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New housing development forces reliance on cars

  • by JW

“Have they planned the increased infrastructure to go with all this – schools, hospitals, police, fire, utilities etc? Probably not on past record.”

A new report examines the disconnect between major housing sites and key amenities


A week ago, the VGS news piece was shared on social media:

It produced quite a lot of comment, including:

And have they planned the increased infrastructure to go with all this – schools, hospitals, police, fire, utilities etc. Probably not on past record.

How much new housing should Sidmouth have? 196 new homes have been proposed for the Sid Valley: is that about right? |

This is exactly what a report just out from the Royal Town Planning Institute says:

Newly released research conducted by the institute shows that new housing developments in England are continuing to be built in areas where residents will be forced to rely on cars instead of public transport

Housing developments promote reliance on cars over public transport, shows RTPI research | the

With the full report here:

new report released today by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) highlights how new housing developments will force residents to rely on cars over public transport, particularly in areas outside of London. In its third Location of Development report, the RTPI examines the disconnect between major housing sites and key amenities, and the challenge the government is facing as it tries to level up the country.

Research conducted by the RTPI using data provided by the National Audit Office (NAO) and LandTech shows recent planning permissions for new major residential housing in England could push travel time to large employment centres, secondary schools and hospital trusts in areas outside of London to up to an hour, opposed to roughly half that time in the capital. In the East and South West of England, for example, the average public transport journey time to a large employment centre would take 56.8 minutes compared to just 23.7 minutes in London.

New housing developments promote reliance on cars over public transport |

This has clearly been an issue for years – with the Friends of the Earth suggesting some ways forward back in 2019, looking to the bible of planning, the National Planning Policy Framework, which underlies all local planning:

What changes are needed?

Location, location, location

To significantly reduce car travel from new developments we need to stop urban sprawl and instead concentrate development in existing built-up areas, complemented by restrictions on parking. In contrast with much of Europe where there are strict laws to prevent sprawl105 , the UK planning system is much more discretionary.

The NPPF needs major revisions to ensure we build dense, high-quality developments in existing urban areas including:

Brownfield-first policy: There’s sufficient brownfield land to meet all of England’s housing needs to 2030106 . An effective brownfield-first policy subject to a sequential test should prioritise development of brownfield sites97 . Very high targets for development on brownfield land (90% or higher) would ensure it was concentrated in urban areas.

Locate development around public transport: Stronger guidance is needed to ensure that developments are only built where there’s high-quality public transport, or required to provide new high-quality public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure where there’s none107 . For example, London and South Yorkshire have developed systems to steer new development to areas with good public transport108 . Any new public or active travel transport infrastructure should be provided at the outset and developers should be required to demonstrate a high proportion of trips will be by public transport, walking and cycling.

Minimum densities: Minimum housing densities should be around 100 dph (higher in urban centres), with clear design guidance to ensure housing quality, character, mix and sense of place are protected and enhanced109 . London’s Healthy Street Guidance should also be provided as part of national policy.

Strengthen the ‘town centre first’ approach: Current loopholes allowing out-of-town retail, leisure and office developments should be removed. 

Restrict parking: Maximum parking limits should be reintroduced. Planning policy should encourage car-free developments and in areas of poor air quality these should be mandatory110 .

Cancel plans for new settlements: The government is pushing ahead with plans for new towns and ‘garden communities’111  and has also changed the rules to make it easier to create New Town Development Corporations to deliver housing in new settlements112 . However, the development of these greenfield, out-of-town sites will significantly increase the amount of car travel113 . Development needs to be concentrated within existing settlements.

Capture more of the land-value increase

To make Rotherham more like Freiburg requires more of the uplift in land value to be captured when planning permission is granted56 . In Vauban for example, the uplift captured from selling or leasing public sites to developers covered much of the £95 million cost of providing schools, streets and public transport56 . Infrastructure, such as the tram, was built by the local authority in advance of plots being developed, with funds (from a state redevelopment fund) and loans, which were repaid by selling the building lots124 . It’s only fair that the community should recoup a larger share of the profits from land development, to reinvest in public infrastructure and services125 . There are a number of possible mechanisms for land-value capture126 , some of which have already been tried in the UK including London127  and Milton Keynes128  and which are being considered for Scotland129 .

A wider mechanism with cross-party political support is a Land Value Tax (LVT), an annual charge on land, based on its ‘optimum’ rather than current use130 . A system of LVT would enable recovery of a proportion of increased land value (arising from designation of land for housing, or from provision of new transport infrastructure such as a tram line), providing a revenue stream that could be used by local authorities to fund high-quality public transport services, or walking and cycling infrastructure. LVT would also encourage development of vacant brownfield land in urban areas and deter speculative land-banking of agricultural land, making it easier to build homes where they’re most needed and least car-dependent131 . Some other countries tax land in this way, and there have been calls to trial a LVT in London132

Planning for less car use |

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