Smart Transport

Planning for homes and jobs must consider transport infrastructure says planning expert Mark Smulian

Holistic thinking’s one thing, but is joined-up action for land use and transport policy possible, asks Mark Smulian

Building a large new mainline station near to only a few dozen homes and nothing much else might look perverse, but Cambridge North stands as a rare example of holistic thinking being applied to planning and transport.

It is there to meet the needs of large planned developments, in particular the city’s science park, and one day it should be busy. Contrast this with Warrington’s Chapelford Urban Village. According to the sustainable planning and transport group Transport for New Homes (TfN) the first domestic properties were sold on the 80 hectares former RAF site in 2003, but Warrington West station is due to bring a train service to Chapelford only in mid-2019.

It’s clear that transport, housing and other services and amenities can be planned well together, but that does not always happen. Add into the mix potentially rapid changes like electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles and mobility-on-demand services and it becomes clear there is another danger.

Plan for the future

Planning for homes and jobs without the transport infrastructure to support them is one thing, but a further complication is the need to plan for the transport of the future, not just what we have now.

It’s a common complaint that planning for land use, homes, transport, energy and employment exist in ‘silos’, whether because of departmental divisions in central and local government, or perhaps differences in professional training. Rather less heard about are workable solutions for demolishing these silos so that policy areas work together and are alive to innovations.

Indeed, while holistic thinking about these issues might be successful, is holistic action even possible given that the vast range of subjects to be considered means that lines must be drawn somewhere to make them manageable?

The silos problem

Siobhan Campbell, head of the central research team and Deputy Chief Scientific Advisor at the Department for Transport (DfT) says: “People are aware of the silos problem and accept that something needs to be done. It is structurally difficult though, and I worry we have not cracked it.

“The problem is that managing a complex system is difficult so people will manage what they are responsible for, and even within transport integration is really challenging. I’m not sure we have the necessary set of tools, and it’s not for want of trying. Probably the answer lies in the fields of operational research and systems engineering, but we do not yet have great examples of the tools there being applied.”

Joining up ideas

Richard Bruce, DfT Director of Energy, Technology and Innovation, has led some changes to try to demolish silos. “I have joint teams on low emissions vehicles, air quality and autonomous vehicles,” he says. “It is different to the traditional Whitehall approach where one department would want to do something and write to other departments to see what they wanted. This is trying to get that done beforehand by joining up ideas. DfT also works with teams in local government to know what is going on, as there is a good chance innovations will happen first in cities and they will be in the vanguard as they have transport and licensing powers.

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