Highway Robbery: Measuring the Land Use Priorities of a British Town

Highway Robbery: Measuring the Land Use Priorities of a British Town

James Dyson (University of Central Lancashire, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3507-3.ch009

Abstract

Just how much land do we devote to highways, not just road surfaces, but verges, embankments, cuttings, car parks, and other related infrastructure byproducts? Do the professionals planning our towns and cities know? This chapter introduces an analytical tool to estimate the land-take of highways using mapping techniques to produce a plan or percentage figure and makes a comparative analysis across other urban centres. The outcome might be linked to quite different measures of civic success such as urban happiness, pedestrian safety, or retail occupancy.
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Introducing An Analytical Tool

I think you perhaps over-estimate the extent to which planning and transport policy are integrated. The borough’s transport priorities have been set outside of the context of the development plan.1

Prompted initially by public consultation response to a council allocation of £70m (+) for town center highways, and latterly the same council’s plan to allocate £500m (+) to a proposed relief road,2 the methodology outlined below has been trialed through discussions with the same council planning office. An introductory text provides an overview of planning and policy, interrogating the orthodoxies accepted in committee, and introduces the case study of Stockport, a British town in Northern England. A series of analytical drawings that map the “land grab” from pedestrian and public realm to vehicle and infrastructure follows, revealing the extent to which this attitude continues to shape our urban space; an excursus based on these drawings exposes the issues within a suite of paintings that provided a platform for public discussion. Together this commentary and analysis expose the quotidian dedication of contemporary planning in our towns to vehicle traffic at the expense of human comfort, with a conclusion offering a reflection on the future of public policy.

This chapter is written from the perspective of practice-based experience founded on the authors' close engagement with design and planning policy and “on the ground” research in favor of literature review. The research and proposition here as stated in the course of the text is based primarily on recording and knowledge of case studies, in tandem with analytical design tools, the authors' correspondence with policy decision-makers, the exhibition as a discursive platform, the architect as an activist, and the use of some archive material. First-hand groundwork rather than secondary reference material has formed a primary source, useful though the latter might be in understanding some of the background context and wider issues.

The study takes as its starting point Stockport, a former cotton mill town now absorbed into the Greater Manchester conurbation, Figure 1. The town lies at the confluence of the Goyt and Tame, which combine to form the River Mersey, culverted below a 1960’s shopping center. The Romans found a convenient crossing point here, and although its defensive position was equipped in medieval times with a castle and market, the town never rose to prominence, and remained throughout the industrial revolution and beyond a poor cousin of its near neighbor Manchester. The changes of level evident within the historic town center have been rightly praised,3 though today rendered incidental by two-dimensional town planning and invasive highways networks.

Figure 1.

Map of Stockport, its dual carriageway and motorway systems

978-1-7998-3507-3.ch009.f01

A. River Tame. B. River Goyt. C. River Mersey. The confluence of the Tame and Goyt is now beneath the M60. D. Merseyway shopping center. E. Ring road formed by Tiviot Way, St Mary’s Way, Shaw Heath, King Street West, Wood Street, George’s Road, and Belmont Way. F. A6. North to Manchester, South to London. G. M60 Greater Manchester orbital. H. A6-M60 SEMMMS (South East Manchester Multi-Modal Strategy). (Author).

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