Examination of Witnesses (Questions 703
WEDNESDAY 25 APRIL 2001
703. Can I welcome you to the final session
this morning? Could I ask you to identify yourselves for the record,
(Cllr Wicks) My name is Jenny Wicks. I am a member
of Guildford Borough Council, a member of the executive of Guildford
Borough Council. I am also one of the vice-chairs of the LGA's
(Cllr Dolezal) Councillor Nick Dolezal from Southwark.
I am responsible there for transport and environment. I am also
from the Association of London Government where I chair the Transport
and Environment Committee. I am also on the Local Government Association
Transport Panel and Executive.
(Mr Christie) Vince Christie, Local Government Association
transport policy officer.
(Mr Cannon) Stephen Cannon, transport policy and performance
manager from Derbyshire County Council. I have a particular interest
in integrated transport policy.
704. Does anyone want to say anything by way
of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight into questions?
(Cllr Wicks) We are happy to go straight into questions.
705. Do you think the government were leaned
on by Tesco, Asda and the like to provide laxer parking standards
for retail developments in PPG13?
(Cllr Wicks) I have no evidence one way or the other.
I do not think I could comment on that.
706. Do you think PPG13 which does have some
fairly lax standards, particularly in relation to retail, is going
to do anything to improve access by foot to retail developments
and other out of town developments?
(Cllr Wicks) It all depends how it is interpreted
by local authorities. It gives a lead. When we are considering
the development control process, obviously there are a number
of factors that come into play. One will have to see over the
course of time what effect it has. Hopefully, it will have a reasonable
effect but I think it is very difficult, until we see the result
in individual decisions, to gauge exactly what effect it will
(Mr Christie) One of the main problems with planning
policy is the long timescale for implementation of particularly
major schemes. It will take quite some time to see if the steam
roller is changing course, for example, on the backlog of out
of town planning consents and debates. When you have a change
of the way people think about things, you need to wait for education
to work its way through before people change course. It is too
early to tell. PPG13 is a step in the right direction. Obviously,
it is not such a big step as some people would have liked on things
like parking standards. I am sure some people would have liked
stricter standards but nevertheless there are maximum standards
in it, which is a change from some of the things which came before.
(Cllr Dolezal) I have difficulty in commenting about
out of town developments in the true sense, coming from central
London, but one of the things that I have found quite rewarding
recently is that there is an appetite in the market place for
people to accept reduced numbers of parking spaces within major
developments. Certainly all the evidence thus far with the redevelopment
of the Elephant & Castle, for example, they have accepted
a zero to extremely low parking requirement as part of that, recognising
that it is about integrating transport and developing the benefits
of that form of inner city development.
707. Can I ask both councillors and officers
whether, in your view, the parking standards that were set in
PPG13 are right, too lax or too challenging? Do you have a view?
(Mr Christie) I am not a planning officer.
The range of PPGs was led off by the planning people who are not
here today. The question is a bit off the subject of walking in
general, but the general view of the Association when it commented
on the draft was that it was quite keen on strict standards, perhaps
ones stricter than in the PPG13 draft, particularly on thresholds.
The fact that they have been relaxed a bit perhaps will be disappointing
but at the moment there has not been any formal consideration
of PPG13. As you probably know, hard copies of it are not easy
to get hold of yet so we have not been in a position to give it
formal consideration properly.
(Cllr Dolezal) It does set a standard in terms of
planning guidance, but we can always achieve more rigorous approaches
locally in the ultimate application of it.
708. There is a loophole in PPG13 which developers,
I have no doubt, will already have identified, which allows local
authorities to consider going above the relevant maximum standards.
Could I ask both officers and councillors whether you will be
seeking to use that particular loophole when approached or whether
officers will advise councillors to go above the relevant maximum
standards and whether councillors will in turn, when a developer
comes along, be willing to work with the developer and accept
above relevant maximum standards for parking? This clearly is
related to walking because the more parking spaces there are the
more likely it will be that people will drive. Mr Cannon, as an
officer, would you advise your councillors to make use of this
particular loophole as and when the opportunity arises?
(Mr Cannon) The general thrust of our approach to
dealing with development would be to try to restrict the amount
of parking and in general I would go along with not exceeding
the maximum parking standards.
709. You criticise the government for not being
interested in walking when compared, for example, with cycling.
Why do you think the government has taken that attitude?
(Mr Christie) Not being interested is not quite the
term we used. As somebody who was personally on the Walking Steering
Group, it was a bit disappointing that the document which took
such a long while to come out changed its status on at least two
occasions as it was going through. Walking is something everybody
does. Listening to one of the questions earlier on, there was
some fear that if you tell people how to walk it is like teaching
people how to breathe. Everybody knows how to do it. In an integrated
transport strategy, walking is not just something that local government
tells people to do, which is implied by the guidance to local
authorities; it is something everybody has to be involved in themselves.
All businesses and everybody has an interest in encouraging walking
as a transport mode in an integrated transport strategy. On that
basis, it is disappointing that what appeared is just guidance
to local government, because it could have been wider than that.
I do not know what the DETR people have said but I think the government
is thinking about something to follow on from that.
710. You say that the document changed its status
a couple of times. Could you tell us more about that? When did
it change and who did the changing?
(Mr Christie) I do not know who did it but, if I remember
rightly, it started off under the previous government in 1996
as a direct follow on from the national cycling strategy. That
was published as quite a big document with a big appendix. Then
the government of the time moved on to a walking strategy. If
you look at the 1998 walking statistics published by the DETR,
they said that later on that year there would be a walking strategy
published. My understanding is it then got mixed in with the Integrated
Transport White Paper which was multimodal, covering lots of different
areas, with the objective of turning it into a daughter document,
so to speak, of the Integrated Transport White Paper, which would
still have been a strategy but, at the end, it was turned into
this guidance to local government. I do not know why it changed.
711. You were disappointed?
(Mr Christie) I was, yes, as somebody who was on a
strategy group. I think probably the bodies which promote walking
were a lot more disappointed than me.
712. Does the government's position on this
matter a lot?
(Mr Christie) If we talk about integrated transport,
obviously everything has to be considered. The balance between
different modes and which are given documents, strategies, conferences,
fora, whatever and which ones are not is something which the people
involved in promoting those modes get sensitive about. I am also
on the Motor Cycle Advisory Group and they get very sensitive
about whether the motor cycle is given what they consider is its
due merit. The same sort of debate went onsome of you may
have been involved in itwhen the Transport Bill, which
is now the Transport Act, was going through, about what sort of
strategies local authorities should include in their local transport
plans. In the end, there has to be a bus strategy in it but in
the debates people were suggesting all sorts of strategies, lists
as long as your arm. Obviously, local government cannot be constrained
so that it has to produce absolutely everything in the detail
which government says, but there is a great deal of interest in
things that are included and things that are excluded. There was
a national cycling strategy with lots of documentation which was
inclusive and the walking one was not quite the same.
(Cllr Dolezal) One has to be very careful in terms
of expressing disappointment because there are great difficulties
in that area but there is an issue about the status and within
local government the interest and enthusiasm and the sorts of
appetites either we as politicians or officers have when looking
at allocating resources against different spend areas. Where there
is something that has a higher status, a great deal more enthusiasm
and investment, people will trust. There is an issue that cycling
has a higher status than walking. My own view is that we need
to take a very reasonable stance about this and see it as a range
of integrated strategies. The issue has been raised about corner
shops and things like that. There has to be a broad based interest
that says if we create a better environment for people to be in
it will encourage walking; it will reduce crime. There are a number
of measures that you will take to improve the quality of the finishes,
the design quality, the lighting, which actually make it a better
place and in itself will encourage walking, which again, in itself,
gets more people on the street and has an impact in terms of reducing
the fear of crime because you have a greater volume of people
around. That is the sort of context that I would like to see it
in, where in central London and inner city areas you are lifting
up the quality of the infrastructure that makes it more pleasant
for people to choose to be in it and for people to choose to walk
because they are not in conflict with traffic. You then have to
look at it in terms of the integrated public transport system.
That actually makes it better. My own personal example on this
is the river walkway from London Bridge westward. Now that you
can walk along the south bank without having to go into any of
the streets, vastly greater numbers of people choose that as a
way of walking to work over and above the numbers that used it
five or six years ago when it was not a complete route. In that
sense, to my mind, it has worked.
713. What can the LGA do about enhancing the
profile of walking?
(Cllr Dolezal) We could ask you to improve the status
and raise its profile.
714. What can the LGA do, in itself? Is there
anything you can do as the organisation representing local government,
apart from what you think the government should do?
(Cllr Dolezal) That was disingenuous of me.
715. In addition to what the government should
(Cllr Wicks) Public education and public information
is a very important thing. Exchange of best practice might be
some contribution that the LGA could make on this. The government
itself has already done this in the document on walking, but this
is the kind of area where we might see some sort of role.
(Cllr Dolezal) There is also a role that the Local
Government Association can play within our own regional areas,
raising people's awareness. That would be on a political level
as well, in terms of our colleagues within the political arena,
but also encouraging the right sorts of skills and understanding
within the professional advisers, designers, and perhaps also
expanding the audience to show that this should be of interest
to developers, because it is also in their interests to create
a better environment for people to be in.
(Mr Christie) One of the key ways in which central
and local government proceeds these days is on a cross-sector,
corporate way forward rather than picking out walking and saying,
"We must have a walking policy", how you include walking
in social inclusion, in best value and local public service agreements,
where there may be areas where walking should be given its weight,
along with other things which sometimes get missed like access
for the disabled, which do not necessarily involve a great deal
of spending on major infrastructure schemes. The Local Government
Association is working that way. Every time something like social
inclusion comes on the agenda, it should be covering all the different
sorts of subjects which are possible to relate with it.
716. Why exactly do you need the government
to tell local authorities to give walking a higher priority when
local government is perfectly free to do that already, if it wishes
to do so? If it has not, why do you think that has been the case?
(Cllr Dolezal) If you have an integrated transport
policy and it is a policy area and arena for central government
and it has cycling, buses, heavy rail, light rail, it has a whole
range of initiatives there, I think it is only right that walking
should be seen as part of that range of integrated transport.
717. That is your decision, is it not? Is it
still local government or is it local administration?
(Cllr Dolezal) I do not understand your question,
differentiating between local government and local administration.
718. Do you have to be directed all the time
to give priorities to things the government thinks are important
or are you entitled to make your own decisions?
(Cllr Dolezal) Not everyone shares my enthusiasm.
(Mr Christie) Local authority associations at the
time issued a joint walking strategy called A Step Ahead
in about 1989 to 1991, so they were leading the government. It
was mainly advice but local government has as broad a political
spectrum as is in Parliament. It is difficult in Parliament to
get all elected members to agree with each other. In local government,
there is the same range so there should always be discretion because
local government is local government. That is why local transport
plans, for example, do give the discretion for people locally
to take into account whatever they consider the needs are locally
in including things in local transport plans, following the general
719. The government's PPG13 is understood perhaps
to put a greater emphasis on parking in towns. Does the LGA have
a view if that is going to encourage more people to drive into
(Mr Christie) It is difficult to say. There has always
been this need to balance between providing parking in town centres
and public transport access to town centres or, if there is not
parking in town centres, will everybody drive to somewhere outside
the town centres and they will decline. Obviously, geographical
circumstances are going to take some consideration in individual
locations, depending on what is available and the historic layout
of the streets. The answer to that is, in a general sense, I do
not know. There has to be some parking in town centres. There
has to be development of park and ride schemes which are attractive,
but if you have them there is a debate about whether park and
ride schemes undermine traditional bus services, so the trouble
with integrated transport policy is everything has an effect on
everything else. If you bring in planning, land use, the environment,
it makes it even more complicated. The transport plan is a new
arena and everybody is learning how to do it. Hopefully, it will
work out for the best.
(Mr Cannon) I think there is a difficult balance to
be struck. Clearly, it is very important in terms of supporting
public transport services that we maintain vitality and attractiveness
for town centres. An element of that has always got to be to ensure
there is adequate provision, particularly for shoppers to park
in town centres.