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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 620 - 639)



  620. There is not an awful lot of action in this, when do we get to see the action?
  (Mr Blackwell) My authority, Medway Council, has just reorganised the whole structure to recognise the importance of the street scene and brought all of the professionals involved in that into one division so that they do talk together, work together and so that the end product will be better for all.

  621. Is that demonstrating any real change at this stage?
  (Mr Whitby) I equally point out that there are good examples. The first thing to recognise is the improvement of street space is not something which is done as a big scheme, it is more likely to be done on an incremental basis. I can take you to parts of Wandsworth where the street space has changed considerably from the point of view of the local community, where 20 mile an hour zones have been installed and safe crossings have been made so that children and adults can communicate satisfactory through that space and it is no longer a way from one place to another for vehicle traffic. These are not things that necessarily stand out as visually great examples but in comparison from what they were to what they are today they are considerably better.

  622. One of the difficulties, is it not, of that is that you then over-standardise and every town comes out looking almost the same.
  (Mr Sellers) If you use the planning for real exercise it will involve the public and various stakeholders involved in the area with the professionals advising and guiding and then you can end up with a bespoke solution to that.

  623. How do you employ the public? Through what forums do you employ the public, through the councillors, through community councils or directly with those who are most effected?
  (Mr Sellers) A whole range of consultation. It can be through direct contact with the public, through exhibitions, through planning for real exercise, where the public get in for a weekend to design the space themselves with the professionals guiding and helping them. There is a whole range of different methods now being used by local authorities.
  (Mr Whitby) We also have another initiative called Place Checks, which is to stimulate local groups of people to go out and check their places and to look at them and report back on how they measure. That is an initiative which is to be launched later this year.

  624. How are you measuring that?
  (Mr Whitby) How is a good place measured against a bad place? There are a number of measures you can apply.
  (Mr Sellers) We are developing a serious number of benchmarks as part of the best value process.

  625. Give us a couple of benchmarks?
  (Mr Sellers) For example, the number of times the streets has been cleaned, that can be quantified.
  (Mr Whitby) The time it takes to cross the road.
  (Mr Sellers) The quality of the pavement. For instance the condition of the pavement. Can people trip over or not? Is it a good clean surface that people can walk along without any impediments?
  (Mr Whitby) The amount of posts standing in the pavement, the number of bollards, the quality of the bollards in terms of their repair. There is a whole series of small measures which all add up to a total report as to the quality of the space. One of simplest pieces of information is to measure how long it takes to cross a road. You can define neighbourhoods by the boundaries which are created by traffic which prevents people from communicating.

  626. Does anybody judge the amount of rubbish that dogs create in the streets?
  (Mr Whitby) Absolutely, that is another measure.

  627. It is a measure. How important is it?
  (Mr Whitby) It is one of a number.

  628. Do you think the professionals' training is the right type of training to be able to apply this new science?
  (Mr Whitby) We need to do a lot, and we are working on doing a lot, to improve the training of all professionals involved in urban design.

  629. Do you think it is sufficient for the changes that are being proposed?
  (Mr Whitby) No, but we are working to make it sufficient. There is an initiative with DETR and with CABE addressing just that point.

  630. What time scales are we talking about?
  (Mr Whitby) I think we are talking of a time scale of the order of five years to see the establishment of centres of excellence for learning urban design skills.

  631. Are you saying that it will take about 10 years to see this remarkable transformation of our towns, towards the idea of walking against the car?
  (Mr Whitby) No, I am saying in terms of delivering it across the spectrum, in terms of having an impact we would like it to happen, it will take time. It is not going to happen tomorrow but it will happen incrementally and over a period of time we will get to the point you are looking for.

Mr O'Brien

  632. Mr Whitby, in your evidence that you submit to the Committee you refer to cross-reference documents and you also refer to revisiting legislation, the Highways Act 1980, but there is no reference in here to the Government's Ten Year Plan, published last year, and also to the Local Transport Plans. Is there a reason why your organisation has not referred to the Government's Ten Year Plan or to the Local Transport Plan?
  (Mr Whitby) In terms of the Local Transport Plan they are coming in at the same time.

  633. They were in last year.
  (Mr Blackwell) We welcome the Local Transport Plan and the Ten Year Plan, it gives the whole country a much better—

  634. Is there any reason why you did not refer to it in these submissions? We have a situation where Professor Goodwin in his research says that the Government's Ten Year Plan paid too much attention to big schemes and too little to small ones. This is evidence presented by professional people but your organisation does not touch it, is there a reason for that?
  (Mr Whitby) I would argue that it is an omission, but I would also support Professor Goodwin's point of view.

  635. When we invite you here we like to hear your observations on issues and I thought there was nothing more current than the Government's Ten Year Plan. If more money is to be spent on schemes to promote walking what should the priorities be? You do not address these kind of matters.
  (Mr Sellers) We do refer to the Transport Plan in relation to our Community Development Plans in the main document.

  636. Where?
  (Mr Sellers) In the main document[2].

  637. This is the evidence that you submitted for us to consider and question you on. I am making the point that little attention has been paid to the Ten Year Plan in this document, or none at all. I wonder why. It is something that the Government is building on, it is something that local government is building on. We all have to build on it because it is the policy and we welcome your observations on this question as to why we are spending too much money on doing things and not enough on value for walking.
  (Mr Whitby) Perhaps we could come back on those issues.


  638. How far is there a responsibility on the motor car manufacturers to try and produce a pedestrian-friendly vehicle?
  (Mr Whitby) I think it is very difficult to produce a pedestrian-friendly vehicle. There are things such as soft fronts to cars and air bags for pedestrians. I think the level of pedestrian deaths and accidents such that there could be some quite serious arguments about how strategically useful they would be, particularly bearing in mind the speed of some vehicles, I think designing our way out of the problem and trying to find a technical fix is not necessarily the answer, although anything that can make a vehicle better is good. I am particularly excited by the developments in the manufacturing of motorcars from the point of view of making them quieter and developing them with lower emissions. There is a corollary to that, that they are less aggressive in the sense that the new vehicles have lower accelerations and I believe that the vehicles that we will see in our towns and cities are going to become more benign in comparison to the ones that are there now. I think we are going to move towards a position of a better balance between the vehicle and the pedestrian. I think at the same time we need to work hard to encourage the adoption of work place charging and other such devices which deter the use of vehicles in our city centres themselves.

Mr Brake

  639. Do you not think that pedestrian air bags might actually encourage some drivers to drive even more recklessly on the grounds that if they do hit somebody an air bag will say save the day for the pedestrian.
  (Mr Whitby) It might even encourage the pedestrian conversely. It is worth saying that more men suffer from pedestrian accidents than women, and I believe that is because they believe they are stronger.

  Mrs Dunwoody: They think they are invincible.

2   P. 23, Designing Streets for People. Back

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