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

Examination of Witness (Questions 60 - 79)



  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 at Henley?
  (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 this?
  (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.

Mrs Ellman

  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 policies?
  (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 so important?
  (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 standards.

  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 that?

Mrs Dunwoody

  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 shops.

  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?

Mrs Dunwoody

  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.

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