Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



Mr Donaldson

  20. In your evidence you talk about the need for the reclassification of roads. How would your preferred alternative means of road classification help to promote walking?
  (Mr Plowden) Some work is already going on within the Road Safety Division of the DETR, stemming from this document, the Road Safety Strategy, which is looking at how to identify the appropriate speed limit for rural roads and potentially for urban roads. What they are looking at is the different uses you might want to put a road to. What we would suggest is that that process needs to be extended so that you look at all the aspects of the management of a road in relation to the kind of road it is, not just the speed limit. An example from my own neighbourhood. I live in South London, in Brixton, and the A23 is also Brixton High Street. The A23 is the main trunk road from London to the south coast. Brixton High Street is a very important local social and economic centre and it is clear if you go to Brixton High Street and many similar streets in Britain that the road is designed exclusively in the interests of people travelling down it as long distance commuters from London to the suburbs and beyond. Our argument would be that we need to think differently about Brixton High Street and ask what jobs we want this street to do for the local community and for people using it in cars and lorries and whether the way the road is designed and classified is appropriate for its different jobs. It seems to me that Brixton High Street is a very unattractive environment for pedestrians because it is designed as a trunk road exclusively. Our view would be that if you redesign roads based around this wider set of criteria than simply what kind of traffic they are supposed to carry, you would by definition create more attractive environments in those places where walking was seen as a priority. To some extent the red routes in London under the Traffic Directorate and now under the Mayor, have done precisely that: they have managed to accommodate both traffic along them, but also people using them for other purposes like shopping, recreation, taking children to school and so on.

  21. You talk about redesign and reclassification. Which has to come first?
  (Mr Plowden) Reclassification has to come first because if you look at a local high street, at the moment the key consideration will be what kind of road it is. Whether it is a trunk road, a local distributor, a local service road are only traffic considerations. However, the local high street will also be a shopping street a street with public buildings on, a street with pubs and restaurants on, a street with schools on. We would say we want a richer classification, which includes the non-traffic functions of the street, which will then lead to a redesign if it seemed that the non-traffic functions were being inadequately reflected in the way that the street was designed. You would say this is a mixed residential traffic and shopping street and therefore the design of the street in terms of the pavement width, the speed limit, the number of railings, etcetera, would flow from that new classification.

Mr Olner

  22. May I say that before this inquiry started I had never heard of the Pedestrians Association? Perhaps you could quickly tell us how representative you are and how pedestrians join your association?
  (Mr Purkis) We have been around for a long time. We have contacts in groups of members in 90 different places round the country.

  23. The pedestrians in my constituency, and I value their thoughts, would not even know there was a Pedestrians Association and somebody who was going to champion the cause of people who walk in the cities and towns. Motoring organisations are the issue.
  (Mr Purkis) I agree with you. The association is a sleeping giant and our intention is to awaken it. One of the difficulties we start with is precisely that when you come to, say, the motoring lobby, it is relatively coherent and there is a lot of money in it as well. Obviously pedestrians by definition are extremely diffuse; it is everybody going about their daily lives on foot. It is much more difficult to organise that as a coherent interest but we are working on it and we have made a lot of progress in recent years and we are going to do some more work on it.

  24. Did you walk to work today?
  (Mr Purkis) I walked and then went on the Tube.

  25. What political and institutional failures do you see which have been at the root of the decline in walking?
  (Mr Purkis) The number one overall and common failure is the assumption, sometimes not an explicit assumption, that streets should be seen mainly as a place for the movement of traffic rather than other uses.
  (Mr Bendixson) A key point here is that beyond political and institutional issues there is a societal one. We are still in the motor age. We all tend to some extent, some more than others, to look at life through the windscreen and that has over several generations influenced the way people on foot are regarded. We tend to think that people in cars are more important than people on foot. The revolution going on at the moment which we hope you are assisting in, is getting a fairer deal for those same people when they are on foot rather than in their cars.

  26. What other Government Departments rather than the DETR should help to promote walking?
  (Mr Plowden) First there needs to be much better coordination within DETR on these issues. We had an event earlier in the week with the Minister, Keith Hill, where it became clear that his officials working on walking were not aware of many of the things around the urban regeneration which directly affect the walking environment. There needs to be much better joined-up thinking within DETR. We also think the Home Office has a very important role to play in relation to crime and disorder. We had an official from the Home Office at this meeting who was obviously very interested in what we were doing. The Department of Health in relation to walking and the health benefits of walking. Possibly the DCMS in relation to the public art aspects of the walking environment, so it is not just a functional issue. Ultimately the Treasury, in terms of judging value for money in terms of transport and urban regeneration investment to get the best deal for people.

  27. Do you think there should be any changes in PPG13 to encourage walking?
  (Mr Plowden) Yes, in the specific sense that we should like to see accessibility on foot made a much stronger consideration in the planning system so that, for example, if a developer wants to build something which is completely inaccessible on foot, whether because it is too far away from other uses or because its design is inaccessible on foot, that should be a fairly major consideration against the grant of planning permission. If you want to create high density, high quality towns and cities which is the Government's aim, you have to make sure that developments are accessible on foot and therefore planning ought to be taking that into account much more explicitly.

  28. You mentioned earlier the length of time or length of journey people will walk sooner than use any other form of transport. Do you think to lengthen that time, particularly in major cities, there should be moving pavements?
  (Mr Plowden) It is possible. Anything which can be done to enable people to make longer journeys on foot, either public transport or a thing like that, might be helpful. I expect the infrastructure costs of that would be very, very significant indeed. Unless you actually build them in to start with as you would in an airport, for example, to retrofit those sorts of moving pavements would be incredibly expensive. You would be better off improving the existing walking environment in a way which encouraged people to walk further and spend more time outside.

Miss McIntosh

  29. May I declare my interests include being a keen walker and also the Committee are aware in my interests in Railtrack, RAC and FirstGroup, which may or may not be relevant to this inquiry? I should like to put on record the excellent work which has been done in Denmark, to which the witnesses have already referred, not just for pedestrians but for cyclists as well. Are you as an association differentiating rural walking from urban walking?
  (Mr Plowden) Not specifically. What we would not regard ourselves as being responsible for is rural off-road leisure walking, that is rambling. If you were concerned about the journey from your house to the pub in a village or from one village to another to buy a pint of milk, then we would be interested in your concerns because that is a function of walking which happens to be taking place in a rural context.

  30. My particular concern is that it seemed particularly inappropriate when John Prescott suggested that North Yorkshire schoolchildren should walk to school, because in many instances the distances covered and the fact there are no pathways or pedestrian walkways mean it is totally inappropriate. In any walking programme, that should be recognised.
  (Mr Plowden) Absolutely.

  31. In your view, if more people were encouraged to travel by rail, either for shorter or longer journeys, would people actually walk for part of their journey to the railway station or to the Tube station and back? Do you think there are ways in which we could encourage them to do that?
  (Mr Plowden) One of the arguments we have used is that walking is the glue which binds together the transport system. The vast majority of both rail and bus journeys begin and/or end on foot already. It is our view that the potential for increasing public transport patronage is under-achieved because the walk journeys at either or both ends are not properly designed into the equation. There is some evidence from abroad that you can actually reduce overall journey times on public transport more cheaply by improving the walks at either end than you can by investing in more capacity. One of the points we made in our submission was that any public spending on improved public transport facilities should be accompanied by a clear audit of whether pedestrian accessibility will be provided and improved. Unless that is part of the funding proposal then the investment should not go ahead because you are only going to get half of the picture if you concentrate on bus stop to bus stop or station to station.

  32. Have you as an association come up with specific proposals as to how you would improve the walks at either end?
  (Mr Plowden) What you want to do is look at the catchment of walking journeys to and from a station for example, both in terms of people getting on and off other public transport modes, but also the residential catchment around a suburban railway station up to about three quarters of a mile away and put in a programme of improvements in terms of crossings, lighting, all the other things which need to happen, to make sure that the journey from the house to the station is as quick and safe and convenient as possible. You have to do that systematically. You cannot just put a crossing outside a station and hope that is enough. You have to look at the entire walking catchment around the station and bus stop to make sure you have taken into account all the possible problems.

  33. Is there any evidence to show that longer car journeys, people choosing destinations further away, are discouraging people from walking and taking a shorter car journey.
  (Mr Plowden) Definitely. This is where the question around land use and where things are is absolutely critical. What we have seen is the fastest growth in short and medium-length car journeys in the last 10 or 15 years and that is the thing which really kills walking journeys.

Mr Brake

  34. Would it be helpful to have a national target for increasing the amount of walking and if so, what should it be?
  (Mr Purkis) In general it would because the Government has almost got itself in the state of mind that if something is a serious issue there must be a target. It concentrates minds, it forces people to try to measure things, it may even lead to the gleaning of information about walking that we do not actually have at the moment. It would have all sorts of good effects. There was a target which got expunged.
  (Mr Plowden) Yes, there were some targets in the draft National Walking Strategy, which were, first, to prevent the decline in walking in the short term, by 2003 or 2004, then return walking to its 1975 level by 2008 or 2010 and also to increase the overall amount of walking which each individual person did on average a year. For reasons which were never quite clear to us, the Government took those targets out of the strategy and we think those are perfectly respectable and should be re-instated as a way of focusing people's minds on the priorities.

  35. What has happened to the National Walking Strategy?
  (Mr Plowden) It crept out without much of a fanfare last spring in the guise of advice to local authorities. So it has emerged into the light of day but in a rather enfeebled and unheralded form which we think was a big pity because it missed a chance to highlight the importance of these issues. It is out but not in the form originally intended.

  36. So it is advice as opposed to something tougher.
  (Mr Plowden) It has no formal status as a Government strategy, which it was intended to have in the Transport White Paper alongside cycling and public transport.

  37. Do you have any feel for why the Government decided to water it down and only make it advice as opposed to something more challenging?
  (Mr Plowden) The thought of picture editors digging out pictures of John Cleese doing the Ministry of Silly Walks was certainly part of it. Last year there was a lot of sensitivity within DETR about the Government being in trouble in general on transport and in particular being seen as implying that people should walk rather than drive to the supermarket. It was mainly a victim of political sensitivity rather than any sense that the issues were not important.
  (Mr Bendixson) Local walking targets are extremely important because walking varies so much from place to place. Twenty-five per cent of residents in Bath walk to work, eight per cent in Solihull. A national target, yes, but local targets as well please.

  38. Presumably local authorities can draw up their own local targets as they choose.
  (Mr Bendixson) Yes, and some are.

Mrs Ellman

  39. Should walking schemes be essential parts of local transport plans?
  (Mr Plowden) Yes, they certainly should. There is a requirement in the guidance on LTP preparation that local authorities should prepare a local walking strategy as one of the strands of its funding plans, which is extremely important because unless you have a strategic plan for thinking about local walking, you will not get all the different elements right. If we have a concern, it is about whether at the moment local authorities are equipped in terms of the skills and knowledge of their staff to do that in the best way they could and there is an issue there about the training and skills of local authority transport professionals.

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