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Transport planning and the need to deliver more housing

November 13, 2019

How can transport planners better respond to the urgent need to deliver more housing?

By Sarah White

On 2nd April, PBA, now part of Stantec, sponsored the Transport and Housing event in London, where leading professionals discussed how to respond to the urgent need to deliver more housing, whilst also responding to the increasingly urgent environmental and health agendas. Sarah White, Associate within the Transport team, provides her own personal perspective.

As a transport planner, I would struggle to count the number of times I have listened to my peers explain, to those not in the industry, what it is exactly that we do. And I am never sure that the listener walks away at the end of the conversation with a real understanding of what transport planning involves, or, more importantly, what the point of it is.

In many minds, development appears as if it is not planned—just built. Of course, we plan the detail, like the route a new cycle path to the town centre should take, or whether we need a roundabout or T-junction for the site access, and we are often involved in more major decisions related to where development should be located. But in many ways, they are right. On the face of it, the planning system seems to be broken, because by all accounts, looking at development that has been planned and built over the last few decades, we cannot argue that the majority is well-designed. We have created car-orientated developments, with consequences such as poor air quality, an inactive population and a decline in mental health, now becoming increasingly apparent. No transport planner I know would ever say that these are outcomes that were intended to be achieved, but this is what has happened.

The Transport and Housing event brought these issues to the fore, debated for the day by a wide range of professionals. It struck a chord and reminded me of why I first decided to be a transport planner: people.

Any business person will tell you that products should be designed for the end user, and everyone knows the frustration of using a product that seems to have been developed by someone who has never used it before. I believe the same applies to housing and development, where the end users are people. Not cars.

A new strategy is needed, where professionals and politicians across the industry collaborate to design communities that deliver what people need, where they need it, with healthy and green ways to travel to and from these locations. We must engage with people to understand the issues that they face, and the desires and ideals that they hold; we need to understand what is really important to them, not in the context of development, but in the context of the communities that they live, work, learn and play in.

Only then can we, as an industry, really learn lessons from the mistakes of the past and identify how we can design communities that improve people’s quality of life. By engaging with the public effectively and working with them to allow them to own the communities that are built around them, we may even deliver developments that local people are supportive of, rather than meeting with the typical objections that we currently face.

Our national planning policies enable us to do just this, but for years the industry has taken the easy way out, giving in to political pressures that do not necessarily deliver against established aims, or fast-tracking or cost-cutting development. This simply is not good enough, and we need to do better; we need to encourage our politicians to do better too!

We should be genuinely proud of the work that we do—not because a plan looks good on paper, but because the places we build feel good to be in, in real life. Our success should be measured by whether we would want it to be part of our local community.

Stantec, published ‘Places First – Repurposing the development plan process’ in March 2019. It aims to put the ‘user’ first in the plan making process—communities—and through this to understand what sort of places we should be planning for. This approach, we contend, will help to create healthier, more sustainable, more prosperous places.

Originally published by PBA, now Stantec.

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