Planning for Sustainable Travel

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Strategic development location refers to the selection of areas for major new residential and non-residential development (employment, leisure and retail), including the spatial distribution of housing and employment within Growth Areas and Growth Points and between urban centres. It is an important input to the apportionment of development between districts at the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) level. There is strong linkage with development site location, which takes place lower down the strategic scale, where integrating development into the existing urban fabric is considered.

Strategic Development Location

To promote sustainable travel, the aim should be to locate development where travel generation is likely to be reduced. Hence, in locations where there is good public transport accessibility, particularly for short trips to existing or new centres. Development locations which may facilitate long distance journeys by car should be avoided, including at or near to junctions on strategic roads (motorways/dual carriageways).

Key Questions

1. How much can travel distances and mode share be affected through strategic development location?

The potential reduction in travel distances depends largely on context but evidence from Oxfordshire showed that ‘good strategic location’ can reduce overall travel distances by 15-20% relative to the regional average (Headicar and Curtis, 1998). Similarly, research at the UK level (Stead, 2001) and in Surrey (Hickman and Banister, 2007a) suggests that a range of urban structure variables, including location, are important to resulting travel patterns.

Selective Policy Guidance ShowHide

“In preparing development plans, planning authorities should:

  • Bring forward sufficient land of a suitable quality in appropriate locations to meet the expected needs for housing…retail and commercial development and for leisure and recreation, taking into account issues such as accessibility and sustainable transport needs [and] the provision of essential infrastructure
  • Focus developments that attract a large number of people, especially retail, leisure and office development, in existing centres to promote their vitality and viability, social inclusion and more sustainable patterns of development
  • Reduce the need to travel and encourage accessible public transport provision to secure more sustainable patterns of development. Planning should actively manage patterns of urban growth to make the fullest use of public transport and focus development in existing centres and near to major public transport interchanges.” (PPS1, para 27)

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Planning Checklist: Strategic Development Location

Key issues to consider in regional and sub-regional planning are outlined below:

2.1. Locate major employment, retail and leisure uses with a sub-regional catchment:

  1. in the first instance, in existing city and town centres, or
  2. secondarily (where the physical opportunity is not available for option 1), at other locations which can be accessed conveniently by public transport from the relevant catchment area

2.2. Improve the sustainability credentials of urban, ‘dispersed conurbation’ and suburban locations (which may sometimes be within the formal ‘built-up’ area) through the application of local traffic demand management measures, including travel plans.

2.3. Avoid workforce intensive development in non-central locations, close to junctions with motorways and similar dual-carriageway routes unless they enjoy exceptional public transport accessibility (e.g. a rail ‘parkway’ station). This will discourage short and medium-distance travel by car on strategic highways and is especially important in cases where new housing is likely to be attractive as a ‘dormitory community’ for people working in major urban areas accessible by the route.

2.4. Locations for additional housing should also have regard to:

  • the proportion of trips likely to be made within the home settlement (i.e. the degree of ‘self-containment’)
  • the average distance of trips to places outside the home settlement and the likely proportion to be made by public transport

2.5 Where significant out-commuting is perceived as inevitable, new housing should be located in settlements which already enjoy good, or can receive improved, public transport accessibility to the relevant external destination(s), for example by virtue of a rail service or express bus route.

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.

In a comparative statistical analysis of Botley, Kidlington, Bicester, Didcot and Witney in Oxfordshire (Headicar and Curtis, 1998) found that, although car availability is an important factor in influencing travel behaviour, there is an inherent link between location itself and car ownership (and hence travel). Not surprisingly, proximity to Oxford as an employment source influenced trip length and trip mode. Differences in trip length and trip mode across the five towns were a result of a number of factors, including journey distance, relative journey speed by mode, restraint of car parking supply in Oxford, priority for buses and cycling. Location accounted for + or – 15-20% to the study average travel distance per week.

New housing development located outside existing urban areas, or close to the strategic highway network, or as a free-standing development increases travel distance (Curtis and Headicar, 1994; Headicar, 1997, 2000). Thus, most new development should be allocated to places in the vicinity of the largest urban areas or in corridors where closely spaced settlements provide for similar employment concentrations overall (Headicar, 2000).

In London, Manchester and Birmingham, commuting distances increase with distance from the urban centre. Specifically, London experiences a linear increase in commute distance up to 20 km from the centre; in Birmingham a plateau is reached at 7 km, and then decreases; and, in Manchester a plateau is reached at 5 km (Spence and Frost, 1995). However, the complexity of alternative centres in outer parts of these conurbations may make these results misleading. Evidence from Oxfordshire shows that travel distances continue to increase much further from the urban centre (Oxford).

Other research looks at differences in vehicle miles travelled (VMT) between urban, suburban and rural neighbourhood types in Austin, Texas. The results showed that 90% of the difference in VMT between neighbourhood types could be explained by different locations (rather than self-selection), which suggests that strategic development location can have a strong influence on travel distances (Zhou and Kockelman, 2008).

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Structure Plan provides one example of strategic criteria for prioritising the location of new development that attempts to reduce travel, encourage high public transport mode share and provide other benefits to the local environment and region. See further discussion in the Northstowe case study. Selected other local authorities also use similar selection criteria.

Further reading here

Summary Guide Summary Guide Background Technical Report Background Technical Report Northstowe, South Cambridgeshire

Northstowe, South Cambridgeshire - The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Structure Plan places sustainable travel considerations at the forefront of criteria for selection of development locations. A transparent, selection criteria was used to select the final location for a new settlement (Northstowe) in the region.
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Longbridge, Birmingham - The Longbridge mixed-use development in Birmingham is a brownfield regeneration project incorporating a planned suburban commercial centre with sub-regional public transport accessibility.
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Milton Keynes / South Midlands - The North Northamptonshire Core Spatial Strategy incorporates policies that concentrate housing and office development in urban centres and the bulk of new development is allocated to larger towns. Inter-urban travel nonetheless poses a challenge to the sustainability of the region.
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North East of England - The North East Regional Spatial Strategy attempted to follow a policy of concentration of development in urban centres. However, some challenges and modifications emerged during the decision-making process.
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