Clare Linton, Researcher at Urban Transport Group, makes the case for placing public transport at the heart of residential and commercial development

It’s a shocking statistic that between 2015 and 2017 more than half of the planning permissions for new homes in England’s city regions were more than two kilometres from a railway station, only 20 per cent were within 800 metres.

Research by Transport for New Homes has found that new housing developments are being built without considering public and active transport options, are prioritising car-based travel, and are failing to provide community services. This approach to building new homes is simply unsustainable.

‘Transit oriented development’ however, is an approach which places public transport at the heart of high quality, dense residential (and commercial) developments. It’s a way of encouraging walking and cycling through attractive urban realm, discouraging car use and urban sprawl, whilst achieving a whole range of public policy goals, from improving health and meeting housing demand, to minimising congestion and pollution. It’s a practice that has been popular in the USA, Latin America and Northern Europe, but a term which has not widely been used in the UK (despite the fact there are some excellent examples of transit-oriented developments here too).

This is something we hope to change with the publication of our recent report ‘The place to be: How transit oriented development can support good growth in the city regions’.

In it, we make the case for transit oriented developments: demonstrating what they are, explaining why they matter, showing where they currently exist, and how they can be achieved – in a bid to encourage new developments to be built with transport front and centre. Our report considers seven key success factors for transit-oriented development:

1. Transit should be at the heart of the development, whether that’s heavy rail, light rail or bus. This should be provided by high quality, high frequency services, making public transport a viable, and desirable, alternative to private car use.

2. Developments need high density of housing and commercial properties in order to provide critical mass for transit use. Density is also necessary to enable short local trips using active travel.

3. Transit oriented developments should support walking and cycling as the first choices for accessing public transport and other services. This encourages healthy lifestyles and mode choices which have lower environmental impacts.

4. Driving and ownership of private vehicles should be discouraged, though alternatives, like car clubs, can be included. This maximises public transport use and supports walking and cycling. Public realm could include traffic calming measures and parking restrictions.

5. Services should be integrated into the development, such as shops, healthcare and schools, in order to encourage more localised trips. Evidence shows that residents of transit-oriented developments in the USA make a greater number of shorter trips, ideal for active travel choices.

6. Use of brownfield sites (generally recognised as previously developed land) should be first choice locations for transit-oriented developments.

7. Public sector involvement is a key enabler of transit-oriented developments and helps to ensure they are high quality and deliver across multiple policy objectives.

The case for transit-oriented development is strong as it can help to deliver improved outcomes across a range of strategic public policy areas, including local economies; housing; air quality and carbon emissions; congestion; social inclusion, employment and skills; public health; and public transport patronage. And our report demonstrates this through a number of case studies.

Take, for example, the new Kirkstall Forge development in Leeds, which
transformed a brownfield site adjacent to an existing railway line. A new railway station has opened at the site, and, on completion, the development will provide 1,050 new homes, 300,000 square feet of office space and 100,000 square feet of retail, leisure and community facilities, including a school. The public realm will support walking and cycling within the development and access to the nearby Leeds and Liverpool Canal path enables longer active travel trips.

Kirkstall Forge station connects the site with Leeds (a six minute journey) and Bradford (15 minutes), as well as other local stops. The development has had a positive impact on rail patronage, with the station exceeding the projected demand of 20,200 passengers in the first year, achieving those numbers in the first five months of operation, and prompting service frequencies to be increased.

The property developer CEG is leading the development, working with Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Combined Authority. It secured £10.3 million from the Department for Transport to support the new stations at Kirkstall Forge and nearby Apperley Bridge, with additional funding from the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership. CEG has been active in engaging with the local community, including holding a stall at the local annual festival and working with resident associations and community groups.

The Local Government Association suggests that the approach taken at Kirkstall Forge demonstrates the power of stakeholders working in partnership and cooperating to deliver positive outcomes across multiple objectives.

The redevelopment of Salford Quays in the late 1990s to early 2000s transformed a former dockyard area into the flagship ‘MediaCityUK’ site. The 81 mixed use development, lying five kilometres west of Manchester City Centre, includes the BBC and ITV, as well as other commercial, residential, retail and cultural organisations. Patronage has risen here too. Manchester Metrolink Tram serves Salford Quays, and additional services and stops have been added to cope with increased demand from the redevelopment. New bus services were also introduced to provide public transport access to residents in North and West Salford.

House prices have also risen faster in Salford (at 8.4 per cent) over 2016/17 than most other areas in Greater Manchester (6.4 per cent). According to property site Zoopla, house prices in Salford have increased 48 per cent over the last five years, compared to 23 per cent for the wider northwest of England. The improved employment opportunities and increased transport connectivity have contributed to this uplift in property prices following the investment at Salford Quays.

Further south, Northstowe, in Cambridgeshire, is part of the NHS Healthy
New Towns programme, which aims toencourage active lifestyles and incorporate healthcare facilities into new town developments. The site is being developed by Gallagher Estates and Homes England, with close partnerships with the area’s local authorities. Good public transport options are available here via the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway and the nearby Cambridge North Railway Station.

At completion, it will provide 10,000 new homes as well as community facilities such as schools, leisure facilities and healthcare. Of the first 5,000 homes, 2,000 will be designated as affordable. The developers at Northstowe are promoting public transport, walking and cycling to new residents by offering subsidised bus tickets, walking and cycling equipment vouchers worth up to £50 and cycle taster sessions. The cooperation and collaboration between the developer, local authorities, Homes England and the NHS should deliver a successful transitoriented development.

And in Germany, the Vauban neighbourhood of Freiburg is a transitoriented development which prioritises walking and cycling by having low vehicle speed limits. The area is served by a high frequency tram and all homes are within 400 meters of a tram stop. This integration of sustainable transport has resulted in low car ownership, at 150 cars per 1,000 residents, compared to 270 for Freiburg as a whole.

What all of these transit-oriented developments have in common is the notion of cooperation between the wide range of partners required to deliver them, from local councils, transport authorities and neighbourhood groups, to planners, property developers and housebuilders. London’s King’s Cross development (to the north of the station) – often considered a flagship transit-oriented development – has a partnership of nearly 50 companies, spanning architects and designers, masterplanners and contractors, all working together with local agencies.

City region transport authorities are, of course, a key partner in these developments as they are often some of the biggest land and property owners in the cities they serve. But a number of barriers – particularly with regards to the planning framework – impede their ability to deliver high quality transitoriented developments.

In order for transport authorities to make more transit-oriented developments happen, they need:

  • A national planning framework that favours transit-oriented development rather than car-based low density sprawl
  • A national funding framework with more options for ensuring that value uplift from new developments can be used to improve transport connectivity – like we have seen with Crossrail in London and internationally, in places like the San Francisco Bay Area
  • More influence over land held by agencies of national Government which would be prime sites for transit-oriented development schemes. City region authorities in England need to have the same veto powers over Network Rail land sales that the Scottish Government currently enjoys
  • More devolution of powers over stations where a city region transport authority has the ambition and capacity to take on those responsibilities
  • Measures to improve the planning capacity of local authorities in order to respond effectively, rapidly and imaginatively to opportunities for high quality transit-oriented development.

By overcoming these barriers, and by working more closely with all those involved in the delivery of new developments, we can embark on a new era of transit-oriented developments and realise the widespread benefits they can bring.

Clare Linton is Researcher at Urban Transport Group