Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Richard Shirres

What constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century

Summary of Evidence

This evidence relates to (A) what constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century and the necessary considerations to achieve such, also (C) transparent methodology and means to assess the impact of library closures or changes to number or distribution of libraries within a portfolio.

In particular this submission argues:

(a)the fundamental importance of pedestrian accessibility in any process to optimize the spatial provision of a local authority’s portfolio of libraries and which is inherently consistent with our 21st century needs to plan for sustainable settlements and walkable neighbourhoods;

(b)local authorities (LAs) should incorporate into their strategic development planning process aspirations, including outline mapping, to aid future realization of and ensure a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century;

(c)a point to point straight-line distance standard of 1,200m, in effect implied by the Bourdillon Report, remains a valid criterion for the 21st century—albeit as a maximum value—with which to evaluate spatial provision of library service points and to model library catchments in aggregate;

(d)with simple application of geographical information systems (GIS), it is well within the capabilities and resources of local authorities to express a global indicator of the aggregate proportion (%) of households with ready access to their local library. This global indicator of library service standard, which concisely communicates standard of service provision, is highly relevant to an optioneering process when reviewing a portfolio of branch libraries and is transparent for the public;

(e)any strategic review by a local authority of its portfolio of libraries should utilize its GIS resources to carry out spatial analysis exploiting 21st century datasets to help gauge impacts; evidence is also included (See Appendix 2:2.3) of the need to assess potential educational and cultural harm to pupils’ arising from library closures by examining schools within modelled catchments, and

(f)differential economic impact across a community (Illustrated by an example in Appendix 3) can and should be assessed for a prospective reduction or adjustment in a portfolio of branch libraries.

Contents of Submission

1.0A rational approach to providing a “compliant” library service.

2.0The Issue of Accessibility: a Function of Location.

3.0Historical guidance on an Acceptable Distance to Access Libraries.

4.0Importance of a Walking Access Distance Standard for the Standard of Library Service.

5.0Justification for a Reasonable Walking Access Distance Standard.

6.0A Global Indicator for a Local Authority Area to Gauge a “compliant” library service.

7.0Planning for Sustainable settlements and to mitigate social exclusion: walkable catchments.

8.0Educational Importance of libraries accessible by walking.

9.0Methodology for Assessing a Spatial Library Service Standard and Quantifying Impacts of Changes to a Portfolio of Branch Libraries.


Appendix 1—Bibliography & References

Appendix 2—Figures & Tables (Not printed)

A2.1 Bolton MBC Spatial Distribution of Libraries: (1) Bolton Central & East

A2.2 Demonstration of Aggregate Impact of Bolton MBC Library Closures

A2.3 Review of Bolton Primary schools within 1200m catchments

A2.4 BMBC Household Density Mapping Overlaid by Library Catchments

Appendix 3—Impact Assessment of Heaton Library Closure (not printed)

A3.1 Basic Economic Cost Impact Assessment of Heaton library Closure

A3.2 Heaton Library Catchment

A3.3 1991 Census Household count within 200m grid cell

A3.4 Walking distances from centre of 200m grid cell to library

A3.5 Pedestrian Walk Times

A3.6 Average Pedestrian access Time to Heaton Library 800m Ped Shed

A3.7 Allocation of 200m grid cells to bus routes

A3.8 Walk Times to Bus Stops from centre of 200m grid cell

A3.9 Average wait Times at Bus Stop

A3.10 Bus Travel Times to Bolton Town Centre

A3.11 Total Travel Time to access Bolton Library via Public Transport

A3.12 Average Access Time via Public Transport to Bolton Library

A3.13 Route Distensions for 200m grid cells & Catchment Average

A3.14 Selection of appropriate walking speeds from review of recent literature

A3.15 Pedestrian & public transport accessibility basic equations


The author subscribes to the continuing educational and cultural importance and relevance of a library service which is supportive of active citizenship and supports the “Key Missions” as described by UNESCO in its Manifesto on Public Libraries. The author believes that planning for 21st century library service provision at the local level needs to be based on sound methodology exploiting 21st century planning and economic appraisal practices.

1.0 A rational approach to providing a “compliant” library service

1.1 In the 21st century, the spatial provision of public service points (eg. branch libraries) should rely upon strategic planning founded upon spatial analysis with the aim of delivering a “comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof” as required by section 7 of the 1964 Act. The objective must be to seek to optimize—from a societal needs perspective—the distribution of given assets (ie branch libraries) so that persons wishing to use the library service can readily do so.

1.2 Provision of a “compliant library service requires good physical access to a diversity of books and other publications—the most essential assets of a library service—together with access to computer facilities, community information all mediated by professional librarian staff. Fundamentally, the key attributes necessary for a “compliant” library service are:

1.Accessibility—both (a) spatial (location of library), and (b) temporal (opening hours).

2.Quality (including diversity) of literary collection.

3.Standard of mediation by professional librarian staff.

2.0 The Issue of Accessibility: a Function of Location

2.1 Opportunity of access, to a library service, is determined by:

(a)location of library (or libraries) relative to the community served; and

(b)the opening hours (ie temporal) set for particular libraries.

2.2 Regarding the latter, even with restricted opening hours can usually be set in such a way so as to continue to enable reasonable opportunity for access to a library during a week. Conversely, the spatial distribution of libraries in relation to a local authority’s population crucially influences achieving a “comprehensive and efficient” library service. Yet, historically, there has been no rigorous consideration of the issue of accessibility by Government.

3.0 Historical guidance on an Acceptable Distance to Access Libraries

3.1 The Bourdillon Report (Ministry of Education, 1962) is one of two formative documents that informed the 1964 Libraries Act; the other being the higher level Roberts Report. The essential reference to distance of dispersal of libraries (service points) is confined to the former which, in paragraph 103, states:

The distance between service points is important, particularly to the old and to the very young. We think that in urban areas no person should normally have to travel more than one mile to a library; indeed, we think the distance should be less in heavily built-up areas where natural centres of population are closer together and the density of population justifies the provision of more branch libraries.

3.2 There are two important points to note from the Bourdillon Report.

(1)The maximum distance cited to access a library is in terms of a mile travelled and not a straight line distance of one mile.

(2)There is a clear recommendation that in more highly dense urban areas the maximum distance should, if anything, be less than a mile.

3.3 In recent decades in the reporting of local authority library statistics, apparently the practice has been to misapply the original recommended distance standard and instead to work on a straight-line distance standard of one mile. This has not been addressed by previous select committee reports. Furthermore, it seems fair to say that there has been no serious consideration by Government of what justifies a reasonable access distance in the context of library service provision since the Bourdillon Report of 1962. This is why “Bourdillon” still has some significance on this matter.

4.0 Importance of a Walking Access Distance Standard for the Standard of Library Service

4.1 For the vast majority of the more socially disadvantaged, as well as all reasonably able bodied, walking will be the preferred means to access their local library. The greater the time and resource investment needed to access their local library the less likely individuals will use the library. Also it is precisely those individuals—those most likely to be discouraged by difficulty of access—which society needs to reach in order to reduce inequality and social deprivation. Thus, any strategic library service review and optimization process needs to concern itself in particular with either those individuals (ie least affluent and more vulnerable or deprived stakeholders) who have a greater need to use libraries or those who may find it more difficult to access libraries (ie. arrive at the library location).

4.2 Most importantly, this criterion can form the basis a standard approach to looking at accessibility in order to assess impact. Consequently, the methodology for optimizing spatial distribution needs to focus upon pedestrian accessibility and be based on a reasonable walking distance standard.

4.3 Therefore, as part of a spatial analysis methodology which looks at the distribution of libraries across a borough, modelling requires selection and consistent application of an appropriate library catchment radius based on a reasonable walking access distance.

4.4 Within whatever library catchment, the proportion of households preferring to access a library will reduce increasingly with distance from the library. At the 800m straight-line distance (NB Equivalent to 1,100m travelled) probably only around 10% to 15% would readily choose walking, whereas at 1,200m (NB Equivalent to 1,600m travelled) one might expect the percentage to be relatively small.

5.0 Justification for a Reasonable Walking Access Distance Standard

5.1 In order to derive a reasonable straight line distance measure for urban areas one has to take account of:

(a)Ratio between actual distance travelled and straight line distance between the two points within a typical urban area (Route distension factor).

(b)Walking speeds within the population.

(c)Guidance on willingness to walk distances based on behavioural research.

(a) Route Distension Factor for urban areas

This factor is influenced by scale of distance travelled within the urban area and the nature of the route network. Research by Shirres (1998) looked more at the settlement scale for journeys across Bolton and derived a factor of between 1.23 and 1.27. More recently, in analysing Heaton Library catchment (ie at a more localised scale) in Bolton, an average factor of 1.35 was found (Shirres, 2012)—see Appendix 3:3.13. The guidance Providing for Journeys on Foot (IHT, 2000) suggests 1.4 which appears to relate to journeys up to 2,000m. The recommendation of this submission is that the value of route (travelled) distension in urban areas could be taken as a factor of 1.35 (ie 135%).

(b) Walking speeds within the population

Inevitably walking speeds will vary. One study (Cunningham et al, 1982) used a sample of 84 males suggests a mean walking speed of 83.5 metres per minute, with a standard deviation of 10.6 metres per minute. From a review of research, Shirres (1998) cites an average speed of 80m per minute and this is supported by more recent research in the last decade (Colclough & Owens 2010; Finnis & Walton 2007; Toor et al,2001; Willis et al 2004) which also points towards 80m per minute as a reliable mean value to assume.

(See Appendix 1 for references for planning research and guidance also see Appendix 3: A3.14)

(c) Guidance on willingness to walk distance

In some earlier UK studies (Hillman & Whalley, 1979; Guy & Wrigley, 1987; Tarry, 1992) there are suggested mean values for an acceptable walked distance travelled of: half a mile, 820m to 1,020m and 850m respectively. More recent best practice planning guidance (Barton, Davis & Guise, 1995) suggests a range of possible distance standards (ie straight line distances) for various amenities. Although libraries are not cited, the [straight-line] standard for Health Centres (1,000m) and for secondary schools (1,500m) are for amenities perhaps less local than libraries. Again Providing for Journeys on Foot (IHT, 2000) advises acceptable walking distances of 1,000m to 800m, and 400m within town centres, subject to amenity being accessed. The 1964 London County Council Survey of Open Space Users (a survey of 2,015 users) found that the majority of visits arose within an 800m catchment and demonstrated the willingness to walk is based on the attractiveness of the amenity. Llewelyn Davies consultants for the London Planning Authority suggested a maximum 800m straight line walking distance (Llewelyn Davies, 1998).

Given a Route Distension Factor of 1.35, the correspondence between straight line distance and actual distance travelled is, together with indicative time of travel, as follows:

Straight-line or Catchment


Distance Travelled

Likely time to travel

67% of walkers within range



13.5 minutes

12 to 15 minutes



17 minutes

15 to 18.5 minutes



20 minutes

18 to 22 minutes

5.2 It is suggested, from reviewed research (See Appendix 1) and the above that an appropriate straight-line distance or catchment radius to consider—that implies a reasonable travelled Walking Access Distance Standard—could be equivalent to a straight line distance of 800 metres between points. Thus, such a straight-line distance on plan would be likely to be equivalent to a distance travelled of about 1,080 metres, requiring a likely travel time of about 13.5 minutes. Best practice town planning for sustainable settlements focuses on 800m ped-sheds (eg. Congress for New Urbanism in USA; Western Australian Design Code; Llewelyn-Davies (1999); Barton et al (2000)). This standard is increasingly widespread.

5.3 As discussed, an 800m radius, implying a distance travelled of around 1100m, would seem justifiable from research literature, modern planning thinking and current guidance. However, the “Bourdillon” distance travelled standard has become so ubiquitous, albeit often misrepresented, that in the current circumstances it could be conceded as a maximum distance relevant for use in assessing library service standards. Furthermore, it is shown below that there may be little difference in outcome—in respect of its application show herein—depending upon which distance standard is applied.

5.4 “Bourdillon” recommends (cited in paragraph 3.1 above) a one mile travelled (ie 1,608m) standard; being equivalent to covering a straight line distance within a typical urban area of about 1,192 metres. Accordingly, this submission recommends one mile (ie approx. 1,600 metres) travelled in an urban area should be taken as equivalent to a straight line distance of 1,200 metres and which should be considered a maximum distance standard relevant to assessing library service standards and applicable to modelling library catchments.

6.0 A Global Indicator for a Local Authority Area to Gauge a “compliant” library service

6.1 Where a possible reduction in number of library branches is being considered, an approach based on modelled library catchments allows one to investigate the relative impact between different options and, thereby, to derive an indication of which option is likely to generate the least impact.

6.2 From a perspective of pedestrian accessibility, the estimated aggregate number of households within a reasonable walking access distance—for a given distribution—of a number of libraries serves well as an indicator of a local authority’s standard of service provision. This can be simply expressed as a percentage of households, from the total, across the local authority area. In the absence of a household count dataset, a residential property count can serve as a proxy provided that we are dealing in relative proportions (This is discussed further in Section 9.2).

6.3 Consequently, this provides a global indicator of library service standard. Although the indicator would be specific to a local authority area for a given distribution of libraries, settlements of similar typology could be usefully compared. Made easy by the application of geographical information systems (GIS)—the tool essential for strategic planning in the 21st century—this approach enables one to explore effectively any number of options for a portfolio of libraries across a local authority area as part of an optimizing process.

6.4 As an example from previous research, Shirres (1998) assumed a reasonable straight line walking access distance of 800m, and hence a catchment radius based on that. In Bolton before closure of four libraries in 1997, 58% of households were within a reasonable walking access distance of a local library. After 1997, and up to 2011, this had fallen to 47% of households. Up-dating this simple analysis showed that for prospective closures, if enacted in 2012, access for households would be brought down to 28%. This indicates a 50% reduction in standard of service within 14 years. This indicator is very effective in representing, what seems in Bolton’s case, a striking deterioration in service provision. This is also described graphically in more detail in Appendix 2: A2.2 and is depicted spatially in Appendix 2:A2.4.

6.5 To continue to illustrate by way of the Bolton case above, adopting instead a 1,200m radius for each existing branch library catchments captures in aggregate 73.7 % of the residential property distribution, for the 2011. This dramatically reduces to 46.4 % of the residential property population with the proposed closures in 2012. What is important to note is that the assessed relative change between existing and proposed closures situation is not particularly sensitive to the assumed library catchment radius; varying from 59.5% for 600m to 63% for 1,200m. This is illustrated graphically in Appendix 2: A2.2. This is an approach, therefore, that provides a valid and important global indicator of library service standard. It is one that is an important indicator because it is transparent and can be readily calculated for any number of different branch library portfolios.

7.0 Planning for Sustainable settlements and to mitigate social exclusion: walkable catchments

7.1 A strategic review of the distribution of branch libraries requires careful consideration of, and in the context of the provision of community services, the need to plan for sustainable neighbourhoods and district centres.

7.2 The role of branch libraries has evolved somewhat and their importance as local facilities has increased since the passing of the 1964 Act. The growth of large supermarkets, particularly within the last three decades has withered the number and vitality of facilities within local centres and neighbourhoods. Consequently, the branch library is, by default, an increasingly relevant feature, both for the community and in support of the “footfall” and vitality of neighbourhoods centres. Branch libraries, therefore, are important keystone amenities promoting local community interaction.

7.3 It would be a mistake to focus on the importance of accessibility solely in terms of reducing the need to travel; ie from an energy conservation perspective. Official government policy for sustainable development and social inclusion has previously stressed the importance of the need to promote sustainable neighbourhoods and enhance the availability of local facilities within a reasonable walking distance (DETR 1998, Urban Task Force 1999, Social Exclusion Unit 2001). Walking is a mode of transport available to all but a small percentage of the public. Walking to access services enables citizens to exercise independence but also allows the fuller interaction with other people and, of course, the urban environment. It is also relevant to people developing a sense of place and motivation to act locally. As cited previously, it is at the very heart of principles for sustainable settlements as described by Barton et al (2000), the work of Llewelyn-Davies for London (1999), Congress for New Urbanism in USA and the guidance in recent years for the previous Government’s initiative on Eco-towns.

7.4 It is self-evident that distance affects the propensity to walk to facilities. Furthermore, the relevance of local accessibility can vary greatly between social groups. Some groups—children, home workers, unemployed, single parents or parents of young families, senior citizens, non-car owners, the disabled—are more tied to their locality than others. Within these groups social exclusion is most likely. It is precisely these classes of stakeholders that a strategic review of the distribution of a branch libraries needs to consider and be driven by. These social groups may have little choice other than to walk to access facilities. In contrast, for affluent car-drivers the actual location of a district library, and thereby the distance to travel, may not be a serious concern.

7.5 Thus, the rational basis for a review of the distribution of branch libraries is one based upon walkable library catchments across a particular distribution of branch libraries or, in the case of examining possible closure of branches, for different portfolios of branches.

8.0 Educational Importance of libraries accessible by walking

8.1 The tutored exposure of primary school children, notably younger ones, to libraries can powerfully benefit the reading culture of children, especially for those whose parents do not read with their children. The effect of a poor literary culture can affect outcomes into the long term and sometimes can endure for a lifetime. Modern parental deficiencies around reading culture are perceived by primary school teachers as posing an increasing challenge in efforts to raise literacy standards.

8.2 Taking the example of Bolton MBC, for the libraries proposed for closure, there are 23 primary schools captured within a 1,200m radius of each of the related libraries (See Appendix 2:A2.3). For these schools, currently their local library serves as an important educational resource; one that in best practice teaching is recognised as valuable in helping to further literacy skills and culture. For young children it may be special story telling sessions, talks from visiting authors; for older children it involves mastering access to information and key library skills, serving to empower and further access literature.

8.3 For the identified 23 primary schools, during the next 14 year period, 2012–26, there will be another double the turnover of pupils, estimated at 11,000 pupils passing through the schools (See Appendix 2:A2.3. Thus, the impact of proposed library closures is likely to have some lasting effect on the literacy culture of a large number of pupils by 2026. Without a primary school having a local library within a reasonable walking access distance means this tutored exposure of primary school children to library services will not take place. The affects and the legacy for some pupils should not be dismissed lightly.

9.0 Methodology for Assessing a Spatial Library Service Standard and Quantifying Impacts of Changes to a Portfolio of Branch Libraries

9.1 This submission has given the reasoned justification for assuming library catchments could be described by a 1200m radius. Where overlap occurs the intersection points are joined by straight line; this is illustrated in Appendix 2: A2.1 and populations are not double counted.

9.2 Appendix 2: A2.2 uses residential property counts for 600m, 800m, 1,000m and 1,200m radius catchments. These are readily available from Address-Point*. Generally, there is a proportionality between residential property counts and actual household counts, particularly if sampled from an 800m radius, or greater, catchment. Typically, residential property counts may be around 5% greater than the household count. Due to the spatial scale (ie. in aggregate across a local authority area) at which counts are examined, and one is concerned only with relative differences, the residential property count can serve as a reasonable proxy for household count. Appendix 2:A2.4 illustrates surface population mapping (200m grid) from 1991 Census data. This is now readily available for local authorities and has the great benefit of making available social demographic statistics which enables other library catchment characteristics to be explored.

*(NB Address-Point is a mapping/GIS data product supplied by the Ordnance Survey)

9.3 The global indicator, outlined in Section 6.0 above, only provides an “average” perspective a useful starting point. But there are other considerations. One important aspect, already discussed in Section 8.0 above, concerns examination of the association of primary schools with their particular local libraries. A further consideration is the potential for iniquitous economic impact discussed below.

9.4 The importance of access to library services is crucial to understanding strategic provisioning. As already argued, a focus on pedestrian accessibility but also public transport accessibility, is particularly apposite. To illustrate the rather straight forward methodology for this, Appendix 3 focuses on one particular library proposed for closure: Heaton library within Bolton MBC. Within Appendix 3 separate pages show the simple steps involved in deriving walk times to the library across the catchment and also the public transport travel times to access the alternative post closure situation.

9.5 Derivation of the average time difference between existing and the alternative library enables the basic economic cost impact to be considered. This is shown in Appendix 3: A3.1. As with Highway schemes, associating a cost for lost non-working time can be a valid approach to gauging economic impact of a library closure. By this means, a negative cost impact is derived which can be attributed to the household population within that particular library catchment whereas the Council savings are distributed instead across all households within the Borough. The net outcome is negative for that particular library catchment. The significance of that negative outcome will depend in turn upon the degree of social deprivation within the library catchment. Appendix 3: A3.1 illustrates a potential basis for defining some quantification of economic impact of proposed library closures and, thereby, the scope for appraising differential economic impact.

10. Recommendations

10.1 The importance of pedestrian accessibility should be recognised in the process methodology by local authorities when engaged in a strategic review and optimization its portfolio of libraries because it is inherently consistent with 21st century planning for sustainability.

10.2 That the Bourdillon one mile distance travelled should be reaffirmed as a straight-line distance standard of 1,200m as a maximum for urban areas.

10.3 Library catchments of 1,200m radius should be used to derive a global local authority indicator for library service standard as a proportion of households (or residential properties) within 1,200m of a local library, expressed as a percentage.

10.4 That a local authority as part of its strategic planning for sustainable settlements must recognise the potential contribution that libraries can make and that specific aspirational mapping should be separately produced, or incorporated into the existing development planning process, to indicate areas for library service points.

10.5 As part of any strategic review of its library service, the potential impact of closures, or relocation of branch libraries, upon primary schools must be assessed.

10.6 That the above indicator be used as part of any optioneering process of a local authority in reviewing its spatial and number provisioning of its branch libraries.

10.7 Any strategic review by a local authority to adjust or review its portfolio of libraries should seek to quantify the economic impact.



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January 2012

1 Further appendices not printed.

Prepared 5th November 2012