As you know Living Streets Edinburgh Group has longstanding concerns regarding the priority given to walking in the planning process and the provision that is made for walking both in planning policy and in consideration of individual development proposals.
Walking is at the top of the movement hierarchy in Scottish Planning Policy and the National Transport Strategy; in 2020 the Council stated that ‘pedestrians are at the top of the urban transport hierarchy.’ Indeed, the Highway Code has also recently been revised to reflect this position.
CityPlan2030 offers an opportunity to review the position in terms of policy and allocations, but this will mean little in practice without a change in mindset across the authority and amongst developers. COVID-19, COP 26 and the ongoing energy crisis add weight to the case for providing for walking at a level commensurate with its place at the top of the hierarchy.
We will obviously be reflecting this when we respond to the forthcoming consultation on the draft CityPlan2030. In the meantime, we consider that there are steps the Council can take immediately to demonstrate its commitment to its own stated policy position.
When assessing planning applications under current policy there is already considerable scope with reference to documents such as Designing Streets and the Council’s own parking standards to secure, for example, car free developments and layouts focused on pedestrians. Whilst the situation is slowly improving, there is much more that can be done, particularly if it is made clear in pre-application discussions and is then in turn reflected in decisions on applications.
On a more practical note, we are all aware of the limitations of existing pedestrian infrastructure and the pressures put on it, directly and cumulatively, as a result of new development. This can be directly by generating increased pedestrian movements or indirectly from additional vehicle movements which in turn require safer footways, crossings etc for walkers. The Council has limited resources and maintenance/upgrading of pedestrian infrastructure is not a priority, even in the active travel budget.
The Council has Supplementary Guidance on Developer Contributions which currently provides for contributions for road improvements, but hardly at all for pedestrians other than as part of active travel projects. This does not reflect the hierarchy in Scottish Planning Policy or the Council’s own position, so it will need to be updated in tandem with CityPlan2030.
Circular 3/2012 (as amended) gives guidance on developer contributions for, inter alia, community benefits/infrastructure which can presumably include improvements to pedestrian infrastructure so long as the relevant tests are met. This can provide a basis for the Council to develop a structured approach to assessing the requirement for contributions towards pedestrian infrastructure from development proposals. Depending on the type and scale of development this can be a specific contribution for an identified project directly related to the development. In other cases it could be a proportionate financial contribution towards an area based programme justified by cumulative impact of developments.
Contributions for off site pedestrian infrastructure could form part of a Section 75 Planning Obligation along with any other contributions; or an upfront contribution (agreed with the developer) following determination, but before the issue of a decision; or perhaps under other legislation such as the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984. It should be possible for the Council to put together area based programmes setting out actions required by different levels of additional development, identify the costs and set out thresholds for contributions. Once collected they could be ring fenced until sufficient funding is available and then spent within an agreed timescale or else returned.
Living Streets Edinburgh Group is happy to discuss any or all of this further and work with the Council on detailed area programmes as well as advise on improvements that would benefit everyday walking. In the meantime we look forward to your thoughts on our suggestions.