Building Connected Communities

The drive to build more houses is important. But it is vital that we focus on quality as well as numbers. We have to build good places for people to live, which are well connected and encourage residents to walk and spend time outside.

Our new report, in partnership with the Ramblers, has found that nine out of ten councils say access to walking infrastructure is a priority for new developments built in their areas, but only half feel that developers share this view. There are serious challenges that result in trying to achieve connectivity and walkability.

For Building Connected Communities we surveyed 118 officers from local authorities across England and found that eighty nine per cent say walking access is a key consideration for their council, while ninety four per cent have a Local Plan in place that encourages walking and active travel. However, only forty nine per cent felt developers share the same priorities.

While housing has shot up the political agenda in the last year with the Government’s call for a rebirth of house building, the report finds four out of ten councils say they have experienced difficulty meeting their walking and active travel priorities when delivering large developments. And, while most developments over the past five years were in line with targets, around one in ten were seen as not in line with health and wellbeing strategies.

Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of LGiU, said that “with all the emphasis on the Government’s plans to deliver a rebirth of house building, it is increasingly important that we have
 a conversation about the places that we build not just the numbers of homes we deliver. We need to ensure good connectivity, not just a large quantity of buildings. We need places for people to live healthy, happy, active lives. This means they need to be well connected, with good access to walking, cycling and green infrastructure.”

Despite this, councils regularly experience challenges in making this happen. Eight out of ten councils surveyed felt viability assessments make it difficult to meet priorities, while seven out of ten felt influencing developers was a challenge. The lack of resources in planning departments was also highlighted as a barrier by half of respondents.

Adrian Harvey, Policy and Advocacy Manager at the Ramblers, said “We know that walkable places are better places, they are healthier, greener and much more pleasant to live and work in.” While there are encouraging signs that councils are active in this area, there is a lot more to be done to overcome the challenges.

The key is to find ways to make walking the easiest and most appealing option for getting around. But the issue goes beyond planning itself. It encompasses a whole range of council activity and departments. Highways, parks, public health, housing and regeneration all have a crucial role to play. Case studies, in Gateshead, Tamworth and Preston, illustrate some of the ways that councils could seek to make progress in improving walking connectivity through new developments.

Councils should have strong policies in place to require connectivity. It is important that it is required, more than just suggested or recommended.  They should also seek to improve their strategic engagement with developers and have dialogue as early as possible to establish their expectations.

There are certainly challenges associated with increasing development on the scale required. But with right approach and the right tools in place, there are also huge opportunities for improving the public realm.

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    1. Lungile Mxube says:

      Building Connected Communities is the most difficult and pressing issue facing South African Cities , Towns , Communities , Rural , Peri-urban and Villages. The legacy of apartheid remain visible as you fly over Cities and Towns. The apartheid spatial planning paradigm has caused havoc and destroyed our towns and cities. The apartheid has left what I may refer to as , “psycho-cultural damage” to many South Africans , particularly , blacks. Even after 22 years of freedom and democracy , post apartheid towards a democratic system of government , we have not been able to integrate communities and white suburbs have a far better infrastructure , black communities and townships have a low and inferior infrastructure which is unable to respond to developmental priorities of local municipalities. Looking at the City of Port Elizabeth , the current policy adopted by Council has clustered 60 wards along racial , ethnic and cultural ties of communities. All wards with a high concentration of black population are clustered together, the so-called Northern Areas , which is mainly a Coloured and Indian Communities are grouped together and all suburbs , the so-called white suburbs are clustered together. In looking at the budget allocation , the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality ( Port Elizabeth) has a budget of R8 Billion. The R6.4 Billion is an operating budget and R1.6 Billion is a Capital Budget. The black and African communities have been allocated 8% and the white suburbs have been allocated 98% of the budget. This is what I refer to as , a “reproduction of racial inequalities.” Would like to learn more about strategies employed in the UK towards achieving community connectivity.

    2. Su Jo says:

      Isn’t it ironic that when you travel to some of the oldest cities in this country (and doubtless elsewhere) it’s more often than not a joy to walk through and around them. I was in Winchester on business last week and the walk to and from my day’s work calmed and encouraged me in the morning and relaxed and revived me in the evening. Sometimes the more we learn the more we forget – especially when Mammon is the master being served.