Swindon Borough Council: Sustainable travel

Swindon Borough Council has developed a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) that has helped secure the creation and maintenance of travel plans for new education, workplace, and residential developments. It obligates developers to fund initiatives through payment of a significant travel plan contribution to the council for it to resource implementation, or payment of a bond which repaid when the developer fulfils their obligations. The funding has proved crucial to the implementation of many impactful sustainable travel initiatives.


The challenge

Whilst travel plans have existed since the late 90s, the pressing issue has often been how to effectively implement them. Integrating travel plans into a developer’s remit makes an already tricky issue more complex. When developers begin work on site, there is often an urgency to complete projects quickly and move on to the next project. As such, the creation of a 5-10 year travel plan for the site as a legacy requirement is not seen as helpful or ideal from a developer’s perspective. In many cases, the responsibility of implementing such plans is transferred to new occupiers of the development and in many cases, it becomes clear that new tenants have neither the understanding nor the motivation to carry out the travel plan to the local authority's satisfaction.

What is also challenging is the process of ensuring consistency of quality throughout the travel plan. In the absence of guidance secured as an adopted piece of planning policy, developers often negotiated the “minimum level” of commitment within their travel plans, leading to a set of differing standards between each development. Such inconsistency of standard also presented challenges around monitoring with Travel Plan Officers within the Council. As named contacts within projects moved on to pastures new, it became increasingly difficult to maintain levels of commitment to travel plan initiatives, with numerous actions not being delivered as a result. Consequently, many travel plans faded into ineffective strategies that were not delivered in full.

The solution

The catalyst for Swindon's new SPD on travel has been the New Eastern Villages (NEV) development, a project that will create 8,000 new homes across the borough. From a travel plan perspective, the NEV development is complex and requires consistency across all parcels of land. This will ensure there is continuity throughout the development. To ensure this, in consultation with other local authorities and developers, a SPD has been created to standardise the travel plan commitments each developer must provide within the NEV development. In addition, the SPD also details the specific financial obligations developers must accept to ensure the NEV travel plan has the foundation for effective and consistent implementation and delivery.

Despite taking over 12 months to fully prepare the SPD and secure its adoption through the planning committee, the investment benefits are now being realised. To date, two developments have committed their financial contribution to the Council so that it can implement the travel plan initiatives going forward. A further four developers are anticipated to follow suit in the next financial year. 

Developers have, in the main, welcomed making a financial contribution to the implementation of travel plans. The process has put the onus on travel plan delivery into the Council’s hands, allowing developers to focus on their core business.

The initiative enabled the Council to monitor the implementation of travel plans more effectively with less time spent on establishing who the developer’s point of contact is. The process provides a greater element of control over the implementation of travel plans from a Council perspective.

This element of control and additional resource has led to the roll out behaviour change initiatives  to be effective. Current and future funding will:

  • Deliver staffing to implement the site specific travel plan
  • create working groups with community stakeholders, transport operators and the developer 
  • Create travel information packs for new residents / employees
  • Develop maps for new areas
  • Provide a "bike loan scheme" (to enable residents to borrow a bicycle to try out cycling)
  • Provide bus taster tickets
  • Enable the delivery of initiatives that promote active travel such as roadshows, guided walks / guided bike rides, training (such as bike maintenance courses, or cycle skills courses), car share coffee mornings (to match people up with neighbours travelling to similar destinations)
  • Provide information online. The website swindontravelchoices.co.uk has been enhanced to include a journey planner and interactive maps as well as including a section dedicated to each new development for tailored information
  • Develop and sustain an "Active Swindon Challenge app". (The initial development of the app has been funded through the Government's Active Travel Fund, however, the ongoing hosting, prizes and flash challenges have been enabled by the developer funding)
  • Provide schools, developers and organisations with free use of the Modeshift Stars system (a nationally recognised travel plan accreditation scheme). The system incentivises developers and organisations to aspire to levels of accreditation
  • Monitor the data and impact of car usage across new developments

The impact

The initiative is relatively new and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted travel patterns and skewed travel trends. As a result, we are still working on establishing a foundation of evidence to analyse.

We can however, estimate a degree of behaviour change that will be realised based on similar interventions within previous Government funded projects. Notably, these interventions noted a reduction in car use of 4 percentage points, and up to 411 tonnes CO2 saved across a 3-year period.

Lessons learned

  • Establish local champions and work collaboratively to help advocate travel plan initiatives
  • Make full use of local advertising to spread key messaging locally (E.g. social media platforms and local newsletters)
  • Monitor the impact of interventions with a commitment to adapting delivery if delivery is not as effective/impactful as anticipated

Contact

Claire Fleming, cfleming@swindon.gov.uk