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New report shows planning reform risks causing massive congestion

30 August 2011
As thousands return to work after the bank holiday weekend, new figures released by Campaign for Better Transport today (Tuesday 30 August) show Government reforms to the planning system could result in massive peak time tail backs on the country’s roads.

Research commissioned by the sustainable transport group discovered that building a number of new business parks next to the M1, which the new planning framework permits, could increase traffic levels by 16 per cent (the equivalent of one motorway lane), almost double journey delays (from 3.6 minutes per 10 miles to 6.4 minutes) and is likely to result in £250 million in congestion costs.

Stephen Joseph, Campaign for Better Transport’s chief executive, said: “Far from helping economic growth, our research shows that the draft planning framework could actually end up damaging the economy through increased congestion as new office developments move out of town centres and spring up next to motorways and other big roads. No one wants to be stuck in bank holiday style traffic jams twice a day just to do a day’s work. We need to encourage new development, but not at any price and the expense of delays and congestion on transport networks needs to be fully considered when planning new developments.”

Following the publication of the Government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework, which removes the ‘town centre first’ principle for office developments, the research examined the effect of building 34 new 100 acre business parks along a 175 mile stretch of the M1 between junction eight (St Albans and Hemel Hempstead) and junction 47 (Leeds).

The business park locations used for the research are exactly the kinds of places likely to be targeted by developers under the new planning proposals, which are currently under consultation. Campaign for Better Transport has previously warned that the new framework paves the way for out-of-town developments in remote locations with no public transport that will increase urban sprawl, generate more traffic and add to congestion.


Notes to Editors

1. The research was commissioned by Campaign for Better Transport and carried out by transport consultants MTRU.

2. The research found that:
•    The average increase in traffic flow between junctions on the M1 was 16 per cent (100,000 vehicles per day to 116,000 vehicles per day), the equivalent of one motorway lane
•    Delays increased from the current Department for Transport average of 3.6 minutes per 10 miles, to 6.4 minutes
•    For someone driving the whole 175 miles from junction 8 to junction 47, the extra delay would be 50 minutes, increasing their expected journey time from 3 hours 37 minutes to 4 hours 27 minutes

3. The research looked at the effect of building a business park at 34 of the 40 junctions on a 175 mile stretch of the M1 between junction 8 (St Albans and Hemel Hempstead) and junction 47 (Leeds). Each business park was assumed have 85 per cent of its workers commuting by car, the average for this kind of development. In contrast, if the equivalent number of jobs was located in town centres, the percentage commuting by car would be expected to be closer to 50 per cent.

4. National Travel Survey data was used to estimate the number of trips of different lengths (table 7 in the final report). Only commuter trips to and from work were included – personal trips, other business journeys or goods vehicles associated with the developments were not included. After removing the shortest journeys from the model (all those less than 5 miles, which would use the local road network instead), the number of trips was then reduced by half to model traffic effects only in the northbound direction of the motorway. Similar effects would be expected in the southbound direction and these were included in the final estimate.

5. The cost of the extra delay has been estimated by Campaign for Better Transport by assuming that 100,000 vehicles a day (the average current daily flow along the M1) are delayed by 50 minutes each. This gives 5 million vehicle minutes of delay per day, or 83,000 vehicle hours. Using the current WebTAG appraisal tool, the average cost of congestion (£11.28 per vehicle hour) over 260 working days amounts to more than £244 million in additional annual congestion costs from delays on the motorway. Note that this estimate does not include effects of the developments on the local road network or any other costs, such as those associated with carbon dioxide emissions.

6. Relevant changes that Campaign for Better Transport would like to see to the National Planning Policy Framework include:
•    The 'sequential test' to concentrate new development in town centres, rather than out of town locations, should include commercial/office development as it did before not just retail and leisure development.
•    There should be a presumption in favour of locating developments next to existing public transport (or where it can be served by improved public transport). This would enable more cost-efficient development with less need for new infrastructure
•    The impact of new development on traffic and road congestion should be treated as a material consideration and therefore as grounds on which development can be rejected
•    Developers should be required to assess the traffic and transport impacts and accessibility of their developments and produce a travel plan with measures to reduce impacts - the requirement for this should not be left to local authorities as the draft suggest
•    National maximum parking standards should be re-instated in planning policy

7. MTRU has been at the leading edge of transport planning for over a decade, producing a series of ground breaking reports for government, working with local communities and environmental groups, and undertaking independent research.