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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280 - 299)



  280. What about the development of pedestrianisation which, although expensive, is recommended by the Urban Task Force? Do you believe that there should be more money for that kind of activity?
  (Miss Andreae) The notion of pedestrianising city centres is now broadly understood, and one can think of many cases. For example, the centre of Nottingham now has beacon council status. The concept of getting rid of things like underpasses and so on to make the environment more attractive for walkers, so that they can get into city centres more easily, is well understood. I do not know that pedestrianisation schemes need necessarily be that expensive. They may be developed incrementally over a period of time, but it is a question of attitude of mind and people understanding that walking is fundamental to the way that cities work.

  281. Capital allowances for local transport plans do not emphasise walking. Do you believe that there should have been greater emphasis on walking in those plans?
  (Mr Robinson) It would be very helpful if there was some dedicated funding. There is a huge range of other interventions in our towns and cities where major expenditure takes place, particularly on housing regeneration where there are funds from other areas, for example under the Estates Renewal Challenge Fund or the Single Regeneration Budget. In that way people have the opportunity to progress pedestrian schemes or environmental improvements which benefit pedestrians. They may feel nervous about doing it because they believe that the mainstream funds are probably intended for another purpose. If they can access some funding which is specifically for this kind of interest to add to other funding then there will be better schemes.

  282. Miss Andreae referred to small projects which improve the local environment, for example dealing with underpasses and providing better lighting. Is this the best way to achieve primacy in walking?
  (Miss Andreae) It is a beginning. Planning is very often regarded as the art of the possible. By achieving small-scale improvements there is a gradual incremental improvement of an area. One must look at these things over a period of years, cumulatively. The New Opportunities Fund provides a wonderful means by which to take forward the notion of petits projects. One also ends up with communities which are able to take ownership of particular ideas, instead of some large-scale projects being imposed upon them of which they do not feel a part. If one can involve communities in generating ideas for small-scale improvements an incremental process can be developed.

  283. Therefore, do you suggest that more resources should be available for walking and that the community should have a greater say in the provision of walking?
  (Mr Robinson) Yes. Often petits projects can act as exemplars. In the long run we want to ensure that all projects in the urban setting, whether they are environment, housing or commercial property-driven, have an opportunity to improve the environment in which people walk, and to get that across we need some exemplar schemes. The advantage of petits projects is that we shall have more schemes with the potential to link that initiative with a particular community.

Mr Donohoe

  284. Can primacy for walking be achieved in an urban setting in the event that more space is not created? Is it possible that what you argue for can be achieved?
  (Miss Andreae) I do not think that it is necessarily about space. One looks at the spaces between buildings. It is not just a matter of large open spaces. Large open spaces can be wonderful in towns and cities, but equally they can be very bleak experiences. It is all about creating networks, routes, desire lines and permeability within towns and cities. In the context of developing routes through towns and cities there needs to be an understanding of the hierarchy of routes. One has primary and also secondary routes which can very often be back streets, alleyways and so on. I am sure that in London people are very familiar with mewses which are attractive to walk through as well as the major streets. Exactly the same network exists in all the towns and cities in this country. The problem that so often arises is that when a new building comes along its major facade is to the principal street but the back alleys are very often regarded as the place where the dustbins are put or the service yard is located. Therefore, the network of secondary routes becomes overlooked and their character destroyed. I believe that in terms of creating nice environments within a city centre as a whole we need to think about the hierarchy of routes in the overall urban context.

  285. What about pedestrianisation and the restraining of traffic from streets?
  (Mr Robinson) One of the great problems about pedestrianisation in central urban areas is traffic noise. Even in areas like Oxford Street, the noise of the diesel engines in buses makes walking a very unpleasant experience. Consideration must be given at the same time not only to the physical but the aural environment and pollution. Pedestrianisation is one way to deal with some of those issues. There are examples where pedestrianisation has not necessarily been the optimum solution because in more marginal locations shops, for example, need passing traffic to survive. It is important not to see pedestrianisation as a panacea to be applied everywhere.

  286. Is it not the case that pedestrianisation means that the centres of some towns have been depopulated because people cannot park their cars close to their property? Therefore, properties remain empty and the whole fabric disappears so that one ends up with almost a ghost town centre?
  (Miss Andreae) I am not sure that pedestrianisation is the cause. There are lots of complex issues as to why town centres, particularly smaller towns, have economic problems. I do not believe that pedestrianisation is at the root of that problem. Pedestrianisation can enhance an area if it is carried out well. If one looks at many of the city centres around the country which have now reduced numbers of cars in the centre one sees real improvements. We singled out Birmingham with all its ring roads and so on as a city which in the 1960s was very much predicated on the use of the car. The creation of the new public spaces in Birmingham has done an enormous amount to change the way that people use that city. As we say in the report, a person can walk from New Street station to Brindleyplace, which is a very attractive experience. That is true of a number of other places. One can compare Leeds now with what it was like 15 years ago. I also mentioned the centre of Nottingham. If one compares them with towns like Portsmouth, the latter is still very difficult to walk around. Derby is another example. That city has been damaged by its inner ring road. It was once one of the great Georgian cities of Britain which was destroyed by the inner ring road, which is very difficult to cross. It is all about creating routes and being able to make people feel comfortable about walking from one place to another; that is, permeability.

  287. You have outlined some of the things which are good. Can you be more specific and give evidence about exactly what has transformed these cities?
  (Miss Andreae) Essentially, it is due to planners and others taking a holistic approach as to how the city centre is to be used. Up until relatively recently there was emphasis on the use of the car. It was all so important. The influence that road engineers had on the layout of towns had primacy, but now there is a shift away from that. Those cities that never completely succumbed to the car did not suffer such damage. We singled out places like Oxford, Cambridge and York. Oxford never ended up with an inner ring road, for whatever reason. Although it has an outer ring road, the centre is well preserved, which is one reason why it has survived and been the economic success that it is. Shops want to locate in towns like Oxford and Cambridge.

  288. Do you believe that it is possible to give primacy to walkers without almost becoming anti-car? Because it would be government policy the latter would be perceived as being anti-car, which would be a difficulty. A considerable number of small, local journeys are made by car. If you remove them and do not give any access to a mode of transport you also have a problem?
  (Miss Andreae) If you restrict all access that is possible. It is a matter of achieving a balance. Obviously, people need to be able to use cars. The way that people do their household shopping and use out-of-town shopping centres is changing. All kinds of economic factors affect the use of the car. There seems to be a good deal of evidence to suggest it is important to create a vibrant town or city centre and to make the environment attractive to pedestrians. There is a good deal of evidence to suggest that that is the way that towns will succeed. For example, the introduction of a farmers market to a small town brings in people. Open-air markets are very much pedestrian-type activities which bring life to a town and encourage economic prosperity.


  289. You referred to getting rid of the noise and fumes of buses in Oxford Street. Does that mean you want to remove the buses from Oxford Street or quieter buses?
  (Mr Robinson) I should like quieter buses.

  290. If one has quieter buses do they not knock over pedestrians because they are not heard? It was suggested that one of the problems about introducing trams into Croydon was that people did not hear them approaching.
  (Mr Robinson) "Quieter" and "silent" may not be quite the same thing. What is interesting about our towns and cities at the moment is that they are naturally repopulating. To me, that is fascinating. I do not believe that it is being driven by any particular government policy. People's perceptions about living in cities and larger towns have changed. Therefore, in London the residential population of the city centre has increased. One sees the same thing happening in Manchester, even in Birmingham. That phenomenon reverses a trend which has gone on over the past 50 years, or for most of the time when the motorcar has expanded enormously to become a feature of our lives. The new residential population in our towns and cities will want a degree of management of vehicular traffic generally and, broadly speaking, will be more in favour of an environment which gives greater emphasis to pedestrians. I entirely agree with my colleague: it is a matter of balance. We do not want to suggest that walking is an anti-car activity.

Mr Donaldson

  291. It has been alleged by the Pedestrians Association and others that the decline in walking has its origins in political and institutional failures. What is your view?
  (Miss Andreae) It has something to do with it. If one has a choice between using a car and going on foot one first thinks where one is going. What does one need? But it has a great deal to do with whether the environment through one is to walk is attractive and safe. It is really an attitude of mind. A good deal has been written about the need for walking and the concept of walking officers, national strategies and so on. However, is that not perhaps ghettoising the issue? Road engineers, planners and local councillors need to understand that walking can be a very pleasant experience and must be central to their thinking. It is not a matter of hiving it off into little policy initiatives; the concept of walking should be absolutely fundamental.

  292. In what way should government departments other than the DETR help to promote walking?
  (Miss Andreae) Since CABE came into being every government department has a Design Champion.[1] The remit is not simply to improve the concept of design in the public sector in terms of buildings; it encompasses the wider concept of urban design. We should like it to include the concept of the spaces between buildings and how buildings address the street and relate to their neighbours. I am sure that CABE would be happy to do what it can to get that message through to departments.

  (Mr Robinson) If almost any government department reflects on the lives and circumstances of members of society with whom they are concerned it will recognise that there is a "walking" issue there. If one takes education, how do children get to school? How do students get around university campuses? Most of the clients of the DSS are probably without cars. How do they get around? If one thinks about it from that point of view, that is a dimension to be considered at many levels of government. How can an improvement in the environment for those who walk benefit them?


  293. Is there any evidence that any government departments are doing anything about it?
  (Mr Robinson) I cannot quote any, but that does not mean that they are not doing so.

Mr Donaldson

  294. Should walking be planned and provided for by all departments as a mode of travel or mainly as a way of promoting urban renaissance?
  (Miss Andreae) It is probably a combination of the two. It just needs to be part of the thinking behind the development of whatever scheme is coming forward. When the CABE carries out Design Review—many schemes in both the public and private sector come to us—one of the questions that we ask is: how is the pedestrian to get through the proposed scheme and get from one side to the other in an intelligible way? We always press for public access through schemes, but the thinking needs to be done right at the very beginning of the planning.

  295. How important is the publication of PPG 13? Do you believe that the delay in publication is due to squabbling between departments?
  (Mr Robinson) I am not in a position to answer that.


  296. Is there a need for it to be published quickly?
  (Mr Robinson) I am sure that that would be beneficial.

Mr Benn

  297. You said in answer to an earlier question that an improvement in the street infrastructure to make it easier for people to walk would be relatively inexpensive. Why do you believe that those who are responsible for it are not doing enough?
  (Miss Andreae) I do not believe that it is in the forefront of their minds. There are mechanisms, whether it be section 106 agreements or whatever, whereby planners can encourage developers to think about issues such as spaces between buildings. However, there is no requirement to think about these things, so it is not central to people's thinking at the present time. Very often a new scheme comes forward and what is considered is the boundary of the building, not the spaces in between; that is perceived as someone else's responsibility.

  298. Do you say that planners and highway engineers in local authorities see this as a priority? Presumably not. If not, why not? Is it due to lack of guidance or encouragement?
  (Mr Robinson) I do not believe that they see it as a priority. Although it is not particularly expensive it is probably quite complicated. If one thinks for a minute about a junction in a town or city all the paraphernalia that is to be found there—lamp posts, street signs, telephone kiosks and the boxes which contain the electronics to control the traffic lights—is owned by different departments, or even private companies. If one wants to carry out an environmental improvement scheme at that junction one must consult all of them, and the cost of moving even a telephone kiosk must be borne by someone. We do not have a situation in which any one organisation has easy control over the public realm.

  299. If one planned a major road scheme, in many ways it would be a much more complex challenge. People get their teeth into it and it gets carried through. I am not entirely sure that complexity is the cause. We manage to do it for much bigger things. Is it about attitude, approach and awareness?
  (Miss Andreae) It is very much to do with awareness. Lack of understanding of the issues is one of the problems. There needs to be an injection of skills. At a professional level, CABE has set up a Design Skills Working Group to be chaired by our chairman, Sir Stuart Lipton. That looks very much at the notion of professional education in the area of urban design. There is a shortage of skills.

1   Note by witness: Namely Ministers whose role it is to ensure that major capital projects sponsored by their Departments embody high quality design and represent value for money. Back

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