Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Eleventh Report



139. A National Strategy for Walking can play a very important role in stimulating local authorities and other organisations to take the necessary actions to promote and facilitate walking. The provision of funds which reflect the importance of walking will enable them to implement the appropriate measures. It is, however, unlikely, that the National Strategy and the increased budget will reverse the decline in policy unless, as we have repeatedly stated, the Government ensures that the right planning policies are implemented which make it convenient to make short walking journeys.

140. There are grounds for optimism. Planning policy was the one area of policy which witnesses praised. Policies put in place by both the last Government (PPG6 - Town centres and retail development) and the present one (PPG3 - Housing) were seen as important contributions to the creation of more compact development patterns and preventing out of town sprawl. Although implementation of the policies has not been as effective as witnesses would have hoped, the Government has a set of land use policies which are of a high standard. Nevertheless, even in this area there have been a number of disappointments. In particular, policies to reduce travel by co-ordinating transport and planning policies have not been effective.

141. Large scale formats (large superstores, hospitals, leisure and entertainment complexes), which are usually located out of town because of their land requirements, have continued to be granted planning permission. These out of town developments, not only provide free parking and therefore attract large number of customers travelling by car, they also force local authorities to provide more and cheaper parking at competing town centre locations, and more road capacity to accommodate the traffic seeking access to the car parking. This undermines the pedestrian environment in town centres. Competition is not just between town centres and out of town centres, but between competing town centres. For example, parking charges might be reduced in order to compete more effectively with neighbouring towns.

142. To deal with these and related problems in 1994 the Government introduced PPG13 on Transport. Unfortunately implementation was patchy and in 1999 a revised draft PPG13 was issued for consultation, which proposed national maximum parking standards. Subsequently little has changed. Local decisions seem characterised by confusion and unpredictability. The British Property Federation reported that 75% of planning authorities which responded to a survey it commissioned allowed more business parking than was suggested in the draft PPG13 on Transport. There is a wide divergence in parking standards between those given in the draft PPG13 and those set by planning authorities which have in some cases not been changed for 5 years. 40% of local authorities which responded to the survey are planning to review their policies without first examining public transport accessibility.[214]

143. Given the confusion we are pleased that the final version of PPG 13 is now published. Many witnesses had expressed disappointment and frustration at the delay to publication, which came only at the end of our deliberations. The Civic Trust's view was not untypical:

    "it 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 taken such a long time to produce it. The time lag required from publication of a planning policy guidance note to its appearance in developments plans is years, so we can not afford to wait."[215]

It is widely known that publication had been delayed because of the Government's nervousness about representations made by private sector development interests. These were mostly to do with the effect that lower levels of parking provision would have on the profitability of food retail stores and other businesses. In evidence to us the Minister, Beverley Hughes, denied that the Treasury had blocked PPG13, but as a supplementary memorandum from the department made clear, she had apparently been confused about the document.[216]

144. Our initial reaction is that the full revised version of PPG13 in many respects differs little from the consultation draft of October 1999. It has strengthened guidance on the role of Transport Assessments in the land use planning process, and this is to be welcomed. The main difference, however, is the setting of national maximum levels of parking which are more generous (and hence less effective as part of the shift to more sustainable access) than in the draft. In particular the maximum provision at food retail developments has been increased by 30%, and at office developments by 18%. In terms of limiting parking in town centres the final PPG13 has introduced a significant loophole (which developers are bound to exploit) by allowing local authorities to consider going above the "relevant maximum standards". This could undermine policies to maximise access to town centres by walking, cycling and public transport. We are also disappointed at the introduction into PPG 13 of separate student parking at new higher education establishments. This will encourage car use to a land use that has traditionally been accessed to a large degree on foot, cycle and public transport. Moreover, the parking provision is to be based on student enrolments rather than full time equivalent student numbers, leading to still higher levels of parking.

145. Now that PPG13 has finally been published it is important that its daughter documents are published as a matter of urgency. These are Guidance on Transport Assessments (which will indicate the share each mode of transport should achieve at new developments) and Planning and Sustainable Access (which illustrates how new developments can be planned to reduce dependence on the car for access). Both of these projects are complete. Supporting research, which justified the parking standards set out in the draft PPG 13, was under taken on the subject, but has never been published. In view of the need to continue the debate over this very contentious issue we recommend that the national research on parking standards which supported PPG13 now be published.

146. During our inquiry, we became aware of what seems to be a disturbing development, namely that the Treasury had begun an inquiry into the impact of planning policy on the economy following complaints from property consultants and the business sector that planning policy restricts productivity.[217] We were informed by the Treasury that the press reports were wrong, that it had not commissioned research and that it was working with DETR "to understand better how the planning system impacts on the business community and economic growth".[218] It is a matter of concern that the Treasury's inquiry into planning policy has been undertaken with the aim of undoing the important policies to restrain out-of-town development which were put in place in the last decade. If this were done, it would have severe consequences for walking, congestion and the Urban Renaissance. We note with approval the following conclusion of the Treasury Committee:

    "We are concerned that the Treasury as an institution has recently begun to exert too much influence over policy areas which are properly the business of other departments and that this is not necessarily in the best interests of the Treasury or the Government as a whole."[219]

We can think of few areas where these remarks are more appropriate than land use planning, the complexities of which should not be dealt with superficially. We trust our successor Committee will monitor developments in this area keenly.


147. Walking in towns and cities is a very important mode of transport, but it is under threat. People are spending more time in cars, and less time on their feet. The number of walking trips has declined by 13% in 25 years, while the number of car (and motor cycle) trips increased by 48% in the same time.[220] This has very serious consequences for traffic congestion and the quality of life in cities and personal health. Poorer households without cars are worst affected.

148. The convenience of the car means that it will remain the dominant transport mode. Nevertheless it is possible first to stop the decline in walking and subsequently bring about a decrease in the number of car journeys and a corresponding increase in the number of walking trips to bring English towns and cities on a par with the best in northern Europe. To do this, the Government should set about changing transport priorities. It should

  • ensure that appropriate land use planning policies are implemented

  • make small schemes to promote walking a higher priority for funding

  • publish a National Strategy which would send a message to local authorities and others that walking is a priority; make local strategies mandatory; set national targets; and establish a national forum.

149. We also recommend that the Government implement a number of specific measures. In particular

  • roads and streets should be re-classified to take account of the activities along them, not just traffic flow

  • priorities for design and spending should follow from this re-classification

  • consolidated guidance covering design and technical matters should be issued

  • the number of staff responsible for walking in the DETR should be increased so that it is commensurate with the importance of walking

  • transport spending should be sanctioned when local authorities have an appropriate walking strategy in place

  • guidance to local authorities should specify that staggered pedestrian crossings and guard railings should not be used; and

  • safety problems should be addressed by reducing traffic and traffic speed and re-allocating road space rather than by increasing pedestrian inconvenience

  • addressing concerns about personal security should be given a high priority; specifically the police should pay more attention to ensuring that people feel safe when they walk about our streets.

214  Business Parking Standards, Report of Survey, Symonds Group for the British Property Federation, 2001 Back

215  Q357 Back

216  WTC40A Back

217  Urban Environment Today, 15 February 2001 Back

218  WTC 104 Back

219  Third Report from the Treasury Committee, 2000-01, HM Treasury (HC73-I), para 21 Back

220  Transport trends, 2001, p.29; the decline since 1985/86 is 20% Back

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