Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340
WEDNESDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2001
340. How do you believe good practice can be
more widely disseminated?
(Mr Palmer) The IHT has been very successful in producing
guidelines. Its recent publication was concerned with making provision
for journeys on foot. It has forthcoming guidelines that are to
do with people-friendly town centres. To try to get the guidance
out in the field is a much more difficult task. I used to be Director
of Technical Affairs at the IHT before Mr Roberts-James took over.
I admit that to inform people of the standards was a continuous
process. One has turnover in local authorities and they do not
necessarily know the latest available information. Part of the
work of my DETR steering group involves setting up a website with
all relevant guidance on it so that practitioners can see the
latest and most appropriate provision. One of my great disappointments
at the IHT was that in about 1996 a survey of practitioners was
conducted to see to what extent they were using the 1991 guidelines
on Reducing Mobility Handicaps. Those guidelines were particularly
geared to designs for those with reduced mobility. Of the respondents,
only about 20 per cent had heard of the guidelines, let alone
followed them. That reflects the need for continual education
(Mr Roberts-James) One issue that I am keen to raise,
when I can, is the tendency in local authorities to have a particular
champion for particular issues, whether it be walking or cycling.
Therefore, one has walking or cycling officers. It must be better
than nothing, in that the issues are taken on board and there
is one single point of responsibility to an extent. However, it
is important to make walking mainstream so that everybody who
is involved in transport policy and practice is concerned about
how their activities affect people, whether they walk or cycle.
I believe that through senior management leadership we need to
ensurethis may be reflected in job descriptionsthat
a drainage engineer, for example, has a duty of care to see that
his/her activities do not compromise pedestrians' and cyclists'
safety and convenience. One can enlarge it to cover the vulnerable
groups that we are keen to promote. The example that I often use
is that of a development control officer who considers a great
number of planning applications. There is no way that a single
walking officer can look for every opportunity. We must ensure
that the individual officer is able to spot opportunities and
use the necessary mechanisms, through section 106 or section 278
agreements under the Highways Act, to seek the best solution in
the circumstances on the ground. Therefore, it is a matter of
mainstreaming the issue as opposed to compartmentalising it to
341. Should the leadership be local or should
there be national guidelines?
(Mr Roberts-James) I believe that it should be at
342. Last Friday I visited an FE college which
was campaigning for a pedestrian crossing outside its premises.
It was told by the local authority that there was probably insufficient
traffic and accidents to justify it. What does that tell one about
priorities for pedestrians?
(Mr Palmer) It tells one that pedestrian issues are
not being addressed to the extent that they should. I believe
that the fact it is not an accident black spot is not a good enough
reason for not having a safe crossing there. It is a matter of
changing people's perception about the highway layout in order
to create a safe environment in which pedestrians can move about.
It may be a reflection of the fact that they lack sufficient funds
in order to pay for the crossing and that they have other priorities.
(Mr Roberts-James) There tend to be systems which
prioritise investments. There are always many calls for traffic-calming
schemes and a range of other expenditures. It helps locally to
have a rational system that people can understand; for example,
that for a number of reasons traffic-calming can be established
in settlements 1, 2 and 3 but not elsewhere. To a certain extent
there must be a way to prioritise to ensure that investment is
properly spread. However, sometimes the profession is seen to
wait for accidents to happen before it responds, and that is something
that we must shake off. To say that one must look at sites which
have had six accidents in three years is probably not the best
way to proceed. It is a very difficult area to change immediately.
343. Are there enough professional officers
with the necessary skills and awareness relating to walking within
local authorities? We had a good deal of evidence in the course
of the inquiry to suggest that that is not the case?
(Mr Palmer) I suspect that it is not the case, one
of the reasons being the main concerns of pedestrians. Those concerns
are threefold: first, maintenance of the footway; secondly, issues
relating to personal security; and, thirdly, use of the footway
by non-pedestrians, for example cycling, car parking and street
furniture. Those fields are not mainstream within most university
degrees or qualifications. One can virtually become a walking
officer without ever having done any courses on walking at university
or elsewhere. There is a problem with skill shortages in the transport
field generally, but particularly in the areas of walking, cycling
and facilities for vulnerable users.
(Mr Roberts-James) When I first started in local government
some 15 years ago there appeared to be a lot more money about
for training. I was well looked after in all the authorities in
which I served and was given plenty of opportunities for training
and development. When I left local government in May of last year
the situation was very different. It was difficult to be sent
on courses and budgets were very tight. Therefore, people are
not being enthused. One goes away on a day course to deal with
a particular issue and it enthuses one to pursue that issue with
greater vigour and diligence. I believe that training budgets
are relevant to this. If one cannot make the most of the staff
and invest in them one will not have the training. It is important
to get new people into the profession, but a number of people
have been moved between roles and have no specific background
in particular areas. We need to ensure that they are aware of
the concerns and requirements of pedestrians and how to deal with
them, and that they have the desire to do that through training
344. Do you believe that there is a problem
of image or perception as regards walking among engineers?
(Mr Palmer) Yes. It is perceived not to be a mainstream
career choice. My DETR steering group is trying to encourage younger
people to see that the opportunities are there to be grasped and
that over the next 10 to 15 years, presumably, it will become
an area of growing importance within transport. The aim is to
get them to make career choices so that they can make a useful
345. Presumably, whether people do that will
depend on what messages the system sends from thetop down about
what has status and what does not?
(Mr Palmer) Yes.
346. You said earlier that you were very much
in favour of mainstreaming walking. Do I take it thatamong engineers
people are not keen on appointing particular people with responsibility
(Mr Palmer) Walking should be seen within a holistic
approach to traffic management. Walking is one mode, together
with cycling, cars, freight traffic, buses and so on, and needs
to be addressed. If one creates a walking or cycling officer very
often one tends to marginalise that individual. Part of the trouble
in terms of the design of new facilities is that very often these
people are brought in at the end rather than right at the beginning
of the process.
(Mr Roberts-James) The situation is improving. Engineers
with whom I have worked over the past few years are much more
aware of pedestrian issues and consciously design in pedestrian
considerations from the outset. However, more can always be done.
I agree that there is a need for well-rounded practitioners, engineers
and planners, who are able to look at the big picture and make
the best of any situation for all modes. That is what integration
is all about. Quite often one can solve issues to do with pedestrians
and cyclists at the same time. I am a firm believer in people
with the skills looking at problems and finding solutions which
optimise the outcomes for all the user groups. That is the way
that we need to proceed.
347. What about pavement parking?
(Mr Palmer) It is one of those issues which most pedestrian
groups abhor. In St Albans where I live there are some allocated
pavement parking spaces, which mean that someone in a wheelchair
cannot get past a car.
348. What do you do about itban it?
(Mr Palmer) One tries to enforce some kind of parking
restriction. It may be that there are other nearby parking areas
that can be used by those people who are usually residents.
349. You have expressed enthusiasm for taking
away railings and letting people cross where they want. Do not
railings work in the opposite way in that they prevent pavement
(Mr Palmer) They do, but that can be done by other
means, for example bollards or whatever. Guard railing is really
the last resort but all too often it is the measure of first resort.
350. But it is an expensive resort, is it not?
(Mr Palmer) Yes.
Chairman: On that note, thank you very much
for your evidence.