After spending the best part of three hours to travel less than 40 miles (don’t you love rail replacement buses with incredibly unrealistic timetables), I found myself in a slightly surreal position among members of the press with a front row seat for a speech from Prime Minister Theresa May.
Transport infrastructure is, more obviously than other types of infrastructure, the warp on which the weft of the built environment is woven. It is the gravy which holds the stew together.
I was at a conference jointly organised by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) to relaunch the National Planning Policy Framework.
The PM was there to explain how this revised policy would address the national housing crisis. Presumably, I was invited as a long-time RTPI Member and current Chair of their Transport Planning Network.
Not that transport was specifically mentioned by the Prime Minister or Secretary of State, and it was hardly mentioned in the technical sessions or during my casual chats during the long ‘networking’ lunch.
I understand it was on at least one slide during the technical session on development locations – my late arrival meant that I had not been able to register for that most popular of sessions. And yet, looking around at people’s badges, I didn’t see job titles suggesting that many transport planners were there to take away any messages that might have been given.
This frustrates me as much as the lack of land use planners at transport events which I have attended in the past year. Transport infrastructure is, more obviously than other types of infrastructure, the warp on which the weft of the built environment is woven. It is the gravy which holds the stew together.
Public land, known legally as ‘highways’ that include carriageway, footway, verge, parking spaces, street furniture, and more, make up the majority of what happens in between the private property boundaries, or in other words the ‘buildings’, of our settled, planned places.
And yet the prime minister made far more mention of open space – and preserving the openness of Green Belt land – than she did of the spaces between the 300,000 new houses per year they are planning to build. Perhaps this is because the transport-related changes in the new draft of the NPPF out for consultation are more minor than those relating to the natural environment? It still seemed like there were missed opportunities.
No NPPF reference to local transport plans
The section in the updated NPPF on sustainable transport is re-structured, with an emphasis on incorporating and engaging with transport planning at the outset, which is encouraging, yet there are no references to the Local Transport Plan or joint spatial plan-making. Some authorities do this anyway, but surely national policy should clearly link the disciplines?
Fortunately, the ill-defined ‘commuter hubs’ proposed in previous consultations are absent, and local discretion is encouraged in identifying places “well served by public transport” to apply density standards.
This suggests local transport and land use planners will be given more freedom to decide how to define a transport hub with appropriate capacity and surround it with appropriate development.
Little on parking policies
And yet there is little in the barely revised paragraphs in the NPPF on how parking can support this endeavour. Whilst the revisions are less antagonistic about parking charges and enforcement, the more explicitly negative stance on maximum parking standards is unhelpful considering the success of such policies in the past, and the potential for such policies to better provide for a future of electric, potentially autonomous vehicles that are more likely to be shared than owned.
Still, at the conference and in the document, local governments are no longer scapegoats and planners of all types are given more recognition for their ability to create better places.
There is even recognition that sustainable transport is about creating “places that are safe, secure and attractive” that “respond to local character and design standards”. And creating such places should be exactly what all planners, transport and land use, are trained to do. There’s still time to do it together a bit more often.
Guest blogs may not represent the views of the RTPI.
Hannah Budnitz is Chair of the Transport Planning Network at the Royal Town Planning Institute. She is a PhD student at the University of Birmingham researching into resilience planning by analysing big data sources to understand how commuters respond to weather, including through telecommuting. She previously worked as a transport planner at Arup in Cardiff and Reading Borough Council. She writes a transport-related blog and is active on Twitter @HBudnitz.