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How to reduce the need to travel

Former campaigner's picture

13 December 2011: Campaign for Better Transport has launched its Campaigner’s Guide to Reducing the Need to Travel just as the Government’s proposed planning changes would all but abandon this crucial planning principle.

There’s been widespread dismay about proposed changes to planning policy in the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework. Campaign for Better Transport has shown that these would allow more sprawling out of town development, generate traffic, increase congestion and aggravate other unwanted transport impacts.

Various policies should be used to avoid these. First, improve alternatives to the car through better public transport, walking and cycling. Second, manage demand for travel, through a wide range of pricing and other mechanisms. Third, integrate transport and planning policy to ensure that more journeys can be made by public transport and to reduce the number and length of journeys. The shorter journeys are the more can be made on foot or by bicycle. This is largely what is meant by reducing the need to travel.

Reducing the need to travel has been a fundamental planning principle since the publication of the ground-breaking Planning Policy Guidance Note 13 Transport (PPG13) in the early 1990s. It underpins other important planning policies including those on town centres and sustainable development and is closely associated with ‘town centre first’ policy, ‘brownfield’ targets to encourage development in urban areas and national parking and density standards.

The principle of reducing the need to travel also underlies increasingly accepted approaches to development intended to reduce car use and create more liveable communities. In the US these are usually referred to as ‘smart growth’ or ‘transit oriented development’ and in Europe more often as ‘compact cities’ or ‘urban intensification’.

However they are known, the aim of the PPG13 ‘smart growth’ approach is to locate development which would generate lots of trips (such as offices) where they can easily be reached by public transport and to create compact, high density, mixed use development around transport hubs with a range of easily accessible local services and amenities to create walkable and cycle-friendly neighbourhoods.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is intended to replace the 20 or so PPGs and Planning Policy Statements (PPSs) and a quantity of supplementary planning guidance with a single, succinct document of 50 or 60 pages. There’s nothing wrong with brevity.

However, the draft NPPF largely turns its back on compact cities and urban intensification, indeed it shows no sign of ever having heard of them. Reducing the need to travel is barely mentioned. The town centre first requirement would apply to retail and leisure development but no longer to commercial or office development. The ‘needs test’ for out of town retail development would be dropped. Development would be permitted in locations remote from public transport and accessible only by car. The brownfield land targets, national parking and density standards, and requirements for transport impact assessments and travel plans would all be abandoned.

This makes it an opportune time for Campaign for Better Transport to publish its Campaigner’s Guide to Reducing the Need to Travel. The Guide is intended to help local campaigners push for policies to reduce the need to travel to be included in Local Transport Plans or Local Development Frameworks (ie the transport and planning policies) of their own local authorities.

The Guide attempts to clear up various misunderstandings that have bedevilled the concept of reducing the need to travel and led to claims that reducing the need to travel policies were being pursued when in fact they may have more intended to shift travel from one mode to another or manage travel demand in some way. Perhaps for the first time, the Guide tries to catalogue all the policies that can be used to reduce the need to travel.

Campaign for Better Transport’s Guide also suggests how people might resist planning policies and decisions that would increase, rather than reduce the need to travel. We all know that large superstores with acres of parking continue to be built in locations accessible mainly by car. Local amenities accessible on foot and by bicycle, such as shops, post-offices, banks, libraries and hospitals are still being closed in their hundreds.

It’s more important than ever to ensure that reducing the need to travel remains a cardinal planning principle. If central government no longer cares about it, it’s up to local campaigners to make sure that it is thoroughly enshrined in local authority policy to avoid the sprawling, badly planned development that damages local communities and environments.

 

Guest blogged by Richard Bourn

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