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The Round Table on Sustainable Development today published its latest report Getting Around Town - A Case Study of ...
The Round Table on Sustainable Development today published its latest report Getting Around Town - A Case Study of Aspirations and Obstacles.

In this, its fourth transport-related report, the Round Table looks at transport and sustainable development, using the Northampton area as a case study. Work was undertaken by the Round Table in consultation with Northamptonshire CC and Northampton BC.

Over the past 20 years, the population of the Northampton area has grown rapidly. Most of the new housing, commercial and industrial development has been at the edge of the existing urban area, on sites that are highly dependent on car access.

As a result, traffic in Northamptonshire increased by 180% between 1977 and 1995; public transport use and cycling are both below the national average. Development is continuing at a rapid rate - a further 450 hectares of land for business development and 12,000 houses are planned in Northampton in the next ten years.

Northamptonshire CC has estimated that traffic could increase by a further 50% over that period. The challenge is to remedy the mistakes of the past and to ensure that current decisions do not leave a similar legacy. Despite changes in policy at both national and local levels, the Round Table found little evidence that recent trends were being reversed.

The report identifies five main obstacles to more sustainable transport patterns in the area, and sets out recommendations for overcoming these.

The location of new development in Northampton is still largely determined by decisions taken twenty years or more ago, which assumed increasing car and lorry use.

Radical changes in land use planning will be needed and must be reflected in development plans.

Competition between areas for economic development can mean that local authorities overlook the longer-term costs of policies that rely heavily on the car and the lorry. Policy-makers must find a way of allowing competition for inward investment and consumer spending without undermining sustainable development.

Businesses favour development on greenfield sites because these are usually cheaper for them - even though such developments often impose wider environmental and social costs. The developers and users of such sites, rather than the country as a whole, should bear such costs.

Local authorities do not have all the powers they need. For example, they cannot ensure that a coherent network of bus services is provided; and they are hampered from taking a comprehensive approach to transport spending because of the fragmented and short-term way in which government expenditure allocations are determined.

The immediate problems caused by increasing vehicle use in Northampton are limited - neither local road congestion levels nor air pollution problems are severe.

As a result, there is little pressure from local people or businesses in the area for radical changes to policies. Local authorities and others must do more to raise public awareness of the fact that policies based on expanding car use are not in the longer-term interest of people or businesses.

Commenting on the report, Richard Southwood, co- chairman of the Round Table, said:

'During the Round Table's first visit to Northampton as part of this project, we had a tour of the area. Around the town, many new developments were springing up - new housing estates, office complexes and distribution centres. All of them were designed and located with the private car in mind.

'Our report includes a wide range of recommendations designed to overcome the obstacles to sustainable development we identified. But the main need is to make sure that new development is not put in places that are accessible only by car. Unless we can secure better integration of transport and land use planning, we shall never achieve sustainable transport at the local level.'

Copies of Getting Around Town are available from the Round Table Secretariat, or from Eddie Luck Assistant Director (Transport Policy), Northamptonshire CC, PO Box 221, John Dryden House 8-10 The Lakes, Northampton NN4 7DE. Tel 01604 236715.

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