Planning for Sustainable Travel

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Map of Milton Keynes


The Milton Keynes/South Midlands (MKSM) area is one of four designated Growth Areas in England and comprises six administrative areas: Northamptonshire County Council, Bedford Borough Council, Central Bedfordshire Unitary Council, Luton Unitary Authority, Milton Keynes Unitary Authority and Aylesbury Vale District (in Buckinghamshire County). Buckinghamshire County Council also contributes to transport and highways issues. The area as a whole is has been designated by National Government to deliver around 140,000 new dwellings by 2021.

Within MKSM, the North Northamptonshire Core Spatial Strategy (NNCSS) provides one example of cross-boundary working in a sub-region of the Growth Area. It covers the towns of Corby, Kettering, and Wellingborough as well as smaller towns and adjacent rural areas. This strategy and other emerging good practices from across the Growth Area are covered in this case study.

Towards Sustainable Travel

The MKSM area is possibly one of the most difficult in the UK to work in with regard to achieving sustainable travel behaviour. The area has a high proportion of journeys to work by car (70%), lengthy average journey to work distances (32% over 10km) and a high rate of traffic growth between 1997-2007 (16%). Transport CO2 emissions are relatively high at 2.87 tonnes per person. Like many parts of the country, the current travel patterns and particularly ‘business as usual’ future trajectories are unsustainable relative to headline national CO2 reduction targets. High car dependence in MKSM is due in part to the nature of the polycentric urban structure – with a variety of towns, linked largely by the road network. There is much tangential, suburb to suburb travel, which is very difficult to serve by public transport. Some initiatives that attempt to manage traffic demand through spatial planning and transport infrastructure investment are highlighted below.

Strategic Development Location

The North Northamptonshire Joint Planning Unit (NNJPU) provides strategic planning for the districts and boroughs of Corby, East Northamptonshire, Kettering and Wellingborough, and is responsible for producing the North Northamptonshire Core Spatial Strategy. Consistent with the East Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy, the NNCSS incorporates policies that concentrate housing and office development in urban centres and the bulk of new development is allocated to the three largest towns: Corby (a population of 54,000), Kettering (86,600) and Wellingborough (74,600).

Inter-urban travel nonetheless poses a difficulty for sustainable travel aspirations. Providing for non car means of travel in an area with many-to-many origins and destinations, and little identifiable structure to travel, is extremely difficult. In Luton, for example, the policy direction for discouraging commuting to/from Milton Keynes is to create local jobs. Another example is that the ‘artificial boundaries’ between North and West Northamptonshire (including Northampton) further weaken the ability of NNCSS policies to address net commuting flows from Wellingborough, Kettering and East Northamptonshire to Northampton.

Strategic Transport Network

A number of interventions to the transport network are attempting to manage traffic demand within the constraints of existing development patterns. Northamptonshire County Council has obtained funding (£3.5m) through the Community Infrastructure Fund to build bus priority measures between Wellingborough and Northampton including a bus rapid transit/high occupancy vehicle lane off the A45 into Northampton. The Highways Agency has also allocated funding for ramp metering on a congested section of the A14 around Kettering to manage the flow of cars on slip roads, improving the running of the strategic road network. The A14 scheme also includes modal shift targets and public transport and town centre improvements as part of a co-ordinated attempt to achieve a target modal shift in a single growth area.

Northamptonshire County Council has also obtained £6.9m of funding from the Community Infrastructure Fund for modal shift measures in Northampton. The package of measures includes improvements to walking and cycling route along key corridors and the implementation of bus lanes that will link up an area planned for 3,000 new homes, support other new developments as well as improve services for the existing population.

The Luton Dunstable Busway will connect key housing and employment centres, including new growth areas. It has been planned in concert with a growth strategy that seeks to regenerate Luton town centre through recent improvements to the pedestrian environment and strategies to attract business and retail back to the core. Luton has gained £84m for the Luton-Dunstable Busway and £26m to complete its Inner Ring Road and create a new busway/rail interchange. The £22m East Luton Corridor link to junction 10A of the M1 opened in 2009.

Finally, Network Rail has recently opened two new rail lines in the area: firstly the branch from the Midland Main Line to Corby and secondly an extension of the Chiltern Line beyond Aylesbury to the new Aylesbury Vale Parkway station.

Jobs-Housing Balance

The MKSM Sub-Regional Strategy sets out a framework for achieving major housing growth and commensurate levels of economic growth to 2021. Major net in and out commuting balances were considered in seeking to increase employment in key regeneration priority areas, and to thereby redress the conventional trend toward increasing jobs-housing imbalance in the region.

Neighbourhood Design and Street Layout

Northamptonshire CC has developed transportation design guidelines for residential developments, the Northamptonshire Place and Movement Guide, to (further) raise development standards. The Guide was formally adopted in December 2008 and places greater emphasis on the development process than Manual for Streets, which it refers to for design guidance. The guide provides developers with good examples of local street patterns and points to the importance of involving transport from the early stages of the masterplanning and design coding process.

The Northamptonshire Place and Movement Guide also reflects a shift in emphasis in terms of parking – focusing on parking layout rather than simply restricting the number of spaces. It supports unallocated parking for rental and smaller units and one allocated parking space per unit plus a degree of additional parking for larger, owner-occupied units. This generally sets parking allocations below the Government maximum of 1.5 spaces per unit. The parking guidelines also encourage Local Planning Authorities to consider accessibility in relation to reducing parking allocations.

Traffic Demand Management

Traffic Demand Management refers to a set of complementary measures that seek to encourage a behavioural shift by changing the availability of travel infrastructure and services. Buckinghamshire County Council and Aylesbury Vale District Council have developed an integrated public transport hub/TDM scheme for Aylesbury to achieve their “vision” of a traffic free zone for the Market Square supported by measures to encourage more people to use the bus service, cycle and walk to the town centre. The councils have obtained £14.4m of funding to implement TDM measures including bus priority, improved access to the railway station, a new pedestrian/cycle bridge and bus service improvements.

At a strategic level, Bucks CC has focused transport modelling on reducing vehicle kilometres or vehicle-hours rather than car trips or mode shift. This approach provides a more realistic picture of actual changes in tarffic demand as fewer car trips or lower car mode share could still be consistent with higher vehicle-kilometres (i.e. fewer but longer trips or fewer car trips only relative to more total trips).

At Northamptonshire County Council, there has been increased emphasis on individual travel planning for new residents. The local authority is pioneering modal shift targets for new developments that are included in section 106 planning agreements. The County Council gains agreed developer contributions and takes control of the travel plans from the outset, working in partnership with the developers towards a target 20% greater non-car modal share for their development compared to surrounding areas. This pro active approach also allows wider measures to be integrated into specific development travel plans. One tool will be to use ‘travel centres’ on new developments. These will be staffed premises where new residents will be able to get information, incentives, support and take part in initiatives such as bike hire and car clubs.

Enabling Conditions

MKSM illustrates the importance of successful cross-boundary working in developing land use strategies that support sustainable travel. There is no single method to structure cross-boundary partnerships; the outcome is very much dependent on socio-economic geography, observable travel areas and political intentions. Cross-boundary partnerships tend to be voluntary, at least initially, and therefore strong mutual interests are critical.

Strong cross-authority relationships are apparent in the North Northamptonshire Core Spatial Strategy. NCC transport planning was a key element of the core strategy and helped to make it robust and justifiable (and therefore the first joint core strategy to be approved). In particular, Northamptonshire CC’s transport strategy for growth and associated modal shift strongly supported the core strategy development process. It is somewhat resource intensive for North Northants (local level) to maintain links and integration with transport planning at Northamptonshire County Council and across other parts of the MKSM, but cross-boundary working is strong nonetheless. Other parts of the sub-region also have joint planning and transport bodies that are at various stages of developing their core strategies.

The MKSM Strategic Transport Board is the inter-regional transport planning board with representatives from each of the transport authorities in the sub-region. This type of inter-regional transport board is rare in the UK, despite being an important first step in providing an institutional context that can seek to address disproportionate traffic growth on inter-urban roads. There are competing interests at this level but one area of agreement has been the need for a coordinated approach to modal shift in the sub-region. This followed a prioritisation exercise where the MKSM Board agreed their joint priorities for action. These included achieving improved inter-urban travel and modal shift.