The planning and provision of all forms of transport infrastructure is an incredibly powerful tool for shaping and directing where and how we live our lives – determining our ability to access jobs, leisure activities, social networks, and all other institutions with which we interact.
It is therefore surprising to consider how little focus is given to transport infrastructure in the debate about how to solve the various housing crises that occur at different geographical hot spots around the UK. Not only is transport infrastructure a necessary and fundamental condition to delivering housing supply, but it is also, depending on how it is planned and delivered, essential for ensuring that the housing needs of the nation are met in a way befitting of the needs of 21st Century societies. This means that the role of transport infrastructure is an essential component in determining the form of housing provision, which can vary from: car-based, pollution intensive, sprawling, isolated suburban extensions, or: sustainable, safe, people-focused, cohesive, inclusive and well-planned communities.
Last year in London, 18,000 new homes were built, which is well short of the London Plan’s objectively assessed need for around 49,000 homes per year in order to prevent the rate of demand increase continuing to outstrip the rate of supply increase.
It may in fact be impossible to deliver the requisite volume of housing within London’s boundaries as defined by the existing Green Belt.
This has led some commentators, such as Sir Peter Hall – who spoke recently at a TfL hosted event in Stratford about the best location for new airport infrastructure in the South East, to suggest that as a society, and with a given set of inter-linked markets and competing interests, it may in fact be impossible to deliver the requisite volume of housing within London’s boundaries as defined by the existing Green Belt. It is therefore suggested that we urgently need to consider significant development beyond this Abercrombie-defined frontier.
Conversely, other experts, such as Deputy Mayor of London for Planning and Policy, Sir Edward Lister – who took part in the same conversation on airport infrastructure, have said that development of the current London Plan’s designated Opportunity Areas will enable the housing goals to be met.
The purpose of this blog clearly isn’t to try and analyse the merits of the competing arguments, but to make the point that what is common to both visions is that significant investment in transport infrastructure will be at the heart of their successful delivery.
In a plan where housing is built outside of the London Green Belt to enable the development of spacious and open communities along the lines of the Garden City model then, if these are to ameliorate the housing crisis in the capital, they will need high speed rail, or other rapid transit links, to ensure that the transaction costs of travel for businesses and individuals do not have a significant, negative impact on economic performance or quality of life. Deploying strategic planning policies to make the most of developing and potential links for Crossrail 1 and 2, HS2 and the surface access for proposed new airport infrastructure could be a viable way for utilising integrated land-use and transport planning to ensure that these projects deliver the maximum range of wider benefits.
Alternatively, transport infrastructure, in combination with strategic planning tools such as Local Development Orders and formal Development Corporations, as well as by influencing market forces through impacting land value, could be deployed to dynamically increase the density of existing places, which would be a way to deliver increased housing supply within a restricted area. Adequate transport infrastructure provision is essential in this process for ensuring that transport arteries are able to cope in capacity terms with the needs of their users.
In both cases, in an area of high demand, smart policies for capturing land value increases – such as business rate supplements, or other types of gain-share agreements, will help to significantly cover the costs of investment. Even where these mechanisms are politically unacceptable, high demand for usage derived from the supply of housing will guarantee that schemes focused around fare income generation will be viable too. Not to mention that financial and economic returns are only a proportion of the total societal benefits derived from better connected people and places.
David Pendlebury is Policy and Networks Adviser at the RTPI and is the policy lead within the areas of major transport and infrastructure planning.