Whitchurch: using traffic and transport studies as part of the evidence base for your neighbourhood plan
Whitchurch, the smallest town in Hampshire, lies within the valley of the River Test, mainly surrounded by rural or agricultural land. It’s located on the main London-Exeter railway line and lies midway between Newbury and Winchester, Basingstoke and Andover. As the intersection for roads connecting these two pairs of larger towns, Whitchurch has both thrived and suffered from its position.
Approximately 4,100 people live in the parish of Whitchurch (the designated Neighbourhood Area). The 2011 census showed that the ward population (this is larger than the parish, and includes outlying villages) has aged since 2001, with the median age now 43.
Whitchurch is likely to receive significant housing development in the Council’s Local Plan due to its strategic location. Local people have been very supportive of the neighbourhood planning process (there were more candidates for committee places than places available!) which they feel will enable them to influence development.
Traffic, transport and the neighbourhood plan: what are the issues?
Accessibility and transport issues were identified as constraints to development in the 2004 Local Plan Review and remain so ten years on. Traffic usually comes out as the top issue for the town to tackle in surveys. However the data available is neither recent (e.g. a Hampshire County Council survey done in 2005) nor specific to Whitchurch.
So, the committee aimed to source up-to-date information that is relevant to housing development and can be used as background to the policies in the neighbourhood plan. With this information in their neighbourhood plan evidence base, they hope to be able to categorise potential sites and development in terms on their impact on existing traffic.
Traffic study: how they did it
The aim of the study was to obtain quantitative data to show the state of travel in and around Whitchurch, which could be used to model any future development. The focus was mainly on the town centre, but with some routes through the area surveyed at critical junctions and times of day (e.g. rush hour).
- A volunteer team was recruited, led by Ian Jackson (NP committee traffic lead)
- They considered using ANPR equipment (which was too expensive to hire) and digital cameras (which did not produce images of sufficient clarity), opting in the end for pen and paper to record the letters of vehicle registrations
- Ian drew up a programme of observations, prepared a grid for volunteers to record traffic on and produced a briefing for them
- Volunteers recorded traffic during three key periods: 07.30-09.00, 14.30-16.00 and 16.00-17.30
- Volunteers noted on their grids when vehicles reached them and so were able to track direction of travel and number of vehicles
- All data was returned to Ian for checking and entering into spreadsheets
- Ian then produced first tables displaying this data and then diagrams with numbers of vehicles and directions marked by lines, representing roads.
Rail passenger survey: how they did it
- It was agreed in advance with the Station Manager how the survey was to be carried out (e.g. volunteers not to be on platform for safety reasons, but outside station)
- 6-7 volunteers were at the station to survey passengers at peak commuting times on one day
- Volunteers filled out paper questionnaires if passengers were happy to answer questions there and then
- Alternatively, passengers could take a questionnaire away and return it to the ticket office later
If you want to do something similar, remember that people are usually on their way to work and pressed for time, so keep it short and simple. The questions Whitchurch used were:
- What time train do you travel out on?
- What time train do you travel back on?
- How do you travel to the station?
- If car, where do you normally park?
- Do you live in Whitchurch?
- If no, how far do you travel?
- If yes, would you consider using a local bus aimed at taking peak time travellers to the station?
The results indicated that these commuters had little impact on the morning peak traffic (they travel too early), that most people drove or walked to the station and that there was little interest in the local bus service.
Other ways to get traffic and travel information
- Are there other organisations or groups gathering information that could help you? E.g. in Whitchurch the school will be doing a survey into how pupils travel to school and will be sharing this information with the neighbourhood planning team.
- A parking survey is another task volunteers could carry out, recording information on availability of spaces.
- Questions can be included in other surveys or questionnaires. E.g. Whitchurch added two questions to a general neighbourhood plan survey: “What are the five most significant traffic issues you see?” (giving answers to be ranked) and “Which part of the town is affected most?” (with a list of areas/roads to choose from).
The group will be continuing their traffic observations through the summer and autumn of 2014 and will include traffic emerging from newer developments to compare to pre-planning assessments. The traffic numbers obtained will be used to help guide the selection of sites for future development as part of the neighbourhood plan. Parking surveys are in progress and will continue to find out about the use of existing spaces, particularly as a recently built gin distillery has announced potential visitor numbers of up to 100,000 per year.
It’s important to differentiate between land use policies and projects (e.g. a community speed watch). A Borough councillor has applied for funding for an infrastructure project to identify and fund potential improvements to the transport situation in Whitchurch. Projects identified through the neighbourhood plan should be deliverable through this. The neighbourhood plan will also bring CIL so the aim is to have a prioritised list of projects ready, which could be supported through this levy.
Top tips for traffic and transport studies
- Identify how helpful these studies might be for your area and what you’re aiming to find out.
- Have a go. Don’t wait for everything to be perfect – you have to make a start somewhere.
- Start surveys as early as you can, but make sure you have someone who can deal with data using spreadsheets or databases
- Use the equipment you already have e.g. most people have hi-vis waistcoats in the boot of their cars, which can be worn for surveys – no need to buy more.
- Remember health and safety: have a brief training session for your volunteers before you start survey/study work. Whitchurch used a form based on the H&SE’s form for car park attendants (pdf)
- You don’t need sophisticated equipment to carry out traffic and transport studies. Whitchurch found that digital cameras didn’t give them the information they needed but pen and paper did!
- Note that HGV studies need to be done all day not just at peak times
- Remember you’re aiming to gather evidence, then use it to make recommendations and form policies.
- Publicise your survey work (e.g. websites, newsletters)
Many thanks to David George, Chair, Whitchurch NP steering committee
and Ian Jackson, Whitchurch NP steering committee member (traffic lead) for their help
with this case study. If you would like to know more about Whitchurch's traffic and transport studies please email Ian Jackson.
These case studies are produced by Planning Aid England as part of the Supporting Communities in Neighbourhood Planning programme, funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and delivered by a consortium led by Locality.
Photo credits© All photos are copyright Whitchurch Town Council