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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 317)



  300. Do we need any more guidance?
  (Miss Andreae) We have quite a bit of guidance, but disseminating it to the right places is one of the key issues. It would be interesting to know just how widely the DETR publication on walking had been disseminated to local authorities. Is it sitting on certain individuals' desks or has it got down to parish council level? I suspect that it has not reached that level. I just wonder how much has been spent on producing documents and how widely it is possible to disseminate them. In that context, only last week I came across Streets for All published by English Heritage. It relates largely to London but it contains some extremely good material on how to do basic things, for example to improve pavements and street furniture. It is a London-oriented document but the lessons within it are applicable to the country as a whole.
  (Mr Robinson) Encouragement is required. For example, that could be achieved by expecting local authorities to have a public realm strategy which would be about how they see the public realm in their areas and would plan over time to improve it.
  (Miss Andreae) If CABE had a strategic role in helping the New Opportunities Fund to develop these kinds of areas it would be very happy to help with that.

  301. Let us take one very practical example: car journeys for the purpose of shopping. There are changing social and work patterns. If one shops once a week at the supermarket then, unless one has an ox in tow with a lot of panniers, in no way can one carry it home on foot. Do you agree that if in giving planning permission for such stores in future a requirement is imposed that they should offer a home delivery service to anyone who wanted it it would make a greater contribution to reducing car trips that people are probably not terribly keen on and, therefore, would encourage people to walk more? Are we looking at it from the right end of the telescope? We have talked about clearing the pavement, widening it and making it more attractive, but do we not also need to look at the way in which people live their lives and find ways to make it easier for them not to have to make car journeys?
  (Mr Robinson) It is interesting observation that my mother always had her groceries delivered twice a week and now we have just rediscovered the idea of home delivery.
  (Miss Andreae) Another point is flexibility. What applies in very big cities may not apply in smaller towns. One can probably be much tougher on car use in the big city than in a smaller market town. Quite recently, I spoke to someone who had been involved in an edge-of-town furniture retail outlet. The planning permission insisted that it had bicycle spaces. How likely is it that someone who goes to that outlet and buys large pieces of furniture—beds and cupboards—will need a car? Flexibility is important, but it is a matter of taking the right approach for the right place. A good deal of work has been done by the Countryside Commission on smaller market towns as a result of the rural White Paper. A slightly different approach for smaller towns is important.


  302. Do you believe that enough engineers, architects and planners have experienced pushing a pram through some urban areas, or would it do them good to push a few more? Is not the practical problem to ensure that they experience things for themselves?
  (Mr Robinson) Yes. One assumes that if they have families they may well have that experience.

Mrs Dunwoody

  303. That may be a foolish assumption?
  (Mr Robinson) I accept that. I do not believe that the issue is to do with the individual experience of professionals. Most of our towns and cities were not designed originally for the weight of traffic that we now try to get through them. The perception of the problems in professional circles over the past 30 to 40 years is how to facilitate getting vehicles through our towns. We have rather forgotten that large numbers of people are walking around in those same spaces. I suppose that now we are talking about how to redress that balance.


  304. If it is a problem to get people to imagine the difficulties of pushing a pram, surely it is even harder to get them to imagine the problems faced by someone who is visually impaired. What does one do to improve the experience of someone who walks in towns but cannot see?
  (Mr Robinson) A number of local authorities are very active in improving pedestrian crossings with new paving stones with bobbles on them and so on. Clearly, there is an understanding among most local authorities and their highway planners about the need to consider the requirements of people who are visually impaired. Whether it goes far enough I doubt, but at least a start has been made in many areas.

  305. Do you think that it is an obstacle course between two nicely designed crossing points but the bit in between along the pavement is fairly difficult for anyone to negotiate?
  (Mr Robinson) I believe that it is the completely unco-ordinated street furniture which is the main problem. My impression is that people who decide where to put the lamp post do not talk to those who decide where to place the sign which tells motorists to turn left to access the A14, or whatever, or where to locate a telephone kiosk or a salt container. Streets have all of these obstructions which do not appear to be co-ordinated from the point of view of people in wheelchairs, for example.

Mrs Ellman

  306. You see local authorities as having a key role in co-ordinating walking. Do you believe that they need any new powers to enable them to do that?
  (Miss Andreae) I believe that the mechanism of the section 106 agreement is available. So often one finds that the mechanisms are there but they are not used or thought about in those terms. The notion of local authorities being encouraged to produce strategies is part of getting the thinking into the front of their minds. I do not quite know what particular powers they would need in addition to what they already have. It is perhaps a question of thinking in a broader context.

  307. It has been suggested to us that there are funding difficulties in local authorities being able to do a great deal more. Do you have a view on that?
  (Miss Andreae) There is no question but that local authorities are by and large hugely under-resourced. That spills over into a shortage of skills. For that reason, one hopes that the New Opportunities Fund can redress the balance.

  308. Do you have any examples of good practice where you see local authorities promoting walking in an effective way?
  (Miss Andreae) Quite a number of the larger cities have taken it on board. The city of Leeds is an infinitely nicer place to walk round than it was when I first went there. One also thinks of Halifax, Birmingham and the obvious places mentioned in our report. Sheffield's Peace Garden is making steps in that direction, and Nottingham's Lace Market is an attractive place to walk round. Nottingham still has problems with Maid Marion Way which was constructed in the 1960s and cuts through the medieval street pattern. That new road cut the city in half. The challenges arise in places like Derby which is still collared by its inner ring road. There are exemplars of good practice and, with more funding, there could be many more.
  (Mr Robinson) The Mile End Park in East London is a good example of the creation of a marvellous corridor through which people can walk. More centrally, schemes like the River Walk along the South Bank have a major benefit in regenerating areas. People see them quite differently if they can walk around in attractive surroundings in that way.

  309. Do you believe that the setting of targets by government for local authorities in relation to walking will help?
  (Mr Robinson) It would be helpful to government to have some mechanism to express its expectations. How targets would work I do not know, but I am a great believer in having a mechanism to measure objectives.

  310. Why do you believe that more has not been done at local level if people enjoy walking?
  (Mr Robinson) Because they also enjoy driving.

  311. You referred to section 106 agreements. What changes would you like to see?
  (Miss Andreae) I think that it is just a question of them being used to cover areas of the public realm. Local authorities perhaps do not regard that as a mechanism to be brought into play when talking about things which affect new developments, or a contribution that can be made to the surrounding area. Some local authorities are rather nervous about using it as a device to achieve the wider benefits. Perhaps that needs to be brought to the forefront of their minds as an option.
  (Mr Robinson) I understand that the whole principle of section 106 is currently being reviewed by DETR. There is an interesting distinction to be drawn between the use by local authorities of section 106 to deliver objectives for which they are primarily responsible, for example social housing, and its use to deliver objectives which have a broader social benefit. Local authorities are often in quite a difficult position from that point of view. For example, if they have statutory obligations in respect of homeless families they will be very focused on that, but it is a shame if that means that they do not exploit opportunities to do things which have a more general benefit for the local community.

  312. Do you have any particular examples in mind of the things that you would like to be done to promote walking?
  (Mr Robinson) Local authorities have a big opportunity to grasp the concept of home zones. If I may refer to my experience as development director of Peabody, not in connection with CABE, at King's Cross a series of estates which were owned by the London Borough of Islington were transferred into our ownership. They are surrounded in effect by public realm. With the local authority we are promoting a home zone to create a safe and attractive walking route through the estates. Those of you who know that area will be familiar with the route from King's Cross Station to Chapel Market. That is quite a strong desire line but currently it is a rat run for traffic. Reducing the speed of traffic and connecting that route to a local park, making all the pavements attractive and giving priority to pedestrians is exactly the kind of thing that should be encouraged. However, it will require the leadership of the local authority; it is not something that necessarily landlords or landowners can do on their own.

  313. From where does the initiative for the schemes you describe come?
  (Mr Robinson) It can come from either the local authority or a landowner.

Mr Olner

  314. Coming as I do from a shire county, one of the problems is that the county council is the highway authority. At what level locally should these decisions be made? Nuneaton is very different from Stratford-on-Avon, but the allocation is probably made according to the same formula.
  (Miss Andreae) That is where flexibility comes in. In those counties where there is a big county town the policy to be generated for that size of town is not applicable in a blanket way so that it applies to much smaller market towns. Any county like Warwickshire has lots of small market towns, each with its own identity. The tolerances are much less and the economies more fragile in a small market town; people have a choice between one town or another when they go shopping. Therefore, a degree of flexibility is required. Action for Market Towns, which is a body funded by the Countryside Commission, has done a good deal of interesting work on smaller towns and the way in which the local economy can be encouraged. You are right that at county level there cannot be a blanket approach. One must look at towns in terms of hierarchy of size and their particular needs and, by extension, the villages as well.

Mrs Ellman

  315. Do you believe that planning forces will be increasingly important in encouraging people to walk and gain access to buses?
  (Miss Andreae) It is crucial.

  316. Do you believe that means that we shall see the end of the traditional housing estates and cul-de-sacs?
  (Miss Andreae) The notion of cul-de-sacs is not just a feature of old-style public housing at all; it is very much a feature of contemporary private housing developments. The notion of private houses with a turning circle at the end is a very impermeable barrier; effectively, it can create certain kinds of ghettoes, and it is very user-unfriendly from the point of view of the public.
  (Mr Robinson) I do not believe that walking in the way you describe means the end of the housing estate; there is no necessary link. I believe that one of the issues arising from many post-second world war housing estates is that they have huge amounts of open space whose ownership is often undefined. Is it public or private realm? People do not feel safe walking around that environment. There is a huge issue around environmental improvements to those kinds of estates which clarify the organisation of the areas. But in principle we would like to see people being able to walk through those areas and feel that it is a pleasant, welcoming environment.


  317. Is that the emphasis that you put on it? Throughout most of your evidence you have told us about nice places to visit. If I choose to walk in the countryside I pick a particularly attractive place. Should we be looking at making some towns particularly attractive for urban walking, or place emphasis on ensuring that when people leave their houses there is a nice walking environment for everybody?
  (Mr Robinson) You need to do both. Wherever you live, whether it is in the middle of a city, town, market town or the countryside, the aim should be that when you leave your front door you are walking in an attractive environment. We should also recognise that to make towns and cities attractive places means emphasising that they should contain magnets, which may be traditional squares or riverside walks. Those things make the place distinctive.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.

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