Examination of Witnesses (Questions 187
WEDNESDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2001
187. Can I welcome you to the second session
this morning and ask you to identify yourselves for the record?
(Mr Clark) Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My
name is Paul Clark, I chair one of the topic groups of the Planning
Officers Society. On my right is Alan Tilly, who is the Senior
Transport Planner from Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council and
a member of the Transportation Committee of the Technical Advisers
Group. On my left is Roger Geffen, the Transport Planner of Oxfordshire
County Council, representing a colleague of mine, David Young,
who is Director of Environmental Services at Oxfordshire County
Council. It is Roger who has done most of the work in preparing
the paper we have already submitted to you. That is my little
group, but you also have a group from Birmingham City Council
and I will let them introduce themselves.
(Mr Taylor) I am Mike Taylor, I am largely responsible
for submitting the evidence you have before you today, ladies
and gentlemen. I am accompanied by my colleague, Trevor Errington,
from the Transportation Department, also from Birmingham City
188. Thank you very much. Do either of your
groups want to say anything by way of introduction or are you
happy for us to go straight to questions?
(Mr Clark) We have sent you a submission and we would
not pretend it is innovative from a professional point of view,
it is mainstream professional advice, but there are two points
which I should emphasise as being innovative. One is the point
in section 4 of our submission, Overcoming Policy Barriers to
Walking, and in the second section of that we talk about wider
traffic restraint policies and targets, and we have made the point
there that the Government expects road traffic to increase by
17 per cent, it has targets for bus travel and for rail travel
to growrail use to double, cycle use to treblebut
it is also Government policy to reduce the need to travel, and
those things are in tension with each other. There is no target
of course at all for the subject matter for today. That is the
point we would like to emphasise. The second point we would like
to emphasise is in the fifth section of our submission, where
we are talking about practical steps for encouraging walking,
we have suggested a device which we call audit procedures, and
this will be a device we use for development control purposes,
and my colleague, Roger Geffen, will be happy to elaborate on
that if you would like him to. There is one point which is not
in our submission which I would like to add, and that is the concept
of whole route improvement. In many other aspects of transport,
this concept is familiarChris Green at Network South East
invented the idea of whole route improvements for railwaysand
the idea is that it is no use improving one section of a route
and investing in that, people will make their choices by the weakest
link, and therefore the sensible thing is to look at whole route
improvements. We can begin to see that, for example, in walking
to schools initiatives, where you are looking at the whole business
of walking to school, and we would like to see the idea accepted
of looking at walking to shops as a study in itself, walking to
work, walking for particular purposes, and looking at the whole
route and improving it that way. That is the only additional point
I wanted to make. Thank you.
189. Do you want to say anything briefly?
(Mr Errington) I am quite happy to respond to questions.
190. The Government did not publish a strategy
on promoting walking. What impact is this going to have on local
(Mr Clark) We would all like to comment on that if
we may. It is a question of sending the right signals. We have
of course the Government's advice on walking but all that does
is give you a list of measures that you could take. It does not
say which one we should use or whatever. What you would expect
in a strategy I think is objectives, targets, something to measure
progress against, something which will tell you how vigorously
you pursue each element and which sets criteria for local target
setting. Without that kind of thing you have no way of knowing
when you are succeeding, no incentive to succeed. That is what
the effect of not having strategies would be.
(Mr Errington) From an individual local
authority's point of view we are very disappointed. We had prepared
our provisional transport plan in the expectation that a walking
strategy would be published and we are very disappointed that
it was not because it seems to be giving the message that walking
is a very low priority in transport policy terms. From a transport
perspective we have been for many years trying to get walking
recognised as a form of transport and funded properly.
191. Has the Government influenced you to do
what you have been doing in Birmingham?
(Mr Errington) I would say not greatly. Certainly,
as you see from the submission we made, our work on improving
the pedestrian environment goes back many years and there have
been some difficulties that we have had in funding pedestrian
work from within our transport money. Nearly all the work we have
done, particularly the civic centre work, has been funded from
other forms of funding. My colleague is an expert on that but
trying to persuade the former Department of Transport that walking
is a form of transport and spending money on maybe changing a
road to improve walking was an appropriate use of those funds
has been quite a difficult battle.
192. Did you win the battle?
(Mr Errington) I think we are getting there.
(Mr Geffen) I would like to make a point about the
co-ordination between authorities. Walking in many respects is
a prisoner's dilemma sort of thing where you only get the best
outcome for everyone if each individual actor knows that everyone
else is going to be pulling in the same direction. Otherwise you
start undermining competing authorities and there is that danger
that local authorities do not pursue this policy as intensively
as would be in the best interests of everyone because they fear
that their neighbours are going to undermine them. That is a very
strong argument to give us as local authorities a clear national
lead on how intensively to apply the policies and to give us the
confidence that they will be applied equally intensively by our
193. I must say I feel this is a little bit
of a cop-out. Why are you dependent on a national walking strategy?
Surely walking of all things is something that is very localised
and therefore you can develop your own policies that are appropriate
to your own environment?
(Mr Errington) I agree with you. Our experience is
that we have had to take it ahead on our own. Where we find it
particularly difficult in implementation terms, which is why we
are here today, is the issue of getting the funding to deliver
it. There is a perception that improving conditions for walking
is cheap and it is not, particularly in a city like Birmingham
which was designed for the motor car in the sixties. It is actually
very expensive to change things. If we are competing for funding
from whatever source then we need good strong policy support to
carry that forward. It is all well and good we as a local authority
championing the cause but it does help occasionally to have support
194. Could you say a little bit about the sorts
of things you need to do to make the city suitable and encouraging
for people to walk in rather than come in by car?
(Mr Taylor) Our fundamental aspiration over the last
15 years has been to dismantle our inner ring road which has been
a very heavy constraining influence on the ability us to accommodate
new activities. That inner ring road, which effectively was a
four-lane highway (and indeed eight-lane in parts), with the only
means to get from one side to the other of which was by subways,
was very constraining in terms of stimulating other activities.
The lifeblood of the city depended on us being able to transfer
from being a car manufacturing based city to more of a service
centre based city. To facilitate that removal we have had to dismantle
an elevated road which constrained the city centre. If people
have been to Birmingham recently, they will have seen that great
strides have been made to take down that road and allow the city
centre to spread out. That has meant taking out subways, lowering
the road, punching holes through the inner ring road. Indeed,
our most grandiose project to date is the Masshouse project which
is a huge elevated structure which is preventing the city centre
expanding out to the eastern parts of the city centre. That is
taxing our brains considerably at the moment but it is very difficult
because at the end of the day, as Trevor has said, it does indeed
take away traffic capacity but it is so fundamental to allow the
city centre to grow and accommodate new activities.
195. What would you all like to have seen in
the Ten Year Transport Plan to promote walking?
(Mr Geffen) The Ten Year Transport Plan said very
little about walking. One of the things that was indicative of
this was that the document that reported on the modelling had
no references to walking at all. Clearly the setting of the targets
in the allocation budget has not taken into account either walking
or cycling and their potential contribution to the objectives
that the Government has set. What the ten-year plan says to local
authorities is, "Here is some money; over to you", but
without this lead that enables us to know what is good practice,
to exchange good practice. There is also a role for Government
as part of a national strategy to facilitate the exchange of information
about how to do the monitoring, how good practice works and at
what sort of levels, and coming back to how intensively we should
pursue the policy.
(Mr Clark) In the DETR publication on developing a
strategy for walking they have a section there on research and
other data. It says that the examples given are very limited and
there must be many others, especially as there has been increased
interest in qualitative research in recent years. It goes on to
say that experience suggests that there are many anecdotal ideas
about what does or does not encourage pedestrian activity which
need to be tested and challenged.
196. Could you identify the page and the name?
(Mr Clark) Yes. It is section 6.3 of the document
called Developing a Strategy for Walking. Certainly we
have found in preparing our own evidence that that was true, that
there is lots of anecdotal stuff but no systematic research and
that is something we would like the Government to do so that in
turn they can then recommend back to local authorities, "Our
experience is that this works and this works on a widespread basis".
(Mr Geffen) We have put in our evidence this suggestion
of a Walk Challenge comparable to the Cycle Challenge that came
out of the cycling strategy to kick-start some innovative projects,
watch how they work and then disseminate the results so that we
know what works well.
197. Should targets be set for increasing the
amount of walking nationally or locally?
(Mr Geffen) The answer is certainly yes in principle
because of the political signals which that sends out about how
intensively the policy should be applied, recognising however
that this does compound the problem we have already been referring
to that there are targets or predictions for absolutely everything
to grow. Against that policy background one of our concerns is
that walking is the one thing that gets left out which is not
likely to grow. Therefore a target to increase walking against
the rest of the policy landscape may not be an achievable target.
I can well imagine that there may be concerns about that. Nevertheless,
I still think that it would be better to have a target. You have
then at least determined the will to achieve the target and if
you do not meet it you can look back at the measures in a wider
policy framework and work out why you are not achieving it. If
we want more walking, which the Government does say, then the
main thing is to be sending out the right political signals.
198. If I could turn to Birmingham, you touched
on the ring road, that the sole reason was to improve the environment
and the commercial viability. Nothing to do with encouraging walkers.
It was solely down to finance?
(Mr Taylor) I do not think it was finance. I think
it was a commercial imperative, that the city council undertook
very much a knee-jerk reaction to the decline in manufacturing
activity in the 1970s and 1980s. We had to accommodate new economic
activity. The city centre was patently under-performing, largely
because it was constrained physically and could not accommodate
further activities, so in order to annex the opportunities effectively
we had to dismantle the inner ring road in order to provide a
much stronger and more attractive pedestrian environment and to
open up new development opportunities.
199. Has it produced an economic success?
(Mr Taylor) We think so, very much so. As Roger was
saying, the evidence is largely anecdotal and is from the point
of view of the investors who choose to invest in the city now.
The proof of the pudding is in terms of the investment that is
Mr Olner: What evidence is there of improved
conditions for pedestrians that will lead to more walking? It
is all anecdotal, is it not? As I have said before, I walked from
Euston to this place on Monday but it was not something I chose
to do. It was because there was no other means to get here.
Mrs Dunwoody: And you are going to tell us about
it every week!