16 September 2010
Nottingham has been named as England's least car-dependent city in a survey that exposes inconsistent planning across the country with one of the nation's newest conurbations, Milton Keynes, labelled the worst for cyclists and bus users.
Award-winning bus services, a European-style embrace of the tram and a bias against out-of-town shopping centres were cited as powerful incentives for residents of Nottingham to leave their cars at home, according to a report by the Campaign for Better Transport. By contrast, Milton Keynes, trumpeted as the epitome of modern urban dwelling in the 1980s, is criticised for a reliance on the motor vehicle to get people from A to B.
Nottingham's investment in 30 miles of cycle tracks, a nine-mile tram network and 230,000 miles of bus journeys per week made it the top ranking city overall. "It ranked highly for factors such as bus patronage, satisfaction with bus services and low car use for the school run. As well as having an efficient bus service, the new expanding tram system is now used by 10 million passengers a year," said CBT.
The green lobbying group judged 19 English cities by three criteria: accessibility and planning; quality and uptake of public transport; walking and cycling.
Nottingham's Labour-dominated city council has thrown resources at transport over the past decade, with its bus services winning national bus operator of the year twice since 1999.
Its innovative ethos has drawn criticism from local businesses who have complained about plans to introduce a workplace parking levy that will charge companies £300 per year to park a car outside a company office - with the proceeds reinvested in public transport. Another award-winner in Nottingham is the city councillor in charge of transport, Jane Urquhart, who was rewarded for her contribution to local transport in the National Transport Awards this year. Urquhart said the key to Nottingham's success was offering motorists an alternative rather than haranguing them out of their cars.
Four out of 10 journeys in and out of central Nottingham were made by car at the beginning of the decade but the opening of a tram service and increased investment in buses has tipped the balance in favour of public transport, according to Urquhart.
"People in Nottingham have a real choice about whether or not they need a car for their journey, because they have an excellent alternative," she said.
Nottingham topped the survey ahead of London despite a multi-billion pound taxpayer investment in the capital's tube and bus services that is the envy of sister cities across the UK. Brighton came third, reflecting its much-admired bus network, its umbilical rail links with London and a size perfectly pitched for commuting cyclists and walkers. Manchester won fourth place despite tarnishing its progressive transport credentials two years ago by rejecting a congestion charge scheme.
The attributes that make Nottingham one of the greenest transport cities in the UK were found lacking in Luton, Peterborough and Milton Keynes. In an indictment of the planners tasked with turning Milton Keynes into a new town in the 1960s, CBT said the area was built with one mode of transport in mind.
"Milton Keynes was designed for the car. Those with cars can get to work in under 10 minutes, but those without a car struggle to get around." CBT added: "Travelling by public transport is a poor alternative." Peterborough is commended for improving its public transport in recent years, but CBT adds that the Cambridgeshire city is building on a "very low starting point." The presence of the M1 has contributed to traffic problems in densely-built Luton, according to the report.
Milton Keynes council said transport links were improving, including 270km of cycling and walking routes as well as 8.2m bus journeys per year.
CBT said the survey was a warning to the government that cutting regional transport spending - £309m has already been slashed from local budgets by the Department for Transport this year - would be a further blow to the unemployed, who may not own a car or be able to afford the cost of driving to work or job interviews.
A further £1.6bn of local transport schemes are on hold as the DfT awaits the outcome of next month's comprehensive spending review. Stephen Joseph, CBT's executive director, said the survey was a warning to Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, whose department is responsible for planning. "If you make it impossible for people to get to places without using cars, it will make it more difficult for people to get out of welfare and into work. This report is as much a message for Eric Pickles as it is for Philip Hammond [secretary of state for transport]," said Joseph.
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