Memorandum by Colin J Davis Esq (WTC 55)
WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES
I am sure that other witnesses will have expressed
views on the need to improve the quality of amenities for people
who walk in towns and cities and particularly to encourage people
to walk for pleasure.
Having been actively involved in promoting such
improvements over the last 20 years, I would like to address a
single issue and put forward a practical suggestion on how we
could ensure that ordinary high streets are made more pleasant
and welcoming for pedestrians.
In every constituency in the country there are
several shopping streets that are not and probably will never
be completely pedestrianised. Yet they are the places where people
come together on foot.
The enjoyment and the appreciation by pedestrians
of the special characteristics of the local environment are invariably
eroded by a foreground of clutter and obstructions. The clutter
is made up of signs and equipment put up in response to practical
needs, yet with little or no concern for their effect on pedestrians.
It may be useful to list the categories of equipment
that is placed on pavements. They include: lamp columns, traffic
sign and signal posts, traffic signal control boxes, bollards,
guard rails, cycle racks, water meter bollards, electricity supply
posts, waste recycling bins, bus shelters, pay phones, security
cameras, traffic monitoring cameras and traffic speed cameras.
Much of the clutter is unnecessary. The few
exemplary high street enhancement schemes that have been completed
across the country, demonstrate that all of the functions served
by these categories of equipment can be accommodated satisfactorily
without creating clutter and obstruction.
Unfortunately these schemes have only been achieved
through quite extraordinary effort by individual council members
or officers and possibly with the help of interdisciplinary professional
teams. When the effort is no longer applied, the teams are dispersed,
the techniques are forgotten and the clutter creeps back.
The accumulation of clutter occurs because no
single agency in an area has total responsibility for pavement
management. There is no legislation to require the co-ordinated
management of a street.
All the categories of equipment mentioned above
are put in place as Permitted Development under the Town and Country
Planning Acts. They can be fixed without planning permission and
therefore public consultation and are not affected by the government's
Planning Policy Guidance notes. Some work by the statutory service
companies and their contractors is carried out without notice.
Where there is co-ordination, it has to be through
a complex series of voluntary agreements, typically among as many
as a dozen agencies. It very seldom takes place.
There is a more fundamental problem. Matters
concerning efficient transport systems, roads and pavements are
dealt with by transport legislation. Matters concerning the quality
of the built environment: things that people on foot have the
time and inclination to appreciate, such as our heritage, the
quality of buildings and private pedestrian spaces, are dealt
with by planning legislation.
Public pavements fall between the two. They
are formally considered as part of the highway yet, especially
in high streets, they have the potential to add to the quality
of the built environment.
Judgements that attempt to balance the practical
needs of transport and traffic against the desire to improve the
quality of space for pedestrians are very difficult to make. There
are no common forms of comparison.
Indeed the judgements span across separate legislation
(administered by separate divisions in the DETR) and in country
towns, the responsibilities of separate councils (Town, District
and County). Even in unitary authorities they often span between
separate departments (often in separate buildings) and separate
committees served by separate professional disciplines. The separate
disciplines have separate professional institutions, separate
languages and separate cultures.
The effectiveness of road and traffic arrangements
can be readily measured and may be regarded as a science. The
quality of the pedestrian environment and the attractiveness of
spaces between buildings to encourage people to walk for pleasure,
often depend upon the combination of a number of less tangible
local factors, including an element of art.
Judgements on the quality of space for pedestrians
need to take into consideration factors that can easily be measured
and those that cannot, but certainly exist.
To set simple guidelines for universal application
about the minimum width of footways may ignore valuable local
assets. For example the relatively narrow, steep and winding pavements
in Hampstead Village, if judged against a simple minimum width
requirement, could be considered sub-standard. Yet these steep,
narrow pavements contribute towards the special character of the
local urban environment.
This sort of balanced judgement between what
can be measured easily and what cannot, is needed in every high
street in the country. People place high value on the character
of their own area. Emphasising local distinctiveness often requires
special care to be taken in the management of pavements that form
the setting of important buildings and groups of buildings.
An example of where such balanced judgements
have been made, due to extraordinary effort and interdisciplinary
co-operation, can be seen at the recent pavement enhancements
at the Strand outside Charing Cross station. The scheme included
the removal of three rows of unsightly guard rails. A possible,
though low, risk to pedestrians was balanced against an improvement
to the setting of the surrounding listed buildings at the heart
of the capital: St Martin in the Fields, John Nash's terrace and
the station itself.
In normal circumstances there would have been
no encouragement and no methodology whereby possible risks to
pedestrians could be balanced against better opportunities for
the same pedestrians to appreciate the local amenity and heritage.
In practice, day-to-day decisions relating to
pavement management in the vast majority of streets in the country
are taken at very pragmatic levels. Those involved simply consider
the single immediate issues such as where to put an equipment
box or service pillar solely in relation to its purpose and ease
of installation. It is as though a plumber putting central heating
in a house considered it acceptable to festoon every room with
pipes because it made the work easier.
One cannot blame the people who do the work.
It is unreasonable to expect someone given the task of installing
cycle racks and guided only by a simple instruction to fix them
on a pavement near the main shops, to have read or even have heard
of a PPG.
It also seems unreasonable to expect an engineering
technician, who has been given no help in the appreciation of
spatial concepts or the recognition of historic buildings to make
judgements on an appropriate pavement design in the context of
the urban characteristics of a particular area.
The theoretical principles of integrated Transport
Plans are difficult to interpret at a local level. Some guidance
has been issued on what might be acceptable and desirable for
pedestrians. But much of it fails to address the subtle issue
of what constitutes quality. It often relies on simple measured
standards, which might or might not be appropriate in a particular
location. Secondly it fails to give practitioners any help to
make judgements which balance the often competing needs of tourists,
cyclists, people with disabilities and people who walk for pleasure.
A SUGGESTED WAY
I suggest that because these balanced judgements
should take into consideration the characteristics of individual
places, which are not easily quantified, local people should be
given the opportunity to help in the decision making process.
Also I suggest that the co-ordinated management of pavements should
be a legal requirement.
The committee might therefore wish to review
the rules on Permitted Development under the Town and Country
Planning Acts regarding work on pavements and which effect pedestrians
and consider including these matters in the planning control system.
Obviously there are arguments against change,
on the grounds of delay and expense. Experiments in a few selected
places would help establish the extent to which they are justified.
There might however be some interesting benefits.
Faced with possible difficulties in fixing traffic signal control
boxes at pavement level, the industry might find that it can resolve
the technical difficulties and locate them underground.
There are likely to be many more similar innovations
in the interdisciplinary approach that this suggestion would encourage.
The design and location of pedestrian crossings seldom have any
regard to the form of surrounding buildings and the concepts of
the linked pedestrian spaces. In many high streets there are opportunities
to create crossings that would be a pleasure rather than a challenge
If such experiments were to be considered, I
suggest they are carried out at the places where people from all
backgrounds meet on foot: traditional high streets. It is here
that walking in towns and cities should be a pleasure.
If walking for pleasure is to be encouraged,
higher standards of pavement management are needed. There should
be less clutter and obstructions.
At present no single agency in an area is responsible
for pavement management. This causes a loss of amenity for pedestrians,
particularly in traditional high streets. The Committee may therefore
wish to review the rules on Permitted Development under the Town
and Country Planning Acts and consider including all aspects of
pavement management and works affecting pedestrians under planning
control. Initially as an experiment it could apply to a few sample
high streets across the country.
Colin J Davis