Building Connected Communities, published today by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) and The Ramblers, calls on councils to have greater confidence in the tools at their disposal to promote walking and green spaces, including Section 106 agreements and Community Infrastructure Levy money.
The report includes a survey of 118 local authority officers from across England.
Nine out of 10 respondents said access to walking infrastructure is a priority at their local authority, but only half felt that it was also a key issue for developers.
In the north west this was more pronounced, as half of respondents felt this was not a priority for developers, while 40% in the north east and a quarter in the south west felt the same.
Two fifths of all councils said have they have experienced difficulty meeting their walking and active travel priorities when delivering large developments.
And eight out of 10 said viability assessments make it difficult to meet priorities, while seven out of 10 admitted influencing developers was a ‘challenge’.
The report calls on councils to have ‘strong policies’ in place to require more green space and walking infrastructure in new developments.
It states local plans can be ‘powerful tools’ if they are well produced, detailed and specific.
The document also recommends councils build links across various local authority departments, such as planning, housing and public health to ensure there is a ‘shared understanding and approach’ to the issue.
The report cites the example of the Staithes South Bank development in Gateshead, pictured above, which was designed and built in the early 2000s by Taylor Wimpey, architects IDP, HemingwayDesign and the council around the needs of the people and the communities that would live there.
The site was designed and designated as a ‘home zone’, which meant it was built around the principle of ‘people first’ and ‘cars second’.
As well as amenity space, there were walking links between the development and the paths along the River Tyne, as well as a link to the coast-to-coast cycle way.
In the report, Anneliese Hutchison from Gateshead Council said local authorities need to design places for the long term and cater for people with different needs.
‘Our focus is 10 to 15 years, trying to ensure good design helps to create the kind of places we need for the future,’ she said. ‘For the developers it is more like three to five years.’
The chief executive of the LGiU, Jonathan Carr-West, said it is ‘increasingly important’ people have a ‘conversation about the places that we build, not just the numbers of homes we deliver’.
‘We need to ensure good connectivity, not just a large quantity of buildings.’ Added Mr Carr-West. ‘We need places for people to live healthy, happy, active lives. This means they need to be well connected, with good access to walking, cycling and green infrastructure.
‘It is clear from the research that we carried out with the Ramblers that local authorities want to build places that encourage walking and active travel. However, developers do not always share these priorities in the rush to build new homes, and many councils feel the mismatch is a challenge in achieving their goals.’
While The Ramblers’ policy and advocacy manager, Adrian Harvey, said the report highlights the fact that local authorities are ‘working hard to make sure that new commercial and residential developments deliver those benefits, enhancing people’s connectivity with the area they live in and giving more back to communities’.
‘In many cases they are achieving it, but there’s still much more we could do,’ said Mr Harvey. ‘The Ramblers wants to work with councils and developers to help remove some of the barriers, so that we can make walking the easy choice for everyone, everywhere.’
Rachel White, senior policy and political advisor for the walking and cycling charity Sustrans, commented: ‘This research shines a light on the challenge we face in ensuring active travel is built into new developments.
‘With the housing crisis placing ever greater pressure on infrastructure, and a public health crisis as a result of inactivity, it’s vital every council and every developer grasps the opportunity to build in active travel from the outset. New developments offer a clean slate to create well connected places where people can walk and cycle and live happier, healthier lives.’