Prioritise walking and cycling, government says in new national planning guidelines

Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday launched the publication of the new National Planning Policy Framework. While newspaper and TV headlines concentrated on May’s insistence that construction firms should put building more houses over profits – a strange demand for a market-obsessed Tory leader to make – there was next to no mention that planning for cycling and walking was also in the draft guidelines. 

The National Planning Policy Framework – NPPF for short – is the government’s way of shaping local government decision-making and, once published in its final form, will impact on how local authorities tackle everything from housing, fracking, transport and placement of wind turbines.

The current NPPF is lacklustre on active travel so the mention of cycling and walking in the new draft document is significant.

Cycle-aware planners have welcomed the inclusion of cycling and walking in the draft. 

Paragraph 105 states that forthwith planning policies should "minimise the number and length of journeys needed for employment, shopping, leisure, education and other activities … and provide for high quality walking and cycling networks and supporting facilities such as cycle parking – drawing on Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans."

Such a short and seemingly simple inclusion may, in fact, open the floodgates, allowing willing local authorities to point to national guidelines stating that cycling and walking are to be prioritised.

A summary of the draft said as much: "we expect that designs should prioritise pedestrian and cycle movements, followed by access to high quality public transport (so far as possible) as well as to reflect the importance of creating well-designed places.”

Transport engineer Phil Jones of the eponymously-named consulting firm said the inclusion was "tremendous news" adding that it "should really give a boost to demand-led infrastructure plans for active travel networks."

However, there are also omissions and other priorities in the draft that could detract from the inclusion of active travel modes. For instance, the draft NPPF has deleted reference to the role of ‘Garden City Principles’, which had been the government’s vision of creating sustainable communities, some of which are already being built around the UK.

The draft – which is open for comments until 10th May – also deregulates the Local Plan system and puts in its place strategic plans which could be weaker on health and wellbeing. The new NPPF, if allowed to go through unchallenged, also dilutes the planning system’s obligation to adhere to the provisions of the Climate Act 2008.

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