Placemaking and Transport Planning: 21st Century Bedfellows

At a time when 15-minute cities have become pantomime villains and the Prime Minister has declared a fightback against the "war on motorists", how do transport planners square the circle of a lower carbon future with ever-changing policy? Mike Axon, global director of transport at SLR, says that placemaking and transport planning need to be seen as two sides of the same coin, and that active travel still needs to be the cornerstone of any new development.

As the UK attempts to get out of a housing crisis that has been decades in the making, the growing number of new settlements and sustainable urban extensions being built has seen the role of placemaking take on increasing importance.

Traditionally, placemaking hasn't always had a particularly easy relationship with transport planning, but the better the two elements can work together, the better the solutions that can be found. The two key drivers in sustainable placemaking are social inclusion, and sustainability and climate, and both of these are improved significantly by a joined-up transport planning approach.


As transport planners, it is therefore incumbent on us to think about these elements when assessing options on new settlements. While a layperson may think that traffic convenience is the top priority when it comes to transport planning, you'll note that it doesn't really fit into either of those two categories.

This is causing a bit of a paradigm shift in how our role is undertaken. When looking at new settlements or community extensions, the targets set are usually around internalisation - how much of the potential residents' activities can be undertaken within the community itself.

To keep this internalisation number at a high level, the real focus for transport planning sits around two key areas - leisure, and education. The school run is associated with vast amounts of travel, congestion and inconvenience, but if you have schools within the local community, you are already internalising an awful lot of trips.

When it comes to leisure, there is a much broader tolerance for travel, but by designing in a way that brings people together and creates a source of community where people actually know each other, you minimise the number of trips taken for leisure. By looking at these two areas – both of which add significant load to the transport network – and keeping them bound within the community as much as possible, you're already internalising significant amounts of travel.


Travel to and from the workplace is often made out to be the be all and end all when it comes to looking at the transport logistics and infrastructure of a development. However, the reality is that this is only a small proportion of travel, and that's before we take into account the spike in working from home since the pandemic.

The reasons for this are largely historical. Firstly, the data that's been used to inform decisions has typically come from the census, which only ever looks at work travel and not leisure and education. Secondly, common practice has been to look at morning and afternoon peak periods – your traditional "rush hour". This led to a mindset that life must be made as convenient as possible at those times, which ironically caused transport planners the biggest inconvenience.

Fortunately, the balance has tipped towards talking about communities across the entirety of the day. Yes, you may be travelling to work, but how are you living and interacting in the 18 hours a day you're not in the office? On a recent project, we made sure that from the day of first occupation, residents had access to nearby schools – in this case, in an adjacent community – and had a shop on site.

This is not standard practice, as there is limited commercial value for a shop occupier in opening when there are only a handful of people living on a development. However, it is modern placemaking 101 – providing that shop is a statement of intent as to how you mean to go on, and it's about seeing it as infrastructure rather than an amenity that has to have immediate commercial value.


If internalisation can be maximised, this also brings about increased opportunities for active travel – minimising carbon emissions in comparison to normal, historic settlements. Designing sites in a way that brings in concepts such as community hubs is a key part of this puzzle, ticking the boxes for both social inclusion and climate impact.

A central community location can act as a micro-consolidation centre for package deliveries, a mobility hub, a base for a community concierge team – there really are a huge range of benefits. Imagine being able to collect your Amazon parcel, have a cup of coffee with your neighbours that are doing the same thing, and organise a car-share or mini-bus trip into the nearest city to save you taking your own vehicle.

By bringing active travel in with traditional elements of placemaking, you are creating the communities of the future. This is the way developments need to be thought about and planned, and transport planning and placemaking are two sides of that same coin.

For more information, please contact Hannah McManus at Cartwright Communications at [email protected]

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