Help make new developments less car-dependent DfT advisors urge

Peter Stonham
09 May 2024

Steps to encourage local highway and planning authorities to support less car-dependent developments, and encourage movement patterns based on active travel and public transport, with high levels of digital connectivity , have been set out in report to the Department for Transport.

It comes from The Department’s own Science Advisory Council (SAC) which organised a workshop to provide an independent perspective on the opportunities for evidence to encourage land use and transport planning decision-making which better supports policy outcomes, as well as commercial imperatives.

Despite the other policy objectives The SAC believes many local authorities are making presumption “in favour of replicating existing patterns of transport provision, ‘just in case’ occupants choose to drive everywhere” – implicitly prioritising car use over other passenger modes.

Recommendations include a need for more robust datasets collating evidence that shows the effects of building sustainable transport networks and local facility provision into new developments. Given the limited evidence available in the UK, data should be sought from international case studies. This would show what ‘good’ looks like for a variety of contexts and scales, and help evaluate how higher-density residential developments might play a role in supporting better quality public transport and a wider range of local community facilities, addressing sustainable development objectives.

The tools used to estimate the trip/traffic generation of new sites and larger developments (such as TRICS and NTEM) should be refined to reflect the connectivity and sustainable mobility provisions of a proposed development, and its likely impacts on travel patterns. This should be linked to the DfT’s own

connectivity tool and assessments made which take into account a much wider range of indicators, including a greater emphasis on carbon impacts. These analyses should be consolidated in a comprehensive transport impact assessment as part of the assessment of individual developments and local plans (see panel).

Further evaluation is also needed of the current incentive structures that motivate the various actors to promote largely car-dependent developments, and identify pricing or regulatory changes that would help align commercial interests with other objectives around public health, net zero and quality of life, the report also concludes.

It calls for a study into the governance arrangements that underpin the land use planning process and its operation in practice, taking a broader systems view and accounting for the various private and public sector actors, at both local and national levels. The aim would be to identify barriers and conflicting pressures when trying to promote sustainable developments, including community facilities and sustainable transport networks.

A wide range of transport- related policies are directly or indirectly affected by land use planning including reducing greenhouse gas emissions,delays and congestion, air pollution and road accidents. Though these relationships have been recognised for over half a century, the impact on planning decisions has been inconsistent and limited, with non- transport factors playing a more major role. Many larger housing developments can still, by many mobility measures, be considered to be ‘in the wrong place’ from a transport perspective,often mainly accessible only by car.

The primary development goal is often to build houses, rather than to create communities with facilities close at hand. A broader, systems-thinking approach is now required, which starts with a comprehensive vision for a new development and then designs it to achieve the intended outcomes. The report endorses the concept of triple access planning maximising accessibility and digital connectivity , rather than just mobility.

Meeting net zero targets locally and nationally will require development and planning to place greater emphasis on likely carbon emissions and capital/embedded carbon, says the report.

Successfully meeting these wider objectives is likely to affect the designs of developments that are approved. A major technical barrier is the lack of access to data on impacts and how they are affected by design considerations.

Professor Peter Jones, University College London and Professor William Powrie, University of Southampton were lead authors on the report.

Glenn Lyons, Mott MacDonald Professor of Future Mobility at the University of the West of England weclomed the paper. He told LTT: “If only we could influence the planning system to better account for the connections! In this respect I was pleased to see direct reference made to Triple Access Planning (TAP) so soon after the new practitioners’ handbook for TAP becoming available. Not only do we need to address land use and transport but we must do so with the growing influence in society of the telecommunications system (providing digital accessibility) hidden in plain sight.”

There is a “diffusion” of innovation taking place in terms of planning approaches, according to Lyons. “But diffusion takes time and gains impetus from early ‘success stories’ that set precedents and build confidence among the various actors in the planning system. This SAC paper rightly identifies the need ‘for better visibility of case studies’. But it’s a chicken and egg situation. For such case studies to come to fruition in terms of full build-out of a new development and seeing how mobility patterns play out in response takes time.”

He added: “Thank heavens we do have innovators and perhaps now early adopters helping to address this – encouraged in part by the TRICS guidance on the implementation of ‘decide and provide’ made available three years ago and with ‘decide and provide’ formally adopted by Oxfordshire County Council in 2022. These are not mentioned in the SAC paper which may point to another ongoing challenge. The seemingly growing number of professionals keen to play a part in bringing about change may be struggling to keep pace with knowledge sharing on the state of play.”

The paper adds weight to the need to maintain and increase the momentum for change in (transport) planning guidance and practice, Lyons said. “And not before time as we look to a future where, on environmental grounds alone, we simply cannot lean as heavily as we have done in the past on motorised mobility being the answer to providing access to people, goods, employment, services and opportunities. Let’s get TAPping!”

Land use and transport planning: DfT Science Advisory Council paper

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