Making Connections

Opinion piece

Tibbalds’ Director, Katja Stille, considers the recent Transport for New Homes report, which examines whether our aspirations for better connected new places promoting healthier, more active lifestyles and connected communities are actually being realised in the new places we are building.

Transport for New Homes in its recent report is of course right: active travel and public transport are essential for new housing developments. If we don’t get this right it will impact negatively on people’s future, their health and our environment. People in new edge of town developments and new communities, like everyone else, shouldn’t have to be restricted to cars to get around. New developments also need a wide range of buildings for communities to thrive – from schools and healthcare centres to shops, cafés, pubs and places of work.

When it comes to reducing car use, strategic decisions are key. First, development needs to be in the right location ensuring it can be well connected by effective and convenient public transport.

Second, good pedestrian and cycle routes must be provided to local facilities, stations and the adjacent settlement. These routes and public transport connections have to be established at the earliest stage and fixed within the S106 and outline planning consents – if they are not secured through legal measures their implementation may suffer. The earlier this thinking comes the easier it is to build into emerging schemes. Later on it becomes less effective and more expensive – if indeed successful changes are possible at all. Having worked on Great Western Park, one case study within the Transport for New Homes report, following planning consent being granted it was clear that there were a number of factors incorporated at an early stage that are still problematic today.

Research like this is essential to continue to raise awareness and ensure these issues don’t fall off the agenda. The challenge then for housebuilders and developers is to ensure both that their developments encourage active travel beyond the site boundaries, and that their original aims are retained throughout the delivery and construction process without compromising commerciality.

With Homes England, we are putting these principles into place, including at Northstowe, one of the NHS Health New Towns, in Cambridgeshire.

When we’ve been masterplanning Northstowe phase three, increasing density has actually made neighbourhoods more walkable. We have also used variation in character as part of our design code for phase two to help to deliver streets and spaces that are safe and interesting to walk along. Reinstating historic public rights of way, and ensuring they are convenient cycle and pedestrian routes, allows new and existing communities to move around, and the Cambridge Guided Busway offers the opportunity for people to leave their car at home (or better, meet the needs of those who don’t have one).

If the strategic building blocks for a well-connected sustainable development are in place and secured through planning and legal agreements, developers and their designers, as well as the adoption authorities, have the responsibility to make them work in terms of the quality of the public realm.

But if we’re talking about ideals, however, VeloCity – winner of the NIC’s Oxford to Cambridge Arc competition – is the best example of how planning and transport could come together to create really strong communities.

Led by fellow Tibbalds Director Jennifer Ross, offers a strategic approach to growth and placemaking centred on a re-imagining of the village for the 21st century, with a fine grain network of local, medium and longer distance cycle and pedestrian routes and seek to explore how we might plan for a future which no longer needs to rely so heavily on movements by car.

In the meantime we need to find ways to transition from car dominated environments towards those built around active travel and public transport. While we are still working within planning and funding frameworks that focus on car movement we need to continue to challenge them while creating the densities that allow walkable neighbourhoods and ensure strategic cycle and public transport infrastructure is delivered on top of what policy may require. This way we have an opportunity to build places, today, that stand the test of time and allow people to make different lifestyle choices in the future.

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