A mixed-use future for integrated planning

Achitects’ Journal June 2002 Practical planning advice # 69
by Brian Waters

It took years of lobbying and countless numbers of doctoral theses to persuade government of the logic of integrating transport policy with land-use planning. The culmination was the invention of DETR Ð the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions. That was only five years ago. It was reshuffled into the DTLR only a year ago when the Environment Secretary became responsible for agriculture instead of planning! Another year and another reshuffle and there is no department of planning; its remnant is subsumed into a new ÔOffice of the Deputy Prime MinisterÕ which is now separated from the department of Transport. What happened to Ôjoined-up thinkingÕ, let alone Modernising Planning?
Hopes are fading for the promised radical reform of planning anticipated in the form of a policy statement before the summer and a bill in the Autumn. Sponsored behind the scenes by HM Treasury, its fate is in the hands of the new planning minister Lord Rooker who needs reminding that his predecessor, Lord Falconer, told local planning authorities to act as though the green paper reforms were already in place. What price development plans now?
These are slated for abolition in the green paper. Recent events make it clear that transport planning presents tough long-term challenges which will be hard to resolve. The recent rubbishing of the Deputy Prime MinisterÕs 10-year Transport Plan by the Commons Select Committee, even though it is well into the ten year period, underlines the point. Whether one considers the future of rail investment or the prospects for new roads (the plan promises only 141 miles of these, points out Austin Williams writing in the Daily Telegraph on 8th June) or the introduction of congestion charging, there is no obvious happy ending. Given the absence of short-term answers, trust has to be in longer-term strategic thinking.
This brings us back to transport and land-use planning. The RICS* has been promoting a simple approach it calls Transport Development Areas Ð building at high density near and over stations, to you and me. They have just launched their final guidance on TDA s which includes 20 case studies from around the UK. Under the headline ÔCity Life Solution Ð high density, well planned urban villages hold answer to many inner city problemsÕ, they claim: ÔThe urban renaissance is not some futuristic fantasy but achievable under existing legislation and business practices. It is simply a matter of co-ordinating the interested parties: planners, developers, the local community, transport planners, operators and providers.Õ
Following their advice, local authorities would offer planning incentives for developers to build intensively in certain areas and in certain ways. ÔThe result will be the development of excellent high density, mixed use areas around good public transport access, reducing reliance on the car and easing pollution. Essentially the kind of places people want to live and work.Õ
The MayorÕs draft London Plan strongly endorses this approach and combines it with a policy for the inclusion of (affordable) housing with commercial development, both as a means of finding more housing land and subsidy and to reduce the average journey to work. All this is consistent with the Urban Task Force and Urban white paper and suggests that integrated transport and land-use planning has taken on a momentum of its own regardless of the apparent early demise of the joined-up government department. Perhaps this leaves open the opportunity for a clearer purpose for regional government, the baby of the Deputy Prime Minister in whose new department planning now languishes.
That it is the RICS rather than the RTPI or the RIBA which is behind the push for DTAs suggests an even more powerful change. For decades it has been development surveyors who have resisted the integration of different uses, most particularly residential with commercial but even the putting of shops under offices, because this complicates the investment profile of a development. Even Railtrack has now dropped their objection to including flats in development over operational railway land thanks to a provision in the Commonhold Act which obtained Royal Assent in May.
Architects will have to avoid being type-cast into specialisms such as housing or retail so as to become skilled at integrating several uses into high density mixed developments. Planning authorities will have to drop their suburban design criteria, such as large overlooking distances, and the Building Regulations their resistance to sharing means of escape between different uses, for all this to come together in an effective way.
As RICS chief executive Louis Armstrong says ÔHigh density may conjure up dystopian, Bladerunner-like images for some, but high density does not automatically mean high rise. Paris is on average four times the living density of London but rarely built over seven stories and the urban environment is by and large better. Integrated planning has also produced enviable results in cities such as Copenhagen, Stockholm and Lyon.Õ * www.rics.org

TDAs promote an integrated land-use/transport planning approach operating around urban communications interchanges The new RICS case studies provide a step by step guide on how to implement TDA practices and focus on creating sustainable urban communities that work. Main recommendations are: ¥ Focus major generators of travel demand in city, town and district centres and near to public transport interchanges ¥ Locate local and day-to-day facilities in local centres so that they are accessible by walking or cycling ¥ Accommodate housing principally within existing urban areas with increased densities for both housing and other uses at locations that are highly accessible by public transport, walking and cycling ¥ In rural areas, locate development for housing, jobs, shopping, leisure and services in local centres which are designated in the development plan to act as focal points for housing transport and other services.

Brian Waters is principal of The Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership, brian@bwcp.co.uk/ www.bwcp.co.uk