Councils urged to better recognise sustainable travel

Local authority planning committees need to overcome their ‘unconscious bias’ towards meeting the needs of motorists, an event heard on Monday.

Peter Brett Associates’ director Keith Mitchell told the Transport Planning Network annual conference: “We need a plan that changes the way in which decision making works”, adding that those on planning committees “typically do not really represent the broadest sections of community. There is an unconscious bias towards the experience of people who drive their cars and not those who live agile lifestyles”.

He also said that planning committees making decisions about where money should go – in terms of Section 106 obligations or the Community Infrastructure Levy – often follows the ‘predict and provide’ rule. But, he added: “If decisions were being made about prioritising investment in infrastructure that followed how you create better places and communities and create conditions for people to walk around, then we will start moving towards better outcomes.”

Delegates also heard from climate change charity Possible’s co-director Leo Murray, who remarked that “all towns need to make private car use obsolete” rather than encouraging urban areas to adopt electric vehicles over those powered by an internal combustion engine.

“In a heavily carbon constrained future, if we don’t want to massively constrain mobility itself we have to make private cars obsolete as quickly as possible”, he said. Leo added that new forms of urban personal transport including micro mobility “offer a superior user experience to being sat in a private car in a traffic jam”.

Earlier, University College London’s emeritus professor of transport policy Phil Goodwin said that reduced private car use, better provision for alternatives and more sensible development and planning “would create better, cleaner, fairer and more comfortable conditions for nearly everybody”.

“It is not getting the transport right so we can get towns right; it is getting the towns right so we can get the transport right,” he added, pointing out too that “millions of people have got locked into car dependence” as a result of “the combined effect of the planning and the transport decisions of the past”.

Reduced car use can certainly be achieved within the next generation through a “clever, careful and far sighted implementation strategy” which gives people time to adjust their lifestyles or travel choices, he said. But the current climate emergency means that changes of habit are required sooner, among the present generation.

“Even on the most optimistic assumptions about the use of electric vehicles, we would still need to reduce the amount of car use by a minimum of a third in the next 10 years,” he added.

The Transport Planning Network annual conference brought together the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Transport Planning Society and CIHT and was held at the offices of Arup in London.

??This evening, the winners of two awards will be announced to mark Transport Planning Day: a Transport for New Homes Award and a ‘People’s Award’ for a scheme supported by local communities. Details of who won will appear in the forthcoming issue of Transportation Professional, published next Monday.

Also this week, the transformation of a former Cadbury’s chocolate factory in Somerset into a mixed use development won top prize in the RTPI’s South West regional awards for planning excellence.

Somerdale factory in the market town of Keynsham (pictured) is now a housing and employment hub, said to have a thriving and diverse community. “The project has delivered a mix of complementary uses and created an undeniably successful place which brings in the new while celebrating the old,” said RTPI South West Chair Chris Balch.

Planning consultancy Barton Willmore managed the project, which saw part of a Roman town discovered beneath part of the site. The scheme, along with other regional winners from around the country, will be celebrated at a national planning excellence ceremony organised by the institute next April.