Reducing car use on greenfield developments

National planning policy has long sought to lower emissions and reduce reliance on the private car. Likewise, local authorities, the majority of which have declared a climate emergency, increasingly seek to do so through Local Plans and transport policies.

Johnny Clayton | Carter Jonas
1st August 2022
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A survey of recently built developments, however, suggests that policy aspirations are failing to materialise. Building Car Dependency, a recent report by Transport for New Homes found that residential developments are increasingly car-focused.

The research considered twenty schemes and found that all encouraged car-dependent lifestyles, that cars were the primary mode of transport and that each home typically had two or three parking spaces. It described a ‘car-park to car-park' approach to development which risks creating sedentary, isolated lifestyles.

While these findings are disappointing, they do not reflect the pioneering approach to sustainable travel being made by many environmentally responsible developments throughout the country. For example, Carter Jonas is working with transport consultant Stantec on the master planning of Shaptor Capital’s Winterbourne Fields, a residential-led mixed-use community in Swale (Kent).

Its master planning has been strongly influenced by the focus on sustainable living that developed during the pandemic. For example, it focuses on the ethos of the 15-minute neighbourhood. The proportion of the UK population working from home remains high (in January 2022 ONS figures stated that 36% worked from home at least part-time) and this trend provides substantial opportunities for community development. Winterbourne Fields seeks to capitalise upon positive changes in working practices and attitudes towards health and wellbeing, to create greater sustainability within the community.

Transport planning is central to this. The vision of the transport strategy has three objectives: to reduce the need for travel; where travel is necessary, to encourage sustainable travel; and in doing so, create a low-carbon community which, due to low emissions and safe and attractive street scenes, encourages active travel over car use.

The variety of community facilities at the heart of Winterbourne Fields are intended to capture footfall to benefit the local businesses located there; a string of open spaces through the core, accompanied by public routes, encourages active travel, and existing public transport linkages are utilised and improved upon, with links established to surrounding villages and onto neighbouring towns with wider rail links.

The extent of on-site amenities aims to reduce the need to travel offsite: these include employment, a work hub, a village centre with retail and leisure facilities, a health centre and a primary school. The potential for a Bike Hub and e-bike and scooter hire are currently being explored and former roads are being adapted to provide safer walking routes and separate cycle paths.

A central public transport hub will link local services with a bus express service to Canterbury and Faversham. The hub is crucial to the success of the public transport strategy: the high-quality waiting location is in the vicinity of shops and cafés, which will encourage residents to choose the convenience of public transport over the private car.

Encouraging sustainable travel as the dominant mode choice will be implemented through a movement hierarchy which prioritises walking and cycling in relation to streetscapes, rights of way and efficient, direct routes.

Returning to Transport for New Homes’ report, the extent of car dependence on recent communities is disappointing because new communities have a unique opportunity to pioneer sustainable change: it is the ability to design a bespoke power infrastructure, for example, which enables Winterbourne Fields to incorporate an electric forecourt; and master planning an entire community provides the best opportunity to integrate a public transport hub within a village centre and connect it to new community-wide technologies.

The most sustainable communities are those with a holistic, creative and adaptive approach. Furthermore, the best opportunity to create a sustainable community is to select a site in a sustainable location: this must be the priority for future large-scale development.

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