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04/08/2020

Transport blind spots are undermining garden communities

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Garden communities are supposed to support healthy, sustainable lifestyles, says Jenny Raggett. So why are we alllowing them to be designed to the same old model of car-dependence?

The government’s Garden Communities Prospectus made a fundamental omission, one that is common to much of our planning system – a failure to be clear about the kind of transport needed to underpin garden villages and towns.

It contains fine words about sustainable transport, active travel and placemaking. It makes it clear that ugly sprawl is out and characterful, vibrant walking communities are in.

But when it comes to asking the reasons why we don’t usually achieve the latter, the prospectus offers little discussion of why we have not built the self-contained, sustainable and vibrant communities that are so desired, and no examples of places that have succeeded.

Transport – everything from pavements and spaces for pedestrians, to buses, railways, tramways, cycle ways, parking and roads – is key to how a place develops. Anchoring a new garden development on an improved motorway junction or with parking for three cars for each home and an internal road layout designed primarily for the car, will produce a completely different kind of community from a place coordinated with a modern metro system and a street network designed for walkability and travel by train.

“The sustainable model produces a much more ‘human’ scale of development”

We have seen these contrasting models on our tours of new housing development here and abroad. The road-based model produces the kind of commuter estate that we see everywhere on the fringe of towns, accompanied by the inevitable out-of-town retail, business parks and other car-based development by new road junctions as large parcels of land are opened up.

The sustainable model produces a much more ‘human’ scale of development, less dominated by parking and tarmac with the possibilities for imaginative placemaking – where shops, cafés and urban parks in town do well with a modern public transport hub as a central theme. The importance of transport decisions and funding is not a key part of the planning machinery. Even Homes England seems not to have understood that funding road building in tandem with a garden village or town may be counterproductive to the vision that the settlement has for its future. The government is equally keen on road building, modern busways and Dutch-style cycle networks to support growth. I remember attending a housing sites DPD examination in public when, during the weeks of debate about where to build and how many homes, transport was given just a couple of hours as a kind of add-on. That says it all.

Jenny Raggett is a project coordinator at Transport for New Homes

Picture Credit | iStock

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