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New housing schemes are forcing people into car dependency, report finds

Lack of shops, services and jobs as well as public transport and active travel options mean cars are only choice in many developments

New housing schemes throughout England are forcing couples and young families to become dependent on cars due to a lack of amenities and sustainable travel options, according to a report from a group that is calling for transport to be put at the heart of planning policy.

The report, from The Transport for New Homes Association, was based on site visits to more than  large-scale residential developments built on greenfield sites outside towns and cities or on brownfield sites in urban areas.

Locations visited included Newcastle Great Park, Great Western Park in Didcot, Dickens Heath in Solihull, Bath Riverside and Poundbury in Dorset – the new town on Duchy of Cornwall-owned land championed in the 1980s by Prince Charles and held up, throughout the report, as an example others should follow. Each is profiled in depth here.

Researchers also visited three locations in the Netherlands – the only major European country with a higher population density than England – and one in Sweden to see what was happening there.

They were looking at issues including public transport provision, how easy and attractive it is to walk or cycle, the presence of shops and services, leisure facilities and employment opportunities, and the extent to which the developments are dominated by the car.

The picture they paint is a depressing one, and with a handful of exceptions the opposite of what was depicted in planning documents and marketing materials when it came to the availability of services and the location’s attractiveness as somewhere to live.

The report notes that “for transport, the visions presented” in literature and planning documents “regarding new homes do not show new residents getting into cars and being stuck in traffic, but rather depict people cycling and walking as part of their everyday lives. Bus and rail services are often featured as providing an alternative to the car.”

All too often, the schemes lacked basic facilities such as shops, pubs and cafes or places for people to find employment, with many located next to ring roads or bypasses that cut them off from the towns to which they were built as extensions to.

Typically, green spaces were notable by their absence with instead cars – and, above all, places to park them – dominant. Where there were facilities for cyclists or pedestrians, in many cases these ended at the boundary of the development, meaning there were no viable options for active travel further afield.

The report also highlighted what its authors see as an Americanisation of the planning environment – for example, schemes built close to large retail or leisure parks but which could only be reached by motor vehicle, making the car king.

With many developments marketed on their proximity to major trunk roads – thereby appealing to commuters priced out of urban centres – many are in effect dormitories and lack effective public transport links.

Indeed, analysis of census data highlighted greater than average use of cars to commute for people living in the areas focused on in the report.

One of the report’s researchers, Jenny Raggett, told BBC News: "We were appalled to find so many new housing developments built around the car with residents driving for almost every journey.

“As those cars head for our towns and cities they clog up existing roads. Commuter times get longer and longer. Car-based living of this kind is not good for our health or quality of life.”

The report has also been backed by Steve Gooding, a director of the RAC Foundation charity. He said: "We need new housing developments with a genuine mix of transport options, which may include the private car but not exclude other ways of getting around.

“It’s not much fun in one of these new estates where there’s nowhere to park out front, so there are cars all over the pavements. You have to ferry your kids everywhere, and then you drive straight into a traffic jam.

“The government has got to think about this properly – we don’t just need new homes anywhere we can put them – we need quality homes. Places like Poundbury show it is possible to get this balance right."

However, a government spokesperson insisted that under revised planning guidance, developers of new schemes must encourage walking, cycling or using public transport, adding that “the rules also make sure that councils put plans in place for the infrastructure needed to support new developments."

The Transport for New Homes Association is funded by the Foundation for Integrated Transport, which says: “We envision a world with a human right to get around without reliance on cars, where people can travel with minimum impact on others and the environment, where barriers to transport justice are removed, and where trains and buses are integrated, and safe and attractive routes are provided for walking and cycling. We fund projects that will help to make this vision a reality.”

Simon has been news editor at since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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