What are the Origins of the English Village?

The English of course romanticise villages, they are the centre of so much of our literature and national identity. However so much of our historical writing contains ‘sceptered isle’ style romantic pseudo history. For example.

Martin Wainwright, in his book The English Village: History and Traditions, England owes its pattern of village settlements to the Anglo-Saxons who first arrived in the fourth century AD. Replicating the structure of their habitats at home in northern Germany, the Anglo-Saxons “built close to means of communication, along ridges, in valleys, or at the edge of a navigable river, but high enough to avoid winter floods.” Wainwright credits this strategic positioning with the durability of villages.

Whilst the description of locations is broadly accurate there are several problems with this thesis. The main shift from Roman style scattered farmsteads and hamlets in a grid like patters (in some cases reinforced by centuration, but in most cases locals adopting roman practices) was between the 6th and the 9th centuries most intensively in the 8th Century not the Fourth, and where did the settlement shifts in original Angle lands in Germany/Denmark originate from. Also we see a comparative shift around the same time across the whole of Europe. By the 10th Century the countryside around villages had largely been emptied of its population.

Lets rule out some possible causes:

Feudalism, in its various forms, usually emerged as a result of the decentralization of an empire: especially in the Carolingian Empire in 8th century AD. It did not arise in England till the Norman invasion in the 10 th Century. Fuedalism certainly reinforced villages where they were related to estates, but most villages in most countries are not closely related to Manor houses, though many smaller villages later became associated with ‘Magnas’ which were the homes of second rank vassels to the lord.

Defense, few villages in most countries were built for defense (there are exceptions such as villages built to resist coastal raids. The 8th Century were a comparatively peaceful time. Viking raids did not properly begin till the 9th century.

There are a number of firmer possible causes:

The setting up of Parishes. From the fourth century onwards christianity spread to the countryside, at first in larger centres which formed the nucleus of market towns. In England we call these Ministers. In France and Germany (parish is a word of French Origin) in the Caroligin Empire they arose during the 4th and 5th century following success in converting the countryside creating smaller churches better suited to rural life. In Italy the Catholic Church filled the vacuum left by the roman empire and the spread of Parishes reflected the increasing power of Bishops in controlling their hinterlands. Whilst labour to build church’s required an agricultural surplus and centralisation of craftsmen around them may have created economies of scale for agriculture. It cant explain by itself however those practicies.

Benedictine Montasticism and rise of Improved Agricultural Techniques. The Benedictine Order was formed in the 5th Century. By the ninth century, however, the Benedictine had become the standard form of monastic life throughout the whole of Western Europe, excepting th3 Celtic Fringe where the Celtic observance still prevailed for another century or two. Benedictines thrived on turning swamps and other ‘wastes’ to productive land.

“every Benedictine monastery was an agricultural college for the whole region in which it was located.”

Wherever they went, the monks introduced crops, or industries, or production methods with which the people had not previously been familiar. Here they would introduce the rearing of cattle and horses, there the brewing of beer or the raising of bees or fruit. In Sweden the corn trade owed its existence to the monks; in Parma it was cheese making, in Ireland salmon fisheries — and, in a great many places, the finest vineyards. They stored up the waters from springs, that they might distribute them in times of drought. In Lombardy it was the monks from whom the peasants learned irrigation. The monks have also been credited with being the first to work toward improving the breeds of cattle, rather than leaving the process to chance. 

The Introduction of Open Field Systems In Europe. Known in China since Ancient times it came into use in Europe during the 8th and 9th Centuries and created a significant agricultural surplus compared to the previous two field system where half of the land (as opposed to a 3rd) had to be held fallow each year. The three-field system needed more plowing of land and its introduction coincided with the adoption of the moldboard plow.  Few small farmsteads could afford oxes or horses to pull a plough or by themselves grow enough food to feed them. Hence the need to share and harm a form of farming – strip farming – that enabled easy access. In most of Europe however the three field system did not come into common use till the 13th Century. The open field system was spread by Germanic invaders from the 5th century and was never prevalent in the Mediterranean.

What weight should be given to these potential drivers. To be honest it is still something of an historical mystery. We still see nucleated villages through a post feudal lenses and the countryside as it it was forever enclosed.

A Review of the New National Model Design Code (and Associated NPPF Revisions) Part I

The New Nation Model Design Code is out, with Associated Guidance and accompanying NPPF revisions, mostly, but not entirely, relating to implementing the recommendations of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.

Overall its a very good document, 8 out of 10, URBED and David Rudlin have done a very good job. It certainly meets the brief of the Commission to be ‘Design guidance relying on numbers, specifications and images
more than words.’ It certainly is a better document than the pre-commission National Design Guide which I have been very critical of. It would be better to withdraw the National Design Guide and have the Code Guidance fully replace it. I note the commission were also critical of aspects of the guide It sets out the characteristics of well designed places but not how to plan for and design them. This the guidance notes succeeds very well at. It were better that the design guide was edited down and simply set out national design objectives (or outcome) as an introduction to the new guidance.

Lets start with the big one the NPPF changes, the biggest bar far relates to plan making.

Plans and decisions should apply a presumption in favour of sustainable
For plan-making this means that:
a) all plans should promote a sustainable pattern of development that seeks to: meet the development needs of their area; align growth and infrastructure; improve the environment; mitigate climate change (including by making effective use of land in urban areas) and adapt to its effects; plans should positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs of their area, and be sufficiently flexible to adapt
to rapid change;

This is the most important change to national policy since the introduction of the NPPF in referring to ‘a sustainable pattern of development’ a massive ommission and from the ministers definition of the objective of planning from to the MHLG select committee. . It would be far better if it referred to a sustainable pattern and form of development. ‘ as we are not just seeking a good pattern of any old development. ‘Promote’ is too weak. It implies plans are merely promotional brochures. ‘Programme’ would be better. ‘Programme to achieve’ even better as that implies flexibility and adaptation to set backs. It also implies a PMO approach to plan making and implementation.

‘Mitigate’ is too weak. It implies any mitigation is acceptable. After all this is an emergency with national and international obligtions. This really needs a footnote to explain what mitigate means such as:

‘Mitigate climate change’ means planning policy which meets the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Climate Agreement and meeting the legal obligation of section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008 to achieve net zero levels by 2050 (1990 base), section 8 of the aforesaid act (duty to have regard to mitigation and adaptation); as well as the Prime Ministers Commitment of 4th Dec 2020 to achieve ambitious target to reduce the UK’s emissions by at least 68% by 2030 (1990 base). Mitigation measures should meet any departmental and sectoral targets to be announced in policy and accompanying guidance. In the interim, application of the duties of the 2008 Act should be read in line with the judgement of the Supreme Court in R (o.t.a Friends of the Earth et al) v. Heathrow Airport Ltd [2020] UKSC 52 ‘

Future government guidance should show how this target can be met in terms of location of new development, trip reduction and modal shifting, utilizing a structure such as the new RTPI North, City Science report.

If we are in an age of zero carbon planning however why not update the section on energy minerals. Today it seems archaic.

Another key change is in para 22.

Where larger scale development such as new settlements form part of the strategy for the area,
policies should be set within a vision that looks further ahead (at least 30 years), to
take into account the likely timescale for delivery.

This fills a key gap. Many new settlements start producing in numbers at the end of a plan period and deal with long term needs (especially for overspill) . Desperate to have a stop gap 5 years supply some inspectors (North Essex) read prior policy to anally and said what is the need?

There is a very odd section on Article 4 directions reminiscent of dogmatic circulars of the 1980s

The use of Article 4 directions to remove national permitted development rights
where they relate to change of use to residential, be limited to situations
where this is essential to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts
• [or as an alternative to the above – where they relate to change of use to
residential, be limited to situations where this is necessary in order to protect
an interest of national significance]
• where they do not relate to change of use to residential
, be limited to
situations where this is necessary to protect local amenity or the well-being
of the area (this could include the use of Article 4 directions to require
planning permission for the demolition of local facilities)
in all cases apply to the smallest geographical area possible

The smallest geographical area possible is the Plank Scale 1.616255×10⁻³⁵ m. It should add ‘to acheive the above objectives’.

On design there are two key new sections. One replacing the para on design guidance/SPG.

To provide maximum clarity about design expectations at an early stage, all
local planning authorities should prepare design guides or codes consistent with
the principles set out in the National Design Guide and National Model Design
Code and which reflect local character and design preferences. These provide a
local framework for creating beautiful and distinctive places with a consistent and
high quality standard of design. Their level of detail and degree of prescription
should be tailored to the circumstances and scale of change in each place,
and should allow a suitable degree of variety where this would be justified.

New Para 128 sets out their status.

Design guides and codes can be prepared at an area-wide or site-specific scale,
and to carry weight in decision-making should be produced either as part of a plan
or as supplementary planning documents (although applicants may also elect to
prepare codes for sites which they propose to develop). All guides and codes
should be based on effective community engagement and reflect local aspirations
for the development of their area, taking into account the guidance contained in the
National Design Guide and the National Model Design Code. These national
documents should be used to guide decisions on applications in the absence
of locally-produced guides or codes.

There is a replacement para on the national design test – 133.

Development that is not well designed should be refused, especially where it
fails to reflect local design policies and government guidance on design, taking
into account any local design guidance and supplementary planning documents
which use visual tools such as design guides and codes. Conversely, significant
weight should be given to:
a) development which reflects local design policies and government guidance
on design, taking into account any local design guidance and supplementary
planning documents which use visual tools such as design guides and
codes; and/or
b) outstanding or innovative designs which promote high levels of
sustainability,, or help raise the standard of design more generally in an
area, so long as they fit in with the overall form and layout of their

Worrying is the ommission of ‘to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions’ which the commission recommended stayed.

Now in the absence of design codes there is no expectation of what good design is, the character of the area and improving the area. A major ommission.

‘Outstanding or innovative’ the commission recommended deleting ‘innovative’ which was added by a previous government because too many ‘Gummer rule’ houses were bad taste classical derivatives with no innovation. Oddly the Gummer test used to say outstanding and innovative but the Traditional Architecture Group campaigned against it. The ministry has got itself in a twist here in that the gummer test para on isolated housing (para 80e) now proposes to delete ‘or innovative’ a ridiculous test, you could propose a complete copy of a Palladian villa completely stripped of its context and the presumption would apply on any non green belt site in open countryside. The legacy of Scruton must not be promotion of pseudo vernacular crap only for billionaires. The RTPI and RIBA must really get on top of this. It should be ‘Outstanding and Innovative’ in both paras. with guidance explaining how traditional (including classical) designs can be outstanding and innovative in their response to the site and modern challenges. Simple repition of previous designs not being sufficient in the open countryside.

There is a very measured new para. on removal of statues etc.

In considering any applications to remove or alter a historic statue, plaque or memorial (whether listed or not), local planning authorities should have regard to the importance of retaining these heritage assets and, where appropriate, of explaining their historic and social context rather than removal.

In part II ill look at the model code and guidance.

What is the Status of Manual for Streets?

Ill be blogging in detail on the new National Model Design Code and associated NPPF revisions however for the latter I spotted a very confusing footnote 45.

Policies and decisions should not make use of or reflect the former Design Bulletin 32, which was
withdrawn in 2007 and superseded by Manual for Streets.

Here they are deleting text from the draft revision which was never part of the recently revised NPPF.

Of course Manual for Streets did superceded DB32, it says so

Manual for Streets (MfS) supersedes Design Bulletin 32 and its companion guide Places,
Streets and Movement, which are now withdrawn in England and Wales.

What is going on? Firstly it was not withdrawn in Scotland then, though it was superceded by the Scottish Streets design guide ‘Designing Streets‘ in 2010 which also says in its introduction that it supercedes DB32. .

Secondly Manual for Streets 2, which came out under a conservative government was never published by the DoT as policy and instead published and charged for by the CIHT, with an endorsement in a foreword by the minister. There is a link to it in the Model Design Guide appendix but it is dead. This is the correct link to a summary only. You will find a full copy as an appeal appendix here Please endorse MFS2 and give us a link. MFS2 was published because of huge gaps in MFS1, such as street hierarchy’s on large scale developments and design of rural roads. It also more fully reflected link and place design theory This led many retrogressive highway authority’s to say it wasn’t a full replacement. MfS1 reads like it was written for urban designers, MfS 2 for highway engineers.

A brief note on the history of DB32. It was published in 1977 and very much reflected the thinking of the day. Car oriented, lots of cul de sacs and wide junctions. It was revised in 1992 but fiercely criticized by urban designers and was supplemented by Places, streets and movements – a companion guide to Design Bulletin 32: residential roads and footpaths (DETR, 1998), this and DB32 was replaced by MFS in 2007.

Back in the 1990s I attended a talk by the original author of the 1977 version of DB32 who was critical of the 1992 refresh for not going nearly far enough. (I think he was David Taylor cant be sure). He spend the intervening years studying street design and guidance and design in Netherlands and Germany and was years ahead of his time.

MFS is long overdue for a refresh incorporating for example ‘link place node’ thinking – as in Designing Streets, ideas from the Dutch CROW design guide, autonomous and electric vehicles etc. It should be an appendix to the National Model Design Code guidance fully integrated.

What Should the Legal Foundations of a New English Planning Act be?

Given that the department has appointed a career civil servant whose last job was as a Director of the Foods Standards Agency im sure the department would be grateful for some help in designing the structures of a new planning act.

The foundations of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 were a mess. It basically abolished the binding powers of the 1935 Act leaving discretionary development plans alongside making the temporary interim development management powers (meant only to be in force until the zoning plan was in place) permanent. I tell this story here. At a minimum all that needs to be done is to rebuild that lost leg of planning law and modernise it. Many of the foundational principles of British Planning law, such as the definition of development and of development orders remained and just need tweaking.

Lets step back though. Planning law in almost every country lies at the intersection of land law – setting out property rights, the Police Power, which sets limits on land use and other property rights in the name of the public interest, and administrative law, which specifies the administration of processes and the ability to set policy and programmes. In some countries these can become out of sync, for example regulation of land use is sometimes done exclusively via by laws under police power which allow no consultation or discretion, whilst plan making is dealy with through seperate laws which over time acrew police power type provisions. This can lead in etremis to by laws simply specifying ‘as is conditions’ requiring spot zoning type provisions (sometimes called postage stamp planning) dealing with changes to match a development plan. This just about works in the Dutch system for example because plans and masterplanning are so proactive. It doesn’t in many US jurisdictions because of ‘zoning without planning’ in many cases a complete lack of forward planning with administrative systems for processing variences that make the British System look efficient.

Therefore I think a foundational principle of a reformed British system should be that it ties together the plan making and regulatory function as one legal process.

The 1935 Act did not use the term plan or zone once it used the term scheme. This reflected its origins in the 19th C public health movements where schemes were programmes for doing something. However the wording of the Act was very end state based, it did not refer to phasing and programming. To apply Occums Razer it would simply be better to use the term ‘plan’ and clarify that this includes the end state, regulations to achieve and vary from the end state as well as the process to get there and policies to consider variations. It would be better if this were done in an enabling way, i.e. enabling development plans to give ‘as of right’ outline consents (permission in principle) with the right for some or no reserved matters (technical details in PiP terminology) set in the plan. Then the SoS would have the powers in secondary legislation to determine the scope and nature of as of right powers. Examples include the 16 use class equivalent zoning categories in German law (including modern central urban and mixed use categories). An example also would be National Japenese bulk zoning regs, though these are far too centralised.

The ‘as of right’ power is critical. Giving a developer a permission in principle right, for example, to develop a site zoned for a certain number of houses with a certain access, or redevelop n existing house plot to 4 storeys etc.

Like all zoning systems there would be discretionary design control for certain defined areas and circumstances as well as systems for appeal and variances (spot zoning). National legislation and policy would set the bounds of this.

The legislation must provide a bridge between what happens in a local plan and what happens in a masterplan /development code. This is a total legal blind spot in current legislation. Much of the success of continental systems in achieving quality and sustainability is the firm context there planning laws provide for approving masterplans and bulk zoning (development code) provisions.

A final key piece is the scope of planning. The ‘development and use of land’ has grown over the years to include matters such as inclusionary zoning (affordable housing), impact on energy use and net environmental gain. Looking back on the 1935 Act annex which defined the possible scope of schemes it was surprisingly broad and included water and sewerage networks, as they should today as part of overall infrastructure planning. It also included a simple one sentence provision for setting developer charges. Again that is all that is needed. The nature of charges can be set by secondary legislation.

The 2021 Bill, unlike the 1935 act should require a plan (scheme) to be based on a spatial strategy with an as short as possible set of policies to assess the performance of the scheme and variances from it.

Providing the New Act does not get bogged down in unnecessary compensation clauses there is no reason it cant be a simple piece of legislation of less than 50 or 60 clauses and 100 pages. That should be the aim. There should be no need for 100s of pages on annexes amending prior legislation. It should simply withdraw all previous planning acts and like the 1935 act having an enabling provision voiding all previous laws and legislation conflicting with a plan (scheme) simple limits should be placed on plans (schemes) to avoid conflicts with foundational laws (human rights, equality and protected habitat, climate change act) only.

Qanon Senator’s Bonkers Theory that Wildfires Caused by Laser from Space Clearing Way for High Speed Rail

Media Matters

In November 2018, California was hit with the worst wildfire in the state’s history. At the time, future Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) wrote a bizarre Facebook post that echoed QAnon conspiracy theorists and falsely claimed that the real and hidden culprit behind the disaster was a laser from space triggered by some nefarious group of people. 

Greene’s post, which hasn’t previously been reported, is just the latest example to be unearthed of her embracing conspiracy theories about tragedies during her time as a right-wing commentator. In addition to being a QAnon supporter, Greene has pushed conspiracy theories about 9/11, the Parkland and Sandy Hook school shootings, the Las Vegas shooting, and the murder of Democratic staffer Seth Richamong others

Greene also has a history of pushing anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic remarks.

CNN’s Em Steck and Andrew Kaczynski recently reported that on her Facebook page, “Greene repeatedly indicated support for executing prominent Democratic politicians in 2018 and 2019 before being elected to Congress.” 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and the Republican Party have done little to stop Greene’s rising profile. During the 2020 campaign, the National Republican Congressional Committee added her to its “Young Guns” fundraising and recruitment program. In November, after Greene was elected, McCarthy defended her by falsely claiming that she’d denounced her QAnon views. And Republicans have selected Greene to be a member of the House Budget Committee and the House Committee on Education and Labor. (A spokesperson for McCarthy recently told Axios: “These comments are deeply disturbing and Leader McCarthy plans to have a conversation with the Congresswoman about them.”) One of Greene’s conspiracy theories directly targets McCarthy’s state. 

The Camp Fire was a horrific California wildfire that started on November 8, 2018, and, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, “burned a total of 153,336 acres, destroying 18,804 structures and resulting in 85 civilian fatalities and several firefighter injuries. The Camp Fire is the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history.” After an investigation, the department “determined that the Camp Fire was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electricity (PG&E) located in the Pulga area.” Scientists have noted that climate change has worsened wildfires in places like California. 

Conspiracy theorists have pushed other explanations for the Camp Fire, especially on social media. One theory, which has been promoted by QAnon followersfalsely posits that a nefarious entity used laser beams or a similar instrument to start the fire for financial profit or to clear space for California’s high-speed rail system.

Rep. Greene is a proponent of the Camp Fire laser beam conspiracy theory. She wrote a November 17, 2018, Facebook post — which is no longer available online — in which she said that she was speculating “because there are too many coincidences to ignore” regarding the fire, including that then-California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) wanted to build the high-speed rail project and “oddly there are all these people who have said they saw what looked like lasers or blue beams of light causing the fires.” She also speculated that a vice chairman at “Rothschild Inc, international investment banking firm” was somehow involved, and suggested the fire was caused by a beam from “space solar generators.” 

Greene added: “If they are beaming the suns energy back to Earth, I’m sure they wouldn’t ever miss a transmitter receiving station right??!! I mean mistakes are never made when anything new is invented. What would that look like anyway? A laser beam or light beam coming down to Earth I guess. Could that cause a fire? Hmmm, I don’t know. I hope not! That wouldn’t look so good for PG&E, Rothschild Inc, Solaren or Jerry Brown who sure does seem fond of PG&E.” 

Rethinking the Streetcar Suburb in an Age of Zero Carbon Planning

One of the most frequently heard terms recently has been the 15 minute city, as promulgated by the Mayor of Paris. Actually the term originates from the term ’20 minute neighbourhood’ coming from the 2018 Melbourne Plan.

Work undertaken in partnership with the Heart Foundation (Victoria) and across the Victorian Government identified the following hallmarks of a 20-minute neighbourhood. They must:

  • be safe, accessible and well connected for pedestrians and cyclists to optimise active transport
  • offer high-quality public realm and open spaces
  • provide services and destinations that support local living
  • facilitate access to quality public transport that connects people to jobs and higher-order services
  • deliver housing/population at densities that make local services and transport viable
  • facilitate thriving local economies.

Research shows that 20-minutes is the maximum time people are willing to walk to meet their daily needs locally.

Traditionally, the focal point for neighbourhoods were its high streets and local villages. While the structure of local shopping centres has changed over time, these places are an integral part of community life and fundamental to creating a city of 20-minute neighbourhoods.

‘Neighbourhood activity centres’ is the land-use planning term used to describe these local shopping centres. Community services and infrastructure are generally co-located with these places, planned and managed by local government. Neighbourhood activity centres provide retail services and goods (newsagent, bakery, supermarket), local entertainment facilities (cafes and restaurants) and local health services and facilities to meet daily needs. 

The concept has become popular because high streets have shot down and people are forced to walk because of loss of public transport.

Of course sharp eyed planners will note this concept goes back a long way – for examples Dr Patrick’s Clarke (an Aecom colleague now) studies of Sustainable Residential Quality (Litchfields) for the GLA in 1997, and much further back to Clarence A. Perry’s concept of the Neighborhood Unit before and during the great depression which became so central to New Urbanisms concepts of Transit Orientated Development.

Can then the concept of the 15/20 min neighbourhood simply be collapsed to that of the neighbourhood unit?

Not entirely, for two reasons, firstly the neighbourhood unit was a child of its time and secondly the ‘walkable distance’ neighbourhood by itself does not have a fixed urban design concept of how it sites within a city and how it is laid out.

The neighbourhood unit was born in a time of rising car use and a reaction against traditional grid cities like New York where cars could access everywhere and there was a high accident rate. Neighbourhood units were islands of tranquility where through traffic ‘the town less highway’ was directed around the edge and in the centre walking networks would be largely car free. In the form of Radburn layouts

cars would access at the front and pedestrians at the back. We have learned since how this was an overreaction to the grid and how grids can be managed to discourage through traffic, such as with filtered permeability. In its original form there was little dedicated space for cyclists, however continental thinking from Denmark, Scandinavia and in particular the Netherlands show us the way. Dense segregated cycling grids no kore than 500m apart are shown to dramatically reduce car use. Two case studies stand out, the new town of Houten which has a ring road but no through roads for cars, only cycles built around a railway station.

And nearby Merwede, a district of inner city Uthrecht which is being developed so cars are communal with only three parking spaces per 10 houses.

We are beginning to tackle such concepts in UK urban design. For example LDA in the recent report for RTPI North envisaged largely car free local streets and neighbourhood ‘mobility centres’. There are difficult issues for urban design, can cars access every local street or do autonomous vehicles drop off and then park elsewhere, if so where? If we can solve this problem however we have the chance to recreate, without the famous problems of front and backs, the exquisite designs of the early radburn layouts and similar very narrow streets and alley housing blocks of early Garden cities, and at a range of densities.

Going back a generation further however we have Streetcar suburbs. Railway suburbs clustered around stations, but street car suburbs formed corridors, often biult out and perpendicular from the city grid form. In europe much more star like urban forms can be seen. . An underlying assumption in many TOD layouts is that they would be clustered around a BART type stations. Modern trams, BRT and Tram Trains travel faster and people don’t just jump on anywhere as you see from movie reels of the period. Optimal spacing of local services (as opposed to rapid metro services) is around 400m suggesting a string of pearls of 5 minute suburbs of neighbourhood centres and every 4 or 5th being a district centre where non stopping regional metro services (if you have them) stop.

Because the street cars have largely disappeared we often fail to recognise streetcar suburbs for what they are. To truly see the way they shaped urban form you have to find a sector of growth that did not rely on railways (as almost all English Cities did) and where trams persisted until late into the twentieth century, a good example is the North of Leeds (West Yorkshire is consulting on a vision for mass transit this week) in such cities such as Headingly, the West of Sheffield and West End Glasgow you invariably find the tram suburbs are by far the most desired neighbourhoods.

As cities grew beyond their street car suburbs however you increasingly had car traffic passing through them, and as trams travelled on central no segregated lanes congestion formed when they stopped. Trams were blamed for problems caused by cars and poor planning.

It still shocks me in an age now where we are planning an age of zero carbon sustainable suburbs how we fail to learn the lesson of streetcar suburbs, that of you want to succeed you don’t put transit (in whatever form) on segrated paths away from distributor roads carrying cars. Yet again and again we see this mistake, with distributor roads passing through the middle of suburbs and buses of infrequent services expected to share the same path. You often find these are edge of city areas where bypasses have been mooted since the 30s in some cases (e.g. Bedford) and urban extension plans come along, the TIA shows congestion, so a bypass disguised as a distributor is squeezed in and said to be essential to ‘unlock’ the site. LPAs use it as an excuse to squeeze S106 from developers and make bids to government infrastructure pots. You see examples such as Dorchester, Chippenham and Aylesbury – the latter strung through several schemes. It is bad unsustainable and fraudulent planning on many levels. It mixes up the concept of distributor, expressway and connector roads and makes efficient transit impossible, and creates pollution and traffic clogged neighbourhoods where buildings instead of forming high streets facing transit have buffers with neighbourhoods turning their backs in them. A terrible perverse incentive is government and Homes England pots like the Local Instructure fun which needs urgent review because of the sheer volume of carbon hogging schemes it is funding.

We really need to look back at Streetcar suburbs, and what made them tick, as inspiration for Zero Carbon Planning, and replan their focal points and grid connectivity for modern times. I actually have done this in a scheme of 35,000 or so homes for one large UK town that because of local politics is unlikely to publish its local plan at any time in the next 20 years.

Government Rescopes Euston Rebuild for HS2

Previously it was 11 platforms but 5 not coming till 2033

TFL Board Papers 3rd Feb

We continue to provide input into the DfT led study on proposals for Euston
following publication of the Oakervee Review in 2020. The DfT has recently
instructed HS2 to proceed with further design development for one of the
options, which provides a solution based around 10 HS2 platforms, a single stage
build and increased oversite development.
However, the impact on our infrastructure, operations and passengers needs further
consideration. We are therefore working alongside other key stakeholders,
including HS2 Ltd, Network Rail, London Borough of Camden and Lendlease, under
the umbrella of the newly formed Euston Partnership, to assess the proposals and
refine early scheme designs, and to assist with work on affordability to ensure
investment delivers best value.

Treating HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail as ONE integrated Network Can Affordably Meet the Levelling Up Commitment

Widespread Dismay over National Infrastructure Commission HS2 Proposals

The report does not suggest any particular rail infrastructure programmes are not worthwhile per se – it merely offers different priorities depending on investment level. A further option would be to increase the amount of investment in order to fully deliver all of the proposed schemes so that the levelling up and green mobility agendas can be met in full….

Maria Machancoses, Director, Midlands Connect, said:
“Some of the options in this report are very concerning. Sacrificing parts of the high-speed network now would short-change millions of people across the Midlands and undermine our efforts to deliver a transport network fit for the 21st Century. HS2 must be delivered in its entirety, including its eastern leg from Birmingham to Leeds. To stall, scale down or delay now will cause irreparable economic damage to communities.”

The NIC Proposals


HS2: Regional leaders call on PM to reject downgrade

Nottinghamshire County Council leader Kay Cutts, Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake and Sheffield mayor Dan Jarvis said the NIC’s suggestions “would be a devastating outcome” for cities and communities where the line was due to go.

In their letter they state: “We wholeheartedly reject that report and urge the government to do the same.

“The NIC report is not fit for purpose – they were tasked with integrating these projects, not pitting them against each other.”

The National Infrastructure Commission published their report (Rail Needs Assessment for the Midlands and the North) in December and it will feed into the Government’s  Integrated Rail Plan in early 2021.

The outrage – such as from Lord Adonis – comes from the feeling of betrayal of the levelling up agenda. Since Osbourne first backed it and grandiose plans such as an underpennines road tunnel were mooted the Northern Powerhouse Rail proposals have been very loosely defined. No clear alignment plan has ever been produced, for example will it serve Bradford? There are no clear plans for how they will integrate in Manchester, other than the silly proposals for reversing. Similarly at Leeds trains would come through from Sheffield then have to reverse or bypass Leeds to go on to York.

The NIC should not be criticized for doing the job of evaluating options in cost benefit terms. They can be criticised for sloppy presentation (what happened to the Chord serving Liverpool) and lack of engagement with Transfort for North and Midlands connect and failure to maximise the synergy with NPR.

There are a number of underlying institutional tensions that prevent a rational integrated scheme being considered. TfN has to please many cities. Hence it proposes a 30 mile tunnel to serve Bradford directly when this is unlikely ever to be funded. There are many other examples. In trying to please everyone it has never studied a viable deliverable scheme. Similarly the Planning of Phase 2b never really considered anything other than the ‘coming from the South’ approach even though this is vastly expensive per KM in Sheffield and Leeds, massive tunneling would be required to approach from precisely the wrong direction to connect North and Westwards in each case.

I suggest that planning for HS2 and NPR should be integrated and planned and delivered as one rolling scheme.

As presciently the late Sir Peter Hall said in 2014

‘The key to improving these, particularly east to west, is to integrate HS2 into the existing
network to improve connectivity between Liverpool and Manchester, Manchester and
Leeds, Leeds and Hull…..HS2 and the future of the existing network need to be considered

It should also be accepted that the current plans for the eastern leg of HS2 are too expensive and bad engineering and planning when onward connections are considered. A cheaper better faster alterative is needed. The 30 billion cost savings in the plan below for NPR and 86 billion savings from cancellation of the current eastern leg proposals would easily pay not just from one integrated system but the transformation of other rail and transit connections across the whole of the North and East Midlands.

There is such an alternative. What this Grand Northern Express proposal does is align each cities stations in the correct direction and align them.

  1. The starting point is that the HS2 proposals from Crewe to Manchester Piccadilly must be committed and brought forward, together with the integrated TfN proposal to connect to Liverpool, including the chord to Liverpool, the link at Tatton enabling trains to traverse from Liverpool to Manchester in 23 minutes, the Golborne link to the WCML and a new High Speed Station for Liverpool at St James Station serving Liverpool Waters and replacing Lime Street for all London and Birmingham bound trips, as well as interchanging directly with Liverpool Metro and the proposed Lime Line along the waterfront (as tram train, above ground at surface). The cost of the tunnel being paid for by land value uplift at Liverpool Waters and Birkenhead Dock. This would also solve the throat congestion at Lime Street.

2. The second leg of the solution is to properly connect NPR Trains and HS2 Trains at Manchester Piccadilly.

For Years the Northern Hub proposals have been promoted in Manchester to solve the issues of bottlenecks of trains at Manchester. The completion of the Ordshall Chord implements part of this but not the bottleneck, requiring extra platforms. There have been no end of proposals for Piccadilly over the years, some involving demolition and/or use of the former Mayfield Station across the street. The whole hub proposals have been put in the air by NPR. The plan currently is to tunnel 7.5 miles from Manchester airport but to drop plans for a tunnel in Manchester city centre forcing trains to pull in from HS2 then reverse out to Leeds etc. Naturally Manchester City Council has been critical of this. Architects Weston Williamson have drawn up proposals for a new station for HS2 and NPR alongside and underneath Picadilly (similar to earlier Atkins proposals) . This would also have the advantage of freeing up capacity on the overhead line vis the Ordsall Chord removing the need for an underground ‘picc vic’ connection as mooted since the 60s.

The problem with the proposal is it points 90 degrees in the wrong direction treating the alignment of the airport tunnel as fixed and assuming need for connections to Victoria, which doesn’t have the platform length or capacity. I propose instead a station in deep excavations mostly (only tunneled under the station) North and South of Piccadilly, emerging from a tunnel in the New Islington Area, with a surface high speed alignment south of Hyde to Woodhead Tunnels (of which more in a moment).

Jake Berry the Northern Powerhouse minister said in Sept 2019

a possible underground interchange at Manchester Piccadilly would inflate the cost of the project and lead to an offset of spend somewhere else on the project; “….spending an extra £6bn on that [Manchester Piccadilly underground] means we have to find £6bn that we won’t spend somewhere else – and that might be putting in the parkway station in Bradford. The people of Bradford, if they want to get to Leeds or Manchester, [would] have to get in their car and what we have to absolutely be doing is stopping people getting in their car.

What we are not suggesting here is putting the station underground, rather in a trench and a simple tunnel under Piccadilly, after al you have just tunneled 7.5km. Im confident it could be done for 1bn or less. Secondly does it make sense to spend 6bn tunneling 10 miles under Bradford – no.

3. The Third Component is to Utilise an Existing Disused Connection under the Pennines the Woodhead Tunnels

There are three Woodhead tunnels, to older tunnels Woodhead 1 and 2 are too narrow for lectriciation, Woodhead 3 was designed for it. According to Wikipedia

Although the Hope Valley line was recommended for closure in the Beeching Report, instead, the government decided to cease passenger services on the Woodhead line, allegedly due to the high cost of upgrading and modernising the route. In 1970, the last passenger services ran through the tunnel but the line continued to host freight trains. The last train passed through the tunnels in 1981 when the line was closed.

The tunnels are maintained and now used for other purposes. They are owned by National Grid plc, which used Woodhead 1 and 2 to carry power cables and, in 2008, controversially installed cables in Woodhead 3, which would create difficulties in reinstating rail services and was resisted by a sizeable campaign.

The proposal here is to relocate the Woodhead Cables to a new cable only small tunnel, bore a new Woodhead 4 and and rebore 1 and 2 creating a 4 track cross Pennine link at its narrowest and most direct point between Manchester and Leeds/Sheffield. The slow trains would use teh former Valley alignment and the fast trins would floow a viaduct over the Woodhead Reservoirs. It would link to an at grade new alignment South of Hyde which would only need to tunnel in the New Islington area.

4. East of the Woodhead Tunnels the Line would split at Penistone, south to Sheffield, North to Leeds.

This would be very Similar to the High Speed North proposal as here

My only changes would be the link past Stockport and on to the Trafford Centre and major development at Charrington Moss would be tram train on former track, as I have suggested before.

South of Bradford I would have a Parkway /Interchange Station at Low more which would connect to Bradford Interchange and the proposed Tram train connections to Forster Square I suggested here. The alternative MML link to Chesterfield would combined with full electrification of the MML would give years of improved use at low cost before the full HS2 eastern leg was built.

This would give Manchester to Leeds and Sheffield travel times of less than 25 minutes. The time from London to Leeds would be cut to 88 minutes, currently 144 minutes. This is only marginally more than the HS2 East 82 minutes.

4. Going to Sheffield the Line would Terminate at a Redeveloped Victoria Terminus, interchanging with the Metrolink to Meadowhall. It would be four track with a restored Woodhead/Don Valley line providing Metro services. From Penistone it would utilise the existing line to Huddesfield, freeing capacity at Sheffield Midland. Both as Tram Train as proposed in 2010.

Sheffield Victoria Station

5. Towards Leeds from Penistone it would Follow the M1 Corridor to East Ardly then run alongside West Riding line then making use of a disused rail corridor crossing Geldern Road with a new tunnel under the Aire to a high level station with Concourse over the tracks on the Princes Square Long Term Car Park site with a tunnel for about 1km to the East enabling through train to Leeds and onwards on LNER track to Newcastle. This removes the Leeds Station bottleneck and avoids it becoming a dead end on NPR or HS2. The current safeguarded station area (amended 21st Jan) shows a route coming in from the south and hitting Leeds Station at Right Angles and no through connection with NPR – this makes no sense.

6. The Relatively Short Section of HS2 East should be Completed to Radcliffe on Sour Greenway (not Parking, rather than Totton. This former Power Station should be developed as a zero Carbon Garden City. This already has direct ril connections to Leicester, Derby and Nottingham.

This then only leaves the relatively short gap between Radcliff on Sour and Sheffield, around 50 miles. With the prohibitively expensive approach costs in Sheffield and Leeds removed it should have a much higher CBR and the case for making it is one of capacity. The case for integrating HS2 and NPR was that there was spare capacity North of Birmingham through trains from NSR could make. Unfortunately the planned interchanges were terrible or non existent. This proposal manages to produce nearly the same travel time savings at vastly less cost and much greater connectivity, Less than 5 miles of tunnels would be needed each solving massive rail capacity problems in the cities., using the savings to pay for transit projects in all major northern cities in the transpennine region. There would only be a case for bridging the Sheffield/East Midlands Gap when the ‘western y’ arms proposed here were filled with capacity.