Call for tougher action to cut urban sprawl

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The Independent Online
NICHOLAS SCHOON

Environment Correspondent

Britain's cities and towns will become increasingly sprawling and suburban in character, in spite of recent government policies intended to safeguard remaining countryside from development, two researchers warned yesterday at the Royal Geographical Society's annual conference in Glasgow.

The environmentalists' and the Government's shared desire to have compact high-density cities - more European than American in character - with highly efficient, well-used public transport systems squeezing out the private car, would not be realised without far tougher policies, Michael Breheny, a town planner, and Ian Gordon, a geographer, both of Reading University, said.

The move out of town that has already taken place, growing reliance on the private car and people's demand for more personal space as they became more affluent were all spreading Britain's urban areas more thinly, they said.

John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, has said he wants to halt the spread of out-of-town shopping centres. Last year the Government produced planning guidance for local councils which asks them to refuse permission for large new commercial and leisure developments which can only be reached by private car.

His overall aim is to plan towns which cut the need to travel by private car to work, shop and play, thereby controlling pollution and congestion.

At the same time, the Government is wrestling with the problem of where to house more than 3 million new households expected to form between now and 2011. In last year's housing White Paper, the Government said that by 2005 half of all new homes should be built on reused land. "All these policies are well-meaning, even radical," Professor Breheny said. "But they will make little difference without deterring private car use more directly."

The researchers say there is a strong case for building new houses on derelict sites. For these tend to be in the big conurbations which are often suffering population decline and where the social infrastructure of schools, shops and hospitals already exists. But the demand for new homes is often low in these areas.

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