TRANSPORT | Infrastructure

10.1 INTRODUCTION

10.1.1  The NPPF requires development plan makers to consider transport infrastructure:

NPPF Paragraph 102. “Transport issues should be considered from the earliest stages of plan-making and development proposals, so that:

a) the potential impacts of development on transport networks can be addressed;

b) opportunities from existing or proposed transport infrastructure, and changing transport technology and usage, are realised – for example in relation to the scale, location or density of development that can be accommodated;

c) opportunities to promote walking, cycling and public transport use are identified and pursued;

d) the environmental impacts of traffic and transport infrastructure can be identified, assessed and taken into account – including appropriate opportunities for avoiding and mitigating any adverse effects, and for net environmental gains; and

e) patterns of movement, streets, parking and other transport considerations are integral to the design of schemes, and contribute to making high quality places.”

 

NPPF Paragraph 103: “The planning system should actively manage patterns of growth in support of these objectives. Significant development should be focused on locations which are or can be made sustainable, through limiting the need to travel and offering a genuine choice of transport modes. This can help to reduce congestion and emissions, and improve air quality and public health. However, opportunities to maximise sustainable transport solutions will vary between urban and rural areas, and this should be taken into account in both plan-making and decision-making.”

 

10.1.2  Traffic congestion in Saffron Walden is of great concern, particularly in relation to transport in the east of the town, as businesses find it less appealing to use sites in the east because access is difficult. Employment sites in the east of the town are important for the economy and surrounding congestion must not become a factor which causes their loss.

10.1.3  The high level of congestion has meant that the key junctions in the centre of the town operate over capacity and as a result much of Saffron Walden is designated as an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) [1]. The District Council has a statutory obligation to monitor the air quality, to seek ways to improve the air quality, and to report to DEFRA on progress.


[1] Appendix 2 provides further information on the AQMA.

Map showing the AQMA, which corresponds with the busiest streets for traffic as illustrated above.

10.1.4  In practice, the ambitions of planners to plan positively to reduce traffic congestion and to improve air quality in Saffron Walden are limited by the following cascade of constraints:

  • Public transport networks are relatively poor, reflecting its position in a rural area. County Council funding for public transport is under pressure, and spending is forecast to reduce rather than to increase;
  • As a consequence of limited public transport availability, it is very difficult to manage day to day living without the means of private transport. Therefore, car ownership and use in Saffron Walden is relatively high compared to the national average (83% of households have access to a vehicle, compared to 75% in England as a whole).
  • In parallel to the above, the imbalance between the cost of housing in the town and the average wages paid in Saffron Walden mean that high volumes of residents commute out each day to achieve the salaries necessary to afford housing in Saffron Walden. Meanwhile many people who work in Saffron Walden cannot afford to live in Saffron Walden so commute in from elsewhere each day. Inevitably almost all of these people travel by private car.
  • The key destinations of Cambridge, Harlow, the M11 (for London) and Audley End Station can only be accessed from the North, West and South of the town whilst the greatest portion of the town, and the area which has seen almost all of the recent development, is towards the east.
  • The streets through which most traffic must filter when travelling in or out of the town are simply the original medieval cart tracks, paved over. They go through the historic core of the town and are narrow, leaving little room for pavements. Cars jostle for space and lorries physically block the streets, and regularly strike the listed buildings. The streets are unsuitable for modern-day levels of traffic.
  • Finally, various transport assessments have been carried out by Essex Highways (the most recent and fully comprehensive being the Uttlesford Local Plan Highway Impact Assessment October 2013, and subsequent reviews and updates). Each one has failed to find a solution, with the conclusion of each being that the medieval layout of the town, with all routes eventually directing traffic through the AQMA, makes it impossible to resolve the air quality simply by re-routing, and/or speeding up the traffic. The Impact Assessment conclusions note: “The analysis suggests that if all the [proposed] measures were implemented, some of the key junctions in the Saffron Walden road network would be likely to accommodate the additional traffic resulting from the ULP [Uttlesford Local Plan] developments. However, three junctions in the town would continue to operate over capacity, and it has not been possible to identify further enhancements due to highway land constraints. These are: High St/George St; High St/Church St; Mount Pleasant Rd/Debden Rd”.

10.1.5  The images below illustrate these constraints:

Map highlighting the main through roads through the town (the High Street) and the small side streets by which vehicles of all sizes access the east of the town. Note that the grey shaded areas show sites either developed but not mapped, or with consented development not yet built. The numbers 1-4 reference the streets through which most traffic travelling to or from key destinations must pass.

Photographs of the roads marked 1-4 on previous map.

1.  Castle St – has parking on the right and single file / one-way traffic on the left with narrow pavements

2. Church St/High St – is single lane but widens to two lanes at the junction. However, the junction is narrow so it is difficult for two larger sized cars (or a car plus a van) to exit at the end simultaneously. The pavements are narrow.

3.  George St/High St has space for single file / one-way traffic and very narrow pavements. Whilst the space accommodates cars, lorries must cross the kerb and they regularly strike the buildings either side of the junction as they turn.

4.  Audley Road is single lane and one way but widens to two lanes at the end

Map showing the location of the listed buildings, which are predominantly in the busiest streets for traffic.

OS PSMA LICENSE NUMBER: 0100057521

10.1.6  The ECC Saffron Walden Traffic Study Update of May 2017 shows that committed development and allocated sites will leave the core junctions in Saffron Walden over capacity by 2031. The conclusion of the update states: “Following a very simplistic assessment of further major infrastructure and development it is also concluded that, should any further development sites be promoted to the south and east of the town more sophisticated traffic modelling would be required in order to identify the traffic impacts and infrastructure required to mitigate those impacts. This could form part of a Local Plan review of the town, at which time modal shift opportunities would be explored.”. Rather than waiting for a Local Plan review to explore ways of encouraging people to walk or cycle rather than drive, the SWNP makes its own proposals.

10.1.7  The various transport assessments carried out by Essex Highways conclude that encouraging more people to walk or cycle as often as possible for journeys made within the town would be the only way to improve air quality and congestion. The 2013 Impact Assessment says: “In addition to the identified mitigation measures, it is recommended that demand management methods are investigated in order to reduce overall traffic flows in the town. Activities such as travel planning […] would help to improve awareness of alternative travel modes and encourage a shift towards non-car modes of travel and reduce traffic congestion in town”. This is a logical conclusion which would apply to any market town.

10.1.8  As required by DEFRA, the district council has in place an Air Quality Action Plan 2017-2022 (AQAP), with seven measures identified as key to success.

10.1.9  Of the seven measures, three involve encouraging public and private fleet operators to switch to low emission technology. Naturally the SWNP is supportive of these.

10.1.10  One of the measures involves improvements around infrastructure for vehicles:

  • To work with ECC Highways to develop a scheme of measures aimed at improving junction capacity within the AQMA identified to be necessary as part of the emerging Local Plan once adopted.

The SWNP is supportive of this, provided that the improvement to junction capacity does not have unintended consequences, for example: 

  • Any measure which speeds traffic through one junction may lead to more traffic idling at the next junction;
  • Measures which result in increased traffic in the town centre or where there are a substantial number of people or historic buildings;
  • Infrastructure changes which remove parking to speed up traffic can be undesirable because they make walking and cycling feel less safe, ultimately reducing the numbers of pedestrians and cyclists and increasing traffic to fill the space available, at the same time returning congestion and pollution to previous levels; and
  • Changes which create one-way systems can be undesirable because they create longer journeys and thus additional congestion and pollution, as well as adversely affecting sustainable transport uses.


10.1.11  The remaining three measures involve aspirations around sustainable transport. They are:

  • To work with ECC to facilitate the provision of new cycle/pedestrian routes and cycle storage and promote the routes available.
  • To assist ECC in working with local schools and businesses in the review and upgrading, or developing and promotion of travel plans.
  • To encourage ECC to procure bus services with integrated timetables, high quality facilities, and a frequent and reliable service linked to the rail service at Audley End. Information on Public Transport services to be readily available in UDC buildings and via the website. To encourage ECC to set emission standards for new and existing buses.


The SWNP fully supports these aspirations and makes proposals in practical detail which can convert them from aspiration to reality.

10.1.12  The detailed actions of the SWNP on transport are:

IMPROVING SAFETY FOR PEDESTRIANS AND CYCLISTS

1. To campaign for improved pavements and crossings;

2. To campaign for cycling infrastructure;

3. To campaign for all streets to have 20mph speed limits; and

4. To campaign for time limiting restrictions on movements of HGVs through the town.


As a measurable goal, the town should be safe enough for most children in Year 6 (the final year of primary school) and above to walk to school independently. This will reduce the number of cars doing the school run which will significantly cut congestion and pollution in the town. Anything that improves safety for children should improve safety for all.

IMPROVING PROVISION OF PUBLIC TRANSPORT

5. To campaign for improved local and national public transport connections; and

6. To insist on developments (past and present) making best use of contributions towards public transport provision


As a measurable goal, public transport should be better timetabled, more frequent, run later in the evenings and operate seven days a week.

RESTRICTIONS THROUGH THE PLANNING PROCESS

7. To resist further significant development in the east of the town; and

8. To restrict the movement of HGVs through both the historic core and residential outer areas of the town


As a measurable goal, traffic and air quality will not be worse at the end of the SWNP period than at the start, and ideally will be better.


10.1.13  Other aspects of the SWNP also aim to address traffic congestion and associated pollution issues including:  

  • Policies SW4 and SW5, which seek to improve affordability of housing to reduce in-commuting for jobs in town;
  • Policies SW11, SW15, SW16, SW17 and SW18, which seek to encourage the creation of more highly-paid roles in Saffron Walden to reduce out-commuting;
  • Policy SW12, which seeks to encourage convenience stores in neighbourhoods so as to reduce car journeys for small shopping trips; and
  • Policy SW8, which seeks to maximise the number of charging points in the town, to help encourage residents and commuters to switch to electric vehicles. 

POLICIES

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Neighbourhood Plan Objectives

Objective 1

Saffron Walden will be an economically active and self-sustaining town, offering equal opportunities to all.

Objective 2

Saffron Walden’s residents will be able to live as healthily as possible.

Objective 3

Saffron Walden will be an environmentally sustainable town.

Objective 4

Saffron Walden’s heritage assets, high quality landscape and conservation areas will be protected or enhanced.

Objective 5

Saffron Walden will retain its market-town feel and community spirit.