Where major development outside existing settlements is necessary to meet housing need, planners should therefore assess the relative merits of urban extensions and new settlements rather than leaping straight to the latter. In particular, how do these options compare on key sustainability issues such as modal shift, access to services and employment, infrastructure needs and impact on existing centres?
Past experience suggests that new settlements will struggle to demonstrate greater sustainability. On transport, several recent schemes have lacked any prospect of rail access, let alone a mainline station, while one proposal shortlisted as an Eco-town in 2007 was 15 miles from the nearest railway station. Economically and socially, they risk diverting investment and activity away from existing urban centres and their regeneration needs, while also increasing commuting and loss of rural countryside.
New settlements may be appropriate in some contexts, but the strong sustainability case for careful urban expansion and regeneration should preclude any general presumption or priority for new settlements of the sort Fyson and his fellow lobbyists would like to see.
Jon Fox, BSc, DipTP, MRTPI.
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