Planning Thriving Places Requires a Vision-led Approach

The way we plan for the future has changed. It has had to change. The world around us has completely transformed in the past 10 years alone, and yes that’s partly to do with Covid, but that’s not the whole story.

We live in a digital age where we have options on how we communicate and how to undertake day-to-day activities whether in person or online. Climate change has risen up the political agenda in recent years and is no longer the bridesmaid in our transport policy objectives. As transport planners we know that our sector is responsible for at least a quarter of our carbon emissions in the UK and we have a collective mandate to reach net zero by 2050.

The old approach to transport planning of ‘predict and provide’ is over. At SYSTRA, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what a new vision-led approach means in practice. This necessitates a culture shift in thinking and methods from previously asking ‘What is needed to accommodate future (traffic) growth?’ to envisaging ‘What type of city, town or village do we really want to live in?’. We must then ask, how can the vision set in our strategy translate to reality?

We are already witnessing industry stalwart, the TRICS dataset, used by transport planners for decades, undergoing a reset in terms of its use in the decision-making process with the release of the Decide and Provide Guidance (2021). The TRICS consortium has attempted to lead the way in providing a method for the analysis of vision-led planning for new development.

More recently, the custodian of the strategic road network (SRN) in England and Wales – National Highways – has made it crystal clear that their role in spatial planning has changed. The DfT SRN Policy Guidance states that National Highways will support local authorities in moving away from transport planning based on predicting future demand to supporting the outcomes communities are seeking to achieve. Furthermore, the Guidance specifically sets out that transport assessments supporting new development should “start with a vision of what the development is seeking to achieve and then test a set of scenarios to determine the optimum design and transport infrastructure to realise this vision”.

Fundamentally, this requires a shift in mindset for transport planners and makes for a far more exciting, relevant, and influential job role, grounded in sustainability objectives. That means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We think an effective and joined up way to make this shift is to use a ‘logic map’ approach, which has recently been introduced as part of the appraisal process for new interventions. It’s a systematic and more visual way of presenting the causal chain required to achieve a specific set of changes or outcomes.

Simplified indicative example of a logic map

Overall, logic mapping is a great way to show how a project supports and is aligned with the programme of overarching strategic priorities for an area. Furthermore, there must be a golden thread of alignment from strategy, through to the outcomes and impacts of the schemes promoted. We know that transport must play its part in decarbonisation whilst also supporting healthy and liveable neighbourhoods in a way that is tailored to the diverse communities across the length and breadth of the country. Once the vision is set, we must ensure a logical progression from strategy to delivery so that the vision becomes reality.

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