Transport planning

11th October 2016

Transport and car use

by Trevor Locke

Going to the shops. Something that most adults need to do regularly; some on a daily basis. Back in the 80s there were two cars in our household and we did groceries shopping monthly. We drove to a supermarket and brought home enough produce to feed our family for about four weeks. The supermarket was about four miles away from the house. Petrol was cheap and I had a company car which was provided free of charge by my employer. How times have changed, Now I do not have a car. I take the bus into town to go to the big supermarket; if I need a bottle of milk or a loaf of bread I walk to the local shop. How we shop and where we go to do our shopping raises a number of key issues about how we plan our towns and our urban environments.

Going to the shops

Even when I do what I call a ‘main shop’ I walk around the supermarket with a basket rather than pushing a trolley. Because I have to carry it all home on the bus, I do not purchase more than I can carry – hence the basket. When the basket gets really heavy I stop buying. It’s simple but mainly because I have only myself to feed rather than getting in food for an entire family. And a cat. Apparently there are still many people who get into their car and drive to a shop they could perfectly easily walk to. So I have read. Why? Fear of being on the streets? Idleness? Habit? Who knows; have any surveys ever been done to uncover the facts about this? Which is more pressing as an issue: transport congestion or obesity? Are the British becoming a nation of fat, lazy people? If you agree with that, and many would not, we are lagging far behind the Americans on that score. Walking to the shops is good; it’s a healthy thing to do. It’s an economically healthy thing to do as well. Local shops sustain communities. Someone commented recently that ‘The corner shop has been replaced by the out of town hypermarket and a car became necessary to shop there.’ Prices are higher in local shops than in supermarkets. I know that; I have to take the bus into town to buy food because my local branch (of the same supermarket) charges more for the same products than does its city centre,  bigger branch of the same supermarket chain. Incidentally, I do not pay to use buses; I have a pass that gives me free travel so I do not have to factor in the cost of the bus fare (it would still save money to shop in town even if I did need to pay to get there.)

We all need to get around; whether this is for work, education, shopping, entertainment or visiting people, our choices of how to travel are based on time, money and convenience. Do town planners really see in that way?

What about trams?

In 2015 our local newspaper ran a story about trams. ‘The Big Question: Should Leicester have a tram system?’ reported on a design for a tram network for Leicester. Not the first time this idea has surfaced. As the article pointed out, Leicester had a tram network that closed in 1949. But then there are trams and trams. Today’s trams, like the ones that run in Nottingham, provide clean, comfortable, convenient transport. Great if your destination is near to a tram stop. A poll on the page of the same article indicated that 75% of those who voted said ‘yes’ to having a tram system. The article did not review the case in favour of trams – it just reported that a route map has been designed. Not that anyone was actually planning to start a tram network; it was all hypothetical. The response of the Leicester Mayor – Peter Soulsby – seemed to pour cold water in the idea. The bus service is Leicester is generally quite good; it depends on routes and what time you want to travel but by and large buses run almost everywhere and bus lanes play their part in keeping them moving. They do however burn diesel. That is not good. They can be expensive, in pence per mile compared to alternative forms of transport. Leicester does not suffer from the kind of inner city traffic congestion that we see in many other English cities. I can’t say how they achieve this but we do not see traffic jams much even during peak hours. There are some technical issues with fixed-line transport. Bus lanes and cycle lanes might well have something to do with the difficulty of trying to create the tracks for trams on roads that have for decades been designed for cars. Leicester’s arterial roads tend to be narrower than their equivalents in other cities. This might have something to do with the fact that traffic moves more freely. Single or two lane motorways might allow traffic to move more quickly than three or four lane motorways. It’s a strange thing about road traffic – it does not always work the way you think it would or should.

Centres and suburbs

Leicester is one of the country’s free-standing cities; as the capital of the county of Leicestershire, it is surrounded on all sides by green fields. Not even Nottingham can boast of that. Leicester is a city that sits inside a catchment area of about two million people. That is a statistic of immense importance to the economy of our city. As a key economic and social area within the East Midlands, Leicester depends on the transport infrastructure for the easy movement of people. Our city has various outlying estates and suburbs that house the majority of the resident population. People need access to the city for jobs, entertainment, sport, shopping and culture. They not only have to be able to get into the city but they have to be able to get home again after their visit. As someone who is dependent on buses, I am painfully aware of the importance of a good bus service to the prosperity of the city. With our ageing population, people are increasingly dependent on bus and train services. It’s not just the cost per mile of transport, it is also about the availability of the public transport services. The population of the UK is growing and the older segment of it is increasing, a fact that has important implications for local transport policies and provisions.

One area that has come in for much comment and debate in recent times is the availability of late night buses and trains. Like a lot of cites, Leicester depends on its night-time economy. As a city we have a very vibrant and pluralistic night-time offering, including music, entertainment, sport and culture.

The transport systems do not serve that economy well. As any bus user in this city will tell you, it is easy enough to get into the city during the day but getting home after a show or a festival or a gig is fraught with problems. Buses to outlying suburbs, villages and neighbourhoods often stop at ridiculously early times, making it impossible, for some people, to get into the city and back again. It is one thing to have a catchment area of two million people, it is quite another to make it possible for the majority of that population to make use of Leicester as a destination for entertainment or even for jobs.

Jobs and cars

As the pattern of employment changes, more and more people are becoming dependent on public transport to access employment. The jobs market is offering work but more and more of it is shift work, with the higher-paid jobs being in the evening and overnight. More will need to work beyond the current retirement age and this will increase demand for social transport. Older people may well find it increasingly difficult to run private cars and will become dependent on public transport. The rate of car ownership has been increasing with more families owning more than one car; this has been fuelled by the growth in employment for women and the need to have two cars to be able to cope with both journeys to work and to school.

Congestion is a disease

Trams might well prove to me a positive innovation for Leicester but I doubt we will see them again in my generation’s time. Meanwhile, we have to wrestle with the problem of increasing traffic on the roads for people trying to get into Leicester and those trying to get from it to other parts of the country. Road traffic in England is increasing; it has been going up over the past four years. This, according to the Government, reflects growth in the UK economy and possibly lower fuel prices. Car traffic has been going up. Light goods vehicle traffic has also been increasing; probably, I would guess, due to the increasing use of online purchasing and its consequential need for road delivery.

Over the last twenty years traffic has increased by 17/19% for all vehicle types and for cars has gone up by 12.6% and 70% for light goods vehicles, according to the Government website. Meanwhile, the use of bus services has been going down in the long trend; passenger kilometres have declined by 0.6% since it peaked in 2007. By comparison passenger journeys on light rail systems, such as trams, has reached its higher ever recorded level. The use of buses and coaches has been going down since 2010. In the same time period, the use of cars and taxis has varied by has begun to increase dramatically in recent years.

Living near transport

Access to public transport also affects housing; with the policy of demanding more and more housing in the green belt, provision of adequate transport is of considerable importance. Building housing in the green belt places more pressure on private transport if the provision of buses, trams and commuter trains is not planned to increase. Building houses and flats away from the main employment destinations, inhibits the ability of residents to either walk or cycle to work.

Where city centres have concentrations of work opportunities – particular in retail and hospitality – it make more sense to develop urban accommodation than to hope that people will be able to access affordable housing in the out-lying areas and be still able to get into the city centres to find work.

It is easy for planners and policy-makers to assume that everyone drives their own car and that public transport is just for the poor and disadvantaged. That is a widely held myth, in my experience. Policy-makers want to see a shift away from the car to other forms of transport such as walking and cycling, for environmental reasons. Leicester has pockets of poverty and one that is bound to ensure that they remain is transport poverty.

Transporting the public

Over the next decade and beyond, more people will become dependent on public transport. It is no use providing affordable housing if we fail to provide affordable transport to go with it. Car ownership is not only about being able to afford to buy and car and run it. The cost of owning a house often forces people to stop having their own transport. More and more younger aged people are continuing to live with their parents because it takes them so long to save enough money to afford the deposit for a mortgage. What limit’s their ability to save is owning a car and the costs of having to pay for a car in order to get to work or indeed to get out to do the shopping. So many supermarkets (where the best prices can be had) are situated where only car owners can get to them. Having a transport policy that meets the real needs of urban and outer-urban dwellers must be a key issue for governmental policy-makers and planners. Public transportation needs to address both the availability of buses, trams and taxis and also the fares that are charged. Short distance fares are often more expensive that long-distance ones even where flat-fare tickets are available. One reason why transport issues concerns me is the close connection between the importance of the late-night economy and the availability of transport. The strategy for developing buses services cannot pivot solely on the need for night-time travel but putting this specific issue in a broader context is, in my view, essential.

Planning Leicester

Much of what Leicester is grappling with at present, when it comes to planning and transport policies, is to do with the city centre and, to some extent, the balance of outer-urban and inner-city economics. Our city centre is fairly busy and has managed to avoid some of the problems seen in comparable cities with businesses closing down and high streets shop voids. The shopping area of our city centre is fairly small and compact; it is especially good for pedestrians with its traffic free streets. The distribution of car parking in the centre is probably fairly good – but I am not the best person to know about that because, as I say, I do not drive. If shopping in Leicester’s centre lacks anything it is variety; it is less than good when it comes to the mix of shops and range of goods that are available. Many shoppers, who are looking for something out of the ordinary, travel to other town, such as Nottingham, because they can not find what they are looking for in Leicester. The mix of retail outlets on High Streets is dwindling across the whole country. That goes some way to explaining why so many people are taking to on-line shopping to secure the items they want – small, specialist shops are just not available locally.

Homelessness

10th October 2016

Homelessness

We all need a place to call home

see below for updates

As series of shows under the moniker Musician Against Homelessness is making me think.

Making me think about what homelessness is. To my way of thinking it is just that: being without a home. Earlier this year I wrote extensively about housing, particularly about housing policy in my book Housing: Approaches to Policy. I also wrote a piece called What is a home? It is that aspect of the topic on which I want now to focus.

Tens of thousands of people are homeless in today’s Britain; and of course in the rest of the world as millions of migrants leave their homes fired by the hope of finding a new place to live in peace and perhaps also prosperity or at least well-being.

A home is a place that provides safety and security. Homes provide the substance of everyday living but above all they should give people a place that is safe, a place in which they can feel secure. Sadly our country neglects that aspect and provides only accommodation for millions of people who are forced to rent because they cannot afford to buy.

Safety and security are essential to an ordered and settled way of life; they are not secondary consequences of having a place in which to live; they are the bedrock of human existence. If accommodation is not safe and if it is not secure then it is not a home. It is simply temporary accommodation and that is what millions of our citizens are forced to accept because the Government has failed them. The UK government has failed to understand that housing is an a state of crisis – a crisis created by government and one which it shows no signs of being able to deal with.

Owning a home – usually the most secure form of living – is now a privilege of the few rather than a right of the many. More and more people in Britain are renting because they cannot get on to the property ladder. This is not good for our society; it is not good because the government has set the rules to favour landlords and has provided inadequate security of tenure for tenants. I won’t reiterate what I have already said about the government failure to create a satisfactory policy on housing.

What I do want to focus on is why having a home is so important to the lives of everyone. A home is what provides us with safety and security; it also provides us with the basic amenities of living – a place to cook food, somewhere to sleep undisturbed, a space in which parents can bring up children; a space in which people can keep their treasured possessions – the things that matter to them; a place that provides comforts that aid rest; a place in which to carry out the daily routines of human life. For some, it is also their place of work. A home is where people can entertain their friends and family; a place where some keep can keep their pets; listen to music; read books; pursue an education; enjoy entertainment… a home is essential to living a civilised life.

Why then is it that the Government treats rented accommodation with such scant regard? It is just because so few politicians live in rented property? Can they really be so unaware of how important rented tenancies are when so many thousands of their constituents must pay rent and bring to them a constant flow of problems arising from the problems they inevitably have with their landlords? Is it because politicians have an ideological obsession with council housing? Is it because politicians have had the concept of new build housing drilled into them as being the right solution to the housing crisis?

Yes all of these things are true. Too often politicians tend to base their policy beliefs on their own personal experiences and if that does not included renting in the private sector then they are only aware of it through what they find in their surgeries. That is not however what being a professional politician is about. Is it not the right to represent people.

The scale of homelessness in Britain has been underestimated because it has not been correctly defined it in the first place. Homelessness is not just having no where to live; it is also about not having the right standard and quality of housing. Hundreds of thousands of people are living in accommodation that does not provide them with a home – either because it is not safe, not secure, lacks basic amenities of living, is available to them only for a limited period of time; is unhealthy; fails to meet their needs where they are old or disabled; provides insufficient space to people who have children; is in a locality or neighbourhood which is not right for them; is not under their personal control because they have to share it other people (often their parents) owing to lack of opportunity to find somewhere better. A home is a space in which its occupants should be able to organise to their own requirements for living (within certain limits.) There are a lot of cultural differences in home-making but the principles are always the same. Most people live in family groups but there are special circumstances where people live alone, for what ever reason – whether through choice or through personal situations. I have already written about the substance of what a home is and should be. in my article What is a home.

In my previous article I touched on choice – asking ‘can we choose where to live?’ Choice of home depends on financial status and income to a large extent. It also depends on government policy and the extent to which law and practice allow choices to be made or not. The way government controls housing – if in fact it does – will either encourage choice or restrict it. It is the way that national and local governments implement their policies on housing that will enable people to have a choice or deny them opportunities. The poorer you are the less choice you have – both in housing and in most other areas of existence. That is due largely to the market; a market that the government is unwilling to regulate.

If we want to have a home that is suited to our circumstances; a home that provides us with the essential elements described above, particularly safety and security, then we must have choice; we cannot find the home that we want, the home that suits us, if our ability to choose is limited, if opportunities are denied that should be allowed. It takes government policy to expand and protect choice.

Housing policy in this country is in a state of crisis; successive governments have failed to make policies at both national and local levels – that can impact the current quantity, supply, quality and distribution of housing; homelessness is increasing; access to the right kinds of housing is diminishing; affordability of housing options is not increasing.

If the authorities that control the housing market in this country are to make any real impact on this crisis they must begin to work on the real world; the world in people actually live; disengage themselves from their own personal circumstances and work with the statistics that are in plentiful supply. They – the various levels of government that make policy and control its implementation – must grasp what it means to have a home and what a home is for the millions of their constituents and voters who are in need of one. They must have a clear sense of what a home is and what it means to have one.

What does the world say about homelessnesses?

Having written the above, I searched on the Internet for articles about ‘homelessness’.

I looked at the website of Shelter, the organisation that provides help, advice and support to people who are homeless. On a page headed ‘What is homelessness’, I read that

You may be homeless if you live in unsuitable housing, don’t have rights to stay where you are or you’re sleeping rough.

The page went on to advise:

Even if you have a roof over your head you can still be homeless, if you don’t have any rights to stay where you live or your home is unsuitable due to severe overcrowding or other reasons.
You might be entitled to help as a homeless person if you are temporarily staying with friends or family or staying in a hostel or night shelter. Even if you have a home, you could be considered homeless if you live in very overcrowded conditions or in poor conditions that affect your health, or you’re at risk of violence or abuse in your home.

As Shelter points out, people become homeless for a variety of reasons; they refer to young people leaving care, offenders leaving prison, women who are expecting a baby, those seeking asylum or who are refugees.

They are include people who are claiming benefits or living in a low income. I would say that having to depend on benefits and having an income that is lower than the average does not of itself create homelessness though of course is if frequently a contributory factor for many people. Having insufficient income to pay for the housing you are currently in, leads to eviction if rental payments are in arrears or, as I discovered recently, if the landlord decides to sell the property or increase the rent to an unaffordable level. Homelessness spirals out of control where governments fail to protect tenants and do not want to make public expenditure available to intervene in the housing market. Doing so has many unintended consequences – the cost of helping people faced with homelessness increases; housing benefit payments go up; dealing with other problems such as criminality, drug addiction and mental health leads to increased public spending which could have been avoided in the first place. Not spending sufficient money on affordable and suitable housing is a false economy and leads to increasing demand for public services.

As the Shelter website points out, you don’t have to be sleeping on the streets to be considered homeless. There situations in which people are homeless even thought they have somewhere to sleep but where that accommodation is inadequate, temporary, unsafe and in fact there are many complicated situations in which people find themselves that may lead local authorities to regarding you as being homeless or about to made homeless. A lot of this is however discretionary; it is up to the processes adopted by a council to decide whether a person is homeless and, if they are, whether they can be helped.

Practice varies widely throughout the country and national government largely leaves it up to the local authorities to make their own arrangements and set their own levels of provision for people who apply to them for housing or housing advice. In many ways that is best; local people know their own area and what is feasible and the conditions of housing supply that exist in their local area.

The problem that we have is that central government create the problem and then expects local government to provide the solutions. Without providing the resources to do the job properly.

Some of the documents I found in my search drew attention to work, to jobs, to enable people to have the money to meet their housing needs. Well, that would seem fairly obvious. When I looked at this issue I brought in transportation; in fact I argued that three things are inseparably linked: employment, transport and housing. They are all linked together and intertwined to the extent that it is impossible to make improvements in one without making connected improvements in the other two. That is true, in my view for the majority of people. For others there are added issues to do with mental health, disability, discrimination, domestic violence, vulnerability, age, literacy, many challenges and needs that are not being met that make their situation more difficult to copy with.

The statistics about housing and homeless in the UK are stark and are getting worse. Despite the blandishments of senior politicians, the government is not moving in the right direction. We see this right across the party political landscape. Politicians might say the right things but the problem is they do not do the right things; and as long as this continues our country will continue to suffer the consequences of the housing crisis.

updates

A news item on the BBC website reported on a statement released by the charity Shelter; among other things the item said:

More than four in 10 homes in Britain do not reach acceptable standards in areas such as cleanliness, safety and space, housing charity Shelter says.

Each of the five elements in the standard is measured according to certain criteria – for example, the essentials of “space” include having sufficient bedrooms for the household and space for the whole household to spend time together in the same room.
Other aspects included having outdoor space, and enough space for children to study and adults to work.

The five elements

Affordability: Factors cited included how much was left for essentials, savings and social activities after paying for rent or mortgage
Decent conditions: Words like “safe”, “warm” and “secure” were among the words used by the public to describe what makes a home meet this criterion
Space: Adequate space was felt to be crucial for wellbeing, especially mental and social wellbeing
Stability: Stability was often described as the extent to which people felt they could make the property they lived in a “home”
Neighbourhood: Living in an area where people felt safe and secure was considered particularly important. People also wanted to be close enough to work, family and friends and the services they need

Nearly one in five, or 18%, of homes failed the criteria for decent conditions, with renters twice as likely as homeowners to live in places which fail on this element of the standard.

On stability, one in four private renters felt they did not have enough control over how long they could stay in their home.
Shelter has called for stable rental contracts that last for five years and protect tenants against unaffordable rent increases.

[Source: BBC]