Memorandum by Roger Williams Esq (WTC
INQUIRY INTO WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES
1. Oxfordshire County Council adopted a
Walking Strategy in 1998 which builds on Structure Plan and other
policies, giving a high priority to walking. A variety of initiatives
have been adopted, and the County has been complimented by the
Government's Regional Office for the strength of its walking strategy.
2. This evidence focuses on the problems
of introducing pedestrian areas in town centres by describing
recent experiences in Oxford and Henley-on-Thames.
Pedestrianisation of Shopping Streets
3. In June 1999, the centre of Oxford was
transformed; the main shopping streets were pedestrianised, roads
were closed to through traffic and a new bus priority route, looping
around the centre was created. Since no new road provision was
involved, the success of the changes relied on achieving a substantial
reduction in general traffic in the City centre which, in turn,
relied upon many peopleespecially car drivers, changing
their patterns and modes of travel.
The quite major changes in many people's travel
patterns that did occur are illustrated by the results below:
||-20 per cent|
||+9 per cent|
| ||Park and Ride
||+7 per cent|
||+5 per cent|
(The number of pedestrians in the City centre increased by
7½ per cent 1998-2000.)
4. Bearing in mind the scale of the changes, the many
people and interests affected, and the many articulate local residents,
criticism of the changes has been limited. The main opposition
has come largely from small business interests and the hardcore
5. Background to the 1999 changes.
To understand why the backlash has been limited requires
an explanation of the context for the changes and the way that
they were introduced.
6. In the early 1970s, Oxford was one of the first cities
in the UK to adopt a car restraint approach following years of
debate over road building "solutions". The restraint
strategy has proved to be very successful and Oxford is now one
of the least car-dependent and walking-biased cities in the country
(16.1 per cent of work trips on foot, 46.2 per cent by car; compared
with 4.5 per cent and 72.7 per cent nationally: 1991 Census).
At the same time, the City has continued to grow and thrive commercially.
7. But problems remained in the City centre, with buses
and cars jockeying with pedestrians in narrow polluted shopping
streets. These conditions were universally criticised, and resulted
in the pedestrianisation introduced in 1999.
8. Inevitably there was disruption to traffic and people
during the introduction of the measures, especially around the
changeover time; but conditions have now settled down and criticism
Pedestrianisation of the Market Place
9. In January 1999 there was an explosion of protest
from the people of Henley following the pedestrianisation of the
Market Place. Traders joined the opposition claiming that trade
was 20 per cent down. Since the changes to the traffic arrangements
were relatively modest, and the differences in travel times for
the majority of people were small, the scale and vehemence of
the protests was surprising. This eventually led to withdrawal
of support from the local Town Council, following a change of
political control, and resulted in modification reducing the pedestrianised
Background to the 1999 changes
10. Worries about the town centre shopping decline, added
to long-held concerns about traffic conditions, were intensified
with the opening of an edge-of-town supermarket in 1992. Consultants
were appointed to recommend a strategy for making the town centre
a more pleasant place for people, relegating motorists to a lesser
priority. As in Oxford there was extensive public involvement
in the development of the proposals, and they were endorsed by
all the local Councils.
Explanations for the Different Responses
11. So why were the responses from the two towns so different?
12. I believe that the main reason why the reaction at
Oxford was much less aggressive that an Henley, despite the Oxford
measures penalising car users much more than at Henley, was because
people in Oxford recognised the problem and understood that providing
for unfettered car use was not a realistic possibility. This enlightened
view is a result of being exposed to many years (50+) of discussion
and rejection of road building "solutions" as well as
experiencing the success of the 1970's restraint strategy, including
the popular Park & Ride system.
13. In the Henley area there are many affluent people,
car travel predominates, and people have not been involved in
the travel debates that have gone on in Oxford. Also, the problem
that pedestrianisation was seeking to address was not so obvious
in Henley. Hence the pedestrianisation was seen as being "anti-car"
and there was little sympathy for the wider environmental objectives.
14. Opposition to pedestrianisation has largely come
from smaller retailers in both Henley & Oxford. Because there
is a much higher proportion of larger companies in Oxford the
backlash has been relatively much less. The larger companies seem
to recognise that pedestrianisation and an improved environment
does generally assist trade.
15. Henley town centre trade will have been affected
by the new out-of-town store and is in competition with a nearby
shopping centre, whereas Oxford is encircled by a 6-7 mile wide
Green Belt and competing shopping centres are more distant. Consequently,
shopping patterns will be less sensitive to car restraint than
Lessons and Recommendations from the Oxford and Henley Experience
16. Traffic management schemes involving lifestyle changes
will only succeed if people are convinced of the need for change;
recognising that the societal benefits justify individual inconvenience.
Few communities will have had the "benefit" of the passionate
transport debate that has gone on in Oxford for more than 50 years
and has informed the enlightened views of Oxford people. It is
very clear that the majority of people in the Henley area are
wedded to car use and car restraint is totally out of step with
their lifestyle patterns and aspirations. Whilst local "hearts
and minds" campaigns can help to change public attitudes,
they will have little influence without the backing of national
promotion of the need for people to adopt more sustainable travel
habits, accepting that car use will have to be curbed, especially
in urban areas.
17. Similarly, retailers need to have confidence that
pedestrianisation will enhance trade. There are many successful
examples, especially in mainland Europe but only limited research
evidence. With this available to present to sceptical retailers,
and with resulting Government guidance on the components of successful
pedestrianisation schemes, support rather than opposition from
the smaller retailing interests would be much more likely. Hence
the Government should commission research into the benefits of
pedestrianisation for retailing, using evidence from this country
and the rest of Europe; and use this as a basis for the production
of new guidance which explains the benefits for retailers and
describes the components of successful pedestrianisation schemes.
18. Fear of competition from other shopping centres,
and especially out-of-town shops with free car parking, can undermine
support from retailers for town centre pedestrianisation schemes
and effective car restraint measures. The Planning Officers Society
enlarge on the dangers of this and the wider travel consequences
of imbalanced policies in Section 4 of their submission. Local
traders will have less concern about the introduction of town
centre car restraints if they have confidence that the land use
planning context is secure; in particular policies (PPG6 &
13) restricting out-of-town shopping, that parking policies of
adjacent centres are harmonised and that competition from out-of-town
shopping will not be biased.
19. Consequently there is a need to:
Reinforce the out-of-town shopping restrictive
policies of PPG6 & 13;
Create a level playing field of parking policies
of adjacent centres by establishing regional parking strategies.
(The sensitivity of this may well mean that Government will need
to intervene if local authorities fail to reach agreement.);
Allow the taxation of work-place parking to be
extended to out-of-town private non-residential parking.
Transport Planning Consultant