I recently visited a relative who had bought her first house, on a brand-new estate in Colchester. Overflowing on-street parking meant the closest to the house that I could park my own car was a street away. I then had to walk to her house down the middle of the street, because the pavements on both sides of the road were totally blocked by parked cars along their whole length. On my way I met cars reversing down the street simply because they’d met a car coming in the other direction. Twenty-four-hour chaos by design, on an ordinary housing estate.
This would be understandable on a Victorian terraced street having to cope with today’s requirements. You can forgive 19th century town planners for not predicting that 150 years later there’d be calls for two lanes of motor traffic, bus and cycle lanes, pavements, car parking and sustainable drainage, all attractively separated and landscaped. But there are no such excuses that their successors can offer. A new housing or commercial development that cannot even cope with the requirements put on it from day one is unforgivable.
What should we require from developers and council planners today? For social, economic and environmental reasons, society is moving away from private cars. People are learning to drive later in life (or, increasingly, never). The era of designing urban spaces around the car is ending. We need to be ahead of the curve.
The campaigning organisation Transport for New Homes has developed a ‘checklist for new housing developments’, intended to prompt planners and architects to consider how they are promoting walking, cycling and public transport use from the outset, and minimising car dependency.
Everyone would prefer to minimise travelling on a day-to-day basis, so the checklist asks what facilities are available without a car. It asks key questions about pavements and cycle routes, and yes, car parking. For now, most people still need or want a car, so how should we cater for this?
Transport for New Homes’ checklist needs to be translated into robust legislation. And citizens need to take planning seriously and demand that it gets more funding – after all, it’s our future they’re shaping.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 31 July 2019.