Urban Update 15 March 2024

News and Research

  • Low traffic neighbourhoods: leaked government report reveals positive findings
  • Low traffic neighbourhoods may offer outstanding value - cost benefit ratios of 1:50 to  1:100  (that's spend £1 get £100 benefit - HS2 is currently thought to have a cost benefit ratio of 1:1.3 )  
  • Councils liable for negligent removal of road safety measures
  • More stories on coastal erosion
  • Renovating residential buildings 
  • Understanding the social impact of globalisation, "touristification", gentrification and how this is reflected in the built environment in Spanish cities
  • Should the Secured by Design programme be reined in?
  • More local amenities mean more walking study finds
  • Enable active travel to improve public health - BMJ
  • Improving the biodiversity of Urban grasslands
  • Why firms are "reshoring" manufacturing 


Low Traffic Neighbourhoods 

Department for Transport Low Traffic Neighbourhoods Report Reveals Positive Findings
A government study on LTNs in England seen by the Guardian newspaper is reported to have found them to be generally popular and effective.  LTNs have been primarily implemented by Labour-controlled councils, leading to a potential political angle.
Key Points:

  • Findings support the effectiveness of LTNs in promoting active travel and potentially reducing congestion.
  • Traffic reduction within LTNs is confirmed, with minimal negative impact on surrounding roads.
  • "Surveys of 1,800-plus residents in four sample schemes, in London, Birmingham, Wigan and York, found an average of 45% support and 21% opposition."

The report highlights the benefits of LTNs and fundamentally disproves the narrative being promoted by some pro-driver groups and a section of the media that LTNs are unpopular, disruptive or “hated”.

Other coverage of LTNs:
Guardian view on low-traffic neighbourhoods: spread the word – these schemes work >>>> 
What are LTNs - London Evening Standard
LTNs popular and effective, leaked report says - Municipal Journal
LTNs ‘risk lives’, warn emergency services - Telegraph
Oxford LTNs branded racist as council considers removal  Oxford Mail

Low traffic neighbourhoods may offer outstanding value – with cost benefit ratios of between 1:50 and 1:100
Full report - Impacts of active travel interventions on travel behaviour and health: Results from a five-year longitudinal travel survey in Outer London Journal of Transport and Health

The paper analyses six years' data from the People and Places longitudinal study, and the travel behaviour impacts of investments in active travel infrastructure in three Outer London boroughs (the ‘mini-Hollands programme’).

Findings include: 

Low traffic neighbourhoods – costs and benefits

20 year physical activity benefit

£4800  benefit per person

Low cost LTN (as implemented during 2020 COVID 19 emergency intervention

£28-35 cost per person

Higher cost LTN (with features such as greening and crossing improvements)

£112 cost per person

Coverage: Guardian >>>>  (this is the only UK national media outlet to have covered the research)

What is the legal position on removing LTNs or 20mph limits?  

Highway authorities owe a duty to all road users (whether careful or negligent) to use reasonable care in the manner in which they exercise their powers.  (Yetkin v Newham 2010)  

Highway authorities are generally not under a duty to exercise their statutory powers, (see for example Stovin v Wise (Norfolk County Council, third party) 1996 House of Lords) but when they do, they are under a duty not to be negligent.   Highway authorities that negligently remove measures that protect road users will become liable for loss and injury that arise from their actions, at least in part.  There may be authorities or politicians at in central and local government who think that by relying on public opinion liability can be avoided, however, the physics involved in collisions and the consequent risk of death and injury, the prevalence of obesity and inactive lifestyles in society, and the limited ability of younger children to judge the speed and distance of oncoming traffic are not matters of public opinion but of objective fact.   


Energy and Climate Change

Geologists reject the Anthropocene as Earth’s new epoch — after 15 years of debate >>>>
Europe unprepared for rapidly growing climate risks, report finds >>>>
Rapid erosion of stunning Lossiemouth beach dunes sparks concerns for future of town >>>>

Half of US town's $565,000 sacrificial sand dune project washed away in three days  BBC   CNN Video


Built Environment 

Strategies for robust renovation of residential buildings in Switzerland Nature Communications
This study tests conventional (polystyrene and aerogel) and non-conventional (straw and hemp) materials and heating systems for building renovation, looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions not only in terms of energy retrofitting mandates, but also across the building’s lifecycle.
In the paper’s own words “The results show that the solutions with either heat pumps or wood pellets with the inclusion of non-conventional materials allow saving up to 87% of the GHG emissions per year”
How Australia came to build some of the biggest houses on Earth >>>>


Average House area
/ Square Meters







 The average useable floor area for UK homes was in 2012, 92 square metres 

Plans for 42-storey skyscraper at the site of Grade II listed Birmingham ex-hospital >>>>
Historic Weymouth 'neglected and falling into disrepair' >>>>
Civic Society expresses concern over neglect, lack of maintenance leading to dilapidation.
Local authorities have a range of powers enabling them to intervene, including Section 215 notices (Untidy land notices) under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 – see the Government best practice guidance on the use of S215 notices
Locals fear Norfolk town Stalham is 'dying on its feet' amid neglect >>>>
This is a story that is typical of smaller towns: citizens complain of closing shops, and rising crime levels.  Some attribute the decline of the high street to an edge of town superstore, which, unlike the high street, is able to offer free parking.  
Homes made from WW2 metals could be demolished >>>>

Should the Secured by Design Program be reined in?  London Evening Standard
The SBD program allows police to review and demand changes  in new buildings and public areas.  But critics say that the focus on security measures leads to isolated design elements like single seats, cul-de-sacs, and high fences. They argue that this discourages social interaction and creates a hostile environment for marginalized communities.  Examples have included a communal garden that was gated off due to police concerns, and climbing flowers in a park were removed at police request.

The article argues that the Met's control over public space design through SBD is detrimental to fostering vibrant and inclusive communities. It proposes a shift towards a design approach led by qualified professionals and rooted in the needs of the community.


Humans, Health, Society

Social inequality and residential segregation trends in Spanish global cities. A comparative analysis of Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia (2001-2021) - Cities
This paper examines how several Spanish cities reflect increasing inequality, globalisation, “touristification”, and gentrification, tending towards “polarized urban models, which reproduce in urban space the differences observed in the social structure”. 

Association between local amenities, travel behaviours and urban planning: A spatial analysis of a nationwide UK household panel study - Journal of Transport & Health

This study examines the impact of various forms of local amenities on travel behaviours, finding that more local amenities tend to mean more walking and less regular car and bus use.

The study notes, however, that the availability of greenspace is not correlated with increased walking or physical activity, emphasising the importance of other factors in their use. 

Mapping the Vulnerable: A Framework for Analyzing Urban Social Vulnerability and its Societal Impact - Societal Impacts

This study uses data from 146 urban centres in West Bengal, Eastern India to develop a framework of factors that contribute to Urban Social Vulnerability. 

Naval widows, war work and the port town civic burden: State, civic, philanthropic and self-help in the aftermath of the battle of Jutland (1916) - Coastal Studies and Society

This study examines the development of local and national relief for bereaved families in coastal towns and the factors driving war widows to work to support themselves.    This may seem to be a niche study, but it provides insight into social and political attitudes at the time, which led to a social housing programme and a transformation in the approach to house and urban design which continues to exercise influence to this day. 

Book Review: Urbanization in the Global South: Perspectives and Challenges - Vikalpa

Article in British Medical Journal calls for active travel to be enabled to improve the UK's health  BMJ


Natural Environment 

How to successfully improve the biodiversity of city grasslands? - Heliyon
Based in Poland, this two-year study aims to “assess the effectiveness of different seed sources to create high-quality Urban grasslands”.
Shock cliff discovery reveals key stage in Earth’s development >>>>
Giant redwoods: World’s largest trees 'thriving in UK' >>>>


Politics, Philosophy, Economics

Residents of Peters Village in Wouldham join forces to fight ‘extortionate’ service charges >>>>
An example of the issues highlighted in the Competition and Markets Authority report of the housing market (summarised in last week's Urban Update) 
Why firms are bringing their manufacturing back home >>>>

Companies are moving manufacturing operations back to their home countries (e.g., UK) after previously outsourcing to countries such as China.

Reasons for Reshoring:

  •  Cost savings:
    • Rising wages in countries like China.
    • Advancements in automation decreasing labour needs in factories.
  • Faster product delivery and development 
    • Faster product development cycles requiring closer proximity to production facilities.
    • Consumer preference for quicker deliveries.
  • Reduced Supply Chain Risks:
    • Disruptions caused by events like COVID-19 and political conflicts, and hazards to navigation eg Suez Canal blockage
    • Reliance on distant suppliers raising concerns.

The planning and urban design sector, having spent decades responding in the main to the demand for housing, may find the demand is increasingly for balanced development and mixed use.