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Planning ahead

Bridget Fox's picture

Our response to the Government’s planning policy review says that locating development near transport hubs is the best way to deliver the homes we need.

The Government has been consulting on a revised version of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The NPPF sets the rules for local plans and planning decisions and has a huge impact on the kinds of places we will be living in for years to come.

We need to build around 250,000 homes a year to keep up with demand, a target easy to quote but harder to meet. Many communities are facing the challenge of finding sites for new homes without destroying what makes the surrounding area a good place to live. That’s where planning around sustainable transport comes in.

The NPPF revision is designed ‘to help ensure that more land is brought forward for development and that permissions are turned into homes as soon as possible’: it's all about delivering more homes, more quickly. 

It says some good things about the importance of environmental protection, the need to promote healthy lifestyles, and planning for greater density of new homes in urban areas, designed around sustainable transport.  Our response welcomes these points while focusing on wording that needs strengthening if good goals are not to be undermined in practice.

We have no objection to a presumption in favour of sustainable development, if it is truly sustainable. That means selecting sites and designing schemes based around low carbon transport, access to public transport, walking and cycling, and reduced car dependency.

We want to see more emphasis on the role planning can play in moving us to a low carbon future, and meaningful protection for National Parks, ancient woodlands, World Heritage Sites, and other precious places. We've joined our allies in CPRE in calling for the NPPF to focus on delivering the globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals.  It’s concerning that while the draft NPPF talks up sustainable development, we continue to see road building plans that would deliver the opposite.

A joined-up approach to transport and planning policies will reduce the need to travel by locating new homes and employment near transport hubs; investing in high quality public transport, rail freight and active travel networks; and making the most efficient use of development sites. This has multiple benefits in terms of improved affordability of homes, connecting people to jobs, and tackling issues of air pollution, carbon reduction and obesity: all of which are made worse by car-dependent communities. High density housing provides a ready-made customer base to support local businesses and make local bus services viable.

An approach rooted in sustainable development will ensure that schemes are designed to be environmentally sensitive and low traffic generators. We set out best practice in the Masterplanning Checklist for Sustainable Transport in New Developments, and shared more examples in our report, Getting There. The Royal Town Planning Institute agrees that ensuring housing developments and transport are closely linked is good for both the environment and the economy.

This isn’t new thinking, yet the experience of new urban extensions shows that many are still being designed and developed without adequate provision for bus connections, safe walking or cycling routes. We are concerned by a growing pattern that when new road schemes are delivered, the associated bus lanes or cycle routes are being delayed or dropped on cost grounds. The NPPF must ensure that sustainable transport infrastructure is not an optional extra.

Local authorities need the flexibility to work with developers to deliver improvements outside the red line of sites, including such basic provision as new pavements alongside existing roads, and for the planning process to minimise impact on public services and budgets by ensuring developer contributions are effectively spent on supporting sustainable transport and healthy communities.

Sustainable growth starts by directing development to the right locations. Instead of building new homes close to motorways, or high-speed dual carriageways, we want to see the NPPF focusing instead on sites within walking distance of major public transport links, and close to town centres.

This will deliver a wide range of benefits from promoting healthier lifestyles to making bus services commercially viable: it would deliver more homes, strengthen the economy, help provide resilience and reduce long term costs for other public services such as the NHS.

Many new housing developments are controversial because they take greenfield sites and generate more traffic. Focusing on sites in towns and around transport hubs would make support town centres, reduce suburban sprawl, and protect the green belt, making local planning approvals easier.

We’re disappointed to see that the NPPF revision seeks to restrict maximum parking standards. Limiting parking makes best use of available housing land and minimises the traffic impacts of new developments, making them more acceptable to local communities. Many cities already require ‘car-free’ housing in new schemes, while Nottingham’s workplace parking levy has demonstrated that a city can grow homes and jobs without growing car commuting.

Building homes around existing transport hubs makes cities liveable; town centres viable and makes best use of scarce land. It’s not just about locating developments in the right place but getting the detail right too. The design of streets and estates can shape future travel choices, with bus-friendly layouts, low car parking provision and good quality walking and cycling links to town.

The London Plan and Mayor’s Transport Strategy incorporate the idea of ‘healthy streets’ which reduce the dominance of vehicles, are easy to use on foot and by bike, and which connect to local walking and cycling networks, as well as public transport. This is an approach that every planning authority could embrace.

It’s vital we have a planning framework that fits with other key policies: reducing CO2 emissions, improving air quality, promoting cycling and walking, and delivering the 25-year Environment Plan and Clean Growth strategy. From incorporating sustainable drainage systems as standard, to moving more building and waste materials by river or rail, the NPPF is an opportunity to turn best practice into business as usual.

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Read our response to the NPPF consultation 

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