Planning for Sustainable Travel

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The North East of England, one of 9 English regions, has the lowest GDP per capita (2000) and the highest unemployment rate (2002) of all regions in the UK (ONS data). The economic development agenda is thus paramount, with some tensions with sustainable travel objectives. Local authorities and regional bodies tend to work together to promote common growth aspirations for the region. This collaborative approach has laid the foundation for cross-boundary and cross-agency working on matters that support economic development, including transport and planning for major development (especially housing). Nonetheless, the North East faces significant challenges in terms of delivering spatial planning that supports sustainable travel in light of (potential) conflicts with the economic development agenda.

Public transport accessibility to key facilities is well below the UK average, in both urban and rural areas of the North East, reflecting major difficulties in providing access to services by public transport because of the extent of dispersed settlement. However per capita CO2 emissions from surface transport are below the UK average. Low (but rising) levels of car ownership and a tendency toward shorter distances travelled to work by car may contribute to lower transport emissions (see Background Report).

Towards Sustainable Travel

This case study explores initiatives that illustrate progress toward various key themes in spatial planning and sustainable travel under a variety of regional governance structures in the North East.

Strategic Development Location

The North East of England Plan is the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) for the North East and was published by the Government Office for the North East in July 2008. As required, the Plan incorporates the Regional Transport Strategy for the region in order to “ensure the integration of transport and land use planning” (RSS, p.1). Practitioners involved in the planning process say that the Plan proposed a policy of concentration of development in urban cores. The benefits of this approach include providing support to urban regeneration, reducing the need to travel by locating housing within previously developed areas, and facilitating public transport provision by increasing density in urban cores. However, some challenges emerged during the planning process.

Due to economic conditions, many local authorities in the North East see new housing as an important economic development tool. Thus, attempts to plan housing in a more integrated way at the regional level by the Regional Assembly were met with resistance from several local authorities, leading to pressure for a more dispersed pattern of housing development. The policy direction of urban concentration was supported by the larger conurbations but strong political resistance from the county areas led to a weakening of this approach.

This outcome reflects some of the real challenges in planning for sustainable travel. More considered and evidence-based integration between the policy aspirations in the RSS and the RTS might have demonstrated the benefits of concentrating most new development within larger conurbations to the long-term sustainability of the region.

Strategic Transport Network

By definition, functional areas of the strategic transport network tend to cross local authority boundaries. Recognising their mutual interdependence in terms of jobs, housing and services, the five local authorities in the Tees Valley conurbation have voluntarily taken a sub-regional, or ‘city region’, approach to strategic transport planning. The Tees Valley City Region Transport Strategy is produced by the Tees Valley Joint Strategy Unit, on behalf of the five authorities. The Transport Strategy has evolved from a common chapter included in each of the Second Local Transport Plans of the five authorities (Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, and Stockton-on-Tees).

In addition to a sub-regional approach, both the transport strategy and the general city region work strongly encourage a multi-modal view of the strategic transport network. The Joint Strategy Unit considers that planning must look at the strategic network as a single network, irrespective of mode and ownership (e.g. Highways Agency, local authority, Network Rail, bus operators, etc.). This multi-modal approach tends to lead to more pooling of transport analysis to determine conflicts and complementary measures. The Joint Strategy Unit has found, for example, that often the travel solution to a trunk road problem is found to lie off the trunk road network, and can be more readily delivered through the development control and planning process. The Tees Valley Transport Strategy makes explicit mention of preferred development sites from a sustainable travel perspective. The land use assessment is based (in part) on proximity to existing transport hubs, usually rail stations and town centres, and also considers accessibility to other parts of the region via regional transport corridors (road and rail-based).

The multi-modal, city region approach to strategic transport planning in the Tees Valley has helped to secure integrated blocks of Government funding through a Multi-Area Agreement (MAA). This MAA formed a partnership called Tees Valley Unlimited whose members comprise the five local authorities and the regional development agency, One North East. Two major projects have secured funding through the MAA: a Bus Network Improvements scheme (£58 million) and the Tees Valley Metro scheme (total value of £200 million with 'in principle' funding approval for a first phase worth £30 million). Both projects seek to link up key centres, urban areas, Growth Points and main employment sites.

Traffic Demand Management

‘Smarter choice’ behavioural change programmes are one of many traffic demand management measures available to local authorities. In the North East, the potential benefits of ‘smarter choices’ in terms of generating a shift to more sustainable travel behaviour – generally within an established urban structure – is being promoted pan-regionally by the Northern Way and the local authorities in the area. Analysis on the role and productivity benefits of smarter travel choices exemplifies the work to support local authorities in implementing smarter choices measures at an appropriate scale across the North. This work builds on the success of the Darlington Sustainable Travel Demonstration Town project in the Tees Valley. Local government and partners in all the Sustainable Travel Demonstrations Towns (also including Peterborough and Worcester) utilised ‘Individualised Travel Marketing’ and other smarter choice measures to encourage changes in travel behaviour among residents. In Darlington, the result has been a significant increase in sustainable travel modes (walking, cycling and public transport) of 7% and a decrease in car travel (as driver) of 11% between 2004 and 2008 (see Darlington Sustainable Travel Town Final Evaluation Report).

Another recent initiative, the Tees Valley joint transport information portal ( provides a service for integrated travel planning across all modes and service providers in the city-region. A second phase will include a personalised planning portal that will encourage individuals to consider all modes when planning their travel.

Enabling Conditions

Cross-boundary working is important to strategic planning that is well integrated with transport investment. The Tees Valley Joint Strategy Unit has been very successful in obtaining funding for strategic transport infrastructure projects as discussed previously.

Moreover, good collaboration at the regional level between the Regional Development Agency, One North East and the Association of North East Councils (ANEC) Leaders Board (which has become the Regional Planning Body), facilitates the delivery of desired objectives. One North East and ANEC have co-located staff to improve co-ordination. Co-operation is expected to continue as the Association of North East Councils Leaders Board and the Regional Development Agency Board become jointly responsible for the preparation of the new Integrated Regional Strategies.

The Tees Valley Joint Strategy Unit, the five local authorities and the Highways Agency are also jointly developing an innovative funding mechanism that would deliver transport infrastructure improvements prior to development at strategic locations in order to reduce the investment risk to developers and thereby encourage preferred development patterns. Developer contributions made through usual mechanisms such as section 106 agreements would then be reinvested once the development takes place.

The proposed Joint Infrastructure Development Allocation (JIDA) model is similar in principle to the Regional Infrastructure Fund (RIF) mechanism developed for the south of England, but differs in two ways: wider regional funding is allocated to specific transport schemes rather than a general ‘pot’ within which some schemes are as yet undeveloped, and the Tees Valley schemes have been specifically identified as necessary to support key development proposals taken forward through the North East’s Regional Funding Allocation process. The emerging transport schemes include a mix of trunk road, local road, and public transport infrastructure, and travel/traffic demand management measures.