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

Examination of Witness (Questions 380 - 399)




  380. I welcome you to the committee. Perhaps you would introduce yourself for the record.
  (Mr Deegan) My name is John Deegan, Director of Planning, Transport and Economic Strategy with Warwickshire County Council. I am here in my capacity as chairman of the Strategic Planning and Regeneration Committee of the CSS, formerly known as the County Surveyors' Society. The CSS has been in existence since 1885. Historically, it was the professional body for county surveyors in England, Scotland and Wales. With the merging of engineering and planning departments with other functions in the 1980s and 1990s its remit has broadened. It now regards itself as the voice of the directors of planning, transport, waste and the environment in the UK. Our members cover over 50 per cent of the population, over 80 per cent of the area and 75 per cent of the road network in the country.

Mr Olner

  381. For the record, I know Mr Deegan in his capacity at Warwickshire County Council because my constituency is Nuneaton. Mr Deegan, your memorandum seems to imply that walking should not be increased or encouraged in case the number of casualties increases. Is that because the CSS is made up mainly of senior highway engineers?
  (Mr Deegan) If our memorandum has given the impression that we do not want to improve the quantity and quality of walking I can only apologise. That was not intended. Can you point me to the reference in the document?

  382. I cannot point you to the exact reference but, looking through it, it appears to imply that more people walking perhaps will encourage more casualties?
  (Mr Deegan) That certainly was not the intention. It is the intention of the memorandum to tell the committee that we must be realistic about the scope for walking. While walking continues to be the most important mode of transport for short journeys under one mile, and has proved over the years consistently to account for over 80 per cent of such journeys, it must be recognised that over that distance there are much more limited opportunities to encourage walking.

  383. Does the Society agree with the Urban White Paper and the Rogers Task Force that to make it easier to walk is essential for urban renaissance?
  (Mr Deegan) I believe that is right. The key issue is that as average journey lengths have increased over the past 10 to 20 years inevitably fewer journeys are made by walking. The key reason that journey lengths have increased is to do with the concentration of facilities through economies of scale and the removal of small-scale local facilities in both town and country. As a result, walking has tended to decline. The conclusion to be drawn from that is that if one wants to look sensibly at the role of walking in urban regeneration initiatives in parallel one needs to encourage the repopulation of town and city centres with people who over the years have tended to migrate to suburban and rural areas, and also increase the diversity of facilities that are available locally. If that is done there are opportunities for people to reach the facilities that they need through walking, and it is our job to ensure that the quality and quantity of routes available to them is improved.

  384. We have heard from various witnesses today that perhaps walking and pedestrian activity is far from the mind of the highway engineer. What instructions and advice do you give members of your Society that the role of the pedestrian should be taken into account to a greater extent?
  (Mr Deegan) I believe that the statement that engineers do not give priority to walking activities is incorrect. There was a significant problem, particularly in the mid-1990s, over funding of any capital works associated with highways. For example, in 1996-97 and 1997-98 no capital allocations were made through the old TPP system to local highway authorities for any minor works, other than for accident reduction schemes in specified locations known as "package areas". That meant that local authorities had very little cash to invest except in highway maintenance. Obviously, that has caused significant problems in trying to deliver at a reasonable pace the implementation of the White Paper on integrated transport published in 1998. Clearly, that situation has now changed. The fact of the matter is that we have been resource-constrained for several years and are now in a transitional period. In my view, local highway authority engineers have been in the forefront of developing new initiatives and implementing aspects of the Government's integrated transport policy.

  385. Do you believe that local authorities will pay sufficient attention to walking if there is no national strategy or target?
  (Mr Deegan) Local highway authorities clearly are now expected to produce a local transport plan which will be monitored in future on an annual basis. The very strong steer that comes from DETR is towards the implementation of integrated transport initiatives which embrace walking, cycling, public transport and also other modes. I believe that over the next two or three years there will be substantial implementation of those policies now that the resources are available to do it.

  386. You are quite happy that the Government are providing sufficient resources to be able to achieve those objectives?
  (Mr Deegan) The resources for the forthcoming year can only be described as generous.

Mr Blunt

  387. You say that the resources are generous, but the fact is that about 10 years ago government changed its policy towards things like out-of-town shopping centres. You say in you evidence to the committee that there are examples of developments constructed in the past, some in the past 10 years, which have been designed primarily for vehicular access and which do not provide good facilities for pedestrians. Given that, why is it that the professionals, represented by the CSS which is in the forefront of changing the perspective in this area, seem to be swayed more by the general culture which places great emphasis on car travel than the need substantially to change the design of new developments?
  (Mr Deegan) A lot of the developments which have occurred in recent years are perhaps hangovers from a previous view of the balance of in-town and out-of-town developments. I suppose that it is only with the production of PPG 3 and its sequential tests two or three years ago that we have moved very significantly to block out-of-town developments. One can think of, for example, the new regional shopping development in Kent, Blue Water, which opened in about 1999 but was clearly a hangover from a planning commitment of some years before. There is a time lag in these matters. Having recognised that, I believe that we are now taking forward an integrated strategy which promotes urban renaissance and the protection of the countryside.

  388. But for 10 years politicians at the top, including the former Secretary of State Mr Gummer who was perhaps most closely associated with the change in policy, have been sending out a different signal. You as local engineers claim that you are the ones who have been able to implement all of this, yet you have still been influenced by what you call the general culture which places great emphasis on car travel. All the evidence that we have received indicates that bodies like yours which represent the professionals believe that their members have sufficient skills to encourage walking?
  (Mr Deegan) I do not suggest that my Society or other professional organisations are the only people who have the skills to deliver walking. Clearly, that is untrue and it would be arrogant for any such society to say so. There is a big issue about continuing training for local authority staff, other professional staff and the public at large, as we say in our memorandum. If one looks at the capability to deliver integrated transport solutions one needs to look at things like the TPP and, more recently, the local transport plan settlements agreed by DETR. I have not brought the national statistics with me, but I have looked back 10 years at my own authority's capital allocation. The allocation in 1998-99 for capital works covering all highways and transport measures was some 25 per cent less than the allocation in 1991-92. In reality it meant that, aside from commitments in terms of maintenance of assets—the structure of principal roads—and specific allocations made to reduce accidents, there was very little cash to spare for investment in anything else. In 1997-98 and 1998-99 my own authority was not allowed a single penny of capital spending to go on what might be described as integrated transport, including walking, other than a small amount in one part of my county known as a "package area". In 1999-2000 there was a small allocation for integrated transport works, and we have used some of that in Mr Olner's constituency. Obviously, for the current year and next year there are very significant increases in the allocations available to us. That is when one will begin to see things happen on the ground.

  389. Do you agree that to a degree to try to promote walking within your profession is rather like pushing water up hill? Is that not why all these matters have been relegated to junior, or less important, personnel?
  (Mr Deegan) I do not believe that it is true to say that these matters have been relegated to junior personnel; nor is it true to say that in some sense walking is at the bottom of the hierarchy, which is the implication of your question. The fact is that local highway authority engineers now clearly understand that national transport policy is geared towards the implementation of integrated transport strategies for local areas, which necessarily involves a much wider range of skills than has historically been the case with the design and construction of new roads or the maintenance of the existing fabric.

  390. But that study fails the reality test, does it not? Which results in greater kudos for a member of your profession: a major road scheme like the Hastings bypass—to name one that is in this morning's news—or sorting out some pavements? At the end of the day, it will be the major road schemes that attract the high-flyers and most talented people in your profession every time?
  (Mr Deegan) That is not so. This morning Birmingham has been quoted. I quote it again. It seems to me that a very significant element of Birmingham's urban regeneration has been the creation of superb quality environments for pedestrians in the city centre, and linking that to Broad Street and the ICC. That has attracted huge international interest.


  391. It may have attracted huge international interest, but the people of Birmingham said that they wanted 9 per cent of the highways budget spent on pedestrian areas, whereas in reality only 1 per cent was spent. Is that not an illustration of the fact that, in spite of it being very popular, highway engineers and councillors in Birmingham do not give walking that degree of priority?
  (Mr Deegan) Obviously, I do not know Birmingham's details and would hesitate to become involved in the details of its budget allocations. I can only say that in relation to our budget allocations the predominant capital expenditure will go on the maintenance of the existing fabric, whether it is the maintenance of roads, street lighting or other facilities of that nature. Inevitably, we give that priority, and it is right to do so. I am not sure that it is particularly helpful to talk in terms of budget percentages in that way.

Mr Olner

  392. While we are talking about highway engineers, do you believe that guard railings and staggered crossings are necessary for pedestrian safety?
  (Mr Deegan) I believe that that was the advice given to local authorities by DETR in its Note 295.

  393. Is there any research evidence to show that it is necessary for the safety of pedestrians, or do you and other engineers simply say that when a scheme is introduced it will require railings and the crossing will be staggered?
  (Mr Deegan) With respect, it is not quite so straightforward. The advice from DETR is that in some circumstances it is appropriate to have staggered crossings, for example where there is a wide carriageway, or dual carriageway, and there may be significant risks to pedestrians from through traffic in that they are perhaps unable to see the full width of road.

  394. But is there any evidence of that?
  (Mr Deegan) I cannot comment. I can only assume that in producing Note 295 the DETR based it on adequate evidence.

Mr Blunt

  395. What touching faith in central government! You work for local government and you are asked to give a view on an issue but hide behind the Government's advice note without offering a professional opinion of your own?
  (Mr Deegan) I do not know what the evidence is. I do not hide behind the note. You will appreciate that local government and the DETR do not always agree on many matters. In terms of the advice that is given in relation to highway design, it is my general experience that the advice given by DETR is to a good professional standard, but I cannot comment specifically on the evidence which lies behind that note.

Mr Olner

  396. Why are railings and staggered crossings not used on the continent?
  (Mr Deegan) I do not know the answer to that. To be clear, we are not defenders of staggered crossings and railings as the ideal form of pedestrian crossing.


  397. What is the ideal form?
  (Mr Deegan) My view, which I expect to be shared by my colleagues, is that ideally pedestrian crossings should be at grade without any interference or hindrance to the desire line or pattern of preferred movement across the road. Inevitably, if one is talking of urban centres of any size at all, it is probable that to deliver that one must either close a road or sink it below its existing level. That can be hugely expensive and, therefore, highway authorities will necessarily make compromises between cost and access for vehicles and pedestrians.

Mr Olner

  398. All I seek to establish is that the other cost is the extra impediment faced by the pedestrian?
  (Mr Deegan) Yes.

  399. Where does the responsibility lie for our being so far behind best practice on the continent in planning for pedestrians—with the institutions or government?
  (Mr Deegan) We have said in our evidence that generally there is a culture of car dominance in the country, which does not affect the professions any more than any other group. I believe that one of the key reasons why we are not as advanced as I should like is that there is an absence of an effective pedestrians' lobby in this country. I do not say that with any intended disrespect to the Pedestrians Association, which I know well and have worked with for some time. The fact of the matter is that pedestrians do not have the same lobby as for other modes of transport, whether they be producer lobbies as in rail or bus operators, or user groups such as cyclists. I believe that one of the ways to achieve that is by the creation of a national walking forum.

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