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

Memorandum by the Institution of Civil Engineers (WTC 86)


  Submission by the Institute of Civil Engineers based on the Urban Design Alliance—Designing Streets for People Working Group.


  Walking is the principle means by which we enjoy our towns and cities. The enjoyment towns and cities have to offer, and the perception we have of them, has a major impact on people's readiness to walk.

  Factors include:

    —  the attractiveness and interest of the environment;

    —  comfort—including freedom from noise;

    —  safety—feelings of personal security;

    —  the ability to reach destinations satisfactorily;

  However, walking is but one of a number of activities that are found in urban streets, all of which have to be reconciled and in a single street.


  Many different people and organisations compete to meet their own needs in a single street.

    —  Pedestrians, wheelchair users, cyclists.

    —  Residents, shop owners, business owners.

    —  Visitors, Delivery Companies, Refuse Collection Companies.

    —  Telephone, Gas, Cable, Electricity Companies.

    —  Emergency Services.

    —  Through Traffic.

  Management of the street is divided among many different organisations including:

    —  Local Authority: Planning Authority, Highway/Traffic Authority; Parks; Refuse Collection Service.

    —  Police.

    —  Magistrates.

    —  External groups which set performance targets, such as the Government, Audit Commission etc.

  Different legislation applies to a single street—mostly focused on isolated aspects of the street.

    —  Highways Act

    —  Planning Acts

    —  Road Traffic Acts

    —  New Roads and Streetworks Act

    —  Licensing Laws

    —  Common Law precedent—eg Duty of Care

  Different guidance applies to single streets—mostly focused on single aspects of the street, for example:

    —  Designing out crime

    —  Access for people with mobility impairment

    —  Traffic Calming

    —  Signing

    —  Access for Lorries

    —  Access for Public Transport

    —  Cycling

    —  And so on

  Different professions may become involved in single streets, for example:

    —  Traffic engineers

    —  Highway engineers

    —  Parking specialists

    —  Landscape architects

    —  Planners

    —  Architects

  And in the majority of instances, changes are introduced without any professional input.

  The focus is on individual aspects or functions of the street, rather than treating the street as a single entity which has to be managed and improved collectively.

  Single focus solutions damage the function and the attractiveness of streets. Examples include:

    —  Wheeled bins: Refuse collection systems that are cost effective but then become a permanent feature of the streetscene in areas of terraced housing.

    —  Landowners installing high fences or walls to increase their perceived security at the expense of removing pedestrian's views of attractive buildings or gardens.

    —  Landowners converting from gardens into hard standing for cars: marginally increasing the availability of parking spaces at the expense of eroding the attractiveness of the street, increasing rain run-off, and potentially reducing the traffic calming effect of on-street parking.

    —  Designing the street around the largest vehicles that are ever likely to use the street, rather than pedestrians.

  Collectively, these sorts of measures make the street environment far less interesting for pedestrians, as well as less safe and convenient.

  The growth of car ownership and use has been the cause of the major changes to the quality of the environment in many of our streets, often to the detriment of the residents, pedestrians and other users. Managing the change is made all the more difficult by the complexity of the groups, legislation and guidance involved.

  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. A single street is not treated as a whole, but as a set of unrelated components. What the public require are attractive, functional streets: they require the whole and not the parts. The design and management of our streets should take account of people and be considered in a holistic way.


  The Designing Streets for People Inquiry was set up by the Urban Design Alliance in 1999 to examine the design, management, maintenance and improvement of streets.

  The work has involved:

    —  survey of practitioners and local authorities.

    —  formal presentations from selected experts from a wide range of backgrounds.

    —  a consultation report issued in June 2000, produced by a cross-disciplinary groups of professionals drawn from the Urban Design Alliance.


Improving the Management of the Street and the Public realm

  Street Excellence Model—an extension of the much used EFQM Excellence Model—a tool for local authorities to improve the way they manage and enhance the public realm, helping coordinate different organisations, departments and professions.

  Public Realm Strategy—a single unified strategy to coordinate the many other plans and strategies that impinge on the public realm.

  Streamlined Management system—single point of contact in the local authority for public realm issues, eg highways, development control, environmental health, licensing.

  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. Permitted developments are removed, but work which is in accordance with the code may proceed without further reference to the local authority.

  Design Code—simple rules for designers of buildings in an area which allows them to exercise their flair and creativity, but ensure the development of a cohesive, attractive area that is fit for purpose.

  Knowledge base

    —  evidence based design—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.

    —  knowledge maps—to make design issues more accessible across the diverse professions, and to provide a counter to single focus solutions.


  Recognising that many different organisations, groups and individuals are involved in a street, to make progress requires cooperation, shared responsibility and joint action. Proposals are:

  Quality Street Partnerships—between local authority, professionals—and individuals and organisations who live, work, or own property, or otherwise use a street, to generate a consensus on how a street should be improved and managed, funded and maintained.

  Street Audits—Placecheck—an audit undertaking at a community level—piloted in 10 sites in 2000 by the Urban Design Alliance—the programme was funded by English Partnerships. (Briefing Sheet attached).

  Quality Street Agreements—to formalise the consensus obtained by the street partnership, including agreements on funding, use of land, and other undertakings.

  This approach would fit well under the Community Strategy and Local Strategic Partnership system currently being developed in local authorities. It would provide individual members of the community with a means of becoming directly involved in the democratic process.

Widening Training Opportunities

  Post Graduate MBA—Urban Street Management—covering understanding streets and settlements including social and economic issues, plus operational skills of street design, law, contracts, finance, governance, consultation and community involvement.

  Streetcraft skills—NVQ system to increase the number of people able to deliver high quality work—eg paviour skills.

Revising Legislation

  Responses to the need to revise legislation to facilitate better public realms include:-

    —  Highways Act 1980 could be revised to reflect not only the right to pass and repass, but the rights and interests of those who live, work, or trade in property fronting the streets, to recognise the fact that streets form the bulk of public open space in urban areas, and to remove anomalies, some dating from the Victorian era eg that it is legal to park on a footway but illegal to drive onto a footway.

    —  Legislation for simplified signing—eg simplified signing zones—to reduce expense and clutter.

    —  Legislation to help coordination, eg street management codes.


  Currently the Working Group is reviewing the recommendations of the consultation draft with a view to producing a final report later in the year.


  The Urban Design Allowance (UDAL) was formed in 1997 by seven professional and specialist organisations working to create quality towns and cities. The central goal of UDAL is to raise awareness of urban design, and the fundament role it plays in creating sustainable, safe and desirable urban areas.

  UDAL is working to improve our towns and cities by:

    —  promoting the importance of high quality urban design;

    —  ensuring higher standards of education and training in the profession;

    —  demonstrating the economic and social advantages of urban design.

  UDAL's members comprise: The Civic Trust; The Institution of Civil Engineers; The Landscape Institute; The Royal Institute of British Architects; The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors; The Royal Town Planning Institute; The Urban Design Group.

January 2001

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Prepared 29 June 2001