Planning Policy – Needs To Get On The Right Tracks

The United Kingdom is, geographically, quite a small country, however what might surprise many people is that over 90% of it has no buildings on it whatsoever.

This includes roads, railways, houses, offices, factories and everything else you can think of! Less than 10% is actually built on! There is factually plenty of land.

Having said this there still exists a problem with house building. That problem revolves around the fact that human beings like to be close to other human beings. Very few of us prefer isolation. If that were not true our inner cities would be empty instead of teeming with people.

That isn’t to say that we don’t like rural or semi-rural living because many of us do, me included, but to live in the modern world we need to feel connected, not just by telephone or the internet, but physically too.

A well thought out integrated transport policy that takes in every form of transport, including car, bus, cycle & rail, is essential for the provincial regions to grow as London has done. The capitals linked up underground paving the way so to speak for economic activity.

If our future housing needs are going to be met we simply must release more land for much needed homes to be built on. There is no other option, but it is essential that we connect these new large housing developments to the places where most jobs exist. Only London does this effectively at the moment.

Certainly our provincial towns and cities can support taller buildings which when designed properly can provide dramatic backdrops to the skyline along with much needed homes, but they have limitations for families or people wanting a garden, or perhaps dogs and other pets. They can often be very expensive too due in part to their inner city location and access to cinemas, restaurants, the theatre and crucially, and of course, most importantly, employment!

I have been saying for the last 30 years that government should only be granting major planning permissions for housing in towns, cities or villages connected to each other by a proper rail link.

If a major housing scheme is put forward in a town or city without a rail service then it should not be considered until one is in place. A guided track bus service or perhaps a tram could work in some instances, but only if it was created across new land on its own dedicated track instead of using the existing road network. We need both, not either or!

Dr Beeching, then chairman of British Rail was a much derided figure whose report on the future of railways in 1963 began the mass closing of rural railway stations during the following decade. It was a report which turned into government policy because car ownership was on the rise and railways weren’t being used as they had been previously and were therefore suffering significant losses, so it was decided they were uneconomic.

I was ten years old at the time and remember saying to my dad that surely the roads would eventually clog up? They certainly have!

Taking the lovely little city of Wells in Somerset, Britain’s smallest city, is a good case in point! Great location, great lifestyle, in a place that attracts many tourists particularly to its wonderful Cathedral. But it doesn’t have a railway station!

It did, but it doesn’t anymore! It ‘could’ support more housing but without a rail link to Bristol or Bath its future scope for expansion is limited. Bus services using existing roads help but I can’t see many accountants, lawyers, or business people living in Wells getting the bus into neighbouring cities at 7am in the morning and then back home again at 6pm! Not least because the roads are clogged with cars trying to do the same thing!

Anyone visiting the famous Glastonbury event located nearby will testify to road congestion. If Wells, or Glastonbury, which also had a railway station until 1966, it would make everyone’s life easier.

New tram and railway lines need to be built linking our market towns and villages with places of employment and vibrant nightlife. Alongside we should build proper cycle paths which are big enough to take the huge increase in cycle traffic which would inevitably happen if it were safe to cycle to work and back.

Arguments and serious accidents will continue between car, van, lorry drivers and cyclists for as long as they are forced to use the same road! Bikes and articulated vehicles should simply not be using the same piece of tarmac. It’s madness to allow a vulnerable cyclist, including children, to be situated between a huge Lorry and the curb!

Railway lines make ideal opportunities for cycle tracks to be built alongside. The two forms of transport work well together.

If the government is truly committed to creating a modern transport policy then all forms must be improved. Road, rail and cycle.

Rail operators should consider putting a cycle garage on the rear of ‘every’ train too! Somewhere that bikes are safely parked for the journey, allowing the rider to take his or her seat in the usual way and return to collect their bikes when the destination is reached.

We need a proper transport policy not the fragmented one that has existed for the last fifty years.

Cars are an important economic driver ( no pun intended) and people will not give them up easily, but were there a properly thought through alternative many people might use them less!

I believe both housing and transport are far to important for planning in one Parliament and should involve a cross party 20 year agreement regardless of who is in power.

Long term strategic thinking requires long term strategic planning and agreements which benefit the British public rather than short term political gain.

All political parties have been guilty of that for far too long and the country deserves better.

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