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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 234)



  220. Is not this balance between the capacity problems for traffic and capacity problems for pedestrians and ease for pedestrians heavily loaded in favour of the traffic? In other words it is the pedestrians that are treated like cattle and so on. Would you accept that as professionals?
  (Mr Errington) Traditionally that has been the case. Certainly we have been trying to reverse that in Birmingham and our transport strategy that we now pursue is trying to re-adjust the balance.

  221. Does it make economic sense because information that we have suggests that a single carriageway straight-across pelican crossing costs £15,000-£20,000, staggered £25,000-£30,000, almost double the price. One last question to Birmingham in particular: you entered into a consultation exercise about your budget and so on with independent consultants. I was fascinated to see that nine per cent of your responses suggested you spend more of your budget on walking and you finished up in your draft with one per cent. What was the value of that consultation in those circumstances?
  (Mr Taylor) I think that is a question you should ask our politicians rather than the officers. That is a bit of a cop-out answer, I am afraid.

  222. Presumably as Group Leader, Local Planning, Planning Department, you are involved in this consultation. It seems quite an innovative thing to do. Surprisingly, out of 20,000 responses you have had nine per cent of people were specifically for walking, which must have surprised you a bit, I guess, and the draft budget was less than one per cent. What was the value of that consultation if it was ignored?
  (Mr Taylor) It does not surprise me that people like the notion of people walking because we have been successful in terms particularly of the city centre where the benefits of improving the walking are manifest. In some of the suburban areas and the less vital areas of the city there has been less emphasis and people will look at the city centre and say, "Can I have a piece of that please?", so it does not surprise me at all. The actual allocation of the budget is a political imperative which may be a disappointing fact and you may think that the consultation process may appear a sham but nevertheless it is a political fact of life.

Miss McIntosh

  223. Particularly in the opening remarks a great deal of emphasis was placed on the inner city of Birmingham. What about the connection between the suburban areas and the inner city, and in particular the comments Mr Clark made about walking to school? There are probably some areas where it is not appropriate for children to walk to school.
  (Mr Clark) That gives me an opportunity to pick up on a point that Mr Olner made earlier about improving commercial viability. You were looking for evidence of where commercial viability depends on improved pedestrianisation. There are also plenty of examples where the reverse happens and there is a suburban example I can give from my own borough in Redbridge, which is Gants Hill. Redbridge is a typical suburban area with a number of town centres, most of which have managed to regenerate and flourish and get investment into. The one exception is Gants Hill which is failing dismally. There has recently been a Rowntree Trust piece of research on sustainable suburbs which took Gants Hill as its case study. It is at the intersection of the A12, the A123 and the A1400, a roundabout with guard railing all round it which prevents any at-level crossing of the road and there are subways which are extremely inconvenient to use and the whole centre has declined into almost nothing. That is an example where in a suburban area walking conditions are very important to the livability of that area. I can give another example from my own borough in Ilford where we have done some surveys. Again Ilford is a suburban shopping centre. We have done surveys over a number of years of the changes in people's habits for getting to the town centre. Over a period of ten years from 1984 to 1995 the proportion of people coming by bus stayed static, the percentage of people coming in by car went up by 13 per cent, the percentage of people walking went down by 17 per cent. That is not inevitable. I would not say that those people who use Ilford have actually benefited from that change in terms of access, except as we were mentioning earlier in the day about convenience. The economy has not changed but potentially we could take action to try and reverse that and I think the environment of Ilford would benefit if we were to do so. That is an example of what you can do in suburban areas.

  224. Can I put a direct question to Birmingham? Is it a lack of funding which is the main barrier for people living outside the immediate city area? If that is the case, has that been addressed by the local transport plan?
  (Mr Errington) The point we were trying to make was that the city centre we have funded from other non transport budgets in the past. Certainly our local transport plan has provided us with opportunities in that we have budget lines for safe routes to stations, safe routes to schools, footway improvement, the whole range of measures. It is very welcome now that those budget lines are increasing and we are able to develop them. We have clear policies to carry out work in the suburbs. In the past it was a problem. I would say things are looking better now but they are never perfect, are they?

  225. Do you believe that the money for walking schemes should be ring-fenced and do you believe that the Department of the Environment should insist on that?
  (Mr Errington) I am not personally in favour of close ring-fencing because one of the messages we have tried to get across in a lot of the work we do is that it is a combination of a lot of policy issues which need to come together to be successful. I cite again the example of the improvement of bus routes but also spending money on doing pedestrian links. If money had been ring-fenced just for bus improvements, for example, I probably would not have been able to spend the money on getting rid of subways and putting in pedestrian links. Ring-fencing does have its value but again you have to be careful. It does actually restrict your ability to combine and use budgets in an innovative way to deliver this package of measures that individual local centres may need, but they are obviously going to vary quite significantly.
  (Mr Geffen) There are three points there. One is as you say the linkage of a walking scheme or a safe route to school scheme or a travel plan scheme. It is useful to have that flexibility. What would be more useful would be clearly defined objectives rather than clearly defined sums of money. If you define a sum of money there is a danger that local authorities will produce large schemes in order to spend their way through a very pre-defined budget. It is more useful to have a clearly defined objective. I will cite a case study from cycling policy when the former Greater London Council had a large cycling budget and it could not spend its way through it simply because they had not got enough people with which to spend their way through the budget. This is the final point, that if we were to set large budgets for walking straightaway we would have this skills shortage for spending our way through it. I think that is a point that needs rectifying, but if it were to be done straightaway it would cause a problem.

  226. Do you think we have gone far enough when we design new housing estates so that those using the bus routes are consulted to make sure particularly that the bus routes are not so circuitous that the pedestrians are put off using them? Perhaps I could link to that the question of the new bus station at Snow Hill. Are you satisfied that that and the re-opened railway station in Birmingham are having sufficient regard to the personal security and perception of personal security and safety for pedestrians using those?
  (Mr Tilly) If I could answer your question on housing estates, managing vehicular access, 40 per cent of a typical new housing estate is dedicated towards the car. People come out of their front door and they want to get a Sunday paper and a bottle of milk and they drive to their corner shop when it would be much better for their health and for the environment if they walked. Local shops are very important. That has to be balanced with public open space. You can buy your bag of vegetables every day at the local shop rather than a weekly trip to the local superstore.

Mr Olner

  227. They would like that, would they not? They would love that. They could go shopping every day. Come on; get real.
  (Mr Tilly) People would enjoy local shops selling fresh produce. That is a cultural change. That is not unachievable. Health professionals are telling us to eat fresh fruit and fresh vegetables. Schools are particularly important, safe routes to school. Ask a lot of parents, "Why do you drive your children to school?". They will reply, "I need to". Children do not any longer go necessarily to their nearest school. City centre parking strategies: what is the availability and price of car parking when you arrive? Also on our local housing estates public participation, planning for real exercises, so you get ownership—

Miss McIntosh

  228. The question I actually asked was whether you are designing housing estates so that people can actually get to the bus easily if they want to take the bus and then for example they are given priority traffic routes in the town.
  (Mr Clark) This is about penetration, is it not, with buses and housing estates as well. There are two aspects to that. One is that the conventional bus is a very large vehicle and to get that satisfactorily round you would have to have a very large road.

  229. No. I think with privatisation you got very small buses.
  (Mr Clark) Exactly so. That is the point I was about to make.

Mrs Dunwoody

  230. They do not exist any more.
  (Mr Clark) The hopper buses and the small minibuses are much easier to get into housing estates and certainly that is what planning authorities are doing. In my own authority we have done a section 106 agreement to pump prime a service right into the heart of the housing estate. The other aspect is to do with densities. If you have high density housing you have a lot of people close to a point and that is very viable for bus links. Then all the other conventional things about directness of route, well lit and secure and so on, are the sorts of things that you need to do to get people to use the bus.


  231. Snow Hill?
  (Mr Taylor) I am reassured that the proposed developments of the new coach station at Snow Hill will be fully integrated with the heavy and light rail station at Snow Hill. Equally, from the point of view of personal safety, that development has been planned in a holistic manner with enhanced street lighting, CCTV cameras and indeed, as we speak, a subway that provides access across Great Charles Street is being infilled this very week. It is a package of measures which are being put in place in addition to the new facility.

Mr O'Brien

  232. The Government offered guidelines for the PPG 13 which is dealing with planning and transport. Why do planners always plan for more commercial traffic, car parking or parking in town centres than the PPG recommends?
  (Mr Clark) We do not. My own authority has recently changed its car parking standards to be quite restrictive in the new provision and a number of other London boroughs have already done that. There are a number of factors why some local authorities are not as quick to respond. There is within the planning system an inertia in revising plans. It takes time for development plans to get changed and the law requires us to deal with applications in accordance with the development plan unless there are good reasons not to. They may have an out of date development plan which is still in force and that may be one reason. It will take up to five years to get a development plan replaced. There are other aspects of this. There is concern that the restrictive car parking standards which may occur would have practical difficulties unless you also have a controlled parking zone on the street in the areas where there is restricted parking. Restricted planning standards would apply. There is concern about that. There is obviously some pressure from developers who know that their development is going to be competing with other existing developments which have been built to a different standard and there is concern about that which we have to address. There is also the point that my colleague was making earlier: the fear of competition between local authority areas, the fear that if one local authority adopts a standard which is restrictive—

  233. Do you think the Government should be more firm on these issues?
  (Mr Clark) That is one of the things that we are pressing for and we think the Government should be firm on these issues. I would say also that PPG 13 in the drafts that I have seen has been successively watered down. The RPG for London was very restrictive in its car parking standards. PPG 13 standards will in my view be only restrictive at the very peak hours. It will not be restrictive at all for the majority of conditions.
  (Mr Geffen) May I make two points on this very quickly? There was a very interesting review of this covering the south eastern region which the Department of Transport commissioned from consultants on parking standards in the south east. It went through making these points and it identified that even where standards were being set they were often not being followed. The standards were out of line with the guidance and the implementation of standards was out of line with the standards. It is well worth following that one up.


  234. What you are saying really is that there was a lot more car parking than was necessary and a lot less encouragement to walk?
  (Mr Geffen) Yes. One of the other points that it makes is that even where restraint based standards were set, maximum standards rather than minimum standards, quite often the developments then turned out to have a surplus of car parking. Even though they were related to restrained base standards they were still providing too much.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed for your evidence.

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