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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340 - 350)



  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 and training.
  (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 ensure—this may be reflected in job descriptions—that 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 some extent.

  341. Should the leadership be local or should there be national guidelines?
  (Mr Roberts-James) I believe that it should be at all levels.

Mr Benn

  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 and development.

  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 contribution.

  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 for walking?
  (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 it—ban 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 parking?
  (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.

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