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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360 - 379)



Mrs Ellman

  360. What are the key ways to establish convenience walking routes?
  (Mr Webster) One that is not particularly novel but is vitally important is the elimination of subways and bridges over major roads. In that respect Birmingham was the pioneer. One needs surface level crossings and not be scared by the fact that the road is an inner ring road with four lanes with a large volume of traffic. One must say that people must wait in their cars and give way to pedestrians who are moving, say, towards the city centre itself. As to convenient routes, if a local authority has a hit list of connections that it would ideally like to make and perhaps enshrines them in its local plan; when development opportunities present themselves it has backing to ask a developer to create a route within its land holding. I was a planning officer over a year ago and attempted to do that in the centre of Cambridge where there was an opportunity to create a route which would have made pedestrian journeys in the city centre much shorter, but because we did not have that in the local plan it was just something that had been in the back of planning officers' minds for a while and, sadly, I was not in a position to insist upon it. The developer built its large extension and the route was sterilised, probably for all eternity.

  361. Should developers be required to provide walking routes as part of a planning permission?
  (Mr Bacon) It depends on the context of the local plan. If one requires a developer to do something one must show that it relates to his or her development. One cannot make a requirement that something is done unless it is part and parcel of the development; otherwise, the developer can appeal. Unless one can show that link the developer is not required to enter into an agreement.

  362. Should the planning law be changed?
  (Mr Bacon) There is always a balance between the public interest and private development. The sort of money that you are talking about could be fairly small, but nowadays there are lots of requirements on developers—housing, social housing, road infrastructure and so on. Clearly, one must look at the whole burden on the scheme; otherwise, it may not be economic. Mr Webster referred to convenient routes. In many towns routes exist but they are just not linked up. Many members of the public do not use those routes because they are not properly maintained or lit, and they are rather unattractive with dog mess and what have you. If local authorities had the money to designate proper networks which were publicised people would know that they were available. If they were properly maintained and looked after people would wish to use them. There are some alleyways which people do not believe are public rights of way because they look so scruffy or dirty or intimidating. Those could be brought back into use without very much public money being spent on weed-clearing, removal of dog mess and graffiti and perhaps the provision of adequate lighting. Perhaps we should first build on what we have and see where we get, rather than insist that the development industry does something outside a local plan.

Mrs Dunwoody

  363. There are no powers at the moment to insist on adequate lighting on rights of way?
  (Mr Bacon) That is a shame. People will not use those kinds of routes without feeling safe.

  364. Do you suggest a statutory power?
  (Mr Bacon) Existing routes can be used. I feel sure that they are not being used because they are not properly maintained and lit. Whether or not we need a statutory power to do that I do not know. It may be just a question of funding and so on. I am not in a position to answer that with any authority. I leave it to you perhaps to ask others who may know better than I do.

Mrs Ellman

  365. Do you believe that local authorities have addressed that issue and have not been able to succeed because of lack of funding or powers?
  (Mr Bacon) I am sure of it. Their funding must first go into the safety of the footways and highways; they have a legal obligation to make them safe. By the time they have done all that frankly there is not much money left over for footpaths, partly because they are not used much by the general public. The highway authority tends to allocate money to those highways and footpaths which are most used. Obviously, if they are most used they will get the maximum benefit from that per pedestrian or car. There are routes which are not used at all because they are unattractive and so do not attract funds. Therefore, it is self-perpetuating. If we can find the funds to do that we may get more people to use them which will perpetuate funding for them.


  366. It is alleged that you want to get rid of telephone boxes on pavements. Are there not far more obstructions on pavements than just telephone boxes?
  (Mr Bacon) I shall ask Mr Webster to deal with that in detail. In general, that may sound a very small issue but in the view of the trust all these small matters—we can give several examples—clutter up the footway. There is a creeping process of this kind in the public domain which gets in the way of pedestrians. It also clutters up the appearance of the street scene.

Mrs Dunwoody

  367. People who streak past in cars will not have their eye offended by those who need to use public telephone boxes?
  (Mr Bacon) Some advertisements are developing in such a way that they may distract drivers from their driving.

  368. It is a matter of des hauts and des bas, is it not? What you are really saying is that you do not like the look of them, that if they are necessary that is unfortunate for some people, because they are not members of the Civic Trust anyway?
  (Mr Webster) Perhaps I may explain our stance on telephone boxes. We have been leading a campaign about full-face advertisements which appear on the side of telephone boxes, primarily on British Telecom boxes. Our concern is partly to do with visual clutter but is concerned with walking specifically. If you create a concealed space either within or behind a box that space is no longer visible, because the advertisements are not transparent. Psychological research proves that if there is such space people populate them in their minds with demons; they think that perhaps someone can be lurking there. We believe that that is perhaps a deterrent to people walking around our towns in comfort.

Mr Olner

  369. I have never heard a telephone box referred to as a demon?
  (Mr Webster) I did not say that, with respect.

Mrs Dunwoody

  370. You do not accept the argument, based on the balance of interest, that to remove something that is essential does not contribute to the general good of mankind, even if the removal makes a place much more visually attractive?
  (Mr Webster) We have been misquoted on this point. We definitely have not said—this has not come across in media coverage—that we want telephone boxes to be removed. Where there is, say, a box in an isolated location, that is an essential public service, which we recognise. However, where there are five boxes in a row which are rarely used because of the proliferation of mobile phones there is a risk that they will simply become advertisement hoardings.

  371. How often does that happen, and where?
  (Mr Webster) It is happening.

  372. Forgive me. You have just enunciated a specific policy. How many examples are you aware of where there are five telephone boxes in a row?
  (Mr Webster) I can provide you with photographic evidence. There is one in the centre of Newcastle.

  373. That is one.
  (Mr Webster) I also know the centre of Cambridge. There is an example in Lion Yard shopping centre.

  374. That is another one.
  (Mr Webster) I do not have time to go out with a notebook to record all the instances.

  375. Mr Webster, you are enunciating a specific policy which will affect people who do not have mobile phones. If it is true that 60 per cent of the population have mobile phones it also means that 40 per cent—probably the poorest proportion—do not have mobile phones.

   (Mr Webster) And they should be able to use telephone boxes.

  376. They require public telephones which work and, almost by definition, will be in telephone boxes?
  (Mr Webster) I agree.

  377. If the Civic Trust believes that they are unsightly it must provide a series of good examples where it can be demonstrated that there are so many telephone boxes that there is no justification for the existing arrangements?
  (Mr Bacon) That is a fair point.


  378. I do not want to take this too far. I am a little concerned that there is a huge amount of pavement clutter and you have picked on telephone boxes which appear to be some of the more useful bits of pavement clutter rather than quite a lot of other things?
  (Mr Bacon) Mr Webster's point is that if there are redundant telephone boxes which are not used—I agree that we must show that that is the situation—for BT to use them for advertisements as has happened recently is not something of which we approve.

Mrs Dunwoody

  379. I find advertisements on bus shelters offensive but I do not suggest that they are removed. I also find offensive advertisements on the piers of large airports so that it appears that Heathrow is now owned by a bank. I can give you a list of offensive advertisements on practically every building. This seems to be the only one on which someone has not projected an advertisement. There must be a degree of commonsense in this.
  (Mr Bacon) I agree. You and the trust are in agreement that perhaps we have gone over the balance. Your comments suggest that it has gone too far, and that is what the trust says.

  Chairman: We must leave it at that. Thank you very much.

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