After almost a year of uncertainty, the DfT document 'Guidance on transport assessments' (GTA) was withdrawn from circulation in October 2014. Initially not mentioned within the guidance superseded by Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) in March 2014, it was instead marked as ‘archived’, before quietly finally being finally withdrawn as a current government document. The length of time taken to remove the paper from circulation could be taken as a sign of the importance that it's taken within the development planning industry. But what does its withdrawal actually mean? What did GTA offer and is its withdrawal actually important, given that it was not adopted government policy?
GTA essentially set out a pragmatic approach to assessing the transport impacts of a development and suggested thresholds which were noted as a useful point of reference from which to commence discussions. Its withdrawal leaves ‘Transport Evidence Bases in Plan Making’ as the only current transport ‘guidance’ within PPG. This document doesn’t replace GTA, as it’s for a different spatial scale, intended to ensure that the transportation principals of development are correctly assessed at the local plan / core strategy level. However, this isn’t relevant to assessing the impacts of developments on the local highway network, leaving the development planning industry without any formal government guidance at present.
The key central concepts within GTA have been retained within National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the supporting PPG. The key difference between NPPF/PPG and GTA is the thresholds of development the latter provided. Whilst GTA stated clearly and repeatedly that ‘These thresholds are for guidance purposes only and should not be read as absolutes’, they almost became gospel within the development industry, to the extent that many could quote them verbatim and a number of councils adopted the thresholds as standards.
So where does the withdrawal of GTA leave council officers and development consultants? Arguably no worse off. GTA noted that assessments should be tailored to each site. Council officers and consultants are free to use the old thresholds as starting points for discussion, following the methodology suggested by GTA.
However, for contentious sites, the lack of any high level guidance providing common ground between parties could actually result in greater argument and protracted planning application timeframes whilst common ground is slowly agreed. This arguably runs counter to the spirit of the simplification of planning policy within the NPPF and PPG which was intended to speed up the development management process. Meanwhile, a number of authorities are seeking to adopt the GTA within their policy suite as an interim measure to provide certainty to the development industry, whilst local policy is developed to fill the vacuum created by the removal of the GTA.
Principal Transport Planner – Parsons Brinckerhoff