A review of Active Travel within Bolton’s planning policies.

*** Note: comments, questions or corrections to this document will be most welcome. ***

Introduction

One of the things that has frustrated me over recent years has been the difficulty I’ve had in seeing how we, as constituents, can influence the decisions of our council regarding cycling and walking. Even as a member of Bolton Cycle Forum for many years, I have struggled to see how the things we discussed and decided in that Forum could make an impact, and I have felt that, indeed, we have seen little or no improvement as a result of our efforts.

Perhaps I hadn’t tried hard enough to get to the bottom of this issue before, but I recently listened to this excellent audio article from a Salford councillor, which was a revelation to me in terms of how these things work in a local authority. My thanks to Catriona Swanson for drawing my attention to this.

After listening to that, I have spent a considerable amount of time over the past few weeks wading through masses of Bolton Council planning documents in an attempt to understand how at least that part of the process works. In trying to see how this stuff affects active travel in our borough, I decided to write it up in the form of a review, and this huge blog article is the result.

I should stress that the contents of this article are in no way endorsed by Bolton Council (I am just a concerned citizen), nor do they represent the views of the Active Travel Forum (though I hope to have constructive discussion of the issues raised here in that context); they are just my own views, though I have tried to back up those views with references where possible.

The policies are written up in a series of documents that begin with The Core Strategy and are then extended through Supplementary Planning Documents and an Allocations Plan. My review of all these below is very long and, in contrast to most of my articles, doesn’t even have any pictures or videos to break up the monotony, so if you don’t have the time, or the inclination, to wade through all that guff, you can go straight to the Summary and Recommendations.

The Core Strategy

Sections 1 and 2

These sections paint a picture of the current situation in the borough. providing an introduction to the more forward-looking sections and related sub-documents.

It is encouraging that section 1.13, under the heading Sustainable development, states that:

Sustainable development is the core principle underpinning planning.

and the document does mention that term quite a lot, which appears to set the right tone.

The first reference to active travel is in section 2, Spatial portrait and issues. under the heading Accessibility. where paragraph 2.10 states:

A strategic cycle route network has been part-implemented which will form part of Sustrans Regional Route 80 and National Route 50.

Regional Route 80 is currently shown on OpenCycleMap as the Middlebrook Valley Way, but I believe the intention is that the route includes the path out to Bury over the viaduct at Darcy Lever and along the line that partly follows the dismantled Bolton-Bury railway line. To be considered strategic cycle routes, however,  they need to have lighting added, bottlenecks removed and need to have a much better surface in places. They are also not currently swept or gritted, which, along with the lack of lighting, can make them unsuitable as a means of travel during the winter months.

National Route 50 is, I suspect, an error and should refer to route 55. This route again is in need of improvement to act as a viable travel option for similar reasons to Route 80 above, although it does have street lighting along the section from Bridgeman Street to the hospital. Accessibility is currently compromised due to a number of barriers that would be difficult or impossible to pass using accessibility adapted cycles, tricycles, tandems or cargo-bikes.

A later subsection within section 2 is headed Issues, challenges and opportunities. This section again seems to stress “sustainability” and mentions that Bolton has lower life expectancy and higher death rates than the national average and current poor access to Royal Bolton Hospital by non-car modes, but still does not mention the opportunities to address these problems through active travel.

It is notable that, throughout the whole of this chapter, there is no reference to walking as a transport option.

Section 3 – the strategic objectives part

This section is entitled Spatial vision and objectives, and again says much in the general text about sustainable development, presenting itself as: Bolton’s Sustainable Community Strategy. The section also puts forward six themes to support this strategy, of which 3 particularly significant ones here are: Healthy, Safe and  Cleaner and Greener. It then goes on to discuss much about planning , including transport (though that is exclusively about motor or rail transport) and then sets out the objectives of the core strategy.

Objective 1 of the strategy, addresses the first of these themes, Healthy Bolton. It is encouraging to see that, as well as talking about sports and leisure, this objective includes:

to increase opportunities for walking and cycling.

Objective 9 is the single objective under the Safe Bolton theme and includes an objective to:

improve road safety by ensuring that neighbourhoods are attractive and well designed

Objectives 10 to 13 cover the Cleaner and Greener Bolton theme but surprisingly make no mention at all of sustainable transport, let alone active travel. Of these, strategic objective 10 is the most relevant here:

to minimise Bolton’s contribution to climate change and mitigate and adapt to its adverse effects.

That objective is referenced in later sections of the same document, including some references to active travel (cycling and walking in policy P5) as seen below.

Section 4 –  The general policies part

This is where policies are defined under each of the six themes, covering the whole of the borough. Each set of policies is followed by a list of key delivery items and some indicators and targets to be used to measure progress against.

Policy H1, under the theme Healthy Bolton, states that the council and its partners will:

ensure that new developments contribute appropriately through planning contributions to meet the health needs that they generate.

Whilst this could be taken to mean that developers should contribute to healthcare facilities to meet the demand induced by their developments, the meaning is clarified by the  preamble to the policy, which states: As well as direct provision of healthcare, other opportunities that encourage and promote a healthy lifestyle must be taken into account. It is certainly arguable that active travel is a key element of a healthy lifestyle.

Unfortunately, there are no key delivery items listed in relation to this aspect of the policy, and consequently no performance indicators or targets.

Policy A1 comes under theme Achieving Bolton, which I didn’t mention above, However it is worth mentioning here as it contains the statements:

The council and its partners will:
1. Support the development of secondary schools in accessible locations along transport corridors and in renewal areas.
2. Support the development of primary schools in locations accessible to the communities they serve.

Whilst these do not mention active travel specifically, they refer to an area that is key to the development of active travel in any location. Children and young people should be enabled and encouraged to access their schools by cycling and/or walking.

Again, the key delivery items, indicators and targets do not address these parts of the policy explicitly in any way.

Policies P1 to P4, under the theme Prosperous Bolton, relate primarily to commercial development, employment, retail, tourists & leisure, waste disposal, and minerals, and make no reference to active travel. It is arguable that some reference to active travel ought to be included in relation to policies P1 (employment) and P2 (Retail and Leisure) given the huge impact that walking and cycling can have on these areas.

Policy P5 however, under the same theme, relates to Accessibility and Transport and states, among other things, that:

The council and its partners will ensure that developments take the following into account:
1. Accessibility by different types of transport, prioritising pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users over other motorised vehicle users.
… and …
5. Parking, including parking for cycles and powered two-wheelers, in accordance with the parking standards set out in Appendix 3.

It is encouraging to see the Hierarchy of Users mentioned here, as recommended by the Department for Transport in their LTN 1/04 – Policy, Planning and Design for Walking and Cycling. as well as the Manual for Streets. Again, however, there are no specific key delivery items, indicators or targets addressing these parts of the policy.

Policy S1 is the one policy listed under the theme Safe Bolton, and contains the following relevant text:

The council and its partners will:

2. Promote road safety in the design of new development.
3. Target expenditure on road safety to locations with the worst safety record.

The preamble to this policy also states:

Making our roads safer also has a key role in promoting a safer Bolton. The Core Strategy will maximise road safety in new development and influence where investment in safety schemes takes place

and there is a relevant key delivery item: Road safety through new street design (as per Manual for Streets), to be funded by developers. It should be noted that, whilst manual for Streets is generally highly regarded and does make good provision for walking, it is rather weak regarding street design for cyclists.

The indicator that is relevant to these sections of Policy S1 is defined in terms of reductions in the number of people killed or seriously injured. Whilst this is the easiest thing to measure, it is well-known in health and safety circles that measuring near misses is more effective, especially when trying to reduce the risk of relatively rare occurrences.

Policy CG1 is the one policy listed under the theme Cleaner and Greener Bolton, which is where I might expect to see much said about clean transport, including active transport. The policy contains seven separate paragraphs, but contains no mention of active travel or transport at all. The sixth paragraph of the policy states:

The council and its partners will:

6. Work towards minimising energy requirements, improving energy efficiency, lessening the reliance on fossil fuel-based energy and reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Whilst this could be said to feed into other sections on sustainable transport, it might be better if the latter were referred to directly given that transport is the biggest source of air and noise pollution in the UK.

Policies CG2 to CG4 are concerned with Sustainable design and construction, The built environment, and Compatible uses respectively. None of these make reference to active travel.

Policies SC1 and SC2 similarly make no reference to providing for active travel (nor even sustainable or accessible transport), which is surprising since SC1 is about housing and SC2 comes under the heading Cultural and community provision.

Section 5

This section is about area policies, dividing the borough up into a number of areas for development and planning purposes.

The section on Bolton town centre contains some mention of transport, stating in paragraph 5.7 that the town centre is well connected by public transport and road and that there is a need to improve the public transport to and from the town centre even further. However, there is again no mention of active travel, despite the fact that this section also states an intention to create over 2500 dwellings over a 15 year period. However, this paragraph mentions that the council has already prepared a town centre transport strategy, but an extensive search using both Google and the search facility on the council web site has failed to locate such a document although many other documents do refer to it. Paragraph 5.8, which is about facilities for parking motor vehicles, suggests in passing that there is expected to be an increase in the use of more sustainable modes of transport.

Policy TC1 under the heading Civic and retail core is the first policy listed in this chapter and contains a statement:

The council and its partners will:

4. Give priority to providing good pedestrian links to Bolton transport interchange and car parks.

and lists Assessment of planning applications as the one key delivery item for this policy, though there are no performance indicators or targets. It is worth noting in relation to this policy that the newly reconstructed roads around the new transport interchange do make good provision for pedestrians, but nothing at all for cyclists, which does appear to reflect the contents of this policy. The result is that cycle access to the interchange is extremely bad despite there being plenty of space available and a “cycle hub” located at the front of the interchange.

Policies TC2 and TC3, relating to the St Helena and St Peter’s areas, make no reference to transport, active or otherwise.

Policy TC4 relates to the Trinity Gateway close to the railway station. It is this policy that describes the creation of the transport interchange

The council and its partners will:
1. Develop a high quality multi-modal interchange that will serve bus, rail and car borne passengers on the triangle of land between the Preston and Blackburn railway lines. This will replace the existing bus station at Moor Lane.
2. Redevelop the remainder of this site for new office, retail and leisure uses, and for a new multi-storey car park.
3. Ensure that there are good pedestrian links to the rest of the town centre.

Active travel is not included in the description of the interchange in item 1, but pedestrian access is mentioned in item 3. Again, as with policy TC1, there is no reference to cycle access and the finished product does appear to reflect that. There are no performance indicators or targets defined for this policy.

Policies TC6 to TC10 cover the remainder of the areas in the town centre and contain very little reference to active travel, although TC6 (Knowledge Campus) mentions pedestrian access and TC7 (Merchants’ Quarter) mentions the creation of a new footbridge, with the bridge as a key delivery item. Other than that, none of these policies have any performance indicators or targets. Policy TC7 also lists a new multi-storey car park and a new access road, complete with key delivery items, being the car park and road themselves, and policy TC8 states that the council and its partners will … Allow for the retention or replacement of Bow Street multi-storey car park.

Policy TC11 covers Design in the town centre. It contains two relevant items:

The council and its partners will:
..
2. Ensure that development along the gateways to the town centre enhances the
townscape through the use of high quality design and improves street frontages
and pedestrian permeability.
3. Ensure streets are designed in accordance with the Public Realm Implementation
Framework to achieve a high standard of design which exhibits safety, consistency
and accessibility, particularly for pedestrians, cyclists and users of public transport.

Again the key delivery item for this policy is listed as Assessment of planning applications, but there are no performance indicators or targets in relation to these two items in the policy.

The rest of the borough is covered by policies RA1 to RA3 (Renewal Areas), M1 to M7 (M1 motorway corridor), OA1 to OA6 (Outer Areas) and LO1 (Links to Other areas). Reference to active travel is very sparse in these sections, which cover pages 68 to 93, so it is easiest to pick out the relevant sections.

Policy RA2 mentions: support the improvement of …  pedestrian routes and pedestrian permeability in and around Farnworth town centre, though there is nothing about cycling. There are no performance indicators or targets in relation to this.

Policy RA3 mentions: Identify the former Bolton to Bury railway line as a strategic cycle route. This route has been developed and is good as a leisure cycling and walking route. However, its use for active travel is likely to be limited, particularly in the winter months, as it is unlit, cannot easily be swept or gritted, and is restricted to conventional two-wheeled cycles by a number of barriers across the path, which compromise access for disabled people or people with tricycles, cargo cycles or tandems, etc.

Policy M2 relates to the area that was the site of the former Horwich Locomotive Works and contains the statement: 3. It must be well served by public transport, and make effective provision for cycling and walking. Whilst there are no performance indicators or targets relating to this, it is understood that there is now a plan to develop housing in that area and the provision of walking and cycling infrastructure to Beelines standard is a condition of the development; this is encouraging.

Policy LO1 relates to Links to other areas. It contains another reference to the Bolton-Bury cycle path: 2. Provide an off-road cycle route from Bolton town centre to Bury town centre, which was criticised above under Policy RA3, but does not mention the NCR55 route, which was also criticised above under Sections 1 & 2. There are no indicators or targets for these items, and there is no other reference to cycling or walking links to other areas.

Section 6

This section is titled Infrastructure and planning contributions and relates to physical, social and green infrastructure. Subsection 6.10 is relevant here and states:

The council has for some years pursued planning obligations in respect of affordable housing, open space, off-site access and transport of all types including public transport, cycling and walking, health and well-being, education and public art.

Policy IPC1 within this section contains the statement:

The council will seek to ensure that developers make reasonable provision or contribution towards the cost of appropriate physical, social and green infrastructure required by the proposed development and/or to mitigate the impact of that development. In doing so, the council will ensure that a scheme is made acceptable in planning terms and achieves the objectives of sustainable development.

It goes on to say that:

These may include where relevant:
• Off-site access and transport of all types including public transport, cycling and
walking.

This is important as it appears to give the council the power to require suitable provisions to be made for walking and cycling in respect of any planning application, though the use of the word “may” falls short of implying any obligation and would be improved by using “must” instead. There are no performance indicators or targets, though reference is made to a number of other policies regarding those.

SPDs providing advice and guidance over development

SPDs are Supplementary Planning Documents, and there are two types, which build on sections 4 and 5 respectively of the Core Strategy. The first set relate to overall policies applying to all geographical areas. Some of these are not relevant here and will not be mentioned further.

It was surprising to see that the SPD Sustainable Design & Construction (October 2016) does not contain material relevant to active travel. It does pay a lot of attention to environmental sustainability, and specifically carbon emissions, but that is mainly concerned with the construction and use of buildings. This is a shame because there are aspects of design and construction that are highly relevant to enabling active travel, such as the provision of cycle access and parking in domestic properties, as well as access and facilities in office spaces and other workplaces. There is one statement (in subsection 4.62) that there is considerable guidance generally available on best practice for the provision of sustainable features such as cycle parking, but I feel that a policy, with targets and performance indicators, would demonstrate a far greater commitment and make such considerations more likely to be addressed. Having said that. there is also a reference to the Accessibility, Transport and Safety SPD, which is discussed below (particularly Section 8 of that document).

The SPD Infrastructure and Planning Contributions (July 2016) extends the section of the same name within the Core Strategy by providing additional detail, guidance and interpretation of Policy IPC1 mentioned above in relation to Section 6 of the Core Strategy. However, it is disappointing that the parts related to active travel, highlighted above, are not extended or elaborated in any way in this document.

The SPD General Design Principles (Date adopted is unclear, but the document appears to have been created in January 2016) is concerned with the character of the town as a place, including aspects such as safety, legibility and overall quality of the public realm. Whilst it does mention street patterns and the way they are used, it is disappointing that the policy does not recognise and address the well-known tensions between roads and streets as thoroughfares (particularly where motor vehicles are concerned) on the one hand, and as places for people to inhabit and interact on the other. From the point of view of active travel, it would be good to recognize this as there is often a tendency to emphasize the (motor vehicle) thoroughfare aspect of roads and streets over the place aspect.

Accessibility, Transport and Safety SPD

This document has its own subsection here because it is the most significant policy document in relation to active travel. The document is very well written and structured and builds carefully on the Core Strategy, identifying specifically policies S1 and P5 as underpinning transport, as well as policies CG3, CG4, TC11 and IPC1, all reviewed earlier in this document.   It also draws on a number of existing local, regional and national policies, regulations and guidance. It also references (in subsection 5.3.2) the Town Centre Transport Strategy, though that document seems very difficult to track down. It is also worth mentioning that the document draws on the national Manual for Streets and Manual for Streets 2; documents that are considered to provide good advice overall, but tend to be weak on provision for cycling. A better standard (from the active travel point of view) is specified in the Global Street Design Guide, which is currently being adapted by TfGM for release as a Greater Manchester streets design document.

Section 5.3.3 on Network Management Policy is of interest because it does make some reference to active travel, recognising its important in relation to limiting increases in traffic congestion due to new developments by providing facilities for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users and by making local highway improvements, which should address the needs of pedestrians and cyclists and public transport as a priority. However, the use of “must” here rather than “should” would demonstrate a greater commitment and the addition of targets and performance indicators in relation to these statements would enhance to likelihood of their being brought through to implementation. The subsection goes on to state that:

In managing the highway network the Council aim to:

Make best use of walking, cycling and public transport routes to key centres and
major new developments;
… and
Minimise the impact of road traffic on residential areas and to improve the
environment for pedestrians and cyclists on lightly trafficked streets.

These statements are saying the right sorts of things and, again, would be given more weight by the addition of targets and performance indicators; without these it is too easy for such “aims” to be ignored.

The most significant section as far as active travel is concerned is PART THREE – GUIDANCE TO SUPPORT TRANSPORT POLICIES, which looks at provision for the different modes of transport and is structured in the order of priority set out in the Hierarchy of Users introduced in Core Strategy Policy P5(1).

Section 6 relates to facilities for people with disabilities, which is of concern in relation to active travel because designs for walking and particularly cycling tend often to exclude “non-standard” means such as wheelchairs and mobility scooters as well as tricycles, hand-cycles, tandems, etc, which can often be used as mobility aids. This section would be greatly enhanced if it were specifically to cover those considerations in relation to active travel.

Section 7 relates to provision for pedestrians. It is good to see a section on this, and provides an encouraging commentary on what types of issues need to be considered in planning. For example, there are statements such as:

pedestrian access to new developments should be designed to be equally accessible to all members of the community, including people with disabilities, older people and children

The Council will seek to ensure that new development is designed to be pedestrian friendly, with safe, direct walking routes along desire lines, linking into the existing network and taking priority within residential areas

The Council may require a contribution from new development to improve pedestrian crossing facilities in the vicinity of the site where it is deemed that there will be a significant footfall associated with the new development.

Whilst statements such as these are encouraging, it would be good to see them have have the weight of real policy statements with key delivery items, targets and performance indicators to ensure they are taken seriously.

The initial premise of the section, that most of the infrastructure needed for walking already exists, through a comprehensive network of footways, seems overly optimistic. Walking as a means of travel can be an unpleasant experience in the borough due to excessive traffic noise and poor air quality on the main routes into and out of the town centre and a lack of priority given to pedestrians in areas of conflict between motor and foot traffic, such as junctions and crossings. There is a statement that the maintenance of that network and the provision of safe crossing facilities are key issues in encouraging people to walk more, and it would be good to see actual policies set out to address this important issue.

Section 8 relates to provision for cyclists. As with the previous section, it says many things that are encouraging. Examples include:

cycle access to new developments should be designed to ensure cycling is a realistic travel choice to that of the private car

The Council has made progress in developing a network of cycle routes, both on-road and off-road. However, elements of the cycle network are still to be implemented and the Council will ensure any proposed developments do not prejudice the future delivery of these routes

Again, it would be helpful if these statements were made to carry the weight of true policy statements with key delivery items, targets and performance indicators. The first of the statements quoted above needs to state that there is a hard requirement (“must” rather than “should”), and it should specify just what is meant by “a realistic travel choice” through targets and performance indicators.

There is a more emphatic statement in this section regarding cycle parking provision:

The Council will ensure that cycle parking is provided as part of new developments, as set out in the Local Development Framework Core Strategy Annex 3 Parking Standards.

It is good to see these specific targets, but it would be good to see more ambitious levels of provision. In general, the targets refer to cycle parking spaces in 1s and 2s where car parking is specified in 100s and 200s. It is worth noting that Core Strategy Annex 3 appears to have been simply copied over from Appendix 7 of the previous Unitary Development plan, which was adopted in April 2005.

This section also contains a statement:

The Council may require a contribution from new development to improve the cycle network in the vicinity of the site where it is deemed necessary to improve cycle access to a new development or provide safe cycle facilities associated with traffic generation from a new development. Cycle facilities on the highway should be in accordance with Department for Transport Local Transport Note 2/08 ‘Cycle Infrastructure Design’.

Again, whilst it is good to see clauses relating to this topic in council policies, the use of the term “may require” would be better replaced by “will require”, along with standards that “must” rather than “should” be met. In addition, whilst the use of LTN 2/08 is understandable given that was the only DfT guidance available at the time this policy was adopted, that guidance defines a very poor standard of provision that ought to be replaced as soon as possible, preferably with the Global Street Design Guide from NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials in the USA) in the first instance, then moving to the Greater Manchester Design Guide that is currently being developed from that once it becomes available.

Section 10, relating to parking also warrants a mention here. Paragraph 10.3 refers to on-street parking:

In exceptional circumstances the Council might request the full provision of parking be provided where there are significant implications for road safety which could not be resolved through the introduction or enforcement of on-street parking controls or where the introduction of on-street parking controls would result in inconvenience for existing neighbours.

This is the only reference in the document to on-street parking, despite the fact that on-street parking presents a significant problem for active travel, particularly in relation to the safety of pedestrians and cyclists but also in relation to the “place” aspect of streets. This is especially apparent in the areas around schools. There is a need for the council to adopt a far more pro-active approach to tackling this issue, including the problem of pavement parking, which presents serious difficulties for people walking, people with prams, and disabled people.

SPDs providing guidance for new development in specific areas

There are five area-specific supplementary planning documents currently listed on the planning web site. It is interesting to look at these to see how the general policies have affected and been interpreted in these more specific SPDs, and in some cases how they have affected results on the ground.

The first of these, titled Building Bolton was adopted in November 2006 and references the earlier Unitary Development Plan (April 2005). The latter has been superseded by the current Core Strategy and the majority of the Building Bolton SPD has been superseded by SPDs for different areas of the town centre. However, the section on the area identified as the Civic Core appears to be still in operation. Walking in the civic core is well catered for as much of it is pedestrianised. However, like the UDP on which it is based, this document mentions provision for cycling but stops short of setting down any policies, standards, targets or performance indicators. Of particular note is that, whilst permeability for pedestrians in the civic core is promoted, the same is not true for people on cycles, which seems to be actively discouraged. Indeed, there is currently a proposed Public Space Protection Order  banning cycling altogether from large parts of the civic core. This policy ought to be reviewed, taking account of advice from the Department for Transport published in their document TAL 9/93 (1993).

The Church Wharf SPD (April 2018) relates to the area around the Parish Church, which has been earmarked for significant redevelopment. It does make provision for pedestrian access, including a new footbridge. However, cycling is hardly addressed at all, and then only “potentially” rather than providing any clear commitment, though there is mention in paragraph 7.16 of security of pedestrians and cyclists in the area. There is even an intention stated to build a new “vehicular link road” connecting Church Bank to River Street in the Merchant’s Quarter (see below), but there is no mention of cycling provision on that new road. which reflects the absence of any reference to active travel in Policy TC8 (Church Wharf) of the Core Strategy and the comments already made above regarding section 8 of the Accessibility, Transport and Safety SPD and Policy P5 of the Core Strategy.  In a document as recent as this, it would be good to see a greater commitment to these issues, demonstrating a more concrete commitment to the principle presented in Objective 1 of the Core Strategy.

The Horwich Loco Works SPD (March 2012) shows a marked contrast to the other area-specific SPDs in that it pays closer attention to active travel, including both pedestrian and cycle access. This is reflected in recently announced development mentioned above in relation to Core Strategy Policy M2. This suggests that the inclusion of active travel in the area specific policies of the Core Strategy can have beneficial effects, although more specific targets and performance indicators would also be an improvement even in relation to this area.

The Trinity Interchange SPD (August 2010) is concerned with the area area around the railway station and the new transport interchange, completed last year. Despite the particular nature of this area as a transport hub, the provision for cycling in this document is again very weak. The statement:

The Inner Bus Circulation Route will form an anti-clockwise bus route
(which will also be available to hackney cabs and cyclists) to facilitate direct
access to all parts of the central shopping area for bus and cycle users

indicates an explicit expectation that cyclists will share the carriageway with buses and taxis on roads that are going to be extremely busy due to the presence of the transport interchange.

There is a statement in section 8.4 stating that: Newport Street has also been identified as a new pedestrian and cycle route from the station into the central area. However this lacked any reference to specific deliverables or targets and, despite there being plenty of space on roads that have been reconstructed, never came to fruition, so that cyclists are instead expected to share the one-way system with heavy motor traffic. This is a clear failure of planning policy in the borough.

The Merchant’s Quarter Masterplan SPD (February 2008) relates to the area bounded by St Peter’s Way, Lower Bridgeman Street, Bradshawgate and the Bolton-Blackburn railway line. Due to its date, it references the older Unitary Development Plan (UDP) rather than the Core Strategy. This document does address active travel, promising from the start an accessible environment which is easy to navigate whether on foot, bicycle or in a car, though it does also indicate an intention to create a large multi-storey car park at the north side of the quarter. There is an encouraging reference to policy RT9 of the North West of England Plan Regional Spatial Strategy to 2021 (NWRSS), which promotes the development of an integrated network of continuous, attractive and safe routes for walking and cycling. The relatively detailed plans for this area, including street cross-sections, show no specific provision for cycling, but overall, the proposed provisions for walking and cycling look promising, provided traffic calming is successful (e.g. 20 mph speed limits).

The Allocations Plan

The Allocations Plan identifies sites that can be used for development and land that should be protected during the following 15 years. It does contain some statements and policies about active travel as follows.

Policy P6AP relates to 6 specific areas of mixed use developments: Moses Gate; Halliwell Mills; Higher Swan Lane/Sunnyside; Former British Aerospace site, Lostock; The Greenwood, Chorley New Road, Horwich; and Crompton Way / Bolton Point. It contains the statement:

Development must be well served by public transport, and make effective provision for cycling and walking.

It is good to see this in respect of these specific development areas, but it would be good to see it adopted as a policy for all areas, along with a definition of “effective”.

Policy P7AP relates to the Strategic Route Network. This relates primarily to motor vehicle provision, but contains the following:

The council and its partners will safeguard the Strategic Route Network along which major traffic flows will be directed and will support the development of public transport and improvements for cyclists in appropriate locations on this network.

Again, it is good to see this, however it ought to be applied to all strategic routes where cycling is not prohibited. Also, it could be improved by including provision for walking as well as cycling.

The document also states, under the heading Allocations of land:

The Proposals Map shows the former Bolton to Bury railway as a proposed strategic cycle route. It also shows other proposed cycle routes that are not along existing roads in order to protect them from any adverse development and to help to implement Core Strategy Policy P5

There is also a map, which can be accessed on a mapping site that is linked to this document, of a number of actual and potential off-road cycle routes. This appears to have been included specifically to allow for certain corridors of land to be protected from incursions.

Summary and Recommendations

It is very encouraging to see that active travel is addressed in the very first strategic objective in Bolton’s Core Strategy through the phrase to increase opportunities for walking and cycling. Investments in enabling people to adopt active travel modes in place of car journeys have been shown to be critical to improving almost all aspects of towns and cities, with the return on investment estimated as over 500% in the most conservative studies and up to 3000% in others. (Transport for London has produced a useful pdf resource pack bringing together a wide range of research on this.) As such, active travel deserves to be right at the centre of strategic planning in any local authority, and this is particular true in a borough such as Bolton with significant issues of motor traffic congestion and the resulting noise, poor air quality, public health problems and community severance.

Whilst some of the policy documents do mention active travel, it is important that this is extended to a much wider range of them. The benefits of active travel, as well as the actions needed to enable it, cut across a wide range of other policy areas; it would be very helpful if this were to be brought out in the strategy and policies.

It is important, wherever active travel is mentioned in policy documents, that this is followed up with clear policies, delivery items, targets and performance indicators. This comment applies both to the Core Strategy and to the various Supplementary Planning Documents.

It is important to set out policies and specific actions to meet real, established active travel needs rather than highlighting things that are easy to do but will not necessarily make a difference to the experiences of people walking or cycling. For example, routes along canals or rivers and routes along old railway lines may show promise, but only provided they can be lit, sufficiently wide with a smooth surface, serviced (swept and gritted) and made to feel safe for active travel, including through the winter months, and provided they can be shown clearly to form part of a planned network.

It is clear from some specific examples that policies (or absence of them) can have a dramatic effect on the way developments turn out on the ground. A particularly glaring example is the absence of provision for cycling access to and from the transport interchange, which appears to follow directly from the policies reviewed here (see comments above relating to Policies TC1 and TC4). Two other examples – the recently repainted Manchester Road and Crompton Way cycle lanes – show that emphasising LTN2/08 (see Section 8 of the Accessibility, Transport and Safety SPD) can result in cycling facilities that are in need of significant improvement. Conversely, there is now a very encouraging example illustrating how inclusion of appropriate statements in the policies, albeit in a limited manner, can lead to good practice: this is the new housing development on the former Horwich Loco Works site (see comments above relating to Policy M2).

The existence in the policies of references to national standards and advice (e.g. Manual for Streets and LTN 2.08) is encouraging. It needs to recognized that things are moving fast in this area of standardization, however, and it would be beneficial to focus attention on more up-to-date guidance such as is contained in the Global Street Design Guide from NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials in the USA) in the first instance, then moving to the Greater Manchester Design Guide that is currently being developed from that once it becomes available.

As a starting point, the statement made in Policy P5(1) ought to be strengthened, made more explicit with reference to the latest national guidance on design for walking and cycling, and linked to targets and performance indicators. This policy should also be referenced in policies H1 and S1 to indicate its importance across a wide range of strategic themes, and the relationships between them. It would also be useful to make links to areas such as policing, public health, and health care (including cost savings) in order to gain support from areas that, whilst not directly related to travel, are significant beneficiaries to a modal shift towards active travel.

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