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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 187 - 199)




  187. Can I welcome you to the second session this morning and ask you to identify yourselves for the record?
  (Mr Clark) Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Paul Clark, I chair one of the topic groups of the Planning Officers Society. On my right is Alan Tilly, who is the Senior Transport Planner from Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council and a member of the Transportation Committee of the Technical Advisers Group. On my left is Roger Geffen, the Transport Planner of Oxfordshire County Council, representing a colleague of mine, David Young, who is Director of Environmental Services at Oxfordshire County Council. It is Roger who has done most of the work in preparing the paper we have already submitted to you. That is my little group, but you also have a group from Birmingham City Council and I will let them introduce themselves.
  (Mr Taylor) I am Mike Taylor, I am largely responsible for submitting the evidence you have before you today, ladies and gentlemen. I am accompanied by my colleague, Trevor Errington, from the Transportation Department, also from Birmingham City Council.

  188. Thank you very much. Do either of your groups want to say anything by way of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight to questions?
  (Mr Clark) We have sent you a submission and we would not pretend it is innovative from a professional point of view, it is mainstream professional advice, but there are two points which I should emphasise as being innovative. One is the point in section 4 of our submission, Overcoming Policy Barriers to Walking, and in the second section of that we talk about wider traffic restraint policies and targets, and we have made the point there that the Government expects road traffic to increase by 17 per cent, it has targets for bus travel and for rail travel to grow—rail use to double, cycle use to treble—but it is also Government policy to reduce the need to travel, and those things are in tension with each other. There is no target of course at all for the subject matter for today. That is the point we would like to emphasise. The second point we would like to emphasise is in the fifth section of our submission, where we are talking about practical steps for encouraging walking, we have suggested a device which we call audit procedures, and this will be a device we use for development control purposes, and my colleague, Roger Geffen, will be happy to elaborate on that if you would like him to. There is one point which is not in our submission which I would like to add, and that is the concept of whole route improvement. In many other aspects of transport, this concept is familiar—Chris Green at Network South East invented the idea of whole route improvements for railways—and the idea is that it is no use improving one section of a route and investing in that, people will make their choices by the weakest link, and therefore the sensible thing is to look at whole route improvements. We can begin to see that, for example, in walking to schools initiatives, where you are looking at the whole business of walking to school, and we would like to see the idea accepted of looking at walking to shops as a study in itself, walking to work, walking for particular purposes, and looking at the whole route and improving it that way. That is the only additional point I wanted to make. Thank you.

  189. Do you want to say anything briefly?
  (Mr Errington) I am quite happy to respond to questions.

Mrs Ellman

  190. The Government did not publish a strategy on promoting walking. What impact is this going to have on local authorities?
  (Mr Clark) We would all like to comment on that if we may. It is a question of sending the right signals. We have of course the Government's advice on walking but all that does is give you a list of measures that you could take. It does not say which one we should use or whatever. What you would expect in a strategy I think is objectives, targets, something to measure progress against, something which will tell you how vigorously you pursue each element and which sets criteria for local target setting. Without that kind of thing you have no way of knowing when you are succeeding, no incentive to succeed. That is what the effect of not having strategies would be.

  (Mr Errington) From an individual local authority's point of view we are very disappointed. We had prepared our provisional transport plan in the expectation that a walking strategy would be published and we are very disappointed that it was not because it seems to be giving the message that walking is a very low priority in transport policy terms. From a transport perspective we have been for many years trying to get walking recognised as a form of transport and funded properly.

  191. Has the Government influenced you to do what you have been doing in Birmingham?
  (Mr Errington) I would say not greatly. Certainly, as you see from the submission we made, our work on improving the pedestrian environment goes back many years and there have been some difficulties that we have had in funding pedestrian work from within our transport money. Nearly all the work we have done, particularly the civic centre work, has been funded from other forms of funding. My colleague is an expert on that but trying to persuade the former Department of Transport that walking is a form of transport and spending money on maybe changing a road to improve walking was an appropriate use of those funds has been quite a difficult battle.

  192. Did you win the battle?
  (Mr Errington) I think we are getting there.
  (Mr Geffen) I would like to make a point about the co-ordination between authorities. Walking in many respects is a prisoner's dilemma sort of thing where you only get the best outcome for everyone if each individual actor knows that everyone else is going to be pulling in the same direction. Otherwise you start undermining competing authorities and there is that danger that local authorities do not pursue this policy as intensively as would be in the best interests of everyone because they fear that their neighbours are going to undermine them. That is a very strong argument to give us as local authorities a clear national lead on how intensively to apply the policies and to give us the confidence that they will be applied equally intensively by our neighbours.

Mr Brake

  193. I must say I feel this is a little bit of a cop-out. Why are you dependent on a national walking strategy? Surely walking of all things is something that is very localised and therefore you can develop your own policies that are appropriate to your own environment?
  (Mr Errington) I agree with you. Our experience is that we have had to take it ahead on our own. Where we find it particularly difficult in implementation terms, which is why we are here today, is the issue of getting the funding to deliver it. There is a perception that improving conditions for walking is cheap and it is not, particularly in a city like Birmingham which was designed for the motor car in the sixties. It is actually very expensive to change things. If we are competing for funding from whatever source then we need good strong policy support to carry that forward. It is all well and good we as a local authority championing the cause but it does help occasionally to have support from elsewhere.

Mrs Ellman

  194. Could you say a little bit about the sorts of things you need to do to make the city suitable and encouraging for people to walk in rather than come in by car?
  (Mr Taylor) Our fundamental aspiration over the last 15 years has been to dismantle our inner ring road which has been a very heavy constraining influence on the ability us to accommodate new activities. That inner ring road, which effectively was a four-lane highway (and indeed eight-lane in parts), with the only means to get from one side to the other of which was by subways, was very constraining in terms of stimulating other activities. The lifeblood of the city depended on us being able to transfer from being a car manufacturing based city to more of a service centre based city. To facilitate that removal we have had to dismantle an elevated road which constrained the city centre. If people have been to Birmingham recently, they will have seen that great strides have been made to take down that road and allow the city centre to spread out. That has meant taking out subways, lowering the road, punching holes through the inner ring road. Indeed, our most grandiose project to date is the Masshouse project which is a huge elevated structure which is preventing the city centre expanding out to the eastern parts of the city centre. That is taxing our brains considerably at the moment but it is very difficult because at the end of the day, as Trevor has said, it does indeed take away traffic capacity but it is so fundamental to allow the city centre to grow and accommodate new activities.

  195. What would you all like to have seen in the Ten Year Transport Plan to promote walking?
  (Mr Geffen) The Ten Year Transport Plan said very little about walking. One of the things that was indicative of this was that the document that reported on the modelling had no references to walking at all. Clearly the setting of the targets in the allocation budget has not taken into account either walking or cycling and their potential contribution to the objectives that the Government has set. What the ten-year plan says to local authorities is, "Here is some money; over to you", but without this lead that enables us to know what is good practice, to exchange good practice. There is also a role for Government as part of a national strategy to facilitate the exchange of information about how to do the monitoring, how good practice works and at what sort of levels, and coming back to how intensively we should pursue the policy.
  (Mr Clark) In the DETR publication on developing a strategy for walking they have a section there on research and other data. It says that the examples given are very limited and there must be many others, especially as there has been increased interest in qualitative research in recent years. It goes on to say that experience suggests that there are many anecdotal ideas about what does or does not encourage pedestrian activity which need to be tested and challenged.

Mrs Dunwoody

  196. Could you identify the page and the name?
  (Mr Clark) Yes. It is section 6.3 of the document called Developing a Strategy for Walking. Certainly we have found in preparing our own evidence that that was true, that there is lots of anecdotal stuff but no systematic research and that is something we would like the Government to do so that in turn they can then recommend back to local authorities, "Our experience is that this works and this works on a widespread basis".
  (Mr Geffen) We have put in our evidence this suggestion of a Walk Challenge comparable to the Cycle Challenge that came out of the cycling strategy to kick-start some innovative projects, watch how they work and then disseminate the results so that we know what works well.

Mrs Ellman

  197. Should targets be set for increasing the amount of walking nationally or locally?
  (Mr Geffen) The answer is certainly yes in principle because of the political signals which that sends out about how intensively the policy should be applied, recognising however that this does compound the problem we have already been referring to that there are targets or predictions for absolutely everything to grow. Against that policy background one of our concerns is that walking is the one thing that gets left out which is not likely to grow. Therefore a target to increase walking against the rest of the policy landscape may not be an achievable target. I can well imagine that there may be concerns about that. Nevertheless, I still think that it would be better to have a target. You have then at least determined the will to achieve the target and if you do not meet it you can look back at the measures in a wider policy framework and work out why you are not achieving it. If we want more walking, which the Government does say, then the main thing is to be sending out the right political signals.

Mr Olner

  198. If I could turn to Birmingham, you touched on the ring road, that the sole reason was to improve the environment and the commercial viability. Nothing to do with encouraging walkers. It was solely down to finance?
  (Mr Taylor) I do not think it was finance. I think it was a commercial imperative, that the city council undertook very much a knee-jerk reaction to the decline in manufacturing activity in the 1970s and 1980s. We had to accommodate new economic activity. The city centre was patently under-performing, largely because it was constrained physically and could not accommodate further activities, so in order to annex the opportunities effectively we had to dismantle the inner ring road in order to provide a much stronger and more attractive pedestrian environment and to open up new development opportunities.

  199. Has it produced an economic success?
  (Mr Taylor) We think so, very much so. As Roger was saying, the evidence is largely anecdotal and is from the point of view of the investors who choose to invest in the city now. The proof of the pudding is in terms of the investment that is taking place.

  Mr Olner: What evidence is there of improved conditions for pedestrians that will lead to more walking? It is all anecdotal, is it not? As I have said before, I walked from Euston to this place on Monday but it was not something I chose to do. It was because there was no other means to get here.

  Mrs Dunwoody: And you are going to tell us about it every week!

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