Transport decarbonisation and the role of land-use planning

Transport Knowledge Hub logo Published on: 26th August 2021 by Victoria Hills MRTPI FICE.

The transport sector is the most significant contributor towards the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, while other sectors such as energy generation have drastically reduced their emissions over the last 30 years, the transport sector has made little progress towards decarbonisation.

So what more needs to be done?

Significant behavioural shift

The RTPI believes that the time has come for truly ambitious targets and policies to be implemented.

With the Planning Bill being pushed forward by the Government, there is now a real opportunity to change how we approach transport planning for the better, integrating net zero into planning from the outset and equipping developers with the tools, policies and security to decarbonise transport.

But this will not be easy – a significant behavioural shift is required in how we understand, plan, deliver and interact with transport throughout the UK.

The RTPI agrees completely with the Greener Transport Council that transport decarbonisation cannot be left to the transport sector alone. Instead, it should be approached more holistically, with net zero being incorporated from the earliest stages of planning and policy through to the delivery and lifecycle of communities and projects.

RTPI research

Our report Net Zero Transport: the role of spatial planning and place-based solutions, published earlier this year, explored the vital role of planning and place-based solutions in helping the transport sector drive the UK towards net-zero emissions. Our research set out a pathway for decarbonising transport and, at the same time, delivering better place outcomes. While there are clear barriers to overcome, there are strong and realistic opportunities for spatial planning and place-based solutions.

We certainly need to look beyond electric vehicles – and this is where planning will play a vital role.

In the future, new developments, such as urban extensions, should be planned, designed and delivered with the aim of delivering ‘carbon negative growth’. New developments should feature net-zero transport from the start while also contributing to a wider reduction in emissions through the encouragement of reduced travel demand and the incorporation of alternative and greener methods of travel.

Alongside the design of new developments, the renewal of extant spaces must also consider and ultimately incorporate methods of reducing transport emissions – they should be reimagined, reoriented and regenerated with sustainable methods of transport at their core.

20-minute neighbourhoods

The RTPI believes that enabling citizens to ‘live locally’ and have their regular and daily amenities and services within a short walk or cycle ride – the ‘20 minute neighbourhood’ concept – can become one of the key policies for delivering a net-zero transport network.

In order to be truly effective, this policy needs to be rolled out across urban areas. A co-ordinated roll out of the concept will help to establish an interconnected network of neighbourhoods that promote low-carbon travel both within their neighbourhoods and further afield. However, each individual roll out must undertake the necessary stakeholder engagement in order to understand the needs of each neighbourhood and deliver appropriate low-carbon travel solutions.

The government’s recent Transport Decarbonisation Plan gave its support for these 20-minute neighbourhoods while also reiterating the important role that planning has to play in decarbonising the transport sector. The RTPI particularly welcomes the government’s recognition that the planning system has an important role to play in creating developments that promote a shift towards sustainable transport networks.

Imagination and vision

Looking to the future, there is a clear need for imagination and vision within placemaking.

The UK must move away from the traditional methods of predicting transport demands and instead plan and deliver developments with sustainability and interconnectivity at their core. In order to change how we incorporate spatial planning into transport planning, a clear direction is required across national and local planning.

Looking at the Transport Decarbonisation Plan and upcoming Planning Bill, there is no denying the growing role of planning in the transport sector. If the government can begin to build upon this, offering funding and resourcing for planning to deliver ambitious projects such as 20-minute neighbourhoods, then the planning sector can play a significant role in the decarbonisation of transport throughout the UK.

About the Author

This post was written by Victoria Hills MRTPI FICE. Victoria is the Chief Executive of Royal Town Planning Institute