Integrating development and transport plans

Rising fuel prices have been the focal point of a turbulent year for the transport planning sector, as Paul Clark reports.

The Planning Officers Society (POS) has reorganised itself and as the transport topic group merges with the policy committee I ask myself: "What has happened in transport planning over the past year?" The answer is not a lot that is encouraging.

Petrol prices have risen and were recently exacerbated by the combined effects of Hurricane Katrina and a surge of panic buying, which is perhaps the first real indication of what life might be like as oil supplies diminish further. That is a scenario that was said to be imminent as long ago as the 1970s, but which seems to have been indefinitely postponed. As a result, attacks on fuel prices and taxes have been revived. There have been bold words about an eventual shift from fuel taxes to road pricing alongside the withdrawal from a popular proposal to introduce road pricing for lorries.

The Strategic Rail Authority was abolished just as it was beginning to get to grips with the future of the railways through its route utilisation studies and regional planning assessments which were due to be completed this autumn. Little progress has been made on light rail or on Crossrail in London. In the latter case, even though a bill has been deposited, its implementation seems as far off as ever and is tied to the unlikely prospect of local government funding reforms.

But in these hard times there is also a sense of realism, as a recent publication shows. The study for a national methodology for initiating projects entitled Planning for National Transport Infrastructure: A framework for identifying and assessing national transport needs and priorities from July 2005 reads like a statement of the obvious, but the message that it carries is worth restating. Transport is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end. The inspiration for a proposal should arise from an understanding of the way an area operates and its changing dynamic.

An analysis might show that people live in one place and work in another so that they need transport between the two, but it might also show an understanding that the work is beginning to move away and that housing growth, or in parts of the country a decline, means that the pattern of movement may change. So the justification for a transport proposal is not so much that a location suffers from congestion, more that a deep water container berth needs to be connected to its markets, or that the change from a manufacturing economy to a service economy means that a different transport network is needed to cope with different commuting patterns.

In other words, transport planning and land-use planning should be integrated.

At a regional level, the draft advice on transport plans reiterates the theme of integrating transport planning with land-use planning. Indeed, the draft advice makes the point that at a regional level the transport plan is part of the regional spatial strategy (RSS).

That got me thinking. If at a regional level the transport plan is but one part or chapter of the RSS, then at a local level why not have the local transport plan (LTP) as one of the development plan documents of the local development framework (LDF)?

The answer of course is that they are prepared by different authorities.

The LTP is a county affair while the LDF is a district affair. If they are to be integrated, then ways must be found to overcome the organisational obstacles of local government silos.

In many parts of the country, counties and their districts work well together, sharing analysis, understanding and information as well as achieving a common purpose. But in many places they also do not. Reviews of both the regional planning process and the local transport process suggest that as a result these documents can deteriorate into a lowest common denominator of wish lists or pet projects rather than a useful financial planning document.

So, local authorities, we need to get our act together. One of the things that will act as a catalyst for integration between LTPs and LDFs is accessibility planning.

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