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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 703 - 719)




  703. Can I welcome you to the final session this morning? Could I ask you to identify yourselves for the record, please?
  (Cllr Wicks) My name is Jenny Wicks. I am a member of Guildford Borough Council, a member of the executive of Guildford Borough Council. I am also one of the vice-chairs of the LGA's transport executive.
  (Cllr Dolezal) Councillor Nick Dolezal from Southwark. I am responsible there for transport and environment. I am also from the Association of London Government where I chair the Transport and Environment Committee. I am also on the Local Government Association Transport Panel and Executive.
  (Mr Christie) Vince Christie, Local Government Association transport policy officer.
  (Mr Cannon) Stephen Cannon, transport policy and performance manager from Derbyshire County Council. I have a particular interest in integrated transport policy.

  704. Does anyone want to say anything by way of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight into questions?
  (Cllr Wicks) We are happy to go straight into questions.

Mr Brake

  705. Do you think the government were leaned on by Tesco, Asda and the like to provide laxer parking standards for retail developments in PPG13?
  (Cllr Wicks) I have no evidence one way or the other. I do not think I could comment on that.

  706. Do you think PPG13 which does have some fairly lax standards, particularly in relation to retail, is going to do anything to improve access by foot to retail developments and other out of town developments?
  (Cllr Wicks) It all depends how it is interpreted by local authorities. It gives a lead. When we are considering the development control process, obviously there are a number of factors that come into play. One will have to see over the course of time what effect it has. Hopefully, it will have a reasonable effect but I think it is very difficult, until we see the result in individual decisions, to gauge exactly what effect it will have.
  (Mr Christie) One of the main problems with planning policy is the long timescale for implementation of particularly major schemes. It will take quite some time to see if the steam roller is changing course, for example, on the backlog of out of town planning consents and debates. When you have a change of the way people think about things, you need to wait for education to work its way through before people change course. It is too early to tell. PPG13 is a step in the right direction. Obviously, it is not such a big step as some people would have liked on things like parking standards. I am sure some people would have liked stricter standards but nevertheless there are maximum standards in it, which is a change from some of the things which came before.
  (Cllr Dolezal) I have difficulty in commenting about out of town developments in the true sense, coming from central London, but one of the things that I have found quite rewarding recently is that there is an appetite in the market place for people to accept reduced numbers of parking spaces within major developments. Certainly all the evidence thus far with the redevelopment of the Elephant & Castle, for example, they have accepted a zero to extremely low parking requirement as part of that, recognising that it is about integrating transport and developing the benefits of that form of inner city development.

  707. Can I ask both councillors and officers whether, in your view, the parking standards that were set in PPG13 are right, too lax or too challenging? Do you have a view?

  (Mr Christie) I am not a planning officer. The range of PPGs was led off by the planning people who are not here today. The question is a bit off the subject of walking in general, but the general view of the Association when it commented on the draft was that it was quite keen on strict standards, perhaps ones stricter than in the PPG13 draft, particularly on thresholds. The fact that they have been relaxed a bit perhaps will be disappointing but at the moment there has not been any formal consideration of PPG13. As you probably know, hard copies of it are not easy to get hold of yet so we have not been in a position to give it formal consideration properly.
  (Cllr Dolezal) It does set a standard in terms of planning guidance, but we can always achieve more rigorous approaches locally in the ultimate application of it.

  708. There is a loophole in PPG13 which developers, I have no doubt, will already have identified, which allows local authorities to consider going above the relevant maximum standards. Could I ask both officers and councillors whether you will be seeking to use that particular loophole when approached or whether officers will advise councillors to go above the relevant maximum standards and whether councillors will in turn, when a developer comes along, be willing to work with the developer and accept above relevant maximum standards for parking? This clearly is related to walking because the more parking spaces there are the more likely it will be that people will drive. Mr Cannon, as an officer, would you advise your councillors to make use of this particular loophole as and when the opportunity arises?
  (Mr Cannon) The general thrust of our approach to dealing with development would be to try to restrict the amount of parking and in general I would go along with not exceeding the maximum parking standards.

Mrs Ellman

  709. You criticise the government for not being interested in walking when compared, for example, with cycling. Why do you think the government has taken that attitude?
  (Mr Christie) Not being interested is not quite the term we used. As somebody who was personally on the Walking Steering Group, it was a bit disappointing that the document which took such a long while to come out changed its status on at least two occasions as it was going through. Walking is something everybody does. Listening to one of the questions earlier on, there was some fear that if you tell people how to walk it is like teaching people how to breathe. Everybody knows how to do it. In an integrated transport strategy, walking is not just something that local government tells people to do, which is implied by the guidance to local authorities; it is something everybody has to be involved in themselves. All businesses and everybody has an interest in encouraging walking as a transport mode in an integrated transport strategy. On that basis, it is disappointing that what appeared is just guidance to local government, because it could have been wider than that. I do not know what the DETR people have said but I think the government is thinking about something to follow on from that.

  710. You say that the document changed its status a couple of times. Could you tell us more about that? When did it change and who did the changing?
  (Mr Christie) I do not know who did it but, if I remember rightly, it started off under the previous government in 1996 as a direct follow on from the national cycling strategy. That was published as quite a big document with a big appendix. Then the government of the time moved on to a walking strategy. If you look at the 1998 walking statistics published by the DETR, they said that later on that year there would be a walking strategy published. My understanding is it then got mixed in with the Integrated Transport White Paper which was multimodal, covering lots of different areas, with the objective of turning it into a daughter document, so to speak, of the Integrated Transport White Paper, which would still have been a strategy but, at the end, it was turned into this guidance to local government. I do not know why it changed.


  711. You were disappointed?
  (Mr Christie) I was, yes, as somebody who was on a strategy group. I think probably the bodies which promote walking were a lot more disappointed than me.

Mrs Ellman

  712. Does the government's position on this matter a lot?
  (Mr Christie) If we talk about integrated transport, obviously everything has to be considered. The balance between different modes and which are given documents, strategies, conferences, fora, whatever and which ones are not is something which the people involved in promoting those modes get sensitive about. I am also on the Motor Cycle Advisory Group and they get very sensitive about whether the motor cycle is given what they consider is its due merit. The same sort of debate went on—some of you may have been involved in it—when the Transport Bill, which is now the Transport Act, was going through, about what sort of strategies local authorities should include in their local transport plans. In the end, there has to be a bus strategy in it but in the debates people were suggesting all sorts of strategies, lists as long as your arm. Obviously, local government cannot be constrained so that it has to produce absolutely everything in the detail which government says, but there is a great deal of interest in things that are included and things that are excluded. There was a national cycling strategy with lots of documentation which was inclusive and the walking one was not quite the same.
  (Cllr Dolezal) One has to be very careful in terms of expressing disappointment because there are great difficulties in that area but there is an issue about the status and within local government the interest and enthusiasm and the sorts of appetites either we as politicians or officers have when looking at allocating resources against different spend areas. Where there is something that has a higher status, a great deal more enthusiasm and investment, people will trust. There is an issue that cycling has a higher status than walking. My own view is that we need to take a very reasonable stance about this and see it as a range of integrated strategies. The issue has been raised about corner shops and things like that. There has to be a broad based interest that says if we create a better environment for people to be in it will encourage walking; it will reduce crime. There are a number of measures that you will take to improve the quality of the finishes, the design quality, the lighting, which actually make it a better place and in itself will encourage walking, which again, in itself, gets more people on the street and has an impact in terms of reducing the fear of crime because you have a greater volume of people around. That is the sort of context that I would like to see it in, where in central London and inner city areas you are lifting up the quality of the infrastructure that makes it more pleasant for people to choose to be in it and for people to choose to walk because they are not in conflict with traffic. You then have to look at it in terms of the integrated public transport system. That actually makes it better. My own personal example on this is the river walkway from London Bridge westward. Now that you can walk along the south bank without having to go into any of the streets, vastly greater numbers of people choose that as a way of walking to work over and above the numbers that used it five or six years ago when it was not a complete route. In that sense, to my mind, it has worked.

  713. What can the LGA do about enhancing the profile of walking?
  (Cllr Dolezal) We could ask you to improve the status and raise its profile.

  714. What can the LGA do, in itself? Is there anything you can do as the organisation representing local government, apart from what you think the government should do?
  (Cllr Dolezal) That was disingenuous of me.

  715. In addition to what the government should do?
  (Cllr Wicks) Public education and public information is a very important thing. Exchange of best practice might be some contribution that the LGA could make on this. The government itself has already done this in the document on walking, but this is the kind of area where we might see some sort of role.
  (Cllr Dolezal) There is also a role that the Local Government Association can play within our own regional areas, raising people's awareness. That would be on a political level as well, in terms of our colleagues within the political arena, but also encouraging the right sorts of skills and understanding within the professional advisers, designers, and perhaps also expanding the audience to show that this should be of interest to developers, because it is also in their interests to create a better environment for people to be in.
  (Mr Christie) One of the key ways in which central and local government proceeds these days is on a cross-sector, corporate way forward rather than picking out walking and saying, "We must have a walking policy", how you include walking in social inclusion, in best value and local public service agreements, where there may be areas where walking should be given its weight, along with other things which sometimes get missed like access for the disabled, which do not necessarily involve a great deal of spending on major infrastructure schemes. The Local Government Association is working that way. Every time something like social inclusion comes on the agenda, it should be covering all the different sorts of subjects which are possible to relate with it.

Mr Benn

  716. Why exactly do you need the government to tell local authorities to give walking a higher priority when local government is perfectly free to do that already, if it wishes to do so? If it has not, why do you think that has been the case?
  (Cllr Dolezal) If you have an integrated transport policy and it is a policy area and arena for central government and it has cycling, buses, heavy rail, light rail, it has a whole range of initiatives there, I think it is only right that walking should be seen as part of that range of integrated transport.


  717. That is your decision, is it not? Is it still local government or is it local administration?
  (Cllr Dolezal) I do not understand your question, differentiating between local government and local administration.

  718. Do you have to be directed all the time to give priorities to things the government thinks are important or are you entitled to make your own decisions?
  (Cllr Dolezal) Not everyone shares my enthusiasm.
  (Mr Christie) Local authority associations at the time issued a joint walking strategy called A Step Ahead in about 1989 to 1991, so they were leading the government. It was mainly advice but local government has as broad a political spectrum as is in Parliament. It is difficult in Parliament to get all elected members to agree with each other. In local government, there is the same range so there should always be discretion because local government is local government. That is why local transport plans, for example, do give the discretion for people locally to take into account whatever they consider the needs are locally in including things in local transport plans, following the general guidelines.

Miss McIntosh

  719. The government's PPG13 is understood perhaps to put a greater emphasis on parking in towns. Does the LGA have a view if that is going to encourage more people to drive into towns?
  (Mr Christie) It is difficult to say. There has always been this need to balance between providing parking in town centres and public transport access to town centres or, if there is not parking in town centres, will everybody drive to somewhere outside the town centres and they will decline. Obviously, geographical circumstances are going to take some consideration in individual locations, depending on what is available and the historic layout of the streets. The answer to that is, in a general sense, I do not know. There has to be some parking in town centres. There has to be development of park and ride schemes which are attractive, but if you have them there is a debate about whether park and ride schemes undermine traditional bus services, so the trouble with integrated transport policy is everything has an effect on everything else. If you bring in planning, land use, the environment, it makes it even more complicated. The transport plan is a new arena and everybody is learning how to do it. Hopefully, it will work out for the best.
  (Mr Cannon) I think there is a difficult balance to be struck. Clearly, it is very important in terms of supporting public transport services that we maintain vitality and attractiveness for town centres. An element of that has always got to be to ensure there is adequate provision, particularly for shoppers to park in town centres.

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