Are we really ready to prioritise active travel?

20 Feb 24

This means that while ATE may make certain recommendations, there is no onus on the local authority to insist that all recommendations are implemented. NH on the other hand have a great deal of influence on the outcome of applications.

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Unlike National Highways (NH), Active Travel England (ATE) do not have any statutory powers to direct the outcome of planning applications. This means that while ATE may make certain recommendations, there is no onus on the local authority to insist that all recommendations are implemented. NH on the other hand have a great deal of influence on the outcome of applications.

Historically, NH’s focus has been on vehicles and minimising the impact of developments on the strategic highway network. However, in the general transport planning world the focus has switched in more recent times to emphasise how sustainable travel can help reduce this impact as opposed to the traditional approach of increasing road and junction capacity for vehicles, which has obvious environmental, economic and social benefits.

Yet to help realise these benefits it does require all stakeholders (i.e. developers, transport planners and decision makers) to be on the same page. Given we are still relatively early into this new ideology, this is unfortunately not always the case.

For example, in 2022, Brompton submitted a planning application for a new factory in Ashford, Kent, which was proposed as being car-free apart from a small number of blue badge parking spaces. The proposals included significant investment towards providing high quality pedestrian and cycle links connecting the site with the surrounding residential areas and Ashford International railway station. Following submission of the application concerns were raised by decision makers over the lack of parking and requested this be addressed to accommodate those who have ‘no choice but to drive to work’. Brompton subsequently made arrangements to lease some nearby parking spaces, which resultingly led to an objection due to an unacceptable traffic impact.

So, Brompton have gone from proposing a highly sustainable car-free development with active travel links, to providing off-site parking that is now deemed to generate an unacceptable impact.

The argument that some people have no choice but to drive to work is a significant barrier that needs to be overcome if investment by developers in active travel infrastructure will be worthwhile.

Removing parking from an existing employment site will undoubtedly impact existing employees’ travel options and journey times for getting to work. Human nature – habits – are a difficult thing to retrospectively change. But that’s less of an issue when proposing new employment sites, and equally, when people apply for a new job there is a built-in re-set on the work commute.

Removing vehicles from roads and promoting active travel is at the heart of all transport policies, so if we continue to provide high levels of parking there is no incentive for people to consider other modes. If the choice to drive is taken away and replaced by high quality alternatives, then it will surely influence where people choose to work and how they choose to travel there.

It is therefore essential that there is a collective shift in mindset away from accommodating drivers to providing realistic alternatives. ATE is a step in the right direction, but it relies on all parties involved embracing the principles of what they were set up to achieve.

Simon Possee Associate Director,Transport