Census 2021 omits ‘origin and destination’ data – how could this affect S.106 contributions and designing to promote sustainable travel?

14 May 21

This data also allowed us to better consider sustainable travel options. For example, if there is a large employment area close to the site and the census data confirms that we can expect the vast majority of residents to travel to this location, we can focus on ways to promote sustainable travel.

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Following on from our recent ‘Has Transport Planning been forgotten in the new Census?’ post, we look at how the latest census can impact sustainable design and, in turn, Section 106 contributions. In addition to changing the ‘Travel to Work’ question, which has historically been used to predict trip generation for all travel modes, Census 2021 has also omitted asking for the postcode of your ‘regular’ place of employment. In previous Census’ this question provided information about where people travelled to for work. Essentially, this meant ‘origin’ (where people live) and ‘destination’ (where people work) data could then be applied to predicted development traffic to forecast where it will likely go and come from and which junctions it would pass through.

On some occasions, this data has been used to demonstrate to highway officers that proposed development traffic will not impact particular ‘busy’ junctions and thus reduce mitigation costs. Without this data moving forwards, what methods can be used to distribute development traffic and how can highway officers be persuaded that new methods are as reliable as the previously tried and tested Census origin and destination data?

This data also allowed us to better consider sustainable travel options. For example, if there is a large employment area close to the site and the census data confirms that we can expect the vast majority of residents to travel to this location, we can focus on ways to promote sustainable travel. In this case, it could be that we look to re-route a bus route through the site knowing that patronage will be high, or we could look to provide high-quality cycle facilities within the site and towards the employment area to help encourage cycle use.

By not having this information, we have no clear industry-wide starting position when agreeing on assessment parameters with local authorities. This will add time and cost to calculating and agreeing mode shares and trip distribution with officers and increases the potential for protracted discussions on these matters.

So, what are the options? Do we go back to the First Principles methods of the past? Will Big Data companies like Google increase the traffic analysis options within Google Maps. Will councils need to obtain this data themselves or will it fall upon the developer to collect this information through face-to-face surveys in the development area? Let’s not forget the information we need is a place of residence and place of work, are people going to be willing to provide that information outside of a Census?

As of now, the official line is that ‘data collected within the 2021 Census will not be suitable for future transport and infrastructure planning’ and that the ONS ‘intends to look at other ways of meeting this data need’. With the post-lockdown UK on the horizon, we need these ‘other ways’ quickly!

Mitchell Gregory Senior Engineer,Transport