Tag Archives: eric pickles

Repost: Pickles peddles pointless parking press release

Not having anything new to post, but having been reminded of this antique scrawl by last week’s Cycling Embassy response to the Department for Communities and Local Government’s consultation on whether they should interfere in local parking policies, I figured I could fob you off with something originally posted way back in august 2011.

This week, the Department for Communities and Local Government put out a press release about town centre parking. Unlike last time, they didn’t even have to announce that Pickles is ending The War On The Motorist™. On that point, their work was done for them, by 36 newspapers and the Daily Express. Aren’t they well trained?

This time around, Rubberknickers Pickles is ending The War by lifting restrictions on how much of our town centres can be given over to car parking. The idea is nothing new, of course, but it is assumed that most will have forgotten the previous occasions when it was announced. The “news” is that the paperwork has gone through: the new version of the government’s planning rules are complete.

As far as I can tell, the notorious limits on car parking provision that have been dropped were Policy EC8, “Car parking for non-residential development,” in the Planning Policy Statement 4 of 2001 [PDF]. This policy instructs local authorities:

Local planning authorities should, through their local development frameworks, set maximum parking standards for non-residential development in their area, ensuring alignment with the policies in the relevant local transport plan and, where relevant, the regional strategy.

In determining what their maximum should be, the policy suggested that authorities think about the needs of non-car users, the effects of congestion and need to tackle carbon emissions and air pollution, and:

h. the need to make provision for adequate levels of good quality secure parking in town centres to encourage investment and maintain their vitality and viability

j. the need to provide for appropriate disabled parking and access

k. the needs of different business sizes and types and major employers

That is, the notorious Labour control-freakery over town centre parking was, er, an instruction for local authorities to develop guidelines that they think are suitable for their own local situations. The Policy document goes on to state that these local standards that authorities have developed should then be applied to planning applications — unless the planning applicant gives a good reason for them not to apply.

So these maximum limits are locally decided and not really binding. That doesn’t quite look like “centrally controlled parking quotas” to me. In his press release, Pickles says:

The Government believes councils and communities are best placed to set parking policies that are right for their area and based on local need – not Whitehall. Local people know the level of parking that is sustainable for their town centre.

Which seems to be exactly what the old Policy document supported.

Perhaps there was some other Labour policy, rule, or law that I haven’t been able to find? Anybody?

I’m not sure what real difference the removal of this policy makes. Previously councils were made to think about the effect of congestion and pollution and the like on their town centres, and the needs of people on foot and bike and bus. When a planning application came in they would know how to recognise whether it would be bad for their town, and they would have a good pre-prepared excuse to reject a development that would make their town centre a more congested and polluted place, or which would hinder walking, cycling, and public transport. But I assume that they’re still allowed to reject those developments if they still don’t like congestion and pollution and dead places?

But perhaps the new policy document will send a message to local authorities: your town centres are in a bad way, and you need to do something about it. In his press release, Pickles says that the removal of this rule will “provide a big boost to struggling high streets”:

The new draft National Planning Policy Framework, recently published, will do away with these anti-car restrictions introduced in 2001 and give high streets a boost to compete for shoppers. It will encourage new investment in town centres, provide more jobs and encourage more charging spaces for electric cars.

Unfortunately, Pickles doesn’t explain how the new Policy will translate into more competitive town centres with more jobs. More importantly, he presents no evidence to support the statement. So I went looking for it. Luckily, Greg Marsden has already reviewed the evidence on parking policies.

One of the studies that Marsden reviews is the 2002 Lockwood Survey, which divides “town centres” by size of the town/catchment area, and whose summary states:

4.   Findings of the parking survey:

Major District Centres: Poor store performance is linked with low levels of parking, reliance on car parks more than 5 minutes walk from prime shopping streets and high charges (the report gives indicative levels).

Sub Regional Centres: Poor store performance is linked with reliance on car parks more than 5 minutes walk from prime shopping streets and high charges (the report gives indicative levels).

Regional Centres: Poor store performance is linked with high charges for 3 and 4 hour stays (the report gives indicative levels).

But when Marsden looked at the data he found it a lot more difficult to support these conclusions. In “major district centres”, those with very low levels of parking were indeed more likely to be performing badly. But those with mildly low levels of parking did better than those with high levels. And in regional centres, those with higher levels of parking were struggling more than those with lower levels. But those with very high levels of parking did a little better than those with very low levels.

There simply doesn’t seem to be any pattern in this data at all. The authors of the original report had cherry picked those parts of the data that made it look like low parking provision was harming shops, while ignoring those parts that said the reverse. Marsden found the same for parking charges and the proportion of parking spaces within a five minute walk of the main shopping area: the data was all over the place, showing no obvious and consistent relationship with economic performance. Why not? Because if variation in parking provision has any effect on town centre attractiveness and competitiveness at all, it is masked by far more important factors — perhaps factors like whether the town centre is easy to get to, has shops people want to use, and is a nice place to be.

So why is Pickles press releasing his new policy as the saviour for struggling town centres? Why did most of the newspapers toe that line? We’ve developed a national myth that giving over more of our town centres to parking is good for the businesses in them.

Sustrans documented the nature of this myth by talking to traders and shoppers on Gloucester Road in Bristol. Bristol is relatively dense and affluent with above average cycling and car ownership rates and, even by British standards, appalling public transport. Gloucester Road doubles as a major artery with many bus routes and a neighbourhood centre lined with mostly independent shops. As Bristol Traffic documents, its bus and bike lanes are usually filled with parked cars.

Not Gloucester Road, but a near-by case study which might teach us some things about why town centres are in decline

Shopkeepers on Gloucester road estimated that more than two fifths of their customers came by car. In fact it was only just over a fifth. They greatly underestimated how many people walked, cycled, or took the bus. The shopkeepers were perhaps being big-headed, believing that their businesses were capable of attracting people from a wider catchment area, when in fact most customers lived within an easily walkable distance.

And the shopkeepers greatly overestimated the importance of drivers to their business in another way: while the people who walked were likely to stick around and visit several shops and businesses, the drivers typically pulled up, ran in to one shop, and got out of there as fast as they could. Perhaps that’s because often they couldn’t even be bothered to park up properly and instead stopped in the bike lanes outside their destination.

High street shopkeepers and business owners greatly overestimate the importance of drivers to their success. Why? Perhaps proprietors are more likely to be drivers themselves, and, as is so often the case with motorists, can’t get their heads around the fact that so many others aren’t? Perhaps their view of the street through the big shop window is dominated by the big metal boxes passing through? Perhaps they see the apparent success of the big soulless out-of-town supermarkets and shopping malls, attribute that success to the acres of car parking, and leap to the conclusion that car parking is all that a business needs for success — that the model which succeeds on the periphery can be applied to the model that is failing in the centre.

I suspect that the opposite might be true. Those who are attached to their cars will go to the barns on the ring-roads. You won’t attract them back to the town centres. But by trying — by providing for the car parking at the expense of bike paths and bus lanes and wider pavements — you might drive away the surprisingly high proportion of town centre customers who don’t come by car, who come precisely because, unlike the malls, the town centre is walkable and cycleable and because the bus can get through. Town centres aren’t just competing with out-of-town malls and supermarkets any more. Those who don’t want to drive to out-of-town barns can sit at home, click on some buttons, and have things driven to them. Compared to most of the traffic-choked high streets in this country, that’s quite an attractive option.

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Localism update

Previously, Eric “Rubber Knickers” Pickles’s Department for Communities and Local Government has got a lot of press claiming to be handing power to local people when in reality taking away local people’s defences against harmful commercial interests who want to pave the fields with sprawl and ruin town centres.

But Greg Clark, the minister for decentralisation, planning policy and cities, has finally made a suggestion that is not entirely awful: transport policy independence for the English core cities. Devolution of transport policy has been a great success, driving innovation and progress in a way that central government has been unable or unwilling to do. In Scotland, the Beeching Axe is being rolled back. In London, the Congestion Charge has paid for massive public transport and public realm improvements, including innovations from Oyster to the Overground. In Wales, legislation for cycle network standards is on the agenda for the current assembly term.

Giving the core cities — Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester (which already has TfGM), Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield — transport policy powers equivalent to the Mayor and TfL (though hopefully correcting the mistakes in the London model before applying it) could, under the right local leaders, drive further innovation. Bristol and Newcastle might choose to show the country how to design streets in which people can cycle. The Yorkshire/Lancashire cities might club together to improve their intercity rail.

But it all depends on the money. A few of the core cities already have trams or metros, but only because the cities could persuade central government to pay. Others got nothing — Bristol is left desperately scrabbling around for the pennies to pay for a barely-better-than-nothing Bus Rapid Transit system because ministers won’t give it a tram.

Devolution of urban transport policy could be an excellent move, but only if Pickles and Clark make sure that the cities get the money, the powers, and the continuing central government support that they would need if they are to make real progress. Otherwise it’s just the devolution of blame for the current mess — the shirking of responsibility. Letting cities develop policies doesn’t make up for having none of your own.

Pickles peddles pointless parking press release

This week, the Department for Communities and Local Government put out a press release about town centre parking. Unlike last time, they didn’t even have to announce that Pickles is ending The War On The Motorist™. On that point, their work was done for them, by 36 newspapers and the Daily Express. Aren’t they well trained?

This time around, Rubberknickers Pickles is ending The War by lifting restrictions on how much of our town centres can be given over to car parking. The idea is nothing new, of course, but it is assumed that most will have forgotten the previous occasions when it was announced. The “news” is that the paperwork has gone through: the new version of the government’s planning rules are complete.

As far as I can tell, the notorious limits on car parking provision that have been dropped were Policy EC8, “Car parking for non-residential development,” in the Planning Policy Statement 4 of 2001 [PDF]. This policy instructs local authorities:

Local planning authorities should, through their local development frameworks, set maximum parking standards for non-residential development in their area, ensuring alignment with the policies in the relevant local transport plan and, where relevant, the regional strategy.

In determining what their maximum should be, the policy suggested that authorities think about the needs of non-car users, the effects of congestion and need to tackle carbon emissions and air pollution, and:

h. the need to make provision for adequate levels of good quality secure parking in town centres to encourage investment and maintain their vitality and viability

j. the need to provide for appropriate disabled parking and access

k. the needs of different business sizes and types and major employers

That is, the notorious Labour control-freakery over town centre parking was, er, an instruction for local authorities to develop guidelines that they think are suitable for their own local situations. The Policy document goes on to state that these local standards that authorities have developed should then be applied to planning applications — unless the planning applicant gives a good reason for them not to apply.

So these maximum limits are locally decided and not really binding. That doesn’t quite look like “centrally controlled parking quotas” to me. In his press release, Pickles says:

The Government believes councils and communities are best placed to set parking policies that are right for their area and based on local need – not Whitehall. Local people know the level of parking that is sustainable for their town centre.

Which seems to be exactly what the old Policy document supported.

Perhaps there was some other Labour policy, rule, or law that I haven’t been able to find? Anybody?

I’m not sure what real difference the removal of this policy makes. Previously councils were made to think about the effect of congestion and pollution and the like on their town centres, and the needs of people on foot and bike and bus. When a planning application came in they would know how to recognise whether it would be bad for their town, and they would have a good pre-prepared excuse to reject a development that would make their town centre a more congested and polluted place, or which would hinder walking, cycling, and public transport. But I assume that they’re still allowed to reject those developments if they still don’t like congestion and pollution and dead places?

But perhaps the new policy document will send a message to local authorities: your town centres are in a bad way, and you need to do something about it. In his press release, Pickles says that the removal of this rule will “provide a big boost to struggling high streets”:

The new draft National Planning Policy Framework, recently published, will do away with these anti-car restrictions introduced in 2001 and give high streets a boost to compete for shoppers. It will encourage new investment in town centres, provide more jobs and encourage more charging spaces for electric cars.

Unfortunately, Pickles doesn’t explain how the new Policy will translate into more competitive town centres with more jobs. More importantly, he presents no evidence to support the statement. So I went looking for it. Luckily, Greg Marsden has already reviewed the evidence on parking policies.

One of the studies that Marsden reviews is the 2002 Lockwood Survey, which divides “town centres” by size of the town/catchment area, and whose summary states:

4.   Findings of the parking survey:

Major District Centres: Poor store performance is linked with low levels of parking, reliance on car parks more than 5 minutes walk from prime shopping streets and high charges (the report gives indicative levels).

Sub Regional Centres: Poor store performance is linked with reliance on car parks more than 5 minutes walk from prime shopping streets and high charges (the report gives indicative levels).

Regional Centres: Poor store performance is linked with high charges for 3 and 4 hour stays (the report gives indicative levels).

But when Marsden looked at the data he found it a lot more difficult to support these conclusions. In “major district centres”, those with very low levels of parking were indeed more likely to be performing badly. But those with mildly low levels of parking did better than those with high levels. And in regional centres, those with higher levels of parking were struggling more than those with lower levels. But those with very high levels of parking did a little better than those with very low levels.

There simply doesn’t seem to be any pattern in this data at all. The authors of the original report had cherry picked those parts of the data that made it look like low parking provision was harming shops, while ignoring those parts that said the reverse. Marsden found the same for parking charges and the proportion of parking spaces within a five minute walk of the main shopping area: the data was all over the place, showing no obvious and consistent relationship with economic performance. Why not? Because if variation in parking provision has any effect on town centre attractiveness and competitiveness at all, it is masked by far more important factors — perhaps factors like whether the town centre is easy to get to, has shops people want to use, and is a nice place to be.

So why is Pickles press releasing his new policy as the saviour for struggling town centres? Why did most of the newspapers toe that line? We’ve developed a national myth that giving over more of our town centres to parking is good for the businesses in them.

Sustrans documented the nature of this myth by talking to traders and shoppers on Gloucester Road in Bristol. Bristol is relatively dense and affluent with above average cycling and car ownership rates and, even by British standards, appalling public transport. Gloucester Road doubles as a major artery with many bus routes and a neighbourhood centre lined with mostly independent shops. As Bristol Traffic documents, its bus and bike lanes are usually filled with parked cars.

Not Gloucester Road, but a near-by case study which might teach us some things about why town centres are in decline

Shopkeepers on Gloucester road estimated that more than two fifths of their customers came by car. In fact it was only just over a fifth. They greatly underestimated how many people walked, cycled, or took the bus. The shopkeepers were perhaps being big-headed, believing that their businesses were capable of attracting people from a wider catchment area, when in fact most customers lived within an easily walkable distance.

And the shopkeepers greatly overestimated the importance of drivers to their business in another way: while the people who walked were likely to stick around and visit several shops and businesses, the drivers typically pulled up, ran in to one shop, and got out of there as fast as they could. Perhaps that’s because often they couldn’t even be bothered to park up properly and instead stopped in the bike lanes outside their destination.

High street shopkeepers and business owners greatly overestimate the importance of drivers to their success. Why? Perhaps proprietors are more likely to be drivers themselves, and, as is so often the case with motorists, can’t get their heads around the fact that so many others aren’t? Perhaps their view of the street through the big shop window is dominated by the big metal boxes passing through? Perhaps they see the apparent success of the big soulless out-of-town supermarkets and shopping malls, attribute that success to the acres of car parking, and leap to the conclusion that car parking is all that a business needs for success — that the model which succeeds on the periphery can be applied to the model that is failing in the centre.

I suspect that the opposite might be true. Those who are attached to their cars will go to the barns on the ring-roads. You won’t attract them back to the town centres. But by trying — by providing for the car parking at the expense of bike paths and bus lanes and wider pavements — you might drive away the surprisingly high proportion of town centre customers who don’t come by car, who come precisely because, unlike the malls, the town centre is walkable and cycleable and because the bus can get through. Town centres aren’t just competing with out-of-town malls and supermarkets any more. Those who don’t want to drive to out-of-town barns can sit at home, click on some buttons, and have things driven to them. Compared to most of the traffic-choked high streets in this country, that’s quite an attractive option.

How localism works: councils lose power to reject sprawl and congestion

A draft of the National Planning Policy Framework has been leaked.  This is the document that Eric Pickles’s department, Community and Local Government, has been preparing to replace some of the previous government’s policies, rules, and guidelines on development and planning.  It’s supposedly prompted by the Treasury’s belief that economic growth can and should be encouraged by making private development easier, and by the belief that the last government was overly controlling of what councils could do, and that the current rules interfere with decisions that should be made locally.

It’s difficult to tell exactly how important the document is, because, not having any real expertise in the way that government does this stuff, I don’t know how much (if any) of it will be law and how much will be a suggestion, or even a mere statement of the government’s position on things.  Large swathes of it were too dull to read properly, telling local authorities that they need to do obvious things like make sure they’re not going to suddenly run out of waste disposal capacity.

But from a quick scroll through, it doesn’t seem any less controlling of councils than the previous government.  It’s just that, where the previous government told councils that they should reject applications for harmful developments, the new document tells councils that they should not reject applications for harmful developments.  Previously, local people had some amount of power: their representatives had an arsenal of reasons say ‘no’ to developments which would have negative consequences for their community, like the sprawling out-of-town barn retail that kill town centres and make people dependent on cars for shopping and employment.  They could tell developers: that’s not an appropriate location, and that’s not an appropriate style.  They could tell developers: not unless you do something to mitigate the effects on the community, or to prevent specific negative consequences.  As far as I can tell, this document is taking away that arsenal of grounds-for-rejection and instead grants developers “a presumption in favour of sustainable development”.  Whatever “sustainable” is.

Delightfully, the document comes with tracked changes.  We don’t know who’s changes are tracked — it could be Communities, Treasury, Transport, a random party advisor, a copy-editor… — and “sustainable” has frequently simply been deleted, presumably on the grounds that it’s pretty much meaningless in this document.  Dozens of clauses touch on what it means to be “sustainable”, but they tend to be neither necessary or sufficient, and they don’t add up to a definition.  Are LAs supposed to be able to classify proposed developments as “non-sustainable” based on this document, and what do they do with those proposals?

As far as I can see, the tracked changes on page 23, “Transport”, are the fun part of the document.  There is plenty of lip service to “sustainable modes”, but only “where reasonable”.  And again, there should be encouragement to reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions — where practical.  It doesn’t say who gets to decide what’s reasonable and practical.

An objective to reduce the need to travel at all is deleted, though local authorities are still encouraged to plan developments in areas where the need to travel will be reduced.

Brilliantly, the phrase “the private car will continue to form an important mode in order to maintain communities” is tracked as having been deleted from the objectives.  I wonder who didn’t want it included?  I wonder who did?

To support reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and congestion, local authorities should plan for development to give priority to pedestrians and “cycle movements”, to be served by public transport, to “create safe and secure layouts which minimise conflicts between traffic and cyclists or pedestrians”, and to have electric vehicle charging points.  All very nice, but it’s not clear what this will translate to in reality.  Local authorities are asked to include these things in their “plan”, but what does it mean for real private developments?  Indeed, what does it even mean to “give priority” to pedestrians and “cycle movements”?  We’ve had a couple of decades of this kind of vague pro-cycling lip-service and anybody who has ever tried to cycle in this country knows what the result looks like.  Planners and builders have a very special ability to turn even the best of intentions into utter bollocks.

At least owners of electric vehicles can look forward to charging points.  If they’re anything like the planning for “cycle movements” they’ll be a single standard 240v socket hidden somewhere around the back near the bins, to which it’s not actually physically possible to get an electric vehicle.  Chances are, it won’t be wired up to anything.

Local authorities will be able to set some amount of “local standards” for residential and non-residential development, though again, I can’t really work out what those will mean in practice.  LAs are told to take into account existing local car ownership rates when doing this.  Fair enough, but why aren’t they also told to take into account the elasticity of modal share in the local area?

Finally, LAs are told to bear in mind that there is “an overall need to reduce the use of high-emission vehicles.”  The term “high-emission vehicles” has been inserted in place of the deleted phrase “the car where practical.”

I imagine there are equally interestingly useless guidelines in the “housing” and “green belt” sections, but I couldn’t bring myself to read any more of it.

If this is “localism”, localism apparently means a redistribution of power: not from central government to councils, but from public interest to corporate interest.

How to make a great street — and why we’ve built so many awful ones

This evening Andy Cameron, an engineer who advised the last government and has written standards for transport and urban design, will join us in the pub to talk about making streets for people.  That’s upstairs at The Yorkshire Grey on Theobald’s Road at 7pm (bar open from 6 with excellent food available).

If you can’t join us, the slides and audio will be online sometime later.  But in the meantime, you can see a talk Andy gave to CABE — not quite the same audience as a pub, so presumably not quite the same talk, but entertaining all the same.  Most interesting, perhaps, is a little insight into why local authorities have been turning our high-streets into hostile motor roads: they mistook the Highways Agency motorway design manual for an instruction book for city streets.

If you’re not familiar with CABE, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, they were a Department for Culture Media and Sport quango full of architects whose main purpose was to understand the ways that architecture and the built environment impact on our lives, and to apply that understanding to reviewing nationally-significant construction projects and planning applications — iconic new buildings, large developments, important public spaces.  Created in 1999, they are partly to thank for the more positive trends of the last decade.  They did their best to hold back the worst excesses of out-of-town barn retail sprawl, and to establish a fashion for new public spaces and squares and streets and bridges that prioritise people over the movement of vehicles, as in the redevelopment of the old industrial waterside areas of Bristol, Glasgow, Manchester, and Gateshead.

CABE was cut in the bonfire of the quangos, and, in the name of economic growth and people power [er, are you sure it can be both? -Ed], Eric Pickles and George Osborne have relaxed government control over development.  But people rarely have the time, money, resources, or expertise to exert much power over development decisions, and even when they do, are easily stepped over by better-resourced councils and corporations.  A new wave of cheap corrugated-sprawl-and-car-park development is on the way.

Punch and Judy town planning policy

“Pickles and Hammond to end the war on motorists.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government put these words in a press release and today 221 national and local newspaper journalists* copypasted them into their newspapers, noticing nothing nonsensical in their conjunction.  Great job, The Media.

The press release was announcing the abolition of two ten year old Labour policies: Planning Policy Guidance 13: Transport (PPG13), and Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing (PPS3).  The department spin this as the abolition of an “encouragement” to local councils to charge for town-centre car parking, and of a rule that limited car parking in new developments in the hope that fewer residents would own cars as a result.

Given that the war “on” motorists is a war between motorists as ever more of them compete for increasingly scarce land and resources, these policies will of course merely serve to make people’s lives even more miserable as they sit in a whole new level of congestion.  Not that I expect there to be any noticeable difference to most people’s lives as a result of this policy — it’s a drop in the ocean given the mess that we’re in.  And anyway, the policy merely devolves these decisions to local councils, who are unlikely to make any changes given their own dire situations.

Philip Hammond said, “this Government recognises that cars are a lifeline for many people.”  Which is interesting, because a lifeline is “a line to which a drowning or falling victim may cling to.”  The person on the end of a lifeline did not intend to be there, and he does not intend to stay there.  To get there, something has gone wrong, and the lifeline user intends to leave the lifeline behind as soon his feet are safely back on solid ground.  Lots of people will tell you that they have no choice but to drive a car, but most of them would rather they didn’t have to.  The car is a lifeline that have grasped after the doctor’s surgery closed, and then the butcher and baker closed, and then the library closed, and then the post-office closed — all because of the rise of car-dependent development around them.  These people don’t want to have to drive twenty miles to town.  They want their services back.  Philip Hammond’s policy is to encourage new developments that force people to use a car against their will; he’s pushing you overboard and expecting you to be grateful as you’re dragged along on a “lifeline”.

On the announcement, “Decentralisation Minister” Greg Clark said something that is actually mostly true:

“Limiting the number of drives and garages in new homes doesn’t make cars disappear – it just clogs residential roads with parked cars and makes drivers cruise the streets hunting for a precious parking space.”

But this is no excuse for giving up.  It is a fact that there is far more wrong with recent development patterns than just car parking; car parking alone does not create car dependent communities.  But we have to tackle all of the problems — we need more action, not less — and car parking was a start, at least.

And of course, Hammond again plugs his hoverboard development programme.  I know I should have no reason to be surprised by the depths to which British politicians and newspapers can sink, but the scale of the current farce is just amazing.  It looks like Hammond’s entire tenure as transport minister will be based on the recurring pantomime of riding his magic car to rescue the beautiful Motorist from the nasty Labour men and their War.  Apparently this is the “new kind of politics“.

* or, rather, 221 websites indexed by Google News, which is an overlapping, but not identical set.  And some of nationals at least didn’t swallow the line whole.

Pickles and Hammond to end the war on motorists