Refuse permission for new homes more than 10 minutes from shops – charity

Sustrans said the planning framework should recommend councils turn down developments that are not close to amenities.

New houses under construction
New houses under construction

New homes should not be built if they are more than 10 minutes’ walk from shops, primary schools and GP surgeries, campaigners have urged.

Charity Sustrans said the Government’s planning framework should recommend councils refuse planning permission for new housing developments that are not in line with efforts to cut carbon emissions, level up communities and improve health.

It is calling for the creation of “20-minute neighbourhoods” which focus on walking, wheeling – for example on mobility scooters – or cycling instead of driving, with key amenities and public transport links within 800 metres or a 20-minute walking round trip of where new homes are built.

They should include facilities such as food shops and pharmacies, primary schools, nurseries, GP surgeries, local jobs and open spaces as wall as walking and cycling infrastructure, low traffic speeds and nearby bus, tram or train stops.

Houses at Eddington Cambridge with provision of walking and cycling infrastructure (Alamy/PA)
Houses in Eddington, Cambridge, have amenities within walking and cycling distance (Alamy/PA)

The charity points to developments such as Eddington, on the outskirts of Cambridge, which has a primary school, nursery, civic centre, supermarket and access to green space all within a short walk of its homes.

On-street parking is minimal and homes do not automatically have parking spaces but there are cycle paths, buses every 20 minutes, and free car club membership for residents.

There is already guidance to encourage planners to ensure that developments are within 800 metres of amenities, but it is not consistently applied or a legal duty, Sustrans warns.

Government advisers the Climate Change Committee have said that meeting targets to cut emissions to zero overall by 2050 – known as net zero – will require up to one third of all car journeys to be replaced by walking, cycling or public transport.

This will have added health benefits by cutting pollution and improving activity levels, reducing costs for the NHS, experts say.

Eddington's primary school with parents and pupils using bikes (photojB/Sustrans/PA)
Eddington’s primary school with parents and pupils using bikes (photojB/Sustrans/PA)

But too many new housing developments are built too far away from existing urban centres at low densities with not enough people to support services within them, and leaving residents reliant on cars or patchy public transport, Sustrans said.

A survey by the charity of local planning authorities in England, outside London, found that, while councils do look at access to services in allocating sites for new housing, there are inconsistencies in which amenities are included and how distances to them are measured.

And it found that nearly two-thirds (64%) of the council planning officers who were surveyed said a lack of robust planning guidance or regulation prevented them ensuring amenities are within walking, wheeling or cycling distance.

Sustrans is calling for changes to the Government’s national planning policy framework (NPPF) in England to put legal duties on councils to reduce emissions, including from transport, to meet the net-zero goal.

It should be clear that planning policies and decisions must deliver healthy and inclusive development, in line with the 20-minute neighbourhood principle, provide walking and cycling facilities, and boost the national cycle network.

Rachel Toms, director of urbanism at Sustrans, said: “The planning system is part of the supply chain of carbon emissions, locking many people into car dependence.

“Currently there is no legal duty for the planning system to deliver on net-zero targets or healthy, inclusive environments.

“For the UK to meet its legally binding net-zero targets – and to improve the health of the nation and level up communities – the planning system has to make it ultra-convenient for people in new developments to walk, wheel, cycle and use public transport.”

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