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London easiest place to live car-free thanks to public transport, planning, ease of cycling & walking

Want to live car-free? Don't move to Peterborough, Colchester or Milton Keynes. That's the message of a new report from the Campaign for Better Transport, which has identified those three as the hardest places in England to live if you don't have a car.

At the other end of the scale, London's low rate of car ownership and excellent public transport makes it the easiest place in England to live without a car, followed by Manchester and Liverpool.

In scoring the cities for the report, Car Dependency Scorecard 2014: The top English cities for sustainable transport, the campaign took into account public transport provision, facilities for cycling and walking, and land use planning policies that support sustainable transport.

Peterborough does badly because of weaknesses in its public transport infrastructure and heavy reliance on cars. There are some signs of hope, the campaign says, as many people already cycle regularly, showing there is scope for improvement and a will for active travel.

However, Peterborough might be going in the wrong direction. Last year it planned to rip out cycle racks from a main shopping street, and it recently extended a town centre cycling ban to Sundays despite opposition from consultation responses.

Despite its much-vaunted network of cycle routes, Milton Keynes comes last in many of the metrics. The spread out, low density planning means longer distances for people to travel, and a road system much better suited to car use than cost-effective public transport. Milton Keynes' problems aren't unique; the new towns built in the 50s, 60s and 70s have generally higher levels of car dependency.

Colchester was designated as a a Cycling Town before the abolition of Cycling England in 2011, and its couple of years in the limelight seems to have had some effect. The report says that just over one per cent of people in Colchester commute by bike at least five times a week, which is in the top half of the rankings, but only a tenth of the number who commute by bike in Cambridge. However, residents in Colchester are least likely to be able to get to primary school, work or the town centre by walking or public transport.

At the other end of the scale, London is England's least car-dependent city, largely because it has top quality public transport and a great degree of control over planning of both development and transport.

The report says: "With a devolved transport system and the historic advantage of a well-developed public transport infrastructure delivered in a densely populated area, it’s easy for residents and commuters to get about without a car.

"Using public transport is much more convenient than driving and parking in the city, and this has been supported rather than counteracted, through measures such as the Congestion Charge and investment in buses.

"London came top for accessibility and planning and its ranking for the quality and uptake of its public transport is high."

London's cycling provision and increase in riding helped it come top in the use of cycling and walking for transport. The report says: "London’s success is influenced both by its density and unprecedented investment in cycling infrastructure. Large increases in numbers of people cycling over recent years should be an example to other cities."

Manchester and Liverpool score well because development in the cities has focussed on brownfield sites. The report sys: "This has meant that ‘city centre intensification’ has been encouraged, achieving urban densities amenable to efficient public transport provision and encouraging walking and cycling.

Stephen Joseph, Chief Executive, Campaign for Better Transport said: "To be good places to live and work, towns and cities need good transport. The most successful places in our research give people a choice in how you get around. They have good quality public transport, plan new development thoughtfully and make it easy and safe for people to cycle and walk."

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.