Friday, 28 December 2012

Eco Towns v Greenbelt Development

I have just been reading through the guidelines for Eco Towns from the Town & Country Planning Association.

Their section on modal share targets makes interesting reading:

Transport provision across the eco-town should be designed to equal or better the modal share for sustainable modes achieved in the most sustainable European communities. The modal split for different journey types may vary, but in exemplar towns no more than a maximum of 25 per cent of all journeys should be by private car (e.g. as at Basle), with good practice being 40 per cent.

Each eco-town should establish stretching modal share targets prior to initiating any design work on the town’s layout.
 In other words, for a new town (which, by definition is an Eco Town as it is new), guidelines call for no more than 40% of journeys to be made by private car, with a suggestion that "Exemplar Towns" (again, surely all are examplar by being new) should have a target of no more than 25% of journeys being made by private car.

In the Coventry Gateway, the target for private car use is 65%. Now let me state this again - 65% of users will arrive by car, and only 35% will not. Is this really what constitutes a "sustainable" development? Now it doesn't finish there - 10% of journeys will be in a shared car - so assuming that most of these shares are for just 2 people, but a few are for 3 or more, that still means around 4% more journeys will be by private car, or 69% in total. This is exactly the same as the current figure for Coventry city centre.

Now it might be true that bus services in and out of Coventry are much better than they are to suburban areas, but when, as is suggested above, a development is designed to achieve a high modal share of more sustainable means, then surely it is best to set that target at a suitably high level in the first place?

Warwick District Council have understandably asked for more information before the Coventry Gateway Development can gain permission to go ahead. I'd like to see them demand both tougher targets in the first place, and means to ensure that these will be built in from the start. Under the current proposals, which have so far completely failed to explain how some of these targets will be met, it would be all too easy just to pay the fine for not meeting the targets, or to find some other way (e.g. surveys on nice summer days) to massage the figures.

I'd like to see the targets reversed, so that 65% of traffic is "sustainable", rather than only 35%, although I would throw in an exemption clause that any cars in the A or B VED brackets can be considered "sustainable", whether they carry passengers or not.

Naturally, as I have said elsewhere, I think the cycling target needs to be far more ambitious - so the revised splits would be as below:

  1. Private car (no passengers, band C or above) - 35%
  2. Car band A or B - 20%
  3. Shared car 9%
  4. Motorcycle - 1%
  5. Walk - 5%
  6. Bus - 15%
  7. Cycle - 15%
As it currently stands:
  1. Private car - 65%
  2. Car band A or B - not considered
  3. Shared car 10%
  4. Motorcycle - not considered
  5. Walk - 5%
  6. Bus - 15%
  7. Cycle - 5%

No information about parking has been provided by the developer, other than that offices would be surrounded by a sea of cars, as is standard practice at business parks up and down the country.

What will be done to earmark this development as truly  "sustainable"?

One would assume that, as with any new buildings,  the highest tiers of BREEAM certification will be sought for each unit. Sustainable development should also include incentives to encourage more sustainable means of transport to have better access to the office front.

This should include:

  • Disabled parking - in front of building (as is standard practice).
  • Pedestrians and bus passengers - front access directly onto street.
  • Bus passengers - central bus "hub" with heated waited area, canteen etc.
  • Cyclists - covered cycle parking adjacent to, or underneath, office building. Cycle parking should have room for expansion if cycling rates exceed expectations.
  • Privileged parking - allocated for a limited number of spaces (perhaps 25% of total) - for essential workers (who need regular access, i.e. not for company directors), shared cars and band A & B cars.
  • Centralised, paid for parking - all other parking should be provided in a multistorey car park, operated by a separate company. In order to encourage car owners to use other modes when they wish to, rebates should be provided for season ticket holders for any days they do not use the car park. Alternatively, the "pay as you park" rate should be set at a level that is only marginally above the annual rate.
Gasunie Headquarters, Groningen, Netherlands:

  • In front of / to right of entrance is cycle storage, occupying similar amount of space as priority parking.
  • Priority parking zone is to left of main entrance.
  • Main parking area is to west of main building. 
  • Note that, unlike many UK office parks, where parking overflows onto feeder roads, this car park has a number of spaces at the time photo was taken.
  • In Groningen, 60% of commuter journeys are made by bike.
Multistorey Car Park within an office park in Hoofddorp, Netherlands:

  • Note that office buildings are wrapped around the multistorey car park - not the other way round.
  • Some parking is provided in front of the offices. Terms are not known.

All 3 images (C) Google Maps / Streetview

Why don't developers built high density anyway, instead of sprawl?

Logically, building a higher quality, more urban environment, should mean higher returns for developers. However, such structures need more careful planning, and they often take longer to build. Given the conservative nature of our planning process, it is often easier to get planning permission for lower density development - even though objectors are rightly labelling it as "sprawl". This is because building higher would still (wrongly) attract the "sprawl" tag, and it could result in even more vocal complaints.

Yet the problem of sprawl is not always one of development full stop. The definitions of sprawl include being low density, car oriented, surrounded by private landscaping rather than public space, and lacking in any obvious architectural merit.

It has been stated that views from the Lunt Fort need to be "acceptable" to appease English Heritage. Never mind that Baginton already has views across to the city of Coventry - do we demolish this as well?

Sadly, it is this desire to be just "acceptable" that so often results in development that is mediocre, and thus which earns the "sprawl" tag. The developer has talked of "landmark structures." Well, let's hope that is exactly what they will build. In the meantime, some very functional re-thinking of the transport structures would not be a bad idea.

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