Why housing expansion and transport planning should go hand in hand

9th Feb 2024
David J Alexander

For his latest column for The Scotsman, David Alexander explains why housing expansion and transport planning should go hand in hand for the good of the community.


Edinburgh Council have announced ambitious plans for an enormous transformation of the city centre transport system. The proposal, entitled ‘Our Future Streets,’ is planning for forthcoming transportation needs with the aim of reducing car usage in the centre of the capital. This new proposal is an attempt to shift society away from the car toward public transport, walking, and cycling.

This is undoubtedly the way forward, but such a transformation must consider that many housing developments of the last half century have been developed assuming car ownership is required and that public transport - when it was considered at all - was a secondary issue. So, while the principle of reducing our car use may be correct the timescale needs to be carefully considered to deal with the major changes such a policy will produce.

Closing off some routes does not necessarily decrease traffic but simply displaces it into other areas. This will potentially change existing quiet areas into busy car-filled streets transforming quiet residential places into noisy, less pleasant places to live. Changing transportation policies can impact on the attractiveness and viability of areas and this would consequently hit house prices so this could have a very real effect on peoples’ lives.

Individuals may find that their route to work, or to visit family and friends, has become a circuitous tour around Edinburgh which transforms a 20-minute journey into a 45-minute nightmare. Ironically fuel consumption and travel distances may well be increased by these changes rather than reduced exacerbating the environmental impact rather than reducing it.

This is because there has been too little coordinated planning of housing and traffic in the past. The two must go hand in hand and as more housing developments are created, they must be integrated with comprehensive infrastructure planning.

If you build 10,000 new houses in satellite developments around Edinburgh you can’t be surprised when roads become blocked at peak times, and traffic jams become the norm. To simply state that we want people to walk or get on a bike is ludicrous physically for most people, and often impractical for commuters, and not everyone wants to do this. Scotland does not have outdoor weather and the prospect of cycling ten miles in the pouring rain prior to an eight-hour day in the office is not an appealing prospect.

We have spent 50 years encouraging car ownership and to expect people to change their habits in a tenth of that time is impractical. It simply won’t happen both for cultural and practical reasons and blanket transport solutions ill-matched to existing and future housing developments will mean problems are simply being stored up for the next generation to resolve.

Good transport links are often a key element in buyers deciding where to move and without meticulously planning and integrating transport, services, shops, and lifestyle options you end up with people living in places where a car is essential. If there is to be a shift toward other forms of transport, then ensuring new housing developments are well served with amenities is essential.

Interestingly, there was an announcement last month that Edinburgh is to have a £2bn housing development near the capital’s airport which is specifically designed so that people can live there without the need for a car. The West Town development will have 7,000 homes, shops, schools, medical and social facilities but with an integrated design for living locally within the community.

The irony is that this is the way that housing developments used to be created. When car ownership was less common developers used to create whole, inclusive communities because they knew the majority of people were dependent upon public transport.

We live in cities composed of centuries of different housing styles and transforming the way we travel within those communities will take time, sympathy, and consultation with transport users to ensure we create a workable solution to a complex situation. Our cities are changing and housing and transport are two of the key factors in forming how we live in the future.