Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200 - 219)



Mr Olner

  200. This is Walking in Towns and Cities, this inquiry.
  (Mr Errington) From a detailed perspective it is a real problem for us. I agree entirely with what you said about targets. We realised as the city council some years ago that walking was not measured. We started our own detailed household survey, a rolling programme every year, eight wards, asking people detailed questions about their local trips, about walking. That is expensive and we have only just got to the position where we have a benchmark against which we can start measuring any changes. The idea of setting targets is good but I am sure there are a lot of authorities which will not have any benchmarks against which you can measure whether you are going up and down.

Mrs Dunwoody

  201. How many years did that take?
  (Mr Errington) We have 32 wards and we are doing eight a year, so it is four years to do the complete cycle and then we are starting again. We are now beginning to go back and see what has happened over the last four years. We are a large city and it is taking a long time.

  202. Have you collated that information?
  (Mr Errington) Yes, we have.

  203. Does it show measurable change?
  (Mr Errington) We have only just finished the first—

  204. I am not holding you to the figures.
  (Mr Errington) We have not yet gone back to do the second time in the wards. We are just about to start.

  205. You have not done a whole cycle?
  (Mr Errington) That is right. We also do substantial pedestrian counting in the city centre. We have been fantastically successful in regenerating our city centre. That means things like bus stops being moved from streets and actually meant that pedestrian flows dropped. The fact that it is a much better pedestrian environment, much nicer for everybody to be in, is not enough. If you just count the number of pedestrians, because all the huge bus stops that used to be there attracting lots of pedestrians have been moved elsewhere, the figures would say that it has been a failure in pedestrian flow terms, so we do very much share the concerns about—

  206. Fewer people but they are a lot happier?
  (Mr Errington) Yes, but as to finding a way of measuring this and monitoring it properly and measuring the direct relationship between improving conditions and getting more walking in, the devil is in the detail very much in the way we go about that. We have shared your concern about how on earth do you measure it, what success do you have. In our case, because the city centre has physically expanded quite significantly over the last years there is a lot more walking taking place where there was not any before but in the core it has probably not gone up that much.

Mr Olner

  207. What consideration will the planners take of that? Most people's walk journeys are to a transport node, are they not?
  (Mr Errington) Yes.

  208. What have you been doing in looking at the total transport of Birmingham and people being attracted to walk that little bit more to the transport node?
  (Mr Errington) We developed a concept called Bus Showcase which has won a couple of bus awards, where we took the whole route approach. The DETR did allow us to spend money which was identified for improving buses to improve pedestrian routes to those buses and we have spent the money on filling in subways, improving lighting, improving the ambience around the stops, putting in dropped kerbs so that people could get to the stops. I have to say we very much focused on the city centre because that is where we have found alternative funding and we have been able to make the major improvements. That is linked in to the major improvements in the city centre which is now a far more pedestrian friendly place than it ever was. Buses still carry about 80 per cent of the public transport users in Birmingham.

Mr Stevenson

  209. Why is it that local authorities in the United Kingdom do not seem to have adopted the best practices on the continent in terms of walking and pedestrian facilities?
  (Mr Taylor) In respect of Birmingham we like to think that we were copying the best practice, particularly in the city centre. Probably in the 1960s we copied the American role model for city development in terms of car borne traffic and inward looking shopping centres. As planners we hold our hands up that we probably got it wrong and that we have tried to remedy those mistakes and adopt more of the continental style of cities, more vital cities, more mixed use cities.

  210. With reference to Birmingham, it is nice to hear that, but we have got information that suggests that this type of activity goes back to the 1920s, in the Netherlands it has been in operation for 30 years, safe routes to school, in Denmark, for example, for 20 years. It is generations that we are talking about here. The evidence we have suggests that local authorities either have not recognised this or have been very slow to take it up.
  (Mr Geffen) There is historically a wider policy context to this. It has only been in the last five years or so that restraining the need to travel has really entered transport policy. It has only been since 1993/94 and the SACTRA report and the Royal Commission report that this policy agenda really came into the general arena of transport planning in this country and it is only since then that we have started to look to these continental examples. Just picking up the earlier point about whether we have evidence that it works, I have been finding evidence from case studies that I can raise and perhaps submit some papers to you on, one from Copenhagen and one from Graz, but I think the very fact that I have needed to look abroad to find these case studies is symptomatic of the problem that Paul mentioned earlier, that we do not know a great deal about what is best practice, what works best.

  211. Where would you put the responsibility for this? Would it be Government's or would it be the local authority's?
  (Mr Clark) Government has to take a lead, does it not? The local authorities respond to advice from government.

  212. Could I just make two points about local authorities please? One is that we have received some evidence which suggests, as experience around this table may also suggest, that the co-operation between the different professionals and disciplines in local authorities is not as it might be. Do you think this is a factor?
  (Mr Taylor) Just from my own experience, yes, it has been a battle to get consensus.

  213. Has the battle been won?
  (Mr Taylor) In part. There will always be exceptions to the rule. Personally I think we have been quite successful in terms of coming to a consensus view between the various disciplines. Certainly politicians, where there have been conflicts between the disciplines, have had the strategic vision of the place they want to create and have driven that across the professionalisms as it were.

  214. Clearly that is very much an issue for better co-ordination management at local level through local transport plans and all the rest of it.
  (Mr Clark) It is also an issue that the professionals respond to the job they are asked to do, and if the professionals in the past have been asked to get traffic through faster, then that is what they have done.

  215. Mr Clark, you and I are going to have to talk about that outside, I having spent some time in a local authority, so we will discuss that later. The notion that officers always what do they are told to do I think is the subject of an interesting thesis. Is there another element here, and that is cost, resources? Is it not a fact that a considerable number, if not the majority, if not all, of local authorities have consistently underspent their SSA allocation on highways and this type of activity over the years?
  (Mr Geffen) I am not aware of the answer to that. I say that genuinely: I do not know the answer to the point. I think the historical problem in the mid nineties was that suddenly we lost the minor works budget which was the source of funding that had paid for the things that help encourage walking and indeed cycling. There is another point however which is still relevant and it is particularly relevant under the Ten Year Plan, which is that what walking requires is quite a lot of revenue spend. For the per pound of capital spend on walking you need more staff time to design the scheme than if you are spending the same pounds on a large pilot scheme.

  216. I will come back to that in a minute. Mr Taylor, you are the Group Leader of the Planning Department in Birmingham. What is the SSA recent allocation situation like in Birmingham regarding highways and maintenance expenditure?
  (Mr Taylor) I do not know. Trevor might know because he is more involved in that.
  (Mr Clark) It is not a subject that has ever been discussed in the Technical Advisers Group, so I certainly cannot confirm your assertion that there has been consistent underspend. Indeed, I cannot deny it either. We will have to find that out and come back to you.
  (Mr Tilly) Can I add to that a point on revenue? Sandwell Council has been fortunate to have a very good budget approval for safe routes to school, so we can go out there, we can do the measures that can help schoolchildren walk to school. On top of that there needs to be revenue spent on staff time showing the children, literally taking the children by the hand—and the parents—how to use those facilities. That is where staff time really is pressed.

  217. Could I now turn to guard railing and cattle pen crossing? Some of us love them, some of us hate them. Most people see them as a bit of a nuisance, I think. Guard railing in the United Kingdom, not in Europe. Why is that, do you think?
  (Mr Clark) We were talking about this earlier. We have had an example when we were crossing the road coming to you here where we were penned in the middle of the road.


  218. You did use the crossing or did you dodge round it?
  (Mr Clark) We did use it.

Mrs Dunwoody

  219. All Members of Parliament ignore it.
  (Mr Clark) We did not ignore it. The reason for that is all to do with capacity on the highway and the desire of those looking after the highway to make sure that the capacity is maximised, both traffic and pedestrians, and you can do that by restricting and controlling the flow of pedestrians. That is why it is done. As to why it is not done on the continent, perhaps they have greater capacity on their roads to start with. I could not answer that. My colleagues from Birmingham will tell you that they have managed to do without it in Birmingham in parts.
  (Mr Taylor) I think if the will is there you do not need it. We can point to examples and subsequently we can give you illustrations if necessary.
  (Mr Geffen) It is worth mentioning zebra crossings as well in this context. There is guidance on this and probably the zebra crossing is an under-used facility.

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