Housing has shot up the political agenda over past years and has featured heavily in 2017, with the government repeatedly signalling that an increase in house building is a top priority. Whilst recognising the need and importance of this push to deliver higher numbers, organisations like the LGiU and the Ramblers argue that it should be accompanied by a deeper conversation about the places we build. In a report entitled ‘Building Connected Communities’, the Ramblers and LGiU argue that whilst good connectivity and walking access are crucial to ensuring people live happy, healthy, active lives, this is not always realised in the places we build.
The study which surveyed 118 officers from local authorities across England and followed up with in depth, semi structured interviews with officers in Gateshead, Tamworth and Preston, sought to investigate why this is the case and how challenges to delivery could be addressed. Key Findings of the report include:
● Nine out of ten councils say access to walking infrastructure is a priority, but only half feel that developers agree with them; over a third say that walking or access to green space is not a priority for developers.
● Two fifths of councils say they have experienced difficulty meeting their walking and active travel priorities when delivering large developments. While most developments over the past five years were in line with targets, around one in ten were seen as not in line with health and wellbeing strategies.
● Eight out of ten told us that viability assessments make it difficult to meet priorities, while seven out of ten told us that influencing developers was a challenge.
● The lack of resources in planning departments was also highlighted as a barrier by half of respondents.
● Almost all (96 per cent) of respondents said their council had refused developments in the past based on poor quality of design, though considerably fewer had refused developments due to lack of walking connectivity. Some cited the importance of pre-application discussions in ironing out potential problems early on in the process.
To overcome these challenges, the report recommends local authorities:
1. Councils should ensure they have strong policies in place to require connectivity in new developments. Local Plans can be powerful tools if they are well produced, with watertight policies that can be used to enforce walking, active travel and connectivity priorities. They must do more than set out broad principles, but should be clear, detailed and specific.
2. Councils need to have greater confidence. They have tools at their disposal, including walking, active travel and public health strategies, as well as Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy money, to ensure that their priorities are met.
3. Councils should improve their strategic engagement with developers. Developer forums, workshops and online consultations are some of the possible approaches.
4. Councils should build links across the council. Many aspects of walking connectivity and active travel involve planning, housing, transport, highways, and often public health teams. A shared understanding and approach among these different parties is essential.
To read the full report, follow this link: Building Connected Communities PDF