Examination of Witness (Questions 60 -
WEDNESDAY 31 JANUARY 2001
MR R WILLIAMS
60. Presumably local authorities have had the
benefit of that debate too and yet there appears to have been
a different approach in Oxford from that in Henley. What about
consultation. Did it take place before both schemes were introduced?
(Mr Williams) Yes. Obviously there are different circumstances.
A similar approach, though perhaps not so extensive in the way
of public consultation in Henley as it had been in Oxford. The
authorities were supportive, the town council, the district council,
the county council were at one in wanting to introduce and pursue
this pedestrianisation scheme in Henley. If you like, the local
authorities were informed and educated.
61. Could you offer a view to the Committee
about why planning permission was given to the out-of-town store
(Mr Williams) It went through the sequential process.
It is an edge-of-town rather than an out-of-town store, but it
is certainly not within convenient walking distance of the town
centre. Because of that and because the Henley people are very
wedded to their cars, it is totally car based; very few people
travel by any other means to the edge-of-town store. The planning
process was gone through in the proper way and there certainly
is no space in the town centre for another store of the scale
of the Tesco's shop. The planning process was properly followed.
62. Was it a mistake?
(Mr Williams) Yes, I believe it was a mistake.
63. It appears that this planning approval was
contrary to PPG13 which has been with us since 1994. What do we
do to enforce PPG13? Are local and regional authorities doing
enough, is Government doing enough, to ensure that the requirements
of that PPG13 are in fact implemented?
(Mr Williams) That is a very big question. We are
obviously waiting with bated breath to see what the revised PPG13
says. A much tougher line has to be taken with out-of-town and
edge-of-town developments of the form of the shopping at Henley,
but also, very importantly, in relation to leisure developments
which are major generators. There seems to be a different attitude
to leisure generators than shopping generators.
64. Local authorities and local areas see themselves
in competition, do they not, for this type of investment? They
want the thing in there. It is not unknown that some local authorities
with free carparking within their town centres, all sorts of things,
will do all sorts of things to attract this sort of investment.
How can Government, regional authorities, local authorities, tackle
(Mr Williams) First of all the Government Office has
to take a lead in establishing the more rigorous minimum parking
standards in regional planning guidance. PPG13 draft is not very
rigorous or tough in the standards. The maximum standards that
it sets out and it does not identify different standards for different
locations. It just has blanket maximum standards which are not
very restrictive or would not be in a town centre situation. That
needs to be addressed. Government Offices have to take a much
more active involvement in the development plan adoption process,
especially in relation to shopping policies and these leisure
development policies as well. An aspect which is very important
is compliance after the parking standards have been established
because it tends to be left to the district councils, through
development control process, to implement those policies and there
is not very much monitoring or control over how and what the district
councils do and your point about competition between different
towns offering higher and cheaper parking provision is going to
be a very major problem which has to be addressed. We do not have
the mechanisms in place yet for that to be done.
65. Do you see parking policies as the main
way of achieving harmonisation between competing centres?
(Mr Williams) Yes.
66. You just mentioned that you thought Government
Office would have to be more active. Do you mean Government Office
taking decisions or Government Office encouraging the regional
chambers and regional assemblies to decide on regional parking
(Mr Williams) At the end of the day the Government
Office has to make the decisions because the whole issue of restricted
parking policies is so difficult for local government to address,
local bodies to address and it spans wider areas even than regional
areas. Probably it has to be done nationally.
67. We now have regional chambers and regional
assemblies where local authorities, together with other partners,
public and private sector partners, are together in one forum
developing a very wide range of policies. Given that we have those
chambers, do you not feel that they should be taking a decision
rather than Government Office?
(Mr Williams) We do not have elected regional bodies
for many parts of the country, certainly the part I have experience
of. My experience of the workings of the informal regional bodies
which are not democratically elected is that they dodge the very
difficult issues; they dodge the big issues. They tend to adopt
the lowest common denominator.
68. Every part of the country now does have
a regional chamber and that regional chamber includes elected
representatives from all local authorities in that area. Do you
think a solution to this would be to give them a duty to develop
a regional parking policy, as you think having such a policy is
(Mr Williams) Certainly, if you think it would work,
yes, it has to be a duty. I suspect that it would probably need
to be done nationally, not regionally, because of the competition
between towns in adjoining regional areas.
69. What would you like to see in PPG13?
(Mr Williams) I should like to see Appendix B toughened
up with tougher parking standards and different parking standards
for different parts of the country, town centres, rural areas.
It certainly is not tough enough on the town centre parking provision
70. Car journeys to the centre of Oxford have
decreased since pedestrianisation. What is the reason for that
decrease? Is it parking charges, fewer spaces or some other reason?
(Mr Williams) Eighteen months ago the centre was closed
to through traffic to allow buses to be diverted out of main shopping
streets and the main shopping streets pedestrianised. So the closure
to through traffic resulted in a diversion of some of that through
traffic onto alternative routes. The evidence from the counts
of people in the town centre and the numbers of people parking
in the town centre and the numbers of people using public transport,
is that in addition to the diversion of some car trips, there
was a change of mode of car users. There was, for instance, a
five per cent increase in walking into the city centre, there
was a nine per cent increase in bus passengers and a reduction
of about 14 per cent in the number of people parking in the city
centre car parks. There was a change of mode to more sustainable
travel modes as a consequence of the restrictions and the pedestrianisation
of the city centre as well as a diversion.
71. Does that change of mode apply equally to
all times of day or is it to do with peak times, evenings?
(Mr Williams) They are 24-hour figures, so I cannot
say. I could provide the figures for you, but I cannot say now.
Mrs Gorman: How did the shopkeepers react to
72. With rigour I think you could say.
(Mr Williams) We have had different responses from
different groups of shopkeepers. We have had national TV reportage
of some of the shopkeepers' responses, those who consider that
the measures have been detrimental. The chamber of trade and the
larger shopkeepers are very supportive of the changes. The bad
publicity which you may have seen on national television has come
from a group of individual shopkeepers who represent small businesses.
I have to say a number of them have an agenda which is different
to that which appears from the publicity they put out. In fact,
when pressed, they admit that what they want is not a reversal
of the restrictive changes and the pedestrianisation introduced
18 months ago. What they want is a relaxation of the parking controls,
very often the parking controls which happen to be outside their
Mrs Dunwoody: I find that very surprising!
73. Have any actually backed up their concerns
with figures as to the actual impact on their turnover?
(Mr Williams) Yes, in fact last week they produced
some statistics on the effect on trade. We have asked them to
supply us with those statistics but they have declined to do so.
We should very much like to look at them. We are gathering our
own statistics but the position is complex because there has been
a change in high street retailing patterns and we have also had
competition from development of some improved shopping in adjoining
cities in the Oxford area.
Chairman: How far do you think Oxford could
be taken as typical? Could the experience in Oxford be applied
elsewhere or does the large number of students, the historic nature
of the place, the tourist industry in Oxford, really make it very
different to the majority of fairly large market towns?
74. The fact that you could not breathe because
of the buses might have had some impact on it.
(Mr Williams) I am sure that is right and there was
no space for more people in the street as well. That is one reason
why we got a 7.5 per cent increase in the number of people in
the city centre since the changes. We have had 25 years of experience
of car restraint in Oxford and one of the messages from that is
that a vital and vibrant and successful town centre can live side
by side with car restraint. Oxford is one of the least car dependent
cities in the whole country on the basis of statistics. I agree
that because it is a very attractive city for other reasons than
its shopping and its commercial activities, that means it is easier
to restrain traffic and still have people visiting in the town.
The measures which have been put in to improve public transport
and walking are enormously helpful in balancing the effect of
car restraint. The other aspect which makes Oxford less usual
is that it has very strict planning control policies limiting
competing centres in the immediate vicinity of the city. That
is a very important message, that the planning policies limiting
out-of-town shopping are critical.
75. Encouraging people to come into Oxford.
What has been done about the routeways coming in from the surrounding
suburbs? Has a real network been made to make that more attractive
for people to walk in, or is it merely a town centre activity?
(Mr Williams) No, there has not been an enormous effort
to try to improve connections between the city centre and the
suburbs. The big difference between Oxford and many other towns
where pedestrianisation has been introduced is because we have
not built an inner relief road; there is no inner relief road
which forms a barrier for people to cross between the suburban
areas and the city centre.
76. Most of the roads do carry some pretty heavy
traffic volumes, do they not?
(Mr Williams) Yes.
77. You have gone for staggered pelican crossings
in quite a few places.
(Mr Williams) Yes. I was not suggesting we have not
done a lot. I am saying that there is not the same sort of problem
of a barrier of an inner relief road to cross, but we have done
things like raising crossings at road junctions on major corridors
of pedestrian movement in from the suburbs along the radial routes.
We have put in a lot more pelican crossings.
78. Staggered ones. Do you think they encourage
people? They always annoy me when I want to cross the road. I
prefer to walk straight across.
(Mr Williams) Yes, staggered crossings are a problem.
79. If you see people shuffling prams across
them, they are not exactly easy.
(Mr Williams) You have to get the right balance of
traffic flow/pedestrian movements to justify that sort of approach.
Obviously with very heavily trafficked roads, then a staggered
crossing does work. Where there is not the same level, then people
do ignore the stagger and walk across.