Rail station developers face some testing challenges, by Richard Garlick

Densifying development around railway stations seems a common-sense response to the challenge of providing the homes and jobs needed in our biggest cities.

The government clearly thinks so. Ministers argue, with reason, that encouraging development around new and existing commuter hubs will reduce travel distances by private transport, make effective use of private and public sector land in sustainable locations and help to secure wider regeneration.

Among proposed amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the government says it wants councils, "wherever feasible", to require higher density development, of all development types, around commuter hubs.

Moreover, earlier this month the government announced that it wants 20 councils to lead the way in taking forward development opportunities around railway stations. It has offered the assistance of its Homes and Communities Agency, and rail infrastructure owner Network Rail, in helping these pioneer authorities to quickly deliver regeneration and development around stations.

Few people would criticise the government for wanting to explore this option. Intensifying building in places best served by public transport must make sense. But experts who have spoken to us this week highlight that station-led regeneration is far from being a simple solution to shortages of homes and commercial space.

Sites close to railways will often require heavy spending on mitigation to make them viable, one pointed out, not least on dealing with the noise generated by railway operations. The fragmentation of the rail industry makes development complex, says another. Finally, development in and around rail stations creates huge disruption, a point that will strike a chord with any reader whose commute has included London Bridge or Birmingham New Street in recent years.

None of this means that densification of development around railway stations is not a good idea. But it does, perhaps, dispel any mystery about why more such development has not already taken place sooner.

Richard Garlick is editor of Planning

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