Move to halt town-centre exodus: Developments must be near public transport. Nicholas Schoon reports

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The government yesterday called a halt to the flight of jobs, homes, shops and leisure facilities from town and city centres brought about by the rapidly rising ownership of cars.

It warned developers that new retail schemes, offices, housing and workplaces must be served by public transport or they will fail to get off the drawing board.

Launching the new planning guidance yesterday, John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, said a halt had to be called in order to safeguard and revitalise town centres. He likened it to 'changing the course of a supertanker'.

People had to be given an alternative to using their car in getting to work, to shops, to schools and back home again. 'You cannot change your lifestyle unless you have the means to do so. We should be building and rebuilding our cities so that individual choice becomes much more possible.'

The Department of Transport, often in conflict with the department of the Environment, supported the document. The Roads minister, Robert Key, said: 'There is not a chink of light between the Secretaries of State for Transport and the Environment when it comes to this guidance.'

The document, Planning Policy Guidance 13, is for local councils drawing up development blueprints and deciding planning applications from developers.

Many applications for large schemes end up being decided by ministers rather than by councils. So the official guidance also tells developers about what type of proposals are likely to succeed. It says:

Developments which are 'major generators of travel demand' - large shops, offices, leisure and education facilities and hospitals - should be built near railway stations or on bus routes.

New housing in villages and small towns should be stopped if it encourages car commuting to larger towns near by. Small new towns in the countryside are to be avoided.

Homes should be built in the hearts of cities and new workplaces put near housing.

Car parking for developments should be curbed 'to discourage reliance on the car for work and other journeys where there are effective alternatives'.

Councils should aim for 'an effective network of cycle routes'.

Mr Gummer said that the many edge-of-town developments already built - 'sheds on the by-pass' in his words - were there to stay. 'It's not going to change that which is already there. Nobody is forcing anybody to stop using those facilities.'

Because the guidance mostly affects new development its impact will be slow and gradual.

But the Government believes that it could slow the growth in road traffic and the consequent air pollution.

(Photograph omitted)