Establishing design principles for active travel in Essex

Essex County Council / Essex Climate Action
Team Members:
Jas, Karolina, Victor

Commissioned by Essex Climate Action, we were asked to establish a new development model that would promote walkable neighbourhoods across Essex. Our work seeks to challenge the hegemony of the private motor vehicle as the principal mode of transport in new suburban development, promoting walking, cycling, public transport and car-share schemes where appropriate to dramatically improve the design quality of development across the County.

Our study is underpinned by a rigorous analysis of prevailing suburban models of delivery utilised by volume house builders, which are sadly lacking in design quality and environmental performance. These schemes were contrasted with projects considered best practice in suburban housing design such as Goldsmith Street (by Mikhail Riches Architects) and Knights Park (PTEa and Alison Brookes Architects).

Our analysis operated at three scales: the neighbourhood, block, and plot. At the neighbourhood scale we undertook a “land budget”analysis which evaluated the proportion of each site dedicated to private gardens, buildings, vehicle infrastructure, and open space. Our assessments highlighted that the proportion of hard and soft landscape per dwelling increases as the density increases, indicating that more efficient layouts reduce overheads per dwelling with potential commercial benefits. At the block and plot levels, we explored the relationship between density, building types, back-to-back distances, and parking ratios. The research revealed that less car-centric developments are more compact, have a higher proportion of terraced housing and reduced back-to-back distances.

Our study concluded with a series of recommendations linking environmental and social benefits of alternative development models. Compact development offered dramatically improved form factor, whilst more pedestrian-friendly environments would biodiversity uplifts, opportunities for doorstep play, and larger areas of soft landscape which would reduce construction costs and embodied carbon within the public realm.

Our research and subsequent design principles communicated clear benefits and actionable guidance on creating future walkable neighbourhoods, giving ECC the tools needed to promote less environmentally harmful and more enjoyable places to live.

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