Can innovative transport planning help alleviate the South East housing crisis?
Planning sustainable transport options as a fundamental part of new housing developments, can lead to healthier, accessible and more economically productive areas with less impact on the existing highway network. Phil Bell, Managing Director at Motion examines the issues.
The South East faces a unique problem; increasing numbers of people living and working in the region is putting a significant strain on housing supply. There are far too few homes being built to meet local needs, resulting in house prices and rents becoming increasingly unaffordable for local people. According to the National Housing Federation Home Truths 2017/2018 report, there was a shortfall of over 85,000 homes in the South East between 2012 and 2016 – the highest in the country after London. At over £360,000 the average home in the region costs almost 12 times the average salary and a typical private rental charge is around £994 a monthi.
Good-quality, affordable housing
New developments in the South East are sorely needed, but often objected to. High house prices push out those at the bottom of the property ladder – in particular, people needed in the region to sustain public services. According to a recent House of Commons Briefing Paperii, “Housing need manifests itself in a variety of ways, such as increased levels of overcrowding, acute affordability issues, more young people living with their parents for longer periods, impaired labour mobility, resulting in businesses finding it difficult to recruit and retain staff, and increased levels of homelessness.”
Although adjacent to London, the South East is predominantly rural. But many towns in the region, Guildford for example, are busy urban environments. One of the reasons the towns in this area are so popular, is because they are close to miles of largely uninterrupted countryside. If we want our economies to grow, our neighbourhoods to thrive and our services to be well staffed, we need to provide good-quality, affordable housing that has as little impact as possible on the fabric of the environment.
Unlocking development potential
Transport issues should be considered from the earliest stages of plan-making and development proposals. As transport planners, analysing and overcoming the traffic implications of new developments is becoming more complex. Solving transport and access problems during the planning application is a critical step in unlocking development potential and demonstrating the suitability of a site. The likely impacts of the development on existing transport networks will also be assessed, such as ensuring that the frontage of new sites meets visibility regulations for traffic joining an existing road.
Sustainable and economical movement of people
Sustainable travel is seen as one of the ways to realistically grow population centres without overburdening the local transport network and creating further problems for the environment and the economy. If the frustrations and disadvantages of congestion are to be avoided, people must be encouraged to switch to non-car, sustainable modes of transport. This can only be achieved through the provision of appropriate sustainable transport infrastructure. New housing developments should offer residents an attractive and viable alternative to the private car. Opportunities to promote walking, cycling, carsharing and public transport use must be identified. People need to be able to walk to a bus stop, which ideally should be no more than 400m away, so pavements must be accessible. We regularly get involved in negotiations with bus operators and as a result routes can be adapted to serve new developments.
The latest National Planning Policy Frameworkiii states that, “Significant development should be focused on locations which are or can be made sustainable, through limiting the need to travel and offering a genuine choice of transport modes. This can help to reduce congestion and emissions and improve air quality and public health.”
New approach, low impact
I believe that the next five to ten years will see significant changes on our roads. This means a new approach to planning housing developments, so that they are sustainable and have a low impact wherever possible. As cars become smarter, for example anticipating speed and stopping distances, road capacity will increase. Cars will be able to travel closer together and, therefore, existing roads will be able to accommodate more of them. There will be wider adoption of electric vehicles (EV). Surrey County Council has already stipulated, “To enable electric vehicle (EV) uptake in residential areas with access to off-street parking, new homes should be planned with capacity to support EV chargingiv.”
Surrey County Council planning guidance also suggests that for developments of flats or apartments, “twenty per cent of available parking spaces should be fitted with a fast chargepoint with sufficient power supply made available for a further twenty per cent of spaces to be fitted with additional fast chargepoints.” This guidance is likely to be reviewed and updated as EV uptake progresses.
With more sustainable factors to consider, our involvement in public consultation and participation is becoming increasingly important. We must ensure that the public’s questions and concerns about schemes are addressed and that communities are kept up to date with accurate information about the issues.
The people who live and work in the South East deserve good-quality, affordable, sustainable housing and transport. The question is not whether we can provide it, but how we do it, to benefit us all. Planning consultants, urban designers, transport planners, developers and policy-makers must work together to make it happen.
i National Housing Federation – Home Truths 2017/2018 The housing market in the South East
ii House of Commons Briefing Paper, Number 07671, 12 December 2018 – Tackling the under-supply of housing in England
iii National Planning Policy Framework, February 2019
iv Surrey Transport Plan, 2011-2026 Electric Vehicle Strategy, November 2018
About the author
Phil Bell is Managing Director and co-founder of Motion. With over 30 years’ experience in the industry, he has been instrumental in obtaining planning permission for major development projects. Phil holds a First-Class Honours Degree in Civil Engineering and a Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) accreditation in advanced road safety engineering.