Housing developers are ‘locking communities into car-dependency’

Following a review of 20 greenfield developments, Transport for New Homes, a campaign group for sustainable transport, say that “housing is designed in every way around the car”.

The ‘Building Car Dependency’ report shows that rather than the walkable, green, and sustainable places that both the Government and developers envisage for future living, the group observed places where residents had to drive for nearly every journey.

While developers claim to plan for vibrant communities with local shops, leisure facilities and community services, in practice the report found that greenfield estates were dominated by parking, driveways and roads.

The research follows the Transport for New Homes 2018 flagship report on visits to housing developments.

Returning to these sites three years later, the report revealed that new greenfield housing has become even more car-based than before and that the trend had extended to surrounding areas, with out-of-town retail, leisure, food outlets and employment orientated around new road systems.

In stark contrast, brownfield developments in cities tended to be less car-based, allowing better access to local amenities by foot, cycle, and public transport.

Jenny Raggett, project coordinator at Transport for New Homes, said: “We cannot go on as we have been, building new homes in places which are not only impossible to serve with sustainable transport, but actually promote more and more travel by car.”

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation and a chair of the steering group for Transport for New Homes said the phrase ‘car dependency’ implies that people are addicted to their vehicles when generally they are making rational travel choices in the face of the options available to them.

Gooding said: “Residents of new housing developments make their transport decisions based on a mix of what they see is available, what’s convenient, what’s reliable, and what’s affordable.

"If developers, planners, and architects continue to push new homes into locations that are poorly connected to the services we all need by any means other than the private car, but don’t even recognise that fact, then we’re in the worst of all worlds because car-dependent residents will end up blocking both the roadway and the footway with their vehicles.

“What’s needed is some joined-up thinking that puts accessibility up front, rather than languishing as an afterthought in the process."

Two greenfield developments which researchers found were designed with walkability and community needs at the forefront, are Derwenthorpe near York and Poundbury in Dorset. Both sites were developed so that residents could walk or cycle to local amenities and workplaces.

Key recommendations from the Transport for New Homes’ report:

• New homes need to be built in places which can be served by a modern public transport network right from the very start of construction, and where residents are able to walk or cycle within the development and into and out of it to the adjacent urban area.

• Direct public and developer money away from building new roads to open up land in the countryside for housing. Instead, enable our planners to coordinate new homes with metros and other modern public transport, choosing where to build accordingly.

• Ensure that new developments are not built around the car. The very high percentage of land devoted to parking, driveways and roads is wasteful and makes it almost impossible to build ‘beautiful places’ in line with government policy.

• Car-based living risks creating inactive and isolated lifestyles.

• Redraft the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to ensure housing is built only around sustainable transport - rather than the car - and in the right locations such as smaller brownfield sites to ensure residents have access to local amenities, ensuring a walkable community and healthier, more sociable living.

• Direct Government funding to public realm, place-making, and sustainable transport including Dutch-style cycling networks, local rail, light rail, rapid transit, buses and trams - rather than funding road links and increased junction capacity in a vain attempt to ‘unlock land for housing’.

• On-demand bus services. Services like HertsLynx and ArrivaClick are designed to improve connections between rural areas and town centres, as well as increase access to employment, education, healthcare, and shopping.

• E-bike hire schemes such as Brompton Bike Hire and Beryl Bikes. E-bikes extend typical cycling range from three to five miles, which could be useful in rural areas.

• Improved public transport. For example, the One Public Transport for Cornwall project integrates bus and rail travel under a single brand, with the same ticketing system and joint timetables.

• Shared transport schemes like Liftshare, which reduce the number of single-occupancy car journeys to work.