Planning guidance continues greening of transport policy

An end to major new out-of-town development, curbs on car parking and better facilities for pedestrians and cyclists are in sight under new planning guidelines from the Department of the Environment (DoE) and Department of Transport (DTp) on integrating transport and land use planning.1 The move builds on the shift in transport policy begun by the Government's strategy for sustainable development, and has been given a qualified welcome by both environmentalists and motoring organisations.

The guidance note, PPG13, was published in draft last April - without the DTp's name to it (ENDS Report 219, pp 36-37 ). It was heralded by environmentalists as a landmark in planning policy. Since then, the Government's sustainable development strategy has signalled a marked change of emphasis in transport policy away from car-based transport (ENDS Report 228, pp 18-21 ). The final version of PPG13 takes these commitments on board - and in its tone at least, goes some way further than the draft.

The aim of the guidance is to "reduce the growth" in the length and number of motorised journeys and to reduce reliance on cars.

The guidance accepts the need to manage demand for transport. It concedes that forecast levels of traffic growth "cannot be met", and could threaten the UK's ability to meet objectives for greenhouse gas emissions, air quality and the protection of landscapes and habitats. Technological controls on vehicle emissions will not be sufficient, it notes, while new road building or upgrading of existing highways will "in some cases" be "environmentally unacceptable".

When drawing up development plans and considering planning applications, local authorities are advised to:

  • Promote development within urban areas, at locations highly accessible by means other than the private car.

  • Strengthen existing local centres and aim to protect and enhance their viability and vitality.

  • Maintain and improve choices for people to walk, cycle or use public transport.

  • Limit parking provision so as to discourage reliance on the car for work and other journeys where there are effective alternatives.

    On housing, the guidance states that structure plans should allocate the maximum amount of housing to existing larger urban areas, with priority given to the reuse or conversion of existing sites and properties. If land is not available in central locations then housing should be developed in areas capable of being well served by public transport. Incremental expansion of villages should be avoided.

    The guidance gives similar advice on business activities, and also says that employment and residential uses should be inter-mixed to encourage more local employment.

    Out-of-town retail and leisure developments are discouraged. Structure plans, PPG13 says, should promote existing urban, suburban and rural centres, while in local plans "sporadic siting" of shopping units out of centres or along road corridors should be avoided. Where suitable central locations are not available for larger retail development, "edge-of-centre" sites should be sought.

    The Government claims that implementation of these policies would reduce emissions by 15% over 20 years compared with an unconstrained increase, provided back-up policies - such as its commitment to raise the real level of fuel duty by on average of at least 5% per year and to motorway charges - are introduced. These measures will, it says, "inform people's choices and, by putting a price on a cost where there is none at present, will be more economically efficient."

    Parking restrictions may provoke a backlash. The guidance argues that levels of parking can be more significant than public transport provision in determining means of transport. Local authorities may also use parking charges to encourage the use of alternative modes of transport.

    Motoring organisations are broadly supportive of PPG13. "The principle is right", says Jeremy Vanke of the RAC, "but don't underestimate the practicalities of putting it into place." The concern, shared by conservationists, is that local authorities may be reluctant to turn down applications for new out-of-town developments in case they lose employment opportunities to neighbouring areas.

    For PPG13 to be effective, says the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), local authorities must be confident that the DoE will back their decisions on appeal. Without such backing, only an outright ban on out-of-town developments would deliver the principles of PPG13.

    The next stage in the debate will be the outcome of the DTp's road building review. The roads programme "runs as a major faultline through the new guidance, risking frustrating and undermining its objectives," says the CPRE. "The Government should subject its own transport policies to the environmental tests it is setting everyone else."

    PPG13 does not acknowledge the trunk roads programme as a major contributor to transport-inefficient land use. Trunk roads, the Government believes, should be used mainly by long-distance traffic. Local authorities should therefore stop development near them which would add significantly to local traffic, prejudicing the ability of the network to carry long- haul traffic. But critics say that trunk roads themselves attract development. "If you build a road somewhere, development will appear alongside it," says Jeremy Vanke.

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