastructure. LNs provide a great opportunity to do this and it's clear the integration of sustainable draining systems (SuDs) is street design is rapidly moving up the agenda.
SuDs, rather unfairly, have a reputation for being 'expensive'. My experience is that is often code for “we'd like to keep doing what we've been doing, thanks”. The difference with SuDs is the opportunity to deliver multiple benefits, which when designed and installed well, have added significant value to communities across the UK, not just in terms of property values.
As humans, greenspace is important for our health and wellbeing. Covid-19 exposed our need for access to greenspaces and there are a lot of streets which don't have it. SUDs can provide communities with infrastructure to grow their own food, socialise and/or find solace in a quiet space. I'm almost convinced, that given the option, a lot more people would want SuDs in their streets.
The allocation of space on our streets is finite and there is a lot of demand for it and in delivering these projects, we need to enable a pragmatic conversation around this.
What has been used for the storage of cars is going to come under increasing pressure. After all, it is public land. Micromobility is going to increase and will provide alternative forms of transport for short and last mile journeys.
Car share schemes are becoming increasingly popular, as people question car ownership in a time where the cost of living puts pressure on disposable income. Young adults are having to weigh up car ownership alongside choices on education and home ownership.
I look forward to taking this conversation on with the local communities of South Gloucestershire Council, as I start a secondment to help mobilise LNs in Yate and Thornbury.
If you would like to hear more or see how AECOM can help you with projects involving movement, people or place, please get in touch.
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