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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 351 - 359)




  351. Gentlemen, I welcome you to the third session of evidence this morning. Please identify yourselves for the record.

  (Mr Bacon) I am Martin Bacon, the recently appointed Chief Executive of the Civic Trust.
  (Mr Webster) I am Ben Webster, Policy Officer of the Civic Trust.

  352. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction, or are you happy to go straight into questions?
  (Mr Bacon) The Civic Trust is a national organisation which represents 800 or so civic societies across the country. We have been in existence for some 40 years and we have had a record of campaigning for the maintenance and improvement of urban spaces and buildings in the public realm.

Miss McIntosh

  353. Can the concept of urban renaissance be achieved without significant improvements to walking?
  (Mr Webster) We believe that it is an important prerequisite to achieving urban renaissance. If one looks at some of the towns which may exemplify some of those qualities, York, which has already been mentioned, and other historic places formed around the needs of pedestrians. There is a mixture of uses. People do not have to travel very far to access many of the facilities that they need. If we can implant that form of development in other places which are more car-dominated that is an important way to facilitate urban renaissance. In addition, we must work on the basis that streets are social spaces. One should be able to have a spontaneous encounter with someone on the street and hear what is being said. If a street is heavily trafficked life is driven indoors. If one wants to meet someone it tends to be a planned encounter in the home or pub. In that way one does not acquaint oneself with strangers, like a neighbour who has just moved in next door. One would not chat on the street accidentally, and one would probably not want to risk inviting an individual to one's home without knowing what he or she was like. Trust is eroded by the level of traffic. If one is to have an urban renaissance one needs to encourage families to live in urban areas. Many families decide to move out the moment they have children. Therefore, a walking environment that allows children more freedom will deter parents from taking the decision automatically to decentralise.

  354. Your memorandum says that hostile streets drive this exchange activity inside so that it becomes more privatised and exclusive. (I hope that the Conservatives will not be blamed for privatising such an activity.) I represent part of the city of York. My constituents tell me that because of pedestrianisation it is virtually impossible to catch a bus in certain areas to take them where they want to go because the route is not given priority. Do you believe that there are other lessons to be learnt from trying to facilitate walking within urban areas as part of urban renaissance?
  (Mr Bacon) You asked about pedestrianisation previously. In my experience, the way that one pedestrianises is very much horses for courses. Many towns and cities that pedestrianise have an experimental period to see how it settles down. One should probably review pedestrianisation perhaps 10 years after it has been introduced, because land use, expectations, practices and so on change. Therefore, one cannot say that a particular pedestrianised scheme is fixed for all time. I suspect that when pedestrianisation was put in 10 years ago the emphasis on public transport in support of it was not as great as it is now. In historic towns there is a tremendous conflict between all kinds of activities. As a previous witness said, it is a question of getting the balance right. One can do that only through proper consultation and quantification.

  355. Does your memorandum suggest that we need to reallocate space that is currently being occupied by vehicles to pedestrians?
  (Mr Bacon) Yes, in certain areas. We say that for pedestrians to be able to walk through their towns and cities there is a need for a really good network of pedestrian routes which lead into particular spaces. It is often in those particular spaces—squares and so on—where one needs to take space from the car in order to allow pedestrians to cross from one space to another. That is where one needs to give the pedestrian greater priority. I have recently come to London. The offices of the Civic Trust are just off Trafalgar Square. One would wish a little more priority to be given to pedestrians in that square, because to get round that part of London takes about seven minutes if the lights are not in one's favour. It is in such public spaces that we should give greater priority to pedestrians and so allow them to move quicker.
  (Mr Webster) As a first step, before one widens the pavement, say, it is worth looking at the accumulation of clutter. Bottlenecks where pedestrians have to pause or step aside to allow others through may simply be caused by a totally redundant road sign or street lamp which may be attached to a building rather than have a column devoted to it. One should do an audit to check whether there is any superfluous street furniture and then take it out. If there is still a problem where pedestrians are squeezed then widen the pavement and reallocate space from the motorist to the pedestrian.

  356. I hope you do not suggest that telephone kiosks are put on buildings where they are not accessible. Do you believe car dependency and a higher quality walking environment can exist together?
  (Mr Bacon) I believe that they can. In my experience, walking is particularly important for distances under one mile, for example to buy a newspaper, to take children to school, to get to the station and so on. To say that one can encourage people to walk six or seven miles to work every day and back is not realistic. Nowadays, people do not wish to do that for all kinds of reasons. There can be an impact on car dependency in neighbourhoods particularly where smaller scale journeys are possible. Beyond that distance one is looking at other measures: rail, bus and so on, which are not the remit of the committee.

  357. Do you believe that PPG 13 can be helpful in that regard?
  (Mr Webster) Certainly, particularly the demand management measures included in the draft, such as, for the first time, maximum rather than minimum parking standards and giving greater weight to green travel plans. Is rather alarming if, as seems the case, government is getting cold feet on this. The consultation period ended 13 months ago. I can think of no other reason why it has taken such a long time to produce it. The time lag required from publication of a planning policy guidance note to its appearance in development plans is years, so we cannot afford to wait.

  358. You touched briefly on linking pedestrians with buses and trains. For example, if it can be given priority status there is an excellent bus route in York which runs from the Vale of York (Haxby/Wigginton) through to the hospital, railway station and theatre. The problem is that the service is completely unpredictable. As the distance is perhaps seven and eight miles, which people would not envisage walking, do you think that pressure should be brought to bear on the local authority to enable schemes of the kind that you favour to link pedestrianisation with bus routes and rail transport?
  (Mr Bacon) By and large, many local authorities try to do that. I agree with other speakers that they are very short of funds to do that, which is a real problem for them. I cannot speak about York because I do not know it. I return to my original point: if there is a problem as between a pedestrianised area and a bus route perhaps there is a need to see whether circumstances have changed and the priorities between the two also need to change. The frequency of bus services is totally outside the power of the local authority; it may depend upon congestion created by cars and so on. Even the best bus operator cannot legislate for that.

Mr Blunt

  359. I should like to place on record my pleasure in welcoming Mr Bacon to give evidence to us. About a fortnight ago he was chief executive of the local authority, 80 per cent of which is my constituency. It is nice to see Mr Bacon in a new guise, although he is an unwitting victim of Mr Prescott's reforms of local authorities. It is the change of organisation from the committee structure that has led Reigate and Banstead to dispense with the chief executive. However, our loss is the Civic Trust's gain. If colleagues forgive me, I should like to focus on Reigate and Redhill, which Mr Bacon and I both know. In terms of pedestrianisation and ease of walking, given that you have answered a question about local authorities and you are now no longer accountable for their money, what would you do in Reigate and Redhill in order to ease pedestrianisation?
  (Mr Bacon) We have a local planning framework. At the moment that framework is very much concerned with planning and development. It is also concerned with the creation of new roads and other things to go with that kind of development. It would be very helpful if local plans also had a requirement to make sure they looked at the whole network of pedestrian routes that support those land uses. When planning applications came in there would be a framework for looking at developer contributions to that network under section 106 and section 278, in the same way that you can ask for contributions to roads and so on. Sometimes it is very difficult to get contributions from developers to pedestrianise networks because there are no approved plans for them, whereas there are road schemes to which money can be allocated. Over and above that, I agree with the need to improve awareness in county surveyor and engineering departments to put walking at the centre of everything that they do. Often that does not happen because the legislation is such that highway authorities are concerned primarily with safety, not promoting change of mode. Therefore, their money will go into mending potholes and repairing signs, and it is quite right that that should happen. The moneys available to change mode are fairly small in terms of the overall highway budget. That is where the main emphasis needs to be placed. Clearly, working with the general public and local firms on reducing car dependency can also help the pedestrian. In Reigate and Banstead some hard work has been done on green travel plans with local companies with the aim of reducing car transport to 30 to 40 per cent of the current level of car journeys within the next three to four years. There is gradual success in that aim. In doing that those companies help to promote walking at least within one to one-and-a-half miles of the office. In order to cater for journeys over and above that they run subsidised bus travel, company buses, support rail and so on. That is the main mixture of things that will happen. But if we can put walking at the centre of the local planning framework and the allocation of highway funding it will help the awareness of engineers and the whole thing will be a virtuous circle.

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