Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by The Association of Town Centre Management (WTC 35)

WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES

INTRODUCTION

  The ATCM welcomes the Committee's inquiry, since we believe that the ability of the urban environment to encourage, facilitate and sustain pedestrian access and circulation may constitute the ultimate measure of the government's policy, as expressed in the White Paper, "Our towns and cities: the future—delivering an urban renaissance". Walking is the only means of travel common to all journeys made by ambulatory people to and from and within towns. All begin and end on foot and many, like sightseeing and shopping, have an element of walking as their object. If follows that an attractive, safe, secure and convenient pedestrian environment is arguably not just a central element of any successful urban renaissance but the central element.

  This submission draws on the ATCM's practical experience and recent research to introduce a few aspects of walking in towns and cities pertinent to the Committee's request, in particular, for information about its contribution to the urban renaissance, current difficulties, potential policy and design solutions, the availability of examples of good practice and something of the rationale for giving greater priority to this means of travel. We hope that our brief introduction may help to give the Committee an indication of our wide ranging interest and experience in this topic, which we will be pleased to expand in the form of further written submissions in specific areas, verbal evidence, or by attending to answer members' questions, according to the Committee's wishes.

BACKGROUND

  For several years the ATCM has engaged with central Government and others to identify, model and test mechanisms for the effective management and improvement of town and city centres. These approaches continue to be shaped and practiced by almost 300 formal town centre management partnerships now operating in the UK. Almost self-evidently, our aim to devise and promote effective policies that can enjoy the support of diverse and sometimes competing town centre interests demands a rigorously independent approach. We are fortunate in this respect that our members are divided almost equally between the public and private sector, forming a possibly unique discipline that exists not as an interest in its own right but as a vehicle for uniting interests. This submission is delivered from that position of studied neutrality. We share the government's vision for our towns and cities and its determination to enable the desired outcomes through policies that serve the requirements and perceptions of all members of the community.

THE IMPORTANCE OF WALKING

  In 2001, the IHT will publish in conjunction with the ATCM "Pedestrianised High Streets: Guidelines for Planning, Design and Management", to unite a wide range of practical information from the latest research into the design, implementation and operation of pedestrian priority areas and their influence on the performance of town centres. The publication will examine the relevance of pedestrian facilities in the context of a social, economic and legislative conditions, the trend towards higher design quality and the critical importance of attractiveness, good circulation, good links to other forms of transport and security in the pedestrian environment which it concludes are fundamental to improving the quality of urban life. We believe therefore that the subject of walking will be a prime factor in achieving the Urban White Paper's vision for an urban renaissance and a sustainable future for the very places where most people live and work. It is essential that users are able to successfully reach the town centre via a variety of transport modes and then be able to easily negotiate their way round the town or city using a mix of mediums including walking.

  It is especially significant in our view that by supporting the re-use of urban land for all kinds of commercial, social, cultural, leisure and residential uses, the Urban White Paper continues the logical progression from planning policy guidance which already favours development in locations that are accessible to all by a variety of travel modes. We applaud PPG13's aim to underpin this urban focus with frameworks for more sustainable travel choices in partnership with government, business and communities. Taken together, these policy objectives form a sound basis for promoting and enabling movement by a variety of means, which is an essential requirement of successful towns and cities both economically or socially. Walking is one of these means and we support also its incorporation into Development Plans and Local Transport Plans. Everyone needs safe and convenient places to walk and in our view both the DETR's National Walking Strategy and the Transport White Paper correctly recognise the need for new priorities in town centres that have to often been sacrificed to busy roads.

WALKING AND URBAN REGENERATION

  All our experience and research supports the view that people-friendly town centres are central features of effective urban regeneration. Through good design, good links to other modes of transport, imaginative management and efficient maintenance, pedestrian priority can reconcile the sometimes conflicting needs of everyone likely to be affected. Several first-class public realm developments have shown how new or renewed pedestrian priority areas can reverse the decline in the centres of conurbations and market towns alike, a fact which plainly extends the relevance of this subject to the success of government proposals in the recent White Paper, "A Fair Deal for Rural England". Several important developments have combined during the past decade to create a favourable climate for high quality pedestrian priority areas. The need to upgrade pedestrian provision coincides with the rise of design skills and a much wider choice of street furniture and landscape materials, which, we believe, will enable the UK to compare Favourably with the best of Europe which we highlighted in our report Managing Urban Spaces in Town Centres in 1997. More sophisticated technical skills have made available a range of proven techniques and legal procedures that have revolutionised the power of flexible and ingenious solutions. Among these good examples is the need to provide areas that can readily cope with extreme weather conditions.

THE ROLE OF TOWN CENTRE MANAGEMENT

  The rise of town centre management (TCM) has allowed pedestrianisation to be treated more effectively as part of a wider vision for urban regeneration. By creating a partnership approach to upgrading and investment, TCM has demonstrated the benefits of collaboration between specialists to design, implement and manage successful places for people to walk. In doing so, it has supported the attempts of forward-looking councils to dissolve the traditional departmental boundaries that have stifled innovation in the past, a development that we believe sits well with current progress towards modernising local government. It will also help in the need to carefully review pedestrian priority areas, making sure that "no go" areas are designed out. This may mean allowing vehicles into pedestrianised streets at night to provide activity, enhancing lighting provision and looking at clear desire lines or allowing A3 uses into shopping streets. Each of these developments simplifies the creation of attractive and successful walking schemes and advances such issues as public safety and the development of the 24 hour economy. The current climate for quality design in the public realm is very positive and it has shown that investment in the public realm, however small, encourages investment in private areas. Once of secondary status, it is significant that public realm design now encompasses competitions, awards and civic projects that attract some of the best practitioners. Local policies too are developing to create role models. A recent report published by the Central London Partnership looks at a walking strategy for Central London and reveals some good examples being promoted in several London boroughs.

  The TCM experience is that everything we see in the town centre is relevant to walking and vice versa—how people use public space, whether desire lines are taken into consideration, how well the parking regime operates, how comprehensive the CCTV system is, what type of banners and signage works best, how prams and wheelchairs negotiate changes of level, how good the lighting is both for pedestrians and motorists, how well disabled motorists are catered for, how and what public transport services and interchanges operate, and even how themes from local history may be applied. Pedestrian-friendly towns can signal real renewal and hope for the urban fabric. Few undertakings can bring as much pleasure to communities or achieve such observable and measurable results. Indeed, our current research project being undertaken in conjunction with the British Council of Shopping centres, "Routes to Success—Competitive Town Centres & The Influence of Accessibility," indicates that the whole issue of access, including pedestrian access, must be viewed as an integral component of the total town centre "offer," influencing both the quality of life and competitiveness in an increasingly regional and global economy. We believe it is not exaggeration, therefore to describe walking in towns and cities as critical to the delivery of government policies across economic, social and environmental agendas, especially as PPG6 uses walking within a town or city as a key indicator for vitality.

INTEGRATED TRANSPORT

  Walking is not simply a transport issue, any more than an integrated transport policy constitutes an end in itself. To determine the extent to which transport investment represents value for money we think it is necessary to question how well it fits people's pattern of use. Despite the explosion in mobility, the vast majority of all journeys remain local, 70 per cent of them under five miles. They are also more complex, with multi-destination journeys at different times and fewer regular trips from A to B. In these conditions, significant value may be had by dividing investment between large numbers of small schemes; a safe walking or cycling route to every school, traffic management in town centres, traffic calming in residential areas, for example. Our own research during "Routes to Success" and studies by the Pedestrians Association suggests that considerable benefits may accrue from such a strategy. In the Netherlands, for example, walking and cycling account for a far larger proportion of travel than all public transport modes combined, indicating that if people are given decent conditions they will choose to walk, at least until distance becomes a major constraint.

CONCLUSION

  Walking has traditionally been addressed in a piecemeal way, such as with money left over in local budgets at the end of the financial year. More research would be needed to determine whether this lack of priority reflects the relatively low status often associated with walking, or whether lack of investment in the "walking environment" has cause it. Indeed it seems that we have not planned comprehensively for local journeys and we have not viewed walking on a city-or town-wide basis. We need to plan the system of coherent networks that every car driver expects as a matter of course. We believe that the key may reside simply in planning hitherto small changes on a strategic scale. The benefits would be enormous, widening choice, improving the quality of life and enhancing the whole agenda for town centres and residential areas alike. The ATCM will be please to develop these issues in more detail, either in evidence to the committee or through developing models for new research.

January 2001


 
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