What the launch of Active Travel England means for you
Planning for active travel has come to the fore post-Covid. The launch of Active Travel England as inspectorate and funding body will ensure the enforcement of new guidance by local authorities to help people make more shorter journeys by bicycle or on foot. Developers would be wise to accommodate the expectations of such guidance when designing their schemes to avoid potentially lengthy delays and/or the need for a re-plan.
Nearly 18 months after announcing its intent, the Government this weekend launched Active Travel England, its new cycling and walking executive agency. Chris Boardman has been unveiled as the interim commissioner. Famous for his Olympic success, many will also know Chris as a leading figurehead for active travel and he has delivered the first phase of Manchester's public transport system known as the Bee Network. His appointment should bring welcome immediate gravitas to the body, which has been allocated £5.5 million investment for cycling and walking, on top of a previous £2 billion infrastructure investment announced in July 2020.
The remit of Active Travel England will be to approve and inspect schemes and will help local authorities, training staff and spreading good practice in design, implementation and public engagement.
It should be of particular interest to developers to note that Active Travel England will also be a statutory consultee on major planning applications of over 150 homes, to ensure that the largest new developments properly cater for pedestrians and people on bicycles.
Why is this relevant?
It means that all larger developments would need to demonstrate that they embed active travel into their developments, in accordance with the latest standards. The 150-home threshold may exclude all but the larger schemes from the agency’s direct consideration, but this doesn’t mean that smaller schemes are exempt from designing accordingly.
This is because the launch of Active Travel England follows Gear Change: a bold vision for cycling and walking and LTN 1/20 both published in 2020, the latter of which provides DfT guidance to local authorities on delivering high quality cycle infrastructure. This is to be supported by the updated Highway Code, due to be published at the end of January 2022 including a Hierarchy of Road Users, placing more responsibility on the drivers of larger vehicles to look after more vulnerable road users. Such users could potentially also include e-scooters (which I blogged on last year), trials for which are being prolonged until later 2022 as the Government weighs up whether to legalise this new form of micromobility.
Let’s just remind ourselves of what LTN1/20 introduces.
LTN1/20 sets a recommended basis for new design standards for roads based on overarching design principles which represent the essential requirements to achieve more people travelling on cycle or by foot. Networks should be coherent, direct, safe, comfortable and attractive and designers are advised to provide infrastructure that meets these principles.
The launch of Active Travel England crystallises the direction of travel that has been gaining momentum since the pandemic bike boom in 2020. Government guidance sets an expectation as to how the spaces within new developments are designed and allocated, and we are seeing these being implemented locally.
Across our patch, we are already observing local highway authorities using LTN1/20 in determining the suitability of scheme design, withholding support until they have been re-designed to meet the applicable standards and expectations, including cycle-safe junctions and low-traffic streets. We have also seen planning committees resisting schemes on the basis of LTN1/20 non-compliance.
This shows that there is already a trickle-down in the assessment of schemes in accordance with active travel principles at the local level.
This is finally bringing teeth to existing Local Plan policies that require schemes to prioritise pedestrian and cycle movements over private motor vehicles, where there is now national level guidance to drive up standards of infrastructure design within new developments.
Do not risk delay by overlooking the requirements of this guidance, even in schemes that are likely to fall below the Active Travel England consultation threshold, as they may well be scrutinised this way at the local level.
Give active travel early consideration within your scheme design because it may need to be factored into the layout design, apportionment of space and land budget considerations. Doing so might just reduce the potential for a significant re-plan and lengthy delays to your planning applications.
Sit up, take note and give active travel weight.