Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Eleventh Report



77. Poor conditions for pedestrians inevitably led to the expression of widespread dissatisfaction at the skills of the professionals responsible for them, particularly those of highway engineers. The Institute of Logistics and Transport informed us:

    "... this is the area which requires the most focussed and urgent attention, the skills and professional abilities needed to plan effectively and inclusively for the pedestrian are not consistent nationally and are too often dependent on selected individuals being involved in the design process".[127]

Recent research by Oscar Faber for the DETR revealed that even local authority officers with specific responsibility for walking lacked basic skills and understanding.[128] The Chairman of the DETR Joint Cycling/Walking Group on professional training and information concluded that "awareness of the knowledge and skills that are required for those that are providing for pedestrians appears to be low".[129] Mr John Davison, observed: "there is a chronic shortage of professionals, particularly in senior positions, with the appropriate outlook and technical skills".[130]

78. Several professional bodies accepted that there was a need for improvement. The Institution of Highways and Transportation stressed the need to ensure that transport professionals had a proper understanding of the needs of pedestrians and a better understanding of the most appropriate technical guidelines.[131] There was not unanimity on the subject, but even those, like Derek Turner, Director, Street Management, Transport for London, who thought that professionals had adequate skills, were very concerned about the shortage of engineers.[132]

79. Three main criticisms were made of the often unspoken prejudices of many highway engineers: that they assumed that priority belonged to motor vehicles; that they interpreted technical guidance too inflexibly; and that they were oblivious to whether streets and public spaces looked beautiful. The Oxford Green Party claimed that professionals lacked the appropriate skills and training:

     "The principal problem, however, is the unconscious or conscious bias of senior officers for car use or at least to concentrate on the problems of traffic congestion and vehicle collisions".[133]

The CSS, formerly the County Surveyors Society, which represents senior highway engineers, seemed to agree. It observed:

    "the problem is not simply one of lack of expertise, it is more to do with the general culture which has put such great emphasis on car travel... Any fault for this must be shared by the public at large, by Members who represent the public, and by Government policy makers as well as local authority professionals".[134]

The rigid interpretation of technical advice was of concern to the ICE/ Urban Design Alliance. We were informed of the need:

    "to address the problem of standards being over-rigorously followed, by challenging and justifying existing practices, and encouraging a system of fully trained professionals who provide tailored solutions based on their professional judgement".[135]

Questioned about aesthetics, the distinguished engineer, Derek Turner agreed that attention to detail had not been one of the strong points of highway engineers.[136]

80. The London Walking Forum noted other problems, including a reluctance of professional staff to get involved in walking. It observed that walking was sometimes even seen as an embarrassment. To an ambitious local Government Officer, a small pedestrian crossing is a lot less interesting than a £50 million by-pass.[137] Given that much personal career development depends on

building power structures, careers do not seem to be furthered by championing walking issues. For engineers, walking is such an efficient use of space and people are so light in weight that there is very little need for interesting civil engineering or structural complexity; for economists, there are no intellectually challenging issues to engage them because the provision of walking is relatively simple and cheap.

81. While there was much criticism, solutions are harder to find. Attitudes are difficult to change. Clearly there is a role for more and better training.[138] The Institution of Highways and Transportation stressed that the DETR and the Highways Agency should be "more proactive in supporting qualifications (particularly when used in conjunction with academic courses)".[139] The DETR Joint Cycling/Walking Group: Professional Training and Information thought that the development of National Vocational Qualifications might be beneficial.[140] Its chairman, Derek Palmer, argued that there was a need "for continuing education and training". The Institution of Civil Engineers in conjunction with the Urban Design Alliance proposed a Masters in Street Management as additional training for professionals. More training, however, will require more money to be spent by many bodies, including universities and local authorities.[141] Professionals need to pay much more attention both to the needs of pedestrians and to the aesthetics of the street. These matters must be addressed in university and other courses and in continuing professional development, including the training of officers by local authorities.

82. Some local authorities have recruited pedestrian officers to focus on policy and design issues. The Institute of Logistics and Transport saw this "a positive step forward", but others were concerned that the appointment of pedestrian officers would marginalise walking policies, and even the Institute agreed that problems have occurred when the official appointed was too junior to carry weight.[142] Because walking is made possible by all manner of local authority departments with concerns for planning, education, social services and many others there is a need to raise awareness of the value of walking to a civilised city amongst all professions, not just those directly responsible for the street.

83. The highway engineer is by no means the only professional responsible for streets. The Institution of Civil Engineers' memorandum, based on the Urban Design Alliance's Designing Streets for People Inquiry, outlined the many functions of the street and the organisations responsible for them. It listed some of the functions: somewhere to meet and chat; somewhere to park the car; an attractive view; a place to sit; play area; and an attractive route to the shops, school, work, friends - and the rest of the world. The street is also a road down which traffic drives. The many organisations which have an effect on the street in providing services for residents include: utilities; refuse collection; the emergency services; removals and the delivery of goods. Accordingly many different professionals become involved in a single street. In addition to traffic and highway engineers are parking specialists, landscape architects, planners and architects. Management of the street is also divided among many different organisations including different parts of the local authority, the police and magistrates. Many different laws and pieces of guidance apply to a single street. The main problem, the Institution of Civil Engineers points out, is that each profession focusses on a specific function of the street, rather than designing the street as a single entity which has to be managed and improved collectively. The memorandum observes that:

    "It is the finding of the Designing Streets for People inquiry that streets have been subject to uncoordinated change by a wide range of bodies. The single street is not treated as a whole, but as a set of unrelated components. What the public requires are attractive, functional streets. They require the whole and not the part. The design and management of our streets should take account of people and be considered in a holistic way".[143]

Nor is it only highway engineers who make mistakes. Derek Turner told us of the problems caused near Coin Street, London, where architects had produced an inadequate scheme because they had not consulted engineers.[144]

84. The Designing Streets for People Inquiry put forward a number of proposals for improving the management of the streets and the public realm, including:

    "Public realm strategy - a single unified strategy to coordinate the many other plans and strategies that impinge on the public realm ...

    Streamlined management system ...

    Street management code - a code agreed between local authority, statutory undertakers and other stakeholders that covers the use of the street and developments and modifications to the street ...

    Design code..."

Street management is unco-ordinated and suffers from the involvement of a plethora of different agencies and professionals. We endorse those recommendations of the Designing the Streets Inquiry which apply to the establishment of street management strategies, street management codes and design codes.

85. Co-ordination of the different professionals is the key point. On our visit to Europe we were impressed by the extent of effective team working. We met architects trained in street design who worked with highway engineers and others to ensure all aspects of the street were taken into account when changes were made. We recommend that each local authority establish a small team of experts in street design who would work with highway engineers on all projects affecting streets and with planners on new developments.

86. Similarly guidance is not adequately coordinated and in some cases is contradictory. Much of the guidance from the DETR about urban design is good, including Places, Streets and Movement: a companion guide to Design Bulletin 32;[145] and By design, Urban design in the planning system: towards better practice.[146] There is excellent advice from professional bodies and other Government agencies, including Streets for All commissioned by English Heritage and several other organisations.[147] Our concern is that this guidance is not being followed by practitioners. Mr Palmer, formerly of the Institution of Highways and Transportation (IHT) gave us an example of what often happens to guidance in practice:

    "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% had heard of the guidelines, let alone followed them".[148]

87. While we fear that much valuable, recent guidance about urban design is ignored, we are also concerned that highway engineers place too much reliance on technical guidance from other sections of the DETR which has little to say about good design. Indeed, some of the technical guidance, which has tended to encourage schemes hostile to pedestrians, including the installation of guard railings and staggered crossings, seems to contradict the urban design guidance.

88. There is a need for consolidated advice which would be used by all the professionals concerned including highway engineers, planners and designers. It would indicate what types of pedestrian crossings are appropriate as well as aspects of the design of streets. The Institute of Logistics and Transport argued for such a comprehensive guide of best practice for practitioners in the pedestrian environment. We were informed:

    "A number of professional institutes and bodies have produced guidance on different aspects of access and mobility, but this needs drawing together into a coherent "Pedestrian Digest" that allows practitioners to grasp and develop the design and technical assessment methods that work well".[149]

We recommend that consolidated guidance be issued, which promotes the co-ordination of all work affecting the function and appearance of streets and public spaces, and sets out best practice mechanisms for implementation and monitoring.

89. Good design is a necessary but not sufficient condition for streets and public spaces of a high quality. It is also essential that there are craftsmen capable of carrying out the work. However, there is both a shortage of skilled craftsmen and it was claimed that too often, even where they exist, they are not employed. The Institution of Highways and Transportation argued that client/contractors should be favoured "who use staff that can demonstrate their practical competence".[150] We recommend that the quality of engineering work be raised by the introduction of and subsequent requirement for qualifications. Contracting supervision and quality assurance procedures should be tightened.



90. It is clear what practical policies should be followed to facilitate and promote walking. There was considerable agreement in the evidence we received. We have already described the key measures which need to be taken and, as we have noted, many are listed in the DETR's, Encouraging Walking. They are not impossible to put into practice, and many have been in a few towns and cities. Unfortunately there seems little prospect under present policies that they will be widely implemented.

91. Of course, central government is not directly responsible for the implementation of policies to promote walking. These are a matter for many organisations including local authorities, heath and education bodies, the police and public transport operators. Yet the argument we heard repeatedly was that these bodies look to the Government for a lead. Without that lead most will not give a high priority to walking.[151]

92. Amongst those who submitted evidence to this inquiry there was great dissatisfaction with the way in which the interests of people on foot were handled by the transport establishment. Almost every one of a hundred written submissions to the Committee in one way or another argues that the attention, action and priority accorded to walking fails to match its importance, and is inadequate to reverse the longstanding trend of decline. Not a single witness submitted any justification for the low status and priority accorded to walking, nor tried to argue that walking receives adequate attention from Government bodies.

93. The thrust of the evidence was that the message which has come from the Government over the last two years is that walking is not a priority. The White Paper of 1998, A New Deal for Transport, contained fine words about walking and indicated that a national strategy would be produced. In the end it was not, and advice to local authorities, Encouraging Walking, was published in March 2000 instead.

94. It was widely held that in publishing an advice note rather than a strategy, the Government had diminished the importance of walking in the eyes of local authorities and other organisations and professionals. The British Heart Foundation and the Countryside Agency commented that in publishing Encouraging Walking in 2000, the Government had missed an opportunity. They noted: "its low status as guidance for local authorities rather than being a National Strategy for Government which is what was needed and indeed what was pledged at its inception".[152] The joint memorandum concluded:

    "We need a clear and unequivocal commitment from Government to encourage walking which involves the public, private and voluntary sectors. Without such leadership it is unlikely that the range of practical actions needed to promote walking will be unlocked."[153]

The Government's Guidance on Full Local Transport Plans, also published in March 2000, shows the vapidity of its approach to walking. It did not insist that local authorities established walking strategies, but, as the DETR memorandum notes: "It invited local authorities to include local strategies for encouraging walking in their LTPs".[154]

95. Subsequently, Transport 2010: The 10 Year Plan, published in July 2000, appeared to provide further evidence of the low status of walking.[155] It is the only mode of transport other than the car for which there is no target. The Plan provides resources for transport, but sends the signal that major projects and catering for long distance travel take priority. In contrast, the promotion of walking requires numerous small schemes.[156]

96. The low status of walking is also reflected in the number of senior staff in the DETR who work on walking. We were told that there are 11 staff responsible for walking and cycling.[157] Only two of these, relatively junior officials with a limited budget, have responsibility for walking, although this is for a mode of transport responsible for almost one third of all trips. We recommend that the DETR ensure that its staffing for this policy area is commensurate with the importance of walking as a mode of transport. They will need to publish and monitor a national strategy, commission research into walking, issue consolidated guidance on street design, replace existing guidance about guard railings and staggered crossings, help local authority officers with preparing walking strategies and ensure that development plans are consistent with local transport plans. While we would wish the Government to give higher priority to walking, there is nothing to prevent local authorities from taking the initiative themselves. It is time they did so.

97. Questioned about the priority the Government gave to walking, Lord Macdonald, who is often an eloquent witness appeared confused and poorly briefed. His view about walking seemed to be that we all know how to do it and therefore it is irrelevant to have a policy on it. In response to a question about the shortage of civil servants in the DETR who worked on walking, the Minister said:

    "I suspect it is about right... because most of us know how to do it ... I just think you can therefore take a lot for granted when it comes to walking".[158]

On this basis a large part of the Government machine could be wound up tomorrow.

98. The proposals in Encouraging Walking show that some DETR officials know what should be done. However, as things stand we see little likelihood of progress because Government has not willed the means to do it. As a result the excellent suggestions in its publication are likely to remain pious but unfulfilled aspirations.

127  WTC11 Back

128  WTC30 Back

129  WTC17 Back

130  WTC70 (Mr Davison is a member of Sandwell Walking Forum); similar comments were made by other witnesses, eg. WTC47; WTC74 Back

131  WTC05 Back

132  WTC85  Back

133  WTC56 Back

134  WTC83 Back

135  WTC86 Back

136  Q482 Back

137  WTC29 Back

138   Both initial training and in-career training (eg see WTC17) Back

139  WTC05; it and WTC17 argued that walking issues should be addressed in academic courses covering a wide range of subjects: architecture, urban design, town and transportation planning, civil, highway and traffic engineering  Back

140  WTC17; the same memo notes that the routes to professional qualifications should allow those from non-traditional backgrounds to progress  Back

141  Q343 Back

142  WTC11 Back

143  WTC86 Back

144  QQ486-7 Back

145  DETR 1998 Back

146  DETR/ Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, 2000 Back

147  Streets for All: A guide to the management of London's streets; a London Streetscape manual, jointly commissioned and published by English Heritate, Government Office for London, London Forum, Pedestrians Association, sponsored by Marks and Spencer plc and the Traffic Director for London, March 200  Back

148  Q340 Back

149  WTC11 Back

150  WTC05 Back

151  See below, eg paras 94 and 110 Back

152  WTC74 Back

153  Idem Back

154  WTC40 Back

155  DETR, July 2000 Back

156  WTC35 observes "the key may reside simply in planning hitherto small changes on a strategic scale" Back

157  QQ525-6 Back

158  Q527 Back

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