Can planning deliver sustainable transport?
It is now accepted that with climate change (rising sea levels and damage to the ozone layer etc.), poor air quality and the implications to health that all countries should pursue the objective of sustainable development. Whilst most countries now pursue ‘urban concentration’ planning policies, it is now realised that land is a finite resource. Essentially the major problem that the planning system seeks to address is the use of fossil fuel burning vehicles. Transport is the biggest single contributor to climate change as stated in the Committee on Climate Change report 2016 with car use equating for 62% of all trips and 78% of distance covered.
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People drive to work, children are taken to schools and people drive to retail and leisure facilities. This is one of the reasons why spatial planning is important i.e. location of employment, housing and leisure facilities, if they can be located in close proximity to one another people are thereby encouraged to either use public transport, walk or cycle and worst case use the car for short journeys.
Urban concentration means developing within settlement boundaries, the benefits are that when there are higher densities there is less land used and where there is close proximity of various land uses people will walk / cycle or use public transport. The rail and bus systems/ networks are generally within urban areas.
Planning policy has and continues to promote urban extensions, however, is now returning to a ‘theme’ of new towns or settlements where planning is a ‘blank canvas’ – where towns and cities can be properly planned to have higher densities and mixed uses which would enable reduced car use as people would have access to public transport and other facilities.
The planning system in England has the potential to deliver sustainable transport options in a number of ways. The obvious benefit of sustainable transport is the effect it can have on the global issue of climate change with the reduction in greenhouse gases etc., however, there are many other pressing issues which can be addressed if truly sustainable transport options are delivered.
The current agenda regarding transport and development is moving away from one of providing significant new highway capacity, through ‘predict and provide’ schemes. Instead, policies have been adopted in national guidelines such as the most recent Transport White Paper (2011) that seeks to encourage more sustainable modes than the car and a planning system which places more emphasis on the link between transport and land use planning policies.
The NPPF recognises that transport policies have an important role to play in wider sustainability and health objectives as well as their direct influence on development. In paragraph 29 it states that “the transport system needs to be balanced in favour of sustainable transport modes giving people a real choice about how they travel.” (DCLG, 2012)
Delivering sustainable transport at present is dependent on individuals making conscious decisions and in order for individuals to make the sustainable choice depends on a number of factors as highlighted by the research of Tertoolen, Van Kreleld and Verstaten (1998) Psychological Resistance Against Attempts to Reduce Private Car Use in the Netherlands that behaviour would only change if;
- Mode switching is not disadvantageous for the individual
- Valid social norms are positive towards environmentally friendly behaviour
- Sufficient opportunities to undertake this alternative behaviour are present.
The planning system is capable of influencing infrastructure provisions and in particular for walk cycle the allocation of road space for improved pedestrian cycle links. This could involve converting existing roads for only public transport (buses) and bicycle. Where the use of such methods then becomes advantageous for the individual then a shift in mode may occur.
The health of individuals and the effect on the environment, although is important when people make choices of transport modes is not a key priority. In order to make a shift to sustainable modes, these modes have to be more convenient to the user such is the case in Copenhagen where around 50% of people cycle to work and education “not to save the environment or stay healthy but because it is the easiest thing to do” (Martin, J. 2017)
When looking at the Sustainable Transport Demonstration Towns (STDT) pilot scheme where three towns (Darlington, Peterborough and Worcester) were chosen to produce strategies to promote sustainable transport, it is clear to see that where investment is made and proactively implemented a real change can be made. The results of the pilot over the three towns with the £15m of investment (over 5 years, 2004/5 to 2008/9) that car use was reduced by 9% and sustainable modes of transport such as bus (16%), cycle (28%) and walking (12%) have seen an increase.
Where investment is made and actively promoted, it is encouraging how easy sustainable transport can be ‘bought into’, however the issue is that many local authorities do not have the finances to implement such schemes and in a time of cuts across the local authorities although given the importance of sustainable transport it is questionable whether the issue will be of the highest importance.
Strategic transport network
Whilst congestion is responsible for a lot of greenhouse gases with emissions produced while motorist are sat in traffic there is also the same issues with long distance travel where motorist opt for unsustainable transport modes as alternative transport modes can be more expensive and less convenient. To address this problem there needs to be a regional or national strategy to ensure that major development can be provided with the benefit of sustainable transports such as rail that is a more attractive option, that is more efficient and convenient.
Questioning whether transport can be dealt with at the local level and although the NPPF para 162 states; “Local planning authorities should work with other authorities and providers to………take account of the need for strategic infrastructure including nationally significant infrastructure within their area” (DCLG, 2012). There is an obvious constraint in how the planning system operates in England in that transport networks cannot logically be dealt with by Local Authorities when transport networks are regional and in some cases national concerns.
Such is the case with High Speed 2 which has the potential of fulfilling these criteria however there are many local planning authorities across many regions that must work together to ensure individuals have the maximum access to sustainable transport.
Strategic Development Location
Strategic development location is an area which the planning system can have the biggest influence, this is highlighted by the National Planning Policy Frameworks Core Principle which states:
“Actively manage patterns of growth to make the fullest possible use of public transport, walking and cycling, and focus significant development in locations which are or can be made sustainable.” (DCLG, 2012)
Paragraph 34 seeks to ensure that, “developments that generate significant movement are located where the need to travel will be minimised and the use of sustainable transport modes can be maximised.” (DCLG, 2012)
However, it would appear that some planning policies restrict development in such locations in particular the Green Belt. We have for some time in this country pursued an ‘urban concentration’ policy in which development is concentrated within existing settlement, however with these sites becoming less available and restrictions from restrictive policies, people are being forced to live further away due to availability of housing and affordability, and commute to areas of employment. In many occasions where existing transport network and facilities exist and logically development would be best suited in these locations, development is precluded due to these restrictive policies. This is confirmed in the guidance provided in the Commission for Integrated Transport (CfIT) practitioners guide policy 10.1;
Strategic traffic generation impacts should contribute to locational considerations. This may involve a review of Green Belt and similar urban containment policies” (CfIT, 2009)
In terms of development location, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) working with Bilfinger GVA undertook a project on the Location of development and mapped out the physical location of over 165,000 new homes that had been granted planning permission in 2016, which were then analysed for their location to employment and rail. The analysis concluded that “almost 75% of the houses which had been granted planning permission since 2012 had been within 10km of major employment opportunities. This seems pretty good. However only 13% were within easy walking distance of a railway station” (Harris, J. 2016) which would mean that the reliance on car use for the most would continue even with the National planning policies emphasis on sustainable development.
James Harris, Policy and Networks manager at the RTPI raises concerns that “this kind of spatial information is not currently being analysed at the national level, and risks being excluded from discussions over how the effectiveness of policy and how it might need to change” (Harris, J. 2016)
The location of development to public transport has been considered particularly well in London where in the draft London Plan Policy D6 – Optimising housing density, housing density is being increased where land supply is constrained and where public transport is accessible. The London plan has a level of accessibility to Public Transport (Public Transport Accessibility Level, PTAL) in which the closer to public transport network the higher the density.
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Health is a huge factor when considering the effects of transport, obesity according to Public Health England cost the wider society £27 billion and the NHS estimates £6.1 billion is spent on overweight and obesity related ill health with Public Health England stating the “nearly two-thirds of adults (63%) in England were classed as being overweight (a body mass index of over 25) or obese (a BMI of over 30) in 2015” (Public Health England, 2017)
Sustainable transport places an emphasis on using public transport to reduce CO2 emissions but also on the methods used to access these services with these being within easy access for walking and cycling it is believed that if more people walked or cycled then the health benefits for both the individual and the environment will be improved. Also, the reduction in the number of vehicles on the road would have health benefits for those affected by the pollution caused by burning fossil fuels.
Transport related air pollution is among the leading concerns around transport and its effect on health. The WHO Europe highlights the importance of the planning system with respect to the levels at which humans are exposed to air pollution
“Urban planning and development also strongly shape exposure; they determine not only patterns of residence and mobility but also the availability of public transport and non-motorized transport options” (WHO, 2005)
Air Quality Plans are used to Identify when air pollution is at high levels which may affect public health which have been mandated to adopt by the end of 2018 in DEFRA’s new Air Quality Strategy. However, the British Medical Association have concerns, whilst £295m of funding has been made available to implement these plans “it is still nowhere near enough for the task at hand, which is evident when compared to Transport for London’s much more robust £875 million budget allocated to improve air quality in London by 2021/2022” (BMA, 2017). Funding seems to be a reoccurring issue within local authorities in tackling issues such as transport and climate change.
Planning has the role of involving a number of disciplines such as urban designers, transport planners and developers to create transport that is truly sustainable and whilst the benefits of sustainable transport are obvious ultimately the use of such transport comes down to individual choices. So, when considering whether the planning system can deliver sustainable transport, it is somewhat limited in that it can put the ‘sustainable transport’ in place, locate people close to public transport, ensure that public transport is accessible to all and to prioritise sustainable modes.
Ultimately, most people will use sustainable transport modes not because of the environmental aspects associated or that it is healthy or that they can save money but the convenience, so it would appear that the planning system should make the sustainable modes more attractive whilst placing barriers to car use (which would be much contested) and as a result the positive impacts will all be produced as a by-product and sustainable transport choices will be achieved.
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- British Medical Association (2017) Impacts of air pollution on public health. Available at: https://www.bma.org.uk/-media/files/pdfs/collective%20voice/influence/uk%20governments/bma-briefing-hol-debate-on-air-pollution-oct-2017.pdf?la=en (Accessed 21 April 2018)
- Commission for Integrated Transport (2009) Planning for Sustainable Travel Summary Guide. Available at: http://www.plan4sustainabletravel.org/downloads/cfit_summary_guide.pdf (Accessed 3rd April 2018)
- Department for Communities and Local Government (2012). The National Planning Policy Framework London: DCLG.
- Harris, J (2016) RTPI. Is the English planning system delivering sustainable development?. Available at: http://www.rtpi.org.uk/briefing-room/rtpi-blog/is-the-english-planning-system-delivering-sustainable-development/ (Accessed 18 April 2018)
- Martin, J (2017) RTPI, Why sustainable transport planning is the answer. Available at: http://www.rtpi.org.uk/briefing-room/rtpi-blog/why-sustainable-transport-planning-is-the-answer/ (Accessed 15 April 2018)
- Public Health England (2017) Guidance. Health matters: obesity and the food environment. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-matters-obesity-and-the-food-environment/health-matters-obesity-and-the-food-environment–2 (Accessed 28 April 2018)
- World Health Organization Europe (2005) Health effects of transport-related air pollution. Available at: http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/74715/E86650.pdf (Accessed 28 April 2018)
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