Local Plan 2040 – Our response

Infographic: 37% households do not own a car. 3,850m of cycle track created since March 2020. 104.2 million public transport journeys in 2021-22. Cars produce 20% of CO2 emissions.

Infographic from Newcastle City Council’s consultation website

Newcastle City Council recently consulted on the replacement to the current “Local Plan”. This is SPACE for Gosforth’s response. You can find out more about the consultation and questions asked in our previous blog Local Plan 2040.

Re: Newcastle Local Plan Early Engagement

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed Newcastle upon Tyne Local Plan.

We are a community group based in Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne. SPACE stands for Safe Pedestrian and Cycling Environment. Our group was established in 2015 due to residents’ concerns about road danger and air pollution in our local neighbourhood. You can find our group objectives on our website www.spaceforgosforth.com/about.

While transport is only part of what is needed to achieve the city’s ambitions, it is fundamental to how the city uses its public spaces, and critical to whether the city will achieve its ambitions or not.

We support the Council’s intention that “At the core of the Newcastle Plan there needs to be a strong emphasis on placemaking, health and wellbeing, and sustainable living which will help us reach Net Zero” and agree that “these are critical to Newcastle’s strength as a place, to the city’s ability to adapt to the climate crisis and to improve the lives of residents.”

Walking, wheeling and cycling improve health and wellbeing, improve sustainability and support good quality placemaking.

This was recognised in the Development and Allocations Plan which said, “Improving accessibility for walking and cycling has multiple benefits, including the creation of safer, more attractive places, improved physical and mental health and reduced carbon emissions and climate change impacts from transport.” This new Local Plan should build on this with an even stronger focus on walking and cycling and sustainable travel.

By 2030, the city should already be well on the way to achieving Net Zero, including for transport. The future Local Plan should therefore ensure further development will be consistent with this, minimising additional emissions from development, ensuring new homes are carbon neutral and ensuring new developments prioritise walking and cycling.

Walking and cycling support all the Local Plan’s nine ambitions as follows.

1. Healthier City

  • The benefits of exercise to physical and mental health are well-known. Good quality walking and cycling infrastructure allows people to build exercise into their normal daily activities, saving money and benefiting the environment at the same time.
  • Access to low-cost transport like walking and cycling makes it easier to access local services and facilities.
  • Reducing traffic makes places more sociable by reducing severance; and reduces air and noise pollution that adversely affect health.

2. Greener City

  • Reducing traffic is essential as part of achieving Net Zero. Even with an ambitious transition to EVs, a cut of approximately 20% of total miles driven will be required to meet carbon budgets targeting Net Zero by 2050. A greater reduction will be required in Newcastle because of its 2030 target and because urban areas are better suited for alternatives to car travel than rural areas.
  • Walking and cycling, as well as being carbon neutral, take up less space. That freed-up space can be used for green infrastructure like sustainable urban drainage or street trees.

3. Attractive Neighbourhoods

  • Street layouts should make walking and cycling the natural choice for local journeys in line with Government ambition. That means safe, direct, connected routes between homes and local services.
  • Reducing traffic will address severance issues that prevent people from accessing local shops and services.
  • Research has shown people walking or cycling spend more money locally, protecting local services and making neighbourhoods more attractive.
  • Road layouts at district centres like Gosforth High Street need to fully prioritise walking and cycling to maximise access to shops and services for the local community in the catchment of the centre.

4. Employment Opportunities

  • Good quality walking and cycling infrastructure enables better access to local employment opportunities, especially for those on a low income who cannot afford a car or taxis.
  • Quality and accessibility of the street environment is a potential competitive advantage that will attract more employers to the city. Currently Newcastle is getting left behind as other cities invest in removing traffic from city centres and residential areas.
  • Good quality walking and cycling infrastructure is also helpful for students who typically will not have access to a car, and makes Newcastle an attractive place to live for people who are able to work from home.
  • Premium land currently used for roads or parking could be utilised in more economically beneficial ways.

5. Moving Around

  • The Local Plan must ensure “new development promotes sustainable transport choices, patterns of travel, minimises the need for private car use and plan for new transport infrastructure to meet needs.” It needs to be a comprehensive plan though, not just a set of unconnected islands of development without the ability to travel sustainably between them.
  • The Local Plan aim is to optimise the use of available space in the city to meet the overall aims. Walking and cycling support all the plan objectives, are low-cost, low-carbon, healthy, and use the least space per user compared to most other modes of transport.
  • A network of safe, accessible, all age and ability walking and routes will be fundamental to achieving the Local Plan’s objectives. Ideally this should be in place even before the Local Plan comes into effect.
  • The Local Plan needs to anticipate and prepare for an increase in electric-powered micro-mobility like eScooters and cargo-bike logistics.

6. Leisure, Culture, and Tourism

  • Walking and cycling can be leisure activities as well as transport, with a significant amount of tourist spend relating to these activities.
  • The nationally recognised C2C cycle route passes through Newcastle.
  • Newcastle is ideally placed to attract visitors wanting outdoor activities given its proximity to the coast and open spaces in Northumberland, as well as more local attractions like the Town Moor and Jesmond Dene.
  • Good placemaking, underpinned with high quality walking and cycling links, will also make the city more attractive for visitors.

7. Homes and Communities

  • Low-car neighbourhoods can be denser, making it easier to provide better local services and an improved environment. See for example the ‘Merwedekanaal’ proposal from Utrecht.
  • Good quality safe walking and cycling routes that children can use to travel independently will also make the city more attractive to families and would help reverse the trend for families to move out of Newcastle.
  • Walking and cycling allow residents to benefit from “incidental sociability” improving the social fabric of communities.

8. Attractive and Safe Places

  • Walking and cycling contribute to many of the ten characteristics of a well-designed place referenced in the consultation, including: efficient, healthy and sustainable, safe, social and inclusive, accessible and easy to move around.
  • Road safety is a key factor in whether a place feels safe or not. Engineering measures can cut traffic levels and dangerous driving behaviours.
  • Research has shown that Low Traffic Neighbourhoods also reduce non-traffic related crimes.

9. Protected Natural Environment

  • Transport is a major cause of environmental degradation from air and noise pollution, carbon emissions, roadkill, and microplastics from tyres that are washed via the drains into local rivers.
  • Enabling more people to walk and cycle more often through the creation of a network of safe all age and ability routes would substantially reduce the impact of transport on the local environment.

All this needs to be backed with a plan with SMART objectives, funding identified and an approach to build community support to achieve rapid change. It should not be passive shelf-ware only ever referred to as the starting point in a negotiation with developers.

These objectives should include:

  • Pavements and crossings designed to a high standard to ensure they are accessible.
  • Creation of a high-quality cycling network suitable for all ages and abilities that connects homes to local destinations and meets national standards.
  • Traffic to be routed via the main road network, with local streets used solely for access.
  • Targets for street trees and planting.
  • Limits on sources of pollution and nuisance from traffic to ensure any new development doesn’t just minimise its impact but improves the situation compared to if that development didn’t happen.
  • Targets for what services are available in a local area, ensuring that children will be offered a place at a school within walking distance and that services will be available when people move in.
  • High quality standards for all the above that a development must achieve if it is to be approved. This should include a developer contribution to cover the cost of high-quality walking and cycling routes between the development and local services if not provided on site.

The Core Strategy and Urban Core Plan for Gateshead and Newcastle upon Tyne adopted in 2015, included many similar ambitions for sustainable travel, yet ten years on Newcastle is still dominated by vehicle traffic. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested in transport in the city, but most of this has been focused on the Western bypass with the effect of increasing traffic, counter to all sustainability objectives, and Newcastle Airport (the least sustainable mode of transport) continues to boast of increased passenger numbers.

Meanwhile, plans to enable more walking and cycling proceed at a glacial pace, if at all. Our local High Street in Gosforth still doesn’t achieve basic safety guidelines despite a full Council vote to this effect and Policy DM10 stating development should “Provide safe, convenient, attractive and continuous pedestrian and cycle links to key local facilities and services.” If the Council won’t stick to its own policy, why should it expect developers to do so?

So, while we support the ambitions, we remain sceptical that the new Local Plan will make much difference. As we said in our response to the Development and Allocations Plan “The Local Plan should not be limited to addressing issues though. It needs to show a city willing to compete internationally, to draw best practice from across the world, from Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Paris, Seville, London and New York, and our twin city Groningen, all of which are investing in the public realm, prioritising sustainable and active travel and investing in (and competing with each other on) liveability and accessibility. If Newcastle is to compete in this arena it needs a strong vision backed by robust policy to deliver that vision.”

We would also like to draw your attention to the following City Council Motions and ask that the draft version of the Local Plan be prepared to be consistent with these.

  • Climate Emergency – City Council 3 April 2019
  • Greater Focus on Cycling – City Council 2 October 2019
  • School No Idling Zones – City Council 5 February 2020
  • Use of E-Cargo Bikes – City Council 6 October 2021
  • Investment in Roads and Pavements – City Council 12 January 2022
  • Promoting Active Travel All Year Round – City Council 12 January 2022
  • Gosforth High Street – City Council 2 November 2022
  • Pavement Parking – City Council 1 November 2023

Further evidence, e.g. links to research, can be provided on request.

Yours faithfully,

SPACE for Gosforth.