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01/09/2015

Consultant takes issue with rail commuting forecast

Words: Laura Edgar
Congestion / iStock

The proximity of new developments to railway stations in the Metropolitan Green Belt should not be portrayed negatively when making the case for new housing sites, says a transport planning consultant.

Mike Axon, a founder and board director of Vectos (transport planning and infrastructure provider) believes the RTPI is being “despondent” about life in a post-Metropolitan Green Belt development world” – and that there is “no reason” for it.

Axon’s comments follow publication in August of the RTPI’s Building in the green belt? A report into commuting patterns in the Metropolitan Green Belt.

The report 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.

Commuting data from the 2011 census for Hemel Hempstead, High Wycombe, Watford, Maidenhead and Bracknell was used to suggest that adding a million homes near railway stations in the Metropolitan London green belt would instead increase car journeys each week by 3.9-7.5 million.

Speaking to The Planner, Axon said the report is “way too simplistic” in its analysis of the scale and the “residual transport effect”.

Agreeing with the report’s suggestion of multi-criteria judgements to determine the location of new housing, Axon nevertheless took issue with what he described as the “harpooning” of one of those criteria - nearness to railway stations.

Neither did he think it was right to come up with a number for new car commuters “based on historic, not modern, patterns”.

RTPI head of policy Richard Blyth emphasised how the 2011 census data was the most up-to-date available and “there is no other evidence that community patterns will change so it is the best we have”.

Think tanks, academics and policy commentators have considered whether green belt boundaries around London should be relaxed to help alleviate the housing crisis. Published in January this year, The Green Noose: An Analysis of Green Belts and Proposals, by the Adam Smith Institute, suggests that building on 3.7 per cent of the green belt in London could provide a million homes.

These commentators, Blyth said, “give no evidence at all of what transport impacts there will be or how they will be handled”.

And despite increased flexible working, Blyth points out that many jobs - from teaching to nursing and other customer-facing activities – will still demand commuting.

“Not everyone can work from a broadband connection,” says Blyth. “In our figures we make allowance for four-days-a-week working, which for education (including school students) would be an underestimate”.

“Nobody is saying that the only criteria for growth is a railway station to London,” said Axon. They are though, an “excellent place to start”.

“We say take the sites that are readily accessible to railway stations, undertake the case-by-case reviews - considering the design, choice, behaviour and management opportunities - and weigh demands and effects appropriately in the context of modern planning policy.”

The RTPI appreciates that radical thinking will be necessary to address decades of under-provision of homes, said Blyth.

“However, this does not remove the obligation on anyone making major proposals for changing planning policy to do the homework necessary to explain how they will work and what impact they will have.”

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