Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Durham County Council (WTC 24)


  Comments on the above matter are made under the following headings:

    —  absence of a clear national framework for walking;

    —  pressures on budgets;

    —  scheme assessment;

    —  DETR major scheme funding;

    —  procedures for implementing schemes.

Absence of a clear national framework

  Walking is the most basic element of any transport system and yet is often the one given least serious consideration. A whole range of policy areas, not just transport policy, need to consider encouraging walking and increasing the number of journeys made on foot. For example, it is difficult to encourage parents to walk their children to school when parental choice may mean that the chosen school is well beyond walking distance or that places are not available at the nearest school for those who would prefer to walk. A National Strategy is necessary to raise the profile and set a framework for the promotion and development of walking across all policy areas.

  A distinction needs to be made between walking for leisure and for every day purposes. Walking for whatever purpose may have individual health benefits and seems to be increasingly popular among certain groups of the population. Making journeys for every day purposes on foot rather than by car can have wider benefits including reducing congestion, pollution and demand for parking spaces, but the number of people walking to work, school, shops and even leisure venues is decreasing. The purposes of encouraging walking need to be made clear with different approaches likely to be needed to address them.

Pressures on budget

  The survey undertaken by MVA as part of the County Durham Local Transport Plan process identified walking as a viable alternative to the car for more local journeys, for example taking children to school (where already 44 per cent of journeys are made on foot) and visiting family and friends. Deterrents to walking, such as traffic using minor residential roads to avoid bottlenecks, speeding in residential areas and problems at the school gate were prime among traffic and transport concerns in the County with more than one-third considering these to be an issue.

  The scope for improvements to the pedestrian environment is very widespread, potentially affecting all communities in the County, and integrates well with wider County Council programmes (such as community regeneration). It will be important to ensure that funding for integrated transport measures (which includes improvements for pedestrians) through the Local Transport Plan system is sustained at an adequate level, and is not adversely affected by other transport spending priorities.

Scheme assessment

  The basis of the assessment of Local Transport Plans is the "New Approach To Appraisal". In general terms this represents a much more comprehensive approach towards the assessment of transport schemes, enabling impacts across a range of key objectives to be identified and summarised. As currently developed however the New Approach to Appraisal does present problems for assessment of walking schemes in terms of:

    —  Lack of reliable travel data. Although allowing for the use of qualitative information the New Approach To Appraisal does require quantification of effects wherever possible. While walking is probably the most widely used means of transport, there is a lack of information on how why and when people walk. The deficiencies in such information, and the difficulties of collecting it reliably, should not be allowed to undermine the strategic importance of measures to improve conditions for pedestrians;

    —  Economic appraisal. Conventional economic appraisal of transport schemes has concentrated on benefits accruing from time savings, largely in relation to motorised transport. Conventional appraisals (which still form part of the new approach) mean that measures to improve walking could be assessed as having a negative economic impact (for example where lower speed limits or traffic calming lead to a reduction in traffic speeds). This is unsatisfactory because:

      —  the robustness of conventional techniques has been increasingly questioned. Even the Government's own advisers (SACTRA) have concluded that the empirical evidence to support them is "weak and disputed";

      —  the economic benefits of walking are less tangible, and would be the indirect result of other benefits, such as improved health, support for local regeneration, reducing need to travel, and even less need for parental supervision. The identification of such benefits does not fit easily into the new approach, and cannot readily be quantified.

    —  Conventional economic appraisal would therefore be likely to be inadequate in providing a proper balance of the economic arguments affecting schemes to improve walking, and attention needs to be devoted to how this might be redressed;

    —  Short term vs long term effects. Improving conditions for pedestrians is likely to be a long term process. Current networks are often relatively undeveloped and limits on staff and financial resources mean that only limited progress is likely to be made in the short term. The benefits of commencing the development of networks at an early stage needs to be recognised in terms of the potential cumulative benefits, rather than simply as standalone schemes. Further cumulative benefits might also occur where, for example, improved conditions for walking contribute to wider regeneration initiatives whose success, in themselves is likely to lead to increased pedestrian activity.

  All the above could mean that the benefits of increased walking are not recognised sufficiently in the New Approach To Appraisal framework, while possible disbenefits could be overstated.

Major scheme funding

  One of the principal purposes of the construction of by-passes is to ameliorate the adverse effects on local communities of through traffic. Pedestrian activity is obviously a key element in this, the removal of through traffic providing a major opportunity for furthering national policy aims in this area. However current advice from the DETR is that, while the by-pass itself will be a candidate for major scheme funding, the complementary works (including pedestrian improvements) required to maximise their effectiveness are not.

  There is obviously a need to ensure that major scheme funding remains concentrated on substantial infrastructure works which would be difficult to fund out of general Local Transport Plan funding. However, the limiting of funding to nothing but the major infrastructure works is, in the case of by-pass schemes, clearly contrary to the philosophy of an integrated approach, especially if the creation of additional road space were, over time, simply to lead to increased traffic generation. It is suggested that, rather than being an uncertain element of major scheme funding for future by-pass schemes, improvements of conditions for pedestrians in by-passed communities should be a requirement in showing how the scheme will achieve and sustain its objectives in the longer term.

  This approach would, inevitably, lead to some increases in costs. However, these are likely to be relatively minor in relation to total scheme costs and, to avoid loss of the integrity of the major scheme funding, could be limited to measures along the main routes on which traffic relief would result.


  Proper consultation on schemes to improve transport provision of all kinds is obviously important. However current procedures mean that relatively minor schemes, particularly those affecting existing highways, can be as complex (or even more so) to progress as major schemes such as new roads. The relatively small scale and wide application of proposals for improved pedestrian facilities mean that the requirement to undertake long and complex procedures can, as a result of the commitment required in terms of staff time, pose a practical barrier to widespread action.

  It is important that new initiatives, such as home zones, do not require long and cumbersome procedures to implement if they are to be used to their fullest effect. The main requirement should be to ensure that all parties have an opportunity to comment on proposed action and to have their views considered by the highway authority. Further procedures, such as inquiries, should be used only exceptionally, where proposals lie outside the policy framework provided by the Local Transport Plan.

  Procedural complications are of particular importance where schemes to improve conditions for pedestrians form part of a wider strategy for an area (for example regeneration). In such instances disparate funding sources may be time limited and procedural delays might risk finance being lost altogether.

January 2001

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