What are the big issues in the West of England mayoral race?

Bath, one of the region’s urban centres. Image: Getty.

The Centre for Cities’ recent hustings in the West of England, which you can listen to here, was the first in the city region’s mayoral race; and it offered a clear indication of some of the key issues that are likely to dominate debates between the candidates as the elections get closer. Here are four.

Improving public transport

Traffic policy played a prominent role in Bristol’s city mayor election last year, and so it was no surprise that this issue also proved to be one of the key points of discussion among the candidates for the city region mayoralty.

For Conservative candidate Tim Bowles, the key to addressing congestion problems across the city region was through better regulated bus services, which would help to make public transport more attractive to residents. Labour’s Lesley Mansell offered a different perspective, suggesting that greater employment flexibility and more working from home would help to alleviate the city region’s busy roads and transport system.

Green candidate Darren Hall argued for public ownership of the bus company. Bristol Council owns an energy company, he noted, so why could the city region not take full control of the bus network? For Stephen Williams of the Liberal Democrats, public ownership was a step too far; but he argued that greater regulation to deal with market failure in the transport system would be necessary to make it to work more effectively, for local people. John Savage, an independent candidate, promised a greater focus on both light rail and buses if elected.

Dealing with housing shortages

There is widespread consensus that a significant number of new homes are needed in the West of England to meet demand in the next decade, and housing was also a major issue in the debate.

Much of the discussion focused on addressing housing unaffordability, alternative delivery models and dealing with shortages. But there was less clarity on where these houses would be built – and whether this would involve building on the greenbelt, which makes up 48 per cent of land in the city region.

Lesley Mansell vowed to change planning laws in order to push through with applications for new housing developments which are currently stalled. Tim Bowles suggested that he would open up more publicly owned brownfield sites for development, but Darren Hall pointed out that one of the difficulties with brownfield sites is that ownership is split parties and this makes site assembly hard task. He highlighted the importance of the Bristol community land trust, which has delivered 15 new homes so far, and also emphasised the importance of connectivity, and density.

Stephen Williams said he was open to the idea of using some greenbelt land for homes, but emphasised that he did not want a megalopolis between Bristol and Bath; while John Savage also suggested that some greenbelt land might be required for the homes that local people deserve.


Addressing skills-gaps

A question from an Airbus representative raised the issue of how the candidates would improve skills-levels across the city region, particularly when it came to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Jon Savage emphasised the need to put more long-term investment into in-work training and helping marginalised people improve their skills, but acknowledged that this would take time to have results. Lesley Mansell highlighted the need to protect local advice centres which support young people with education and employment, and which are currently under threat from cuts.

Darren Hall also focused on young people, and said he would aim to create more business partnerships with local firms to help young people access jobs. Tim Bowles argued that he would get more young people studying these subjects by doing more to promote the fantastic career opportunities that are open to STEM graduates. Increasing the number of women in STEM will be vital to helping high-technology and research firms in the area to grow, pointed out Stephen Williams, and this will be even more important in case of a hard Brexit, something he promised to fight against.

A political voice for the West of England

As our recent briefing on the West of England highlighted, the new mayor will need to focus on raising the city region’s profile on the national and international stage, and a number of candidates were keen to talk up their capacity to do so. Tim Bowles, for example, said his connections with national government would enable him to secure more powers for the mayoralty, as well as boosting its profile.

Stephen Williams claimed that as a former minister in the Coalition government, he had developed strong relationships with the Prime Minister, business secretary Greg Clarke and communities secretary Sajid Javid, which would enable him to make the case for the city region at a national level. He also highlighted the halting of the electrification of the train from London to Bristol (despite electrification going ahead on the line from the capital to Cardiff, home of the devolved Welsh Assembly) as a sign the lack of political voice for the city region.

The debates from the hustings point to the fact the key priorities for whoever becomes metro mayor of the West of England will ultimately arise from the need to deal with the costs of the city region’s economic success. Having a clear plan in place to tackle its housing shortages and transport congestions, and to ensure it has the skilled labour market required to continue to attract high-paying firms and jobs, will be critical to making a success of the role in its initial years.

Simon Jeffrey is a researcher and external affairs officer at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this article first appeared.

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To transform Australia’s cities, it should scrap its car parks

A Sydney car park from above. Image: Getty.

Parking may seem like a “pedestrian” topic (pun intended). However, parking is of increasing importance in metropolitan areas worldwide. On average, motor vehicles are parked 95 per cent of the time. Yet most transport analysis focuses on vehicles when they are moving.

Substantial amounts of land and buildings are set aside to accommodate “immobile” vehicles. In Australia, Brisbane provides 25,633 parking spaces in the CBD, Sydney 28,939 and Melbourne 41,687. In high-demand areas, car parks can cost far more than the vehicle itself.

However, parking is not just an Australian problem. By some estimates, 30,000 square kilometres of land is devoted to parking in Europe and 27,000 km² in the US. This parking takes up a large part of city space, much of it highly valued, centrally located land.

Traditionally, transport planners believed that generous parking allocations provided substantial benefits to users. In reality, excessive parking is known to adversely affect both transport and land use. These impacts, along with recent land-use, socioeconomic and technological trends, are prompting cities to start asking some important questions about parking.

Australian planners must engage with emerging trends to help cities work out the best way to reclaim and repurpose parking space in ways that enhance efficiency and liveability while minimising disruption.

Here we chart likely challenges and opportunities created by these trends over coming decades.

Key trends affecting parking space in cities. Image: author provided.

Land use

All Australian cities have policies to encourage densification, consolidation and infill development in their centres. In conjunction, some cities are setting maximum limits on parking to prevent it taking over valuable inner-city properties.

Transit-oriented development (TOD) has also become popular, at least on paper. This is another form of urban consolidation around transit nodes and corridors. It is known to benefit from high-quality urban design, “walkability”, “cyclability” and a mix of functions.

These developments mean that people who live in CBDs, inner-ring suburbs and near public transport stops will use cars less. Consequently, demand for parking will decrease.

Some non-TOD suburbs are trying to replicate inner-city features as well. For example, some suburban shopping centres have introduced paid parking. This is a significant shift from previous eras, when malls guaranteed ample free parking.

Suburbanites who lack easy public transport access will continue to rely on cars. But rather than driving all the way to a CBD, commuters will increasingly opt for park-and-ride at suburban stations, thereby increasing demand for park-and-ride lots at public transport interchanges. However, excessive capacity might hurt rather than help patronage.


Social trends

In addition to land use, several social trends will affect the need for parking.

First, young people are delaying getting drivers’ licences because driving is culturally less important to them than in previous generations.

Second, people of all ages are moving from outer suburbs to inner cities. For many, this means less driving because walking, cycling and public transport are more convenient in inner cities.

 

inally, the emergence of Uber, Lyft and vehicle-sharing arrangements means that people are not buying cars. Research suggests that each car-sharing vehicle removes nine to 13 individually owned vehicles from the road.

Together, these trends point to a reduced need for parking because there will be fewer cars overall.

Technology

The importance of technology in parking is rising – paving the way for “smarter” parking.

The emergence of a host of smartphone apps, such as ParkMe, Kerb, ParkHound and ParkWhiz, has begun to reshape the parking landscape. For the first time, users can identify and reserve parking according to price and location before starting their journeys.

Apps also make available a host of car parks that previously went unused – such as spaces in a residential driveway. This is because there was no mechanism for letting people know these were available.

In addition, smart pricing programs, such as SFPark in San Francisco, periodically adjust meter and garage pricing to match demand. This encourages drivers to park in underused areas and garages and reduces demand in overused areas.

The advent of autonomous vehicles promises to have dramatic impacts on transport and land use, including parking.

According to one school of thought, mobility services will own most autonomous vehicles, rather than individuals, due to insurance and liability issues. If this happens, far fewer vehicles and parking spaces will be needed as most will be “in motion” rather than parked most of the time.

More space for people and places

The Tikku (Finnish for ‘stick’), by architect Marco Casagrande, is a house with a footprint of just 2.5x5m, the size of a car parking space. Image: Casagrande Laboratory.

The next decade promises much change as emerging land-use, socioeconomic and technological trends reshape the need for, and use of, parking. Cities will devote less space to parking and more space to people and places.

Parking lanes will likely be repurposed as cycling lanes, shared streets, parklets, community gardens and even housing. Concrete parking lots, and faceless garages will likely be converted to much-needed residential, commercial and light industrial use.

The ConversationBy transforming parking, much urban land can turn from wasteland into vibrant activity space.

Dorina Pojani, Lecturer in Urban Planning, The University of Queensland; Iderlina Mateo-Babiano, Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning, University of Melbourne; Jonathan Corcoran, Professor, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland, and Neil Sipe, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.