Leading the Way
2015-10-29
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Building in the Green Belt Report Flawed, Modern Transport Planning Doesn't Mean a Proportionate Increase in Car Traffic

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has claimed that building near train stations in London’s Green Belt could lead to gridlock on the capital’s roads, adding more than 7 million new car journeys. Vectos Director Mike Axon says the RTPI is being unnecessarily despondent about life in a post-Metropolitan Green Belt development world.

The RTPI’s Building in the green belt? A report into commuting patterns in the Metropolitan Green Belt challenges the assumption that building in the green belt within easy walking or cycling distance of railway stations would lead to most new residents commuting by rail. By using commuting data from the 2011 census for five medium-sizes towns in London’s Green Belt, the RTPI claim that a million new homes would add 3.9 – 7.5 million car journeys to the roads every week.

The report is too simplistic in its analysis to substantiate such bold claims and we object to the manner in which it harpoons the notion of building close to railway stations, which is one of the key criteria on making the case for new homes. Building a million new homes will undeniably create more activity, resulting in more movement and cars, but the report is built on the false premise that historic travel patterns will perpetuate into the future.

We fully agree that there should be a range of criteria to decide the location of new housing, and that proximity to transport hubs should be just one of them. However to use past figures, without any evidence or explanation, and to draw the conclusion that harm will offset all benefits is wrong. To inherently assume that planning policy and modern transport planning will fail in this way is to ignore the vast advances being made in this field.

There is a tremendous need to build new homes and it is inevitable that many of them will built in the places where there is mostly demand – London and the South East.

Vectos is taking a central role in shaping the sustainable transport models of the future. We have secured European Union funding to undertake sustainable transport research projects to create a deep understanding how we can learn the lessons of the past and what the future holds. And the effects are already there for all to see.

In the UK Vectos is bringing schemes into fruition in new and developing communities by using masterplanning and design as the central principles of good transport planning. Combined with modern travel choices, behavioural education and network management, the travel patterns from new strategic development will be far removed from the travel patterns of the past.

According to The Green Noose: An Analysis of Green Belts and Proposals report published by the Adam Smith Institute in January this year, building on just 3.7 per cent of London’s Green Belt could provide a million new homes to help alleviate the current housing crisis. Indeed much of the Green Belt is in unloved, low grade fields that are unpopular with the public but ideally suited for housing development because of their proximity to public transport hubs or the major road network.

The only criteria for growth is not necessarily a railway station that operates to London, however using railway stations as economic conduits to a national hub is an excellent place to start, as also suggested by the 2015 Centre for Cities Delivering Change: Building Homes Where We Need Them report. We propose that the next step be to take the sites that are readily accessible to railway stations and review them on a case-by-case basis considering the design, choice, behaviour and management opportunities; and then weigh the demands and effects appropriately in the context of modern planning policy.

Housing close to railway stations in London’s Green Belt can be particularly sustainable and can contribute to an improvement in transport sustainability and ‘wellbeing’ for the entire community, not just the growth area. We strongly believe it would be inappropriate to reject such opportunities on the basis of the incomplete analysis in the report.