The launch of a new report about how best to integrate sustainable transport with development took us to London’s City Hall
One of the priorities we’ve highlighted is better public transport connectivity – and a recent report helps us look at that in a Blackwater Valley context.
We wanted to find out how the everyday experiences of members of a drop-in club at St Peter’s Church could help our deliberations.
One of our most recent meetings was with members of the team at Oakley Health Group down at Yateley Medical Centre, as we were interested to look at the vital role their three sites have across Yateley, Darby Green and Frogmore, and any relationship with issues to do with ‘getting around’ the area. A big ‘thank you’ to Jennifer Taylor (the Business Manager) and Karen Toms (the Patient Services Manager), and John from the paramedic team who met with us to discuss a broad range of issues.
We’d always thought that there may be some issues to do with local patients being able to get to appointments as conveniently, now that they may have them available at any of the three sites (Hartley Corner, Monteagle, and Yateley) across a wider area. We know there are also some issues with parking, particularly at Yateley Medical Centre, and Hartley Corner, although there are plans in place which may ease some of this at Yateley.
However, it was interesting to discover that one of the reasons that Oakley Health has been one of the pioneers in primary care across the UK in integrating services is to make available locally services that you once would have had to travel further afield for (such as Aldershot, Fleet, Farnham, Guildford or Frimley Park) – and that this was as a direct result of patient feedback.
This includes things like diabetic eye screening, mental health services, family planning, orthopaedic practitioners, podiatry, and speech therapy, plus an urgent care centre (a dedicated place for urgent same day medical appointments, reducing the need to travel to A&E at Frimley), and an integrated care team of particular assistance to those with the most complex or chronic needs, which includes a clinical pharmacist, paramedics, social workers, specialist nurses, counsellors, therapists and social prescribers.
We discussed how one of the biggest issues on the public health agenda right now is loneliness, and how the latest research claims that it can have a greater negative impact on our health than smoking! Transport, and our ability to get around and meet other people obviously has a huge impact on this.
One of the other specific issues we were able to discuss were the increasing demands already being put on the local paramedic team. They are often being called upon to ‘ferry’ local patients with complex needs to medical appointments. They may lack the mobility to be able use existing public transport, or the services simply don’t serve the destinations they need to reach (such as at Fleet). If the paramedics didn’t assist, they would miss the appointment, their health would deteriorate, and the paramedics would no doubt be called out for a greater emergency when they fall ill!
Such requests supplement the brilliant work of the volunteers at Yateley Neighbourcare, but it is clear, as with other public services (such as the number of times we are all more regularly hearing the police helicopter ‘going up’ to look for missing persons), the stretch on regular services – and the voluntary organisations designed to support them, is increasing drastically. Threats to funding for community transport services, such as Yelabus are growing too. With much public transport capacity being ‘nibbled away’ at the edges, many individual organisations are being forced to invest in their own minibus provision, piecemeal across the community. Does this lead to duplication and fragmentation? It would be good to reflect on what a Neighbourhood Plan could do, if anything, to maximise the impact of such provision.
Something that we are definitely picking up on about ‘getting around’ is that there is an issue with regard to the ability of those with complex needs, to be able to have a cheap, convenient, reliable way of being able to get places, in particular without that having to be booked way in advance. It may be that there are no ‘easy solutions’, and that we are just picking up early on a trend – but it is clear that there is little capacity left in whatever system there is. Perhaps a start would be for everyone to be more aware of just what provision is out there to begin with?
In other posts we’ve identified how, amongst the general public, it is actually government policy to make walking and cycling our default mode of transport for shorter journeys. This surprised us when we first started working on the plan. It is clear that, where we are all more able to do journeys on foot, or on a bike it would help make us healthier.
In a Yateley, Darby Green and Frogmore context, it would also help with some of the congestion and parking issues where they exist – so whatever a future neighbourhood plan can do to help encourage more of this must surely be a priority? In much of the central areas of Yateley where there are parking issues, much of the space was designed at at time when the population may have been a quarter of what the size is today, and vehicle use much lower – and expanding parking provision is probably not an easy option.
The key to addressing many of these issues may be looking at them from a health perspective, and making it easier for more of us to walk or cycle where we can, and improving the range of public transport options too. But what would that mean?
We continue our deliberations…… but a big thank you to the staff of Oakley Health for the time they made available. More on their recent appearance on BBC Radio 5 Live from the local North East Hampshire and Farnham Clinical Commissioning Group website.
A new report by the Campaign for Better Transport, out today (5th December) attempts to signpost how bus services in rural areas, like Hart could be improved, and make communities more accessible.
The research, entitled ‘The future of rural bus services in the UK’ shows we are not alone in having lost services, or facing circuitous routes* which can often only contribute to making a service even less attractive, or less reliable.
Darren Shirley, Chief Executive of the Campaign for Better Transport said; “Bus cuts and shrinking transport networks are making it harder for people to get to work or school, to visit friends and family, or access shops and services, as well as putting extra pressure on our congested roads.”
The report argues that buses are a key part to any part of any sustainable transport plan, which can relieve increasingly congested roads (with associated air pollution and environmental damage, and threats to economic productivity), as well as being a lifeline to those without a car, typically older people, younger people, the disabled, and those on lower incomes who may otherwise find themselves stranded or isolated.
In talking to local people as part of gathering evidence for the neighbourhood plan, time and time again, the evaporation of the local bus network is one the recurring themes. Over recent decades, we have lost the ability to get direct services to Fleet, Farnborough, Basingstoke, Reading and London.
This report highlights the need for bus and rail services which connect with each other; more ‘demand responsive’ services which utilise flexible routes where there is less demand; resourcing for community transport solutions, like Yelabus (and the Hartley Wintney Community Transport service, which has been hugely valued in feedback to our consultation by residents of Frogmore and East Green) as part of the public transport network; more account to be taken of modern lifestyles and travel needs when planning networks & services; and more effective use of technology, and smarter ticketing options.
It calls for better incentives for companies providing transport in rural areas to develop and improve services, and wants better partnerships between local authorities and private companies, as well as a wider range of operators and services.
Another valuable national report to reflect on as we consider more specific local evidence too, particularly about congestion, and its impact on commuting from Yateley, Darby Green and Frogmore.
(*) while mentioning circuitous routes, we have to highlight the ‘No. 2’ route from Yateley to Farnborough (about 6 miles on the most direct route on a map). At some points in the day, it can take up to an hour and three-quarters to cover this route! Anyone who uses the buses knows you either use one of the two college buses (which take a mere twenty or so minutes), or failing that, you change en route. But why design it that way? It hardly seems the best way to encourage people uninitiated in using buses from using them – and it leaves Yateley, Darby Green and Frogmore without a direct service to mainline, London Waterloo railway services, from either Farnborough (Main), or from Fleet. This just does not seem possible in the 21st century.
While we’ve been gathering evidence and insights from the local area around Yateley, Darby Green and Frogmore, regular reports are being published nationally about transport and travel which also provide valuable evidence for us to reflect on about our own situation locally, as we consider the topic with regard to a future neighbourhood plan.
We thought it would be useful to report back on a few of them, as they provide useful context for our deliberations, and useful evidence – and help us make connections between various points.
Forced reliance on the car:
Soon after we began our work, an organisation called Transport for New Homes launched a report towards the end of October (click here) which argued, on the basis of research gathered on over twenty developments around the country, that housing developments are being encouraged which push residents towards “car based living” by failing to include public transport, or pedestrian infrastructure.
It leads many to argue that young people often feel they have no other choice than to rely on a car. Do new developments (like that we are seeing at the ‘Urnfield‘) do enough to incorporate direct pedestrian routes to our village centres, for example? Are they connected enough to public transport networks, or adequate cycle networks? This could be a issue of direct relevance for the neighbourhood plan. (You can read more reports from this research from Building magazine; from The Guardian, two reports from the BBC here, and here).
New development should follow sustainable transport:
The Transport for New Home report followed a piece of work earlier in the year by the Transport Knowledge Hub, who commissioned KPMG to look into the issue. They produced ‘Sustainable transport – the key to unlocking the benefits of new housing: a report to Greener Journeys‘ (click here for full report, and click here for article).
It makes the point that future development should only take place where car dependency can be reduced, and sustainable transport networks of cycling, walking and public transport can be viably supported. This is vital in order to deal with issues around congestion, drags on productivity, as well as wider economic, environmental and social benefits. More work is due on this in the New Year, and we will certainly be keeping our eyes peeled for it to help with our work.
Need for better interchanges:
In the middle of November, the Campaign for Better Transport launched a report, ‘Integrated Transport: a new generation of interchanges’ (click here for full report, and click here for article). The report found that current bus, rail and coach services are poorly integrated, making door-to-door public transport difficult. Already, responses to our own survey are picking up on this point.
Natural interchange points (for example, Farnborough Main), cannot be reached by a direct bus from Yateley – except for the college bus (which stops just nearby only twice a day), and the No. 2 service (which takes around an hour and three-quarters to cover a distance of five and a half miles). And if anyone comes back via Camberley from Farnborough, the last bus back from Camberley is at 8.50pm!
People who rely on public transport make Blackwater their interchange point for services to Reading, Guildford, and on to London and Gatwick, but no imaginative thought has been given as to how buses can integrate accessibly with that station – instead there is a huge number of steps down from the main A30.
Longer commute times, whether car, bike, cycle, bus or train!
Also in the middle of November, the TUC issued analysis to mark the annual ‘Commute Smart Week’, organised by Work Wise UK. It listed all the various forms of commute, and how their length of time had changed in the ten year period between 2007 and 2017. The average commute, per day had gone up from 53.6 mins in 2007 to 58.4 mins in 2017. In the South East, the figures were slightly higher at 57.4 mins (2007) and 62.0 mins (2017). (Click here for a report).
During the period we have been doing our work, some of these commuter delay issues have loomed large. Over-running engineering and strikes on South Western Railways can have a dramatic impact on people’s abilities to make work, and other appointments. And that often only serves to put more traffic on the roads. Anyone who is familiar with the rush hour will know that the attempt to get on the M3 at either junction 4, or 4a in the morning makes for chaos at both The Meadows, or long queues on Cricket Hill Lane heading for Minley. Anything that has a knock on effect can have a dramatic effect on those commute times, whatever form of transport you use.
Encouraging cycling and walking:
A recent report in November 2018 by Public Health England (click here for full report) – “Cycling and walking for individual, population and health system benefits: a rapid evidence review” supported the government’s strategy to make walking and cycling the natural choice for journeys, and improve health for communities.
But are local authorities at all levels – town, district and county council – doing all they can to make a reality of this? Are some journeys only realistic in a car (whether your own, or in a lift), because of unrealistic scheduling, for example?
Towards the end of November, the Government published its response to a consultation on a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy safety review (click here for full report).
There were over 14,000 responses to the consultation. Amongst a range of outcomes, it announces that local authorities will be encouraged to increase investment in cycling and walking infrastructure to 15% of total infrastructure spending. But it’s not all about money. Where there are cycle lanes, there should be improved enforcement against parking in them. However, it’s a two-way relationship, and the announcement said it wanted to see more engagement with cycling and walking bodies to develop a behaviour change campaign, to improve relationships between them and drivers. Lots to reflect on from this publication!
Ending sales of petrol and diesel cars – are we ready?
A major policy shift indicated in recent months has been the move towards electric vehicles. The Government has indicated in its ‘Road to Zero’ strategy (click here for full report) that by 2030, half of all car sales, and 40% of vans will be electric. By 2040, petrol and diesel sales will be phased out completely.
There are indications that pressure will come for that date to come sooner. It has been reported that almost 9 out of 10 fleet managers plan to switch the majority of their fleet to electric or hybrid-electric vehicles before that date (2028 – for report, click here).
And the Business, Energy and Industry Select Committee said in October that the 2040 date for ALL petrol and diesel sales to be ended should be brought forward to 2032, to encourage greater investment in the infrastructure needed (click here for report).
It’s worth reflecting on this issue here. There are NO electric vehicle charging points in Yateley, Frogmore or Darby Green, yet sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles could be coming to an end by 2032. On the other hand, unlike most towns of our size (and much larger), we have two big petrol and diesel filling stations right in the heart of the town. Irrespective of whether you think their location in the town is correct, it is worth reflecting on how we have got to a point where we have prioritised cars over pedestrians in the heart of our town to such a extent, at a time when government policy is to end sales of petrol and diesel driven vehicles in just over a decade.
At some point, something needs to be done to think about how we make provision for the charging facilities which will be required – as Tesco and VW announced they are doing in their announcement on the 30th November (click here for report).
Effect on social mobility:
Back at the end of October, a report by the County All-Party Parliamentary Group of MPs and the County Councils Network said that rural areas were in danger of being the ‘least socially mobile’, in part due to issues like the access to transport network (click here for more details).
Our own neighbourhood plan and ‘Getting Around’
There are only certain kinds of transport issues which a neighbourhood plan can address. We can be specific about how those can be addressed by a particular policy, but many others may only be able to be signposted to be addressed in other ways, or as aspirations. That shouldn’t stop us considering them – and it is becoming apparent that this is as much crucial within the context of our location within the Blackwater Valley, as it is within the Hart District – something we will return to.
Neighbourhood plans must meet basic conditions set out in legislation, and one of those is that they help deliver sustainable development. Appropriate transport can have a huge impact on an area’s capacity for growth and sustainability as a community. Something else we will return to in a future post.
Before signing off on this update, as promised in previous posts, we wanted to introduce you to the remaining members of our subject group.
Charlotte Richards: Charlotte is a member of the community at Yateley Industries. She brings a wheelchair user’s perspective to the group. Charlotte went to Frogmore Community College.
Wilf Hardy: Wilf is a qualified accountant and former operations manager for a multi-national company. He has been a trustee, and treasurer for community transport service Yelabus.
Sue Smith: Sue lives in Frogmore. She has campaigned for many years on behalf of residents in Frogmore and East Green over lost bus services, and general access issues. She is a regular user of community bus services.
Yogesh Patel: Yogesh is a local businessman, running The Newsletter newsagents and stationers in The Parade, on the Reading Road. In the course of his business, he speaks to many Yateley residents and visitors – and is familiar with many of the issues we are exploring, such as parking.