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Is sustainable transport a myth?

Electric vehicle being charged

The new NPPF promotes electric vehicles as a form of sustainable transport. Are they the answer to the problems of pollution and climate change? Dr Ashley Hayden considers the arguments.

In July, the government published its much-anticipated revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This has been described as one of the biggest shake-ups in the planning system. But how will this change affect the planning landscape?

Delivering sustainability plays a central role to the proposed changes in the NPPF and Chapter 9 (‘Promoting Sustainable Transport’) addresses this. It incorporates policies to promote a modal shift towards sustainable forms of transport. Paragraph 105(e), for example, promotes a greater shift to charging plug-in and other ultra-low emission vehicles.

Paragraph 106 discourages the use of maximum parking standards unless circumstance dictate, and endorses increased density in towns and cities if proposed developments are served well by public transport.

Will these policies be effective in tackling the UK’s ambition to promote sustainable communities?

Climate change is accepted to be one of the biggest threats facing the world. The summer heatwave that has swept across Europe is a reminder of the potential impacts. We appear to be on autopilot to environmental disaster. Surely altering this path is in the interests of all inhabited societies?

“Reducing levels of petrol-propelled cars is broadly accepted as one solution to reduce carbon emission”

The Climate Change Act 2008 seeks to to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by at least 80 per cent (based on 1990 levels) by 2050. Planning is seen as one component to deliver this change, but  it cannot deliver change alone.

Reducing levels of petrol-propelled cars is broadly accepted as one solution to reduce carbon emission.

But is this a dream? The UK seems to have a love affair with the car. Department for Transport Transport Statistics Great Britain 2017 shows car trips accounted for 65 per cent of all journeys made.

Milton Keynes Council is committed to promoting sustainable communities and neighbourhoods. Currently, the car accounts for 80 per cent of trips in Milton Keynes, even though it has one of the best cycle networks in the UK.

Its Mobility Strategy 2018-2036 reinforces the desire for sustainable transport. This explores the use of autonomous vehicles and smart technology to deliver mobility as a service. The emerging development plan (Plan:MK) continues the theme: it proposes policies to encourage the installation of electric vehicle charging points), maximise the use of sustainable transport for new development, and promote residential and office-led densification. Such policies are ahead of the planning curve and accord well with the new NPPF.

The new NPPF policies remain yet to be debated and implemented and, as such, their effectiveness is unknown. 

Dr Ashley Hayden is a planning officer for Milton Keynes Council

Photo | iStock

See also

'Sustainable transport'? It isn't electric vehicles


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