Much of London’s growing population is expected to be accommodated on large sites, in areas with high levels of car dependency.
The London Plan anticipates that over 60 per cent of new housing will be delivered in Opportunity Areas and other big sites. However, many of these large sites are located in the suburbs, which are less well served by existing public transport links, and where most people rely on their cars to get around. Outer London accounts for 70 per cent of all traffic in the capital. And while London residents are making substantially fewer car trips per person than they were ten years ago, total vehicle mileage in outer London has decreased less substantially than in other parts of the capital.
With this in mind, how can planners, architects and developers design new developments so that the move away from private cars continues and indeed speeds up in outer London? Can we ensure that new developments lock in car-free lifestyles from the beginning and enable their future residents to travel in sustainable, healthier ways?
1. Planning policy and parking restrictions
The Mayor’s Transport Strategy set the tone for a modal shift away from vehicles, towards more sustainable modes of travel. It outlines Good Growth principles that new developments should adopt, including good access to public transport, walking and cycling, efficient freight via low carbon vehicles and accessible design.
Restricting the availability of parking is one way to nudge residents out of their cars. The draft new London Plan says that car-free developments should be “the starting point” for places that are expected to be well connected by public transport. For any other areas, there are limits on the number of parking spaces that can be provided depending on the type of use.
But policies which restrict parking provision have been met with significant backlash – even central government has threatened to intervene. While there needs to be a degree of flexibility, planners should take a stance against car ownership where there are reasonable alternatives available.
2. Providing alternatives: walking, cycling & public transport
The London Plan also says that new housing should be concentrated near transport nodes and that provision of public transport, walking and cycling in new growth areas should be planned as early as possible. Good connectivity increases land value and attractiveness to buyers, so developers understandably subscribe to this principle.
The Elizabeth Line has spurred much development along its route. Similarly, the planned extension of the Bakerloo line is expected to unlock development at Old Kent Road, while extending the Overground will do so at Barking Riverside.
Provision of walking and cycling infrastructure is sometimes a secondary consideration, but an essential one to connect Londoners to rail and bus routes and enable people to cycle safely and reliably.
For places where public transport may not be available from day one, new mobility services can play a role. Car clubs are proven to reduce rates of car ownership and mileage travelled and can be a viable alternative to private cars in new developments, if the right provision is in place early on. Demand-responsive bus services, like the one currently being trialled in Sutton, can help plug the gaps in public transport provision, at least until permanent routes are established. Taxis and private hire bays are also essential for less able residents or when cars are needed occasionally, such as trips to the hospital.
3. Reducing the need for more trips
It is also crucial to have shops and amenities within walking or cycling distance of people’s homes to minimise the need for cars to make longer trips.
The rise of online shopping presents an additional challenge, with countless vehicles making deliveries to people’s home or work addresses. Developers and property managers can help businesses on the premises to consolidate deliveries, so that similar items are ordered via preferred suppliers. But there is also a role for collection points within residential developments, where personal deliveries can be dropped off centrally rather than taken to people’s doors, especially when there is no one at home.
4. Behaviour change
Providing the necessary infrastructure to enable people and goods to move differently in our cities is essential, but additional carrots may be needed to achieve behaviour change. Providing cycle lanes, for example, may not be enough to get typically under-represented groups, such as women and people from ethnic minorities, on the saddle. We also need to address the complex perception or cultural barrier to people accessing certain modes of travel.
Awareness raising campaigns and training provision can help. Initiatives such as car-free days, play streets and special events can encourage physical activity and promote community cohesion. Technology can also play a positive role, with a number of apps using rewards to encourage walking and cycling.
There is a myriad of ways in which healthier travel can be encouraged in new developments, but they all need to work together to achieve the change we want to see.