Planning for Sustainable Travel

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Jobs-housing balance refers to the approximate [equal] distribution of employment opportunities and workforce population across a geographic area. It is usually measured in terms of the proportion of jobs per household. For example, a jobs-housing balance of 1.25 means there are 5 jobs for every 4 households. Qualitative matching between skills, aspirations and job type is critically important as well as numerical balance.

Jobs-Housing Balance

The aim of jobs-housing balance is to provide local employment opportunities that may reduce overall commuting distance among residents (and also the reverse – to provide homes near to workplaces). Like most of the urban structure variables, it is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for reducing the need to travel. Arguably it is more important at the strategic travel to work area level, or in peripheral and remote urban areas where opportunities for cross-area commuting are less.

Key Questions

1. Does jobs-housing balance lead to less travel?

Commuting patterns are the result of many complex factors, including housing and job preference, the strategic transport network, number of workers per household and so on. However, the evidence suggests that areas with an approximate jobs-housing balance, at the aggregate level, tend to exhibit shorter commuting distances among residents. Certainly areas without jobs-housing mix contribute to longer distance, and often car dependent, travel.

2. What is a desirable jobs-housing balance?

An effective balance will depend on workers per household but there appear to be benefits in the range of 0.75 to 1.50 jobs per household (Cervero, 1996a). It is important to consider the scale over which jobs-housing balance is to be achieved. Large employment generators should be located at the most accessible locations by public transport, walking and cycling in order to avoid dispersed employment patterns that cannot be effectively served by public transport. Jobs-housing balance concepts may work best at the city-region scale or the travel to work area or in relatively self contained settlements. It may work less well in the ‘dispersed urban conglomerations’ – where cross commuting options are more likely.

Selective Policy Guidance ShowHide

Current Government policy places very little emphasis on jobs-housing balance as a policy objective for regional planning bodies or local authorities.

However PPS11 provides guidance on the preparation of Regional Spatial Strategies, with Integrated Regional Transport Strategies. This indicates that the RSS will deal with the distribution of housing and employment across sub-regions but does not set out any specific targets in this regard.

“Local authorities should review their development plan allocations and should allocate or reallocate sites which are (or will be) highly accessible by public transport for travel intensive uses (including offices, retail, commercial leisure, hospitals and conference facilities), ensuring efficient use of land, but seek, where possible, a mix of uses, including a residential element.” (PPG13, para 21)

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Planning Checklist: Jobs-Housing Balance

Practitioners are advised to consider the different scales over which jobs-housing balance is best achieved. This can initially be conceived at a regional and travel to work area level.

5.1. Existing commute patterns, planned residential and employment locations and workforce characteristics can all be examined to ensure there are no mismatches which may encourage car dependency and long journey distances. Effective jobs-housing balances are in the range 1.0-1.5. Increments of new growth should be of sufficient mix to provide balance at the strategic level.

5.2. Large employment generators should be located at the most accessible locations by public transport, walking and cycling (which are the areas with large population catchments), and vice versa.

5.3. Support housing type and affordability that is consistent with local employment opportunities in order to discourage in/out commuting.

Evidence and Examples

The evidence given here is necessarily selective, but gives an introduction to the research on this topic. More details are found in the background technical report.

Research studies, mostly in the US, and carried out at different scales, have come to a range of conclusions about the extent to which jobs-housing balance influences travel relative to other urban structure variables. There is a general consensus that a balance of jobs and housing within an area can contribute to more sustainable travel in the form of shorter travel distances, although the mode of travel would be more strongly influenced by the availability of public transport. There has been little research on this topic in the UK.

Cervero (1989a and 1996a) developed much of the early literature concerning jobs and housing balance, arguing that communities with effective balance (0.75-1.50 jobs per household) are associated with higher than average self containment ratios and low car dependency. Suburban workplaces with jobs-housing imbalance have low walk and cycle mode shares and are car dependent. Cerin et al (2007) have considered workplace proximity and walking to work propensity.

Recent data from the San Francisco Bay Area shows that improving the proximity of jobs to housing reduces travel substantially more than bringing retail and consumer services closer to residential areas (Cervero and Duncan, 2006). This suggests that jobs-housing balance is a key factor in reducing travel distances.

An earlier study of the Greater Toronto Area found that travel distances by car were significantly associated with population density, jobs-housing balance and distance to the Central Business District. However, these factors did not influence the total number of trips per worker (Miller and Ibrahim, 1998). The conclusion is that trip rates may be more strongly influenced by other (socio-economic and attitudinal) factors but urban structure, including jobs-housing balance, may have significant impacts on car-based journey distances.

Of the limited empirical work in the UK on this topic, some has related to proximity of facilities – diversity of services and facilities in close proximity reduces distance travelled (Banister, 1996; Farthing et al, 1995, 1997) and elsewhere as part of multi-variate analysis. In Surrey, households located in areas with 1.25 to 1.5 jobs per household consumed 25% less energy in their journey to work than average (Hickman and Banister, 2007a).-

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Summary Guide Summary Guide Background Technical Report Background Technical Report Longbridge, Birmingham

Longbridge, Birmingham - The development strategy for a major mixed use development at Longbridge, Birmingham aims to create homes for 3,500 new residents and 10,000 new jobs, predominantly in high technology.
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Milton Keynes / South Midlands - 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.
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