Car-based living on the edge of rural towns

YOU’ve got your new home at last. It’s on the edge of a town that has everything – schools, health centre, shops, pubs, some cafes, a community centre and quite a lot of businesses offering jobs. What more could you want?

BUT – it is a big BUT – your estate has none of these facilities. It doesn’t even have a convenience store and it may not have any green spaces or a play area for your children.

How do you get the kids to school or the health centre, how do you get to the shops, meet friends for a coffee or go for an interview for a job? New homes are desperately needed and council planners are looking at edge-of-town sites to meet the demand. But they are not adequately addressing the overall infrastructure and community needs, and the result, according to research from the Transport for New Homes Project, is huge estates where cars are the only form of transport.

You and your partner have a big mortgage and now you have to have at least one car, probably two.Your dream home may be a few minutes from green fields but it is much more than a walk or even a cycle ride from the town centre. Chances are it’s on a ring-road or by-pass, and you are going to have to spend a lot of time in your car just to get around the basics of living.

The Transport for New Homes Project, which is funded by the Foundation for Integrated   Transport, with help from the RAC Foundation, was set up in  2014 to make transport better  for people and the environment. Researchers visited more than 20 new housing developments across England in what they say is the first piece of research of its kind. Among the housing schemes they looked at are Poundbury near Dorchester, Old Sarum near Salisbury, Clockers Brook at Melksham and Castle Mead at Trowbridge.

The researchers looked at public transport, including buses, trains or other rapid urban transit system, investigated cycling and walking routes into and out of the estates, spoke to residents and shop-keepers (where there were any), looked in detail at the plans for each development and employment potential, and checked out traffic flow – congestion, more often than not – on roads around or past the estates.

The researchers found that many new housing developments are based on what they call “car-based living.” Estates are built around the car rather than the needs of the residents, a situation that is not good for either health or quality of life. Instead of planning for sustainable developments with integrated transport, more traffic is being created by building in the wrong place. Homes are not being designed to connect people with walking, cycling or bus routes, the needs of the car dominate every aspect of many estates, and there is no provision for and no space for tree planting. A few informal green spaces, says the report, “did not make up for the dreariness and impersonal nature of many of the residential streets we saw.”

One development is highlighted as “bucking the trend” and that is Poundbury, on Duchy of Cornwall land on the outskirts of Dorchester, which has been phased over several decades. It has been planned to be people-friendly, with shops, businesses, social and green spaces, where the car is useful but not dominant. Inspired by traditional European towns, Poundbury has high-density housing, with more than a third affordable homes, and was designed around people rather than the car.

On the other hand, at Castle Mead near Trowbridge, the researchers found that people wanting the shops, community centre or pub have to use an underpass after dark – or brave the lorries on a by-pass without a footpath.

The result of development without community and social facilities, no public transport and no green areas is deadly, depressing and empty – people do not walk, they drive. So the estates feel cold and unwelcoming.

Interestingly, the obviously green intentions of Transport for New Homes are shared by the motorist-friendly RAC Foundation, which believes that new housing developments need a proper mix of transport options, public transport as well as the car.

In the BBC report on the Transport for New Homes Project report, a government spokesperson is quoted as saying that the revised planning rulebook tells developers to create high quality areas which promote walking, cycling and use of public transport and requires councils to have plans for the infrastructure needed to support new developments. Councils say they want to improve air quality and promote more sustainable forms of travel but they are constrained by lack of funding.

There is something of a Johnny on the Freeway thing going on here – the authorities go round in circles while the poor residents of new housing estates remain stuck in traffic jams on the by-passes that separate their homes from the schools, health centres, shops and jobs.

Fanny Charles

• You can read the report at