Transport for new homes – are we building sustainable development or mini-America?

Transport Knowledge Hub logo Published on: 4th December 2018 by Jenny Raggett.

In the 1970s whilst still at school, I became interested in what made for a successful suburb. We lived in North West London in the heart of Metroland and I travelled to school by London Transport. Having tasted the freedom that public transport gave, a group of friends discovered a new activity at weekends. This was the exploration of Greater London using the tube and bus to visit completely different places where other people lived.

We came from a nondescript 1930s suburb with privet hedges and tree-lined streets. Setting off from our local tube station we travelled to investigate inner Victorian suburbs, new estates and tower blocks. We walked around residential areas in the very centre of London and contrasted them with affluent suburbs at the end of the tube line. We discovered hidden parks and urban nooks and crannies; we found cosy communities with local shops and cafes, and equally places that were without facilities and devoid of character.

Around this time, I discovered in my local library, the plan for Milton Keyes which spanned across several volumes. Through these volumes I was introduced to the subject of town planning and spent hours looking at maps to show the way housing would be laid out, and how municipal facilities and parks would be incorporated into communities. For reasons beyond detailed recollection I was steered away from a planning course I had spotted at South Bank Polytechnic. Instead I was to study science and my first degree was in Biochemistry from Imperial College. I finally ended up in computer research and development but the planning bug never quite left.

Years later after having moved to the south west and raised a family, the planning interest surfaced again. This time however planning came in combination with another much-related theme – sustainable transport. I had always been a user of public transport and cycled on an everyday basis. I joined Campaign for Better Transport and before long was submitting extensive objections to Local Plans on the grounds that the choice of where and what to build completely neglected public transport considerations or a proper walking environment. I saw instead edge-of- town sprawl develop around a skeleton of new roads, roundabouts and car parks, with public transport and pedestrian and cycle links hardly part of the picture. A spell living in the States made me even more aware of what was happening in the UK, and the sedentary life styles, the alien environment for pedestrians and cyclists, and the traffic jams that would follow.

Back in England at Local Plan ‘Examinations in Public’ I was thought to be a well-intentioned but slightly barmy campaigner as I spelt such risks out.

In 2016 it was suggested by the Foundation for Integrated Transport that I might start a project that combined planning and transport together, and I decided that the focus should be on new homes. There were many fine (albeit often vague) words about sustainable transport in government policy and local plans. The idea of Transport for New Homes was to visit a whole range of large scale new home developments with particular view to transport and everyday living. We would photograph new places, speak to local people, walk about, use the public transport, and try out walking to local facilities. The project visited over twenty sites in England. We also toured four developments in the Netherlands.

The results of our findings are now collated in a summary report. The report is orientated around six themes:

  • Car-based living
  • Homes not properly connected for pedestrians, cyclists or buses
  • Public transport opportunities missed
  • Importance of mixed land use
  • Advantages of the new urban quarter
  • Insights from the Netherlands

We also carried out desk top research about each place and its planning history in the form of a ‘profile’, and researched extensively into the mechanisms of a system that seemed often to fail to combine new homes and sustainable transport together. Transport for New Homes has run a number of events and there are more to come – out Web sites carries the details.

*This blog first appeared on the Transport Times website in November 2018.

About the Author

This post was written by Jenny Raggett. Jenny Raggett is Project Lead for Transport for New Homes. This blog first appeared on the Transport Times website in Nov 2018.