Active Travel England's role in the spatial planning system

Q1. Your (used for contact purposes only):
name? John Lowe
email address?

Q2. Are you responding:
on behalf of an organisation?

Organisation details  
Q3. Your organisation's name is?
City of Durham Trust

Q4. You are responding as:
a representative of an interest group or charity?

Q5. What is the:
size of the organisation in term of full-time equivalent staff? No staff, all volunteers
main activity of the organisation? To protect and promote the heritage of Durham city

Location and expertise  
Q6. The region or regions within the UK in which your activity is predominately based are:
North East

Q7. What is your works particular areas of expertise?
Town planning
Urban design
Planning Policy

ATE’s role in the spatial planning system  
Q8. Under schedule 4 of the DMPO, what threshold number of residential units, in your view, should ATE be consulted on?
Development comprising 50 or more units
In order to deliver speedily the government's vision as set out in Gear Change, and deliver the levelling up and net zero outcomes promised, a rapid improvement in active travel delivery is required. In the Trust's experience the transport assessments submitted with major planning applications are very poor and pay scant regard to active travel. Therefore the threshold should be set as low as is reasonably practical, so that Active Travel England's advice can be brought to bear on as many significant developments as possible. In time, once local planning authorities have developed greater sensitivity to the issues, this threshold might be raised.

Q9. Under schedule 4 of the DMPO, what threshold area of developable land, in your view, should ATE be consulted on?

Q10. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the statement that ATE should be consulted on major proposals that are contrary to the local plan?
Strongly agree

Q11. In your view should ATE be consulted on development of:
new schools?Strongly agree
new hospitals?Agree
sports stadia?Strongly agree
major concert venues?Strongly agree
one or more of the above but only under certain conditions?Neither agree nor disagree
none of the stated situations?Strongly disagree
Travel to school should be the top priority for active travel improvements, because most of the users will be too young to drive. Getting school travel right will encourage life-long active travel. Hospitals, sports stadia and concert venues all create major traffic flows and can be made more sustainable with active travel options. Historic venues in city centres are often already accessible, and it is important that new venues are no less accessible via active travel.

ATE’s role in the spatial planning system  
Q12. In your view at what stage in the planning process would ATE's involvement be most beneficial to you or your organisation?
Local planning
There is a strong case for better active travel input at the pre-application stage, as in the Trust's experience major applications rarely have much regard to active travel. There is already good design guidance such as LTN 1/20, though design codes covering walking are lacking. However, undoubtedly the opportunity for the greatest impact is in responding to local planning applications, providing sufficient weight is given to Active Travel England's responses. Active Travel England should also have a role in commenting on local plans, supplementary planning documents with transport aspects, and potentially neighbourhood plans.

Q13. To what extent do you agree or disagree ATE should have a role in the NSIP regime?
Strongly agree
Major roads and railways often affect active travel routes. The HS2 project includes a number of new bridges for local roads, and these have not been future-proofed, meaning that provision of segregated active travel routes alongside the road will be made prohibitively expensive because of the need to widen bridges. The junctions of new roads with the existing network, and the design for access to new railway stations, would also be a legitimate area of interest for Active Travel England.

Q14. To what extent do you agree or disagree that ATE should play a role in supporting the development and implementation of design codes?
Strongly agree
While there is good national guidance for cycling, LTN 1/20, this has yet to be seriously adopted in local design codes. There is a need to reflect recent changes to the Highway Code so that street design reinforces pedestrian and cyclist right of way where appropriate. The design and access to car parking and its distribution across major developments also has an impact on active travel. There has been too much accommodation of expected growth in motor traffic in urban and suburban design, and Active Travel England could help raise aspirations for the more liveable, sustainable environment which is needed to tackle major societal issues like climate change, economic productivity, social inclusion and public health. There is also a need to ensure councils stop applying trunk road DMRB standards rigidly to urban roads, and where compromise is necessary to do so in favour of active travel.

How can ATE best service its customer base?  
Q15. In your view to what extent would local authorities, and those responsible for active travel infrastructure, benefit from the guidance products and learning and development of:
 Strongly agreeAgreeNeither agree nor disagreeDisagreeStrongly disagree
assessment toolkits?X    
pre-application advice?X    
a scoring criteria that allow for a development to be rated (as with BREEAM)?X    
masterplanning advice?X    
sharing of best practice from England and overseas?X    
guidance on compliancy (for example LTN 1/20)?X    
stakeholder and community engagement? X   
funding and business case guidance? X   
products and services (sourcing materials, services on so on)? X   
street design and compliance with standards like Manuel for Streets? X   

Q16. What, in your view, innovative approaches or tools, including digital, do you think ATE could explore into using in order to secure the best spatial planning outcomes?
Crowd-sourcing of active travel issues on a rolling basis. This was used effectively during the pandemic via offerings from Commonplace and Widen My Path

A national system for reporting and rating issues would gather local knowledge irrespective of council borders and would give Active Travel England detailed information needed to respond to planning applications as a statutory consultee. It could also be used at the pre-application stage to inform developers of the interventions which would have wide local support.

Measuring success  
Q17. What, in your view, do you think success looks like for ATE?
An acceptance by developers, local councils and council candidates of all political parties of the need for, and the manifold benefits of, substantially improved infrastructure for walking and cycling. Planning applications coming forward which truly prioritise active travel in their design, and planning officers giving increased weight to transport aspects of applications. An understanding that where space is limited, it is right to prioritise active travel.

Q18. How, in your view, do you think ATE could measure its success?
Modal shift away from the private car to active travel and public transport (National Travel Survey).
Accessibility ratings of key destinations, measuring trends over time.
Rising percentage of section 106 monies devoted to active travel by comparison to motor vehicle capacity.

Final comments  
Q19. Any other comments?
The wording of paragraph 111 of the NPPF continues to be an obstacle to local planning authorities who give insufficient weight to the transport aspects of development proposals. The need for rapid transport decarbonisation which cannot now be achieved without reduction in car miles travelled need to be given additional weight in national policy. Paragraph 108 also needs to be altered to encourage low-car development in areas of high active travel potential.