Article by Ruth Bloomfield
Imagine a future without a car. No more tearing your hair out in long traffic jams – and you could kiss goodbye to surprise repair bills and parking tickets. Not to mention the prospect of cleaner air around you, and the healthier and more active lifestyle you would lead.
Weston Homes has seen this future, embracing the concept of car-free living at many of its town and city centre developments. And it has found clever ways to make freedom from four wheels an easy – even enjoyable – option.
A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
We all know that cars are guilty of contributing to the global environmental crisis. The charity Environmental Protection UK says road transport is one of the biggest sources of pollution in Britain, as well as causing noise, disturbance, congestion and, ultimately, climate change. Road transport accounts for almost a quarter of the UK’s total carbon dioxide emissions, and most cars also pump carbon monoxide and other pollutants into the air, damaging the health of all those around you.
Steve Hatton, planning and design director of Weston Homes, says communities feel the benefits of fewer vehicles on the road. Heavy traffic is, of course, a big pollutant outside your home and nobody wants to open their windows to the sound of roaring engines. We all noticed and loved the quiet roads and clean atmosphere during the lockdowns.
And being car free can bring us together. “If people are out on foot they will see their neighbours and bump into people, stop to chat,” adds Hatton. “People being out and about, and not in the bubble of their cars, reinforces all the good things about a community.”
HAVE WE REACHED CAR PEAK?
Working from home has meant no daily commute and with life becoming more normal as Covid restrictions ease, many of us will never return to our old working patterns. Daily hour-long walks or cycle rides – often our only escape from four walls during lockdown – have become a way of life. And in the 21st century, driving home with a boot rammed with supermarket shopping feels pointless when you can do your shop online while you save time, fuel and parking costs as you reduce your carbon footprint.
THE YOUNG ARE VOTING WITH THEIR FEET
Car ownership among young people is dwindling. Today, owning a car is seen as less of a status symbol, more a great big drain on the bank account. A Department for Transport study finds the number of teens with a driving licence has plunged by 40 per cent in the past 20 years. A rejection of car ownership is likely to become the “new norm”, it concludes.
To help people live car free more easily, Weston Homes is starting to include “community hubs” at some of its larger developments. These act as collection points for the majority of deliveries, which means residents will never again feel the frustration of a card through their door telling them they have missed a delivery and need to wait in for it the next day.
“People don’t perhaps realise that if you have an aborted goods delivery, then the driver needs to come back. So there is more traffic and more air pollution,” Steve Hatton points out.
The community hub system will be a feature at Abbey Quay, the £350 million Weston Homes development in Barking, east London, where more than 1,000 new homes are being created beside the River Roding.
THE 15-MINUTE CITY
If you live in the back of beyond, a car might well be a lifeline. But in a well-resourced town or city with everything you need on your doorstep, a vehicle can be an unnecessary expense.
The 15-minute city is the latest concept being used by developers and planners around the world – the idea that everything you need, from shops to local transport facilities, to entertainment and social life, should be within a 15-minute walk or cycle ride of your front door.
WALK THIS WAY
Walking is a brilliant – and free – way to improve not only your physical fitness but your mental wellbeing, too. It improves cardiovascular health, burns fat, builds muscle and also maintains bone density, which is crucial as we grow older. Taking exercise will leave you feeling energised and has been shown to help reduce cholesterol levels.
Walking outdoors is also associated with mental health benefits, particularly if you walk somewhere green and leafy. Numerous studies suggest walking can alleviate depression and lower blood pressure.
To make walking, or indeed cycling, a breeze, Weston Homes often includes walking networks and cycle paths on its sites, allowing you to get from A to B quickly and simply – while enjoying a mini workout at the same time.
“Public transport is the big one here,” says Steve Hatton. “When we look for sites, we look for a station within a 15-minute-walk as a rule of thumb, for quick journeys to where people work. This way they do not need to take a car to the station and pay to park it all day.
“We also look for sites with a nearby town or shops – or both – for daily essentials and, even better, a coffee shop. We look at things like local dentists, pubs, dry cleaners – all the things people are going to want to use in their lives.”
JOIN THE CLUB
Because there may be times when you will need a car there are now easily accessible local car clubs.
Although different clubs have different rules, the general idea is that drivers join up and pay a modest monthly subscription for access to a pool of pay-as-you-drive cars parked in dedicated spaces close to their homes. The cars can be booked using an app or via a website, and members don’t have to take any responsibility for tax, insurance or maintenance.
At Watford Cross, Weston Homes will be setting up a car club exclusively for residents, although the development is very handy for the town centre and enjoys a super-quick 16-minute commute into London from the station, which is just a five-minute walk away from home.
You might feel your car is essential because it saves you time getting around. You could be wrong. Figures from the Department for Transport reveal that cars on urban roads travel at an average of just 18mph… and the pace is even more snail-like in bad weather or at rush hour.
The average cyclist moves at 10-14mph, and doesn’t have to waste time and money finding a parking space when they reach their destination.
COUNTING THE COST
Buying and running a car makes a massive dent in your budget. According to a recent study it costs an average of £3,406 to run a car for a year in the UK, or £5,744 for those with car finance. Most car owners (64 per cent) say their vehicle is their most expensive monthly outgoing, after housing. What you save by not having a car you could put towards a fabulous holiday – or buy a top-notch bike and still have plenty to spare for taxi rides and car hire, for when you do need a little more horsepower.