In recent years there has been a widely accepted view that cars are a bad thing and should be discouraged. They are seen as intrusive, dangerous and bad for the environment so that public policy has sought to discourage their use. For the planning system one of the main concerns when considering new housing development has been the amount of parking to be provided. The assumption has been that less parking will discourage car ownership, make new neighbourhoods safer and allow for better quality urban design. The Space to Park research set out to test this assumption.
It is clear from any review of this subject that parking is an emotive issue. The car is such an unavoidable part of life for many people that the ability to own and park multiple cars next to your house is seen by many as a human right. Indeed the Canmore housing scheme in Edinburgh, the first in the UK to be car-free, has been subject to a successful human rights challenge stating that landlords cannot prevent people from owning a car.
On the other hand people concerned about the sustainability and urban design of housing development have sought to reduce the amount of parking and hide it from view. The hypothesis that has been tested through the Space to Park research was that this approach might have been wrong, that the reduction of parking provision (at least in some suburban schemes) might not have reduced car ownership and indeed might have led to a series of unintended consequences for the environment and community relations. Our hypothesis was not that we were wrong to want better housing design, or indeed to reduce car use, but rather that a narrow focus on parking numbers was not perhaps the best means to achieve these ends.
This research is based on a set of suburban case studies in Kent, an area that has seen a great deal of new housebuilding and where a number of authorities have pursued policies to reduce parking numbers. The schemes covered are outside town centres, relatively poorly served by public transport and are solely residential. However, Kent does have a policy of seeking good quality urban design and the case studies would score reasonably well on criteria such as Building for Life. In other words we have not selected badly designed estates but rather looked at the parking implications of estates that have been designed in line with national planning guidance. The case studies in particular, and Kent more generally, are therefore typical of suburban dormitory housing schemes across the country. We could of course argue that such estates are unsustainable in terms of their location. However they are typical of many of the suburban schemes being brought forward across the country as the housing market recovers.
We would nevertheless sound a note of caution. The findings here are not necessarily applicable to urban locations; within existing towns and cities; with access to a range of employment; served by public transport and with a locally available Car Share scheme. Indeed we would hypothesise that where viable alternatives to the car are available, households might very well react to the nudge factor of making parking more difficult by asking whether they need a second car or even whether they need to own a car at all. We suggest that a sister piece of research on these more urban estates is undertaken to test this.
The research has been undertaken as part of a wider project entitled ‘Home Improvements: Improving quality and value in the provision of volume house building through architectural knowledge exchange ’ which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and initiated by senior architecture staff at Sheffield, Edinburgh and Kingston Universities.
The aim is to build links between academic research, professional practice and developers to drive innovation in the housebuilding supply chain. Three research projects were funded, one to explore custom-build housing, one looking at the design of the public realm and this one to explore residential parking. Each project is a collaboration between an architecture practice (in this case URBED) and a University (in this case the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA)). The Home Improvements project has also benefitted from the input of Taylor Wimpey Homes, Design for Homes, and the RIBA.
David Birkbeck of Design for Homes has played an important part in helping to guide this project, along with Bob White from Kent County Council who has helped us hugely with the case studies in Kent. The fieldwork and focus group have been undertaken by the research company Progressive. We are grateful for all of the people who have helped with the project. Outputs include good practice case studies, a literature review and an academic paper which is being developed.