Transport decarbonisation and Sniperley Park

In August the Trust responded to the Decarbonisation Strategy consultation from Transport for the North (TfN). An interesting and helpful feature of the strategy was the way TfN had identified actions for local government to take forward to contribute to the delivery of the strategy. They also propose producing a set of “policy baskets” for local authorities based on different place typologies, and more work in the future on rural decarbonisation.

This article concentrates on the measures relating to planning policy, as listed in Annex A of the strategy. As the masterplan and planning applications for Sniperley Park are currently out for consultation, we will look at how Durham County Council could apply these ideas to what will be the largest extension to Durham City in a generation.

To complement this article, I recommend watching an illustrated talk by Lisa Hopkinson from Transport for Quality of Life on Planning for less car use. Her recommendations for new developments start about halfway through, and include examples of housing developments in the UK which are starting to apply these principles.

Car share and cycle hire

TfN has a number of recommendations on this theme:

  • enable shared vehicle provision through planning contributions from new developments
  • consider allowing cycle hire docking stations as an alternative / addition to cycle parking requirements
  • prioritise shared mobility (taxis, car clubs etc.) through provision of dedicated parking and charging
  • embed car club parking in parking standards

Transport for the North recognises that we are running out of time to keep within the carbon budget and that infrastructure and vehicle replacement, which take time, are not sufficient to keep us within budget. Replacing some petrol and diesel cars with fewer vehicles, shared among a number of households, is a very effective way to reduce carbon emissions more quickly.

Car sharing is mentioned in Policy 21 of the County Durham Plan, so all development should be “delivering, accommodating and facilitating investment” in car sharing as one of a number of safe sustainable transport modes. The Council did not mention car club parking in its Parking and Accessibility SPD which was put out for consultation in January 2021, but the Trust’s response highlighted the omission.

Clearly there is scope to include car club provision at a major development like Sniperley Park. The Council’s draft masterplan promises that “a mobility hub will be available at the local centre including exemplar car share scheme, and Park and Pedal facility”. As the extremities of the development will be ten to fifteen minutes’ walk from the local centre, a car club would need several parking sites across the development in order to be attractive for residents. Subsidies to establish the car club, perhaps reducing the cost of membership for new householders, could be sought from the developers.

Transport for the North’s suggestion to allow cycle hire docking stations as part of cycle parking requirements could work well in a larger city with an established cycle hire scheme. How the “Park and Pedal” scheme mentioned in the Council’s draft masterplan would operate is unclear. Would the idea be that people could park their car at the Park and Ride and complete their journey by hire bike instead of the bus? Would there need to be docking stations in the city centre? A “Pedal and Ride” scheme, so that people living in the Sniperley Park development could cycle to the Park and Ride site and complete their journey into Durham by bus might be an attractive option for some.

Location and design of development

  • use local planning policy to:
    • promote “15 minute neighbourhoods”
    • prioritise development close to public transport hubs
    • encourage car-free or car-lite development
  • support roll-out of car-free zones and streets
    • in relation to new developments ensure active travel modes and public transport are always more convenient than private car use
    • use planning policies to encourage the unbundling of the cost of parking from new housing prices to incentivise take-up of car-free or car-lite development

Transport for the North suggest a number of ideas which can help people be less dependent on car travel. The idea of the 15 minute neighbourhood is to have a good range of facilities within 15 minutes’ walk of where people live. The Sniperley Park site will have a local centre on the B6532 Sacriston road, with shops, health care, nursery etc. and a new primary school close by. What the site will lack is more general employment opportunities, meaning that cycle and public transport connections to Aykley Heads, Abbey Road, the city centre and university will be important if commuting by car is to be minimised. A Sniperley Healthy Active Travel Delivery Plan was presented to the council cabinet along with the masterplan. It does not identify which routes off the site need to be improved for cycling.

The draft masterplan includes proposals for higher density housing near to the local centre. The Bellway planning application for the southern part of the site included apartments near to the Park and Ride. Both locations would have good public transport connections into Durham, but cannot really be considered hubs. Anyone living at Sniperley and working further afield such as Gateshead or Sunderland will not have realistic public transport options.

Where the Sniperley masterplan, and the County Durham Plan in general, is not aligned with TfN measures is around car-free and car-lite development. The Sniperley masterplan envisages a number of links between the existing main roads, so private car use would always be as convenient as sustainable transport modes. Access to the primary school is a key point: to promote sustainable transport, the school should be well connected to cycle and walking routes, and drop-off access for car should be at some distance from the school gates to ensure that the area around the school encourages social interaction and safe active travel. While the masterplan mentions the need to avoid parking on the main roads for drop-off, it does not go so far as to talk of restricting car access to the school.

The most interesting aspect of TfN’s recommended measures is the “unbundling of the cost of parking from new housing prices”. The Council’s Parking and Accessibility SPD requires car parking spaces within the property of each house, with the number of spaces increasing with the size of the house. This approach simply attempts to predict the demand and provide for it. The TfN Decarbonisation Strategy is on the side of demand management. Unbundling housing and parking spaces entails providing rented parking spaces across the site. With a development such as Sniperley there would still be some provision at most houses, but there is scope to have some car-free development near the local centre and the Park and Ride. The Trust’s third response to the Bellway planning application suggested that housing and flats close to the Park and Ride could have the option of renting Park and Ride spaces for storing their cars. As the Park and Ride spaces are mainly used by commuters during the day, they would be ideal for parking residents’ cars overnight and at weekends. This would make much better use of the land.

Car access and car parking accounts for quite a high proportion of development land. Reducing the need for car parking can allow more housing to fit in a smaller area (increasing the viability of bus services) while still allowing more space for gardens and green space. This should result in lower house prices, which offset the cost of renting parking spaces for those who need them. Crucially this forces people to think about the cost of owning one or more vehicles, and has been proven to help people switch to more sustainable patterns of transport use. Such schemes do need to be supported by enforcement of on-street parking and by planning constraints on the paving-over of gardens.

In a future article I hope to explore some of the other TfN recommendations which are not so applicable to a large housing development like Sniperley Park. In the meantime, the Trust will be finalising its response to the masterplan consultation, which will cover many other aspects apart from transport, and will be studying the County Durham Land outline application for the northern part of the site. Do please make your own responses, or leave comments below for us to incorporate. And do please watch the video – it’s an excellent talk.

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