Planning rules still geared to cars

This weekend, I visited a friend of mine up North who has a house she is building in Sheffield. It is just the sort of infill that helps makes cities more dense, a spare plot in an already built up area that is served by public transport.

So far so good. But then she told me that in order to get planning permission, the house had to have off street parking for two cars and, that there had to be sufficient space for the cars not to be have to reverse out into the street – they had to be able to have enough space on her plot in order to be able to turn round.

This shows the extent to which that a sustainable transport agenda is still mere verbiage in politicians’ speeches but nowhere near becoming a reality. The whole point about urban development is that it should be possible to live in towns without being car dependent. Yet, the planners are ensuring that the costs of housing are increased to accommodate cars which the politicians say we should be using less. In just one small example, the whole contradiction of government policy can be found.

As John McEnroe said so famously, ‘you cannot be serious’. If the government really is trying to move towards a sustainable agenda, it should have tackled these sort of micro issues years ago. In any case, everyone reverses out of their drive – it is perfectly safe provided people are driving at a reasonable speed, another reason for adopting a wider 20 MPH speed limit in residential areas. Joined up government? Pah.

  • I’d like to have more details about the kind of property your friend is building, as well as its location.

    The requirement for a turnaround space does sound like overkill: there’s not going to be much difference in the effect on traffic when you pull out, unless you’re also building a slip-road!

    The requirement for parking spaces I can understand: there are more single people today. Those big old Victorian piles, built in an era of large families, maidservants and the like are now all split up into flats… and each tenant would like somewhere to park. At present, that parking tends to be at the kerb for most residential streets as the Victorians thoughtlessly forgot to provide off-street parking for all their housing—particularly that built for the working classes!

    (This is going to be a major problem if electric cars become more popular. Where the hell are people supposed to plug them in overnight to recharge? I don’t see many 13 Amp sockets built into pavements!)

    Door-to-door transport might not be an “inalienable human right”, but it *does* have its uses. (The mobility-impaired, for example. Or should they all be shunted off to a “disabled people’s ghetto” of some sort?) Nor should people be penalised for decisions made over a hundred or more years ago.

    Another problem is that, thanks to Messrs. Hitler & Mussolini, many of our long streets of Victorian homes are peppered with homes built rather later. Homes that often *do* have off-street parking, because they were built when the car was king. I lived in a 1970s “town house” in Brockley myself until late last year. The house was one of a small terrace of such buildings, in a conservation area surrounded by large Victorian properties. Many of the latter do not have space for off-street parking, but are more than large enough to accommodate large families.

    London’s entire transport infrastructure is going to need radical surgery sooner, not later. If we can’t sensibly charge a car in front of our 1890s terraced homes, we’re going to need to find another solution. Nobody’s going to do the weekly shopping for their family on foot or by bus! (Perhaps encouraging free home deliveries might be worthwhile. You go to your big supermarket in person, pick and choose what you want, then leave it for the delivery team to drop off home for you later.)

    Another possibility is some variation of Personal Rapid Transit—I suspect this would be a good fit for London as you won’t need to own your own vehicle—but we can’t just uninvent the concept of a powered vehicle which gets you from door to door.

    No matter what happens, there’s always a transitional period. The car isn’t going to disappear from our streets overnight.

  • Paul O

    Charging your car outside a Victorian Terrace. Could embryonic wireless electricity technology eventually provide the answer?

  • Bombardier already have a “wireless” electricity supply technology for trams, called “PRIMOVE”.

    I’ve wondered before whether it would be possible to adapt this kind of induction technology to charge electric cars in cities. We’re more than happy to dig up roads for gas, electricity, water and sewage services; why not add a service which also benefits the cars? The obvious long-term goal would be to fit it to *all* our roads.

    If this technology were rolled out nationwide, the all the issues related to battery charge and range disappear, as the car doesn’t need the battery except when passing over occasional gaps in the supply. Instead of carting a dirty great lump of a battery around which has to power the car for hundreds of miles, you’ll be able to get away with a much smaller battery.

    The rest of the time, the car is directly powered by the induction supply. (Like OHLE, but for cars. And, er, minus the O, H and L!) Few people actually do a lot of off-road driving; as long as you’re on a road fitted with this technology, the car will move. Signalling and enhanced computer controls could also be fitted, so we can also move towards the ultimate goal of self-driving electric vehicles.

    (Some diesel vehicles would remain, but only for farmers and other specialist users, where the electrical alternatives would be too costly, or entirely unfeasible.)

    The only possible issues are efficiency and how much power you can safely transmit. (I.e. will it only let your car run at around 20-25 mph, or can it be scaled up to handle motorway speeds? Can it power an HGV? Etc.)

    I think this, combined with some PRT technologies, could be the answer to many of the UK’s transport woes.

  • Dan

    Sounds to me Christian like your friend would have more chance of getting planning permission to use the plot of land to build a car park for other people on the street and then charge for that and use the money to buy a house elsewhere…

    You are right though. However, these sorts of policies are buried in good intentions, but somewhere they will be set out in draft local plan guidance that people could challenge when they are adopted – problem is they are – like in Hitchicker Guide – “buried in locked draw of filing cabinet in basement of a local planning office open one day per week” as Arthur Dent learned to his cost before the vogon’s arrived!

    As others have said I’m sure there is more to this than you state – ie are the other houses ones with off street parking (like interwar semis), or victorian terraces with no other provision? It is the case that others will live in the house in future, and they may have cars (probably will I suspect).

    What really gets my goat is that in modern developments what classes as a ‘garage’ by planning and building standards is something not wide enough for most modern cars to get in. It is a size specified when Ford Anglias must have been in vogue! – so on modern estates all the cars are on the street (or pavement in fact) and garages are used for storage or soem other use – so the regulation is pointless anyway! Then people get planning permission to change the garage into an extra room some years down the line (happens in n’hoods near me all the time as I have fruitlessly opposed the planning apps!) Oh yeah, then householder complains about vehicle crime and has no garage to put car away in!