Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300
WEDNESDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2001
300. Do we need any more guidance?
(Miss Andreae) We have quite a bit of guidance, but
disseminating it to the right places is one of the key issues.
It would be interesting to know just how widely the DETR publication
on walking had been disseminated to local authorities. Is it sitting
on certain individuals' desks or has it got down to parish council
level? I suspect that it has not reached that level. I just wonder
how much has been spent on producing documents and how widely
it is possible to disseminate them. In that context, only last
week I came across Streets for All published by English
Heritage. It relates largely to London but it contains some extremely
good material on how to do basic things, for example to improve
pavements and street furniture. It is a London-oriented document
but the lessons within it are applicable to the country as a whole.
(Mr Robinson) Encouragement is required. For example,
that could be achieved by expecting local authorities to have
a public realm strategy which would be about how they see the
public realm in their areas and would plan over time to improve
(Miss Andreae) If CABE had a strategic role in helping
the New Opportunities Fund to develop these kinds of areas it
would be very happy to help with that.
301. Let us take one very practical example:
car journeys for the purpose of shopping. There are changing social
and work patterns. If one shops once a week at the supermarket
then, unless one has an ox in tow with a lot of panniers, in no
way can one carry it home on foot. Do you agree that if in giving
planning permission for such stores in future a requirement is
imposed that they should offer a home delivery service to anyone
who wanted it it would make a greater contribution to reducing
car trips that people are probably not terribly keen on and, therefore,
would encourage people to walk more? Are we looking at it from
the right end of the telescope? We have talked about clearing
the pavement, widening it and making it more attractive, but do
we not also need to look at the way in which people live their
lives and find ways to make it easier for them not to have to
make car journeys?
(Mr Robinson) It is interesting observation that my
mother always had her groceries delivered twice a week and now
we have just rediscovered the idea of home delivery.
(Miss Andreae) Another point is flexibility. What
applies in very big cities may not apply in smaller towns. One
can probably be much tougher on car use in the big city than in
a smaller market town. Quite recently, I spoke to someone who
had been involved in an edge-of-town furniture retail outlet.
The planning permission insisted that it had bicycle spaces. How
likely is it that someone who goes to that outlet and buys large
pieces of furniturebeds and cupboardswill need a
car? Flexibility is important, but it is a matter of taking the
right approach for the right place. A good deal of work has been
done by the Countryside Commission on smaller market towns as
a result of the rural White Paper. A slightly different approach
for smaller towns is important.
302. Do you believe that enough engineers, architects
and planners have experienced pushing a pram through some urban
areas, or would it do them good to push a few more? Is not the
practical problem to ensure that they experience things for themselves?
(Mr Robinson) Yes. One assumes that if they have families
they may well have that experience.
303. That may be a foolish assumption?
(Mr Robinson) I accept that. I do not believe that
the issue is to do with the individual experience of professionals.
Most of our towns and cities were not designed originally for
the weight of traffic that we now try to get through them. The
perception of the problems in professional circles over the past
30 to 40 years is how to facilitate getting vehicles through our
towns. We have rather forgotten that large numbers of people are
walking around in those same spaces. I suppose that now we are
talking about how to redress that balance.
304. If it is a problem to get people to imagine
the difficulties of pushing a pram, surely it is even harder to
get them to imagine the problems faced by someone who is visually
impaired. What does one do to improve the experience of someone
who walks in towns but cannot see?
(Mr Robinson) A number of local authorities are very
active in improving pedestrian crossings with new paving stones
with bobbles on them and so on. Clearly, there is an understanding
among most local authorities and their highway planners about
the need to consider the requirements of people who are visually
impaired. Whether it goes far enough I doubt, but at least a start
has been made in many areas.
305. Do you think that it is an obstacle course
between two nicely designed crossing points but the bit in between
along the pavement is fairly difficult for anyone to negotiate?
(Mr Robinson) I believe that it is the completely
unco-ordinated street furniture which is the main problem. My
impression is that people who decide where to put the lamp post
do not talk to those who decide where to place the sign which
tells motorists to turn left to access the A14, or whatever, or
where to locate a telephone kiosk or a salt container. Streets
have all of these obstructions which do not appear to be co-ordinated
from the point of view of people in wheelchairs, for example.
306. You see local authorities as having a key
role in co-ordinating walking. Do you believe that they need any
new powers to enable them to do that?
(Miss Andreae) I believe that the mechanism of the
section 106 agreement is available. So often one finds that the
mechanisms are there but they are not used or thought about in
those terms. The notion of local authorities being encouraged
to produce strategies is part of getting the thinking into the
front of their minds. I do not quite know what particular powers
they would need in addition to what they already have. It is perhaps
a question of thinking in a broader context.
307. It has been suggested to us that there
are funding difficulties in local authorities being able to do
a great deal more. Do you have a view on that?
(Miss Andreae) There is no question but that local
authorities are by and large hugely under-resourced. That spills
over into a shortage of skills. For that reason, one hopes that
the New Opportunities Fund can redress the balance.
308. Do you have any examples of good practice
where you see local authorities promoting walking in an effective
(Miss Andreae) Quite a number of the larger cities
have taken it on board. The city of Leeds is an infinitely nicer
place to walk round than it was when I first went there. One also
thinks of Halifax, Birmingham and the obvious places mentioned
in our report. Sheffield's Peace Garden is making steps in that
direction, and Nottingham's Lace Market is an attractive place
to walk round. Nottingham still has problems with Maid Marion
Way which was constructed in the 1960s and cuts through the medieval
street pattern. That new road cut the city in half. The challenges
arise in places like Derby which is still collared by its inner
ring road. There are exemplars of good practice and, with more
funding, there could be many more.
(Mr Robinson) The Mile End Park in East London is
a good example of the creation of a marvellous corridor through
which people can walk. More centrally, schemes like the River
Walk along the South Bank have a major benefit in regenerating
areas. People see them quite differently if they can walk around
in attractive surroundings in that way.
309. Do you believe that the setting of targets
by government for local authorities in relation to walking will
(Mr Robinson) It would be helpful to government to
have some mechanism to express its expectations. How targets would
work I do not know, but I am a great believer in having a mechanism
to measure objectives.
310. Why do you believe that more has not been
done at local level if people enjoy walking?
(Mr Robinson) Because they also enjoy driving.
311. You referred to section 106 agreements.
What changes would you like to see?
(Miss Andreae) I think that it is just a question
of them being used to cover areas of the public realm. Local authorities
perhaps do not regard that as a mechanism to be brought into play
when talking about things which affect new developments, or a
contribution that can be made to the surrounding area. Some local
authorities are rather nervous about using it as a device to achieve
the wider benefits. Perhaps that needs to be brought to the forefront
of their minds as an option.
(Mr Robinson) I understand that the whole principle
of section 106 is currently being reviewed by DETR. There is an
interesting distinction to be drawn between the use by local authorities
of section 106 to deliver objectives for which they are primarily
responsible, for example social housing, and its use to deliver
objectives which have a broader social benefit. Local authorities
are often in quite a difficult position from that point of view.
For example, if they have statutory obligations in respect of
homeless families they will be very focused on that, but it is
a shame if that means that they do not exploit opportunities to
do things which have a more general benefit for the local community.
312. Do you have any particular examples in
mind of the things that you would like to be done to promote walking?
(Mr Robinson) Local authorities have a big opportunity
to grasp the concept of home zones. If I may refer to my experience
as development director of Peabody, not in connection with CABE,
at King's Cross a series of estates which were owned by the London
Borough of Islington were transferred into our ownership. They
are surrounded in effect by public realm. With the local authority
we are promoting a home zone to create a safe and attractive walking
route through the estates. Those of you who know that area will
be familiar with the route from King's Cross Station to Chapel
Market. That is quite a strong desire line but currently it is
a rat run for traffic. Reducing the speed of traffic and connecting
that route to a local park, making all the pavements attractive
and giving priority to pedestrians is exactly the kind of thing
that should be encouraged. However, it will require the leadership
of the local authority; it is not something that necessarily landlords
or landowners can do on their own.
313. From where does the initiative for the
schemes you describe come?
(Mr Robinson) It can come from either the local authority
or a landowner.
314. Coming as I do from a shire county, one
of the problems is that the county council is the highway authority.
At what level locally should these decisions be made? Nuneaton
is very different from Stratford-on-Avon, but the allocation is
probably made according to the same formula.
(Miss Andreae) That is where flexibility comes in.
In those counties where there is a big county town the policy
to be generated for that size of town is not applicable in a blanket
way so that it applies to much smaller market towns. Any county
like Warwickshire has lots of small market towns, each with its
own identity. The tolerances are much less and the economies more
fragile in a small market town; people have a choice between one
town or another when they go shopping. Therefore, a degree of
flexibility is required. Action for Market Towns, which is a body
funded by the Countryside Commission, has done a good deal of
interesting work on smaller towns and the way in which the local
economy can be encouraged. You are right that at county level
there cannot be a blanket approach. One must look at towns in
terms of hierarchy of size and their particular needs and, by
extension, the villages as well.
315. Do you believe that planning forces will
be increasingly important in encouraging people to walk and gain
access to buses?
(Miss Andreae) It is crucial.
316. Do you believe that means that we shall
see the end of the traditional housing estates and cul-de-sacs?
(Miss Andreae) The notion of cul-de-sacs is not just
a feature of old-style public housing at all; it is very much
a feature of contemporary private housing developments. The notion
of private houses with a turning circle at the end is a very impermeable
barrier; effectively, it can create certain kinds of ghettoes,
and it is very user-unfriendly from the point of view of the public.
(Mr Robinson) I do not believe that walking in the
way you describe means the end of the housing estate; there is
no necessary link. I believe that one of the issues arising from
many post-second world war housing estates is that they have huge
amounts of open space whose ownership is often undefined. Is it
public or private realm? People do not feel safe walking around
that environment. There is a huge issue around environmental improvements
to those kinds of estates which clarify the organisation of the
areas. But in principle we would like to see people being able
to walk through those areas and feel that it is a pleasant, welcoming
317. Is that the emphasis that you put on it?
Throughout most of your evidence you have told us about nice places
to visit. If I choose to walk in the countryside I pick a particularly
attractive place. Should we be looking at making some towns particularly
attractive for urban walking, or place emphasis on ensuring that
when people leave their houses there is a nice walking environment
(Mr Robinson) You need to do both. Wherever you live,
whether it is in the middle of a city, town, market town or the
countryside, the aim should be that when you leave your front
door you are walking in an attractive environment. We should also
recognise that to make towns and cities attractive places means
emphasising that they should contain magnets, which may be traditional
squares or riverside walks. Those things make the place distinctive.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.