Hertfordshire transport chiefs highlight vision to support HGC development with focus on sustainable travel.

Posted 23/05/2024

Deborah Price, Local Democracy Reporter, Hertfordshire transport chiefs highlight vision to support 11,000 home development with focus on sustainable travel. 9th May 2024, available at (hemeltoday.co.uk)

Transport chiefs have highlighted the need for change to support the development of the Hemel Garden Communities – with an aim to make walking, cycling and public transport the “natural choice for local journeys”.

The Hemel Garden Community Programme includes an 11,000 home development that will straddle the Dacorum and St Albans border – with further plans for 6,300 new homes planned elsewhere in Hemel Hempstead.

And as a result, by 2050 the population of Hemel Hempstead is expected to increase by 50 per cent.

County transport chiefs have now drawn-up a ‘vision and strategy’ document that points to the need for change in Hemel Hempstead, if it is to facilitate the level of growth that is being planned.

And it focusses on an approach that, it says, would “grow Hemel Hempstead in a highly sustainable way”.

It includes an aim that 40 per cent of all trips to, from and within Hemel Hempstead – and 60 per cent of trips to, from and within new Hemel Garden Communities neighbourhoods – should be undertaken by “sustainable modes of transport”.

And on Wednesday (May 8) it was presented to a meeting of the council’s highways and transport cabinet panel.

At the meeting, it was reported to councillors that there was a need – and an opportunity – to improve passenger transport and walking and cycling routes “to give people a real choice in how they travel, particularly for shorter trips”.

And, according to the report presented to the meeting, “by 2050, Hemel Hempstead will be a place where walking, cycling and public transport are the natural choice for local journeys, for residents and visitors alike.”

Pointing to the planned increase in population, interim director of transport Rupert Thacker said moving people around would be “more challenging” than it had been in the past.

He acknowledged there could already by congestion in some parts of the town – later suggesting that that congestion was the catalyst that demonstrates the need for change.

But he said the strategy would look to identify ways to provide viable opportunities for people to shift journeys where possible to sustainable modes, by encouraging and enabling walking cycling and bus transit.

And he said it would include consideration of the HERT corridor, which is the east to west transit system the council is “looking to promote”.

The “high level” document does not include detailed information about specific routes for public transport, walking or cycling that could be available.

And at the meeting Mr Thacker acknowledged that “the devil will be in the detail” – about the networks, the provision, the individual projects and schemes that will be needed to bring about that shift and to make it real.

Meanwhile Phillipa Zieba, programme director for Hemel Garden Communities, pointed to the importance of sustainability.

“Hemel Garden communities got garden community status in 2019 – and ia key pillar of that is sustainability across all forms,” she said.

“A key aspect of that is delivering active and sustainable travel. And this is particularly important to support the levels of growth that we are proposing , which is 11,000 new homes and 10,000 jobs in the period up to 2050.”

After pointing to the 60 per cent of the population who live and work in Hemel, Conservative Cllr Jonathan Kaye said public transport would be “crucial”.

And he had asked how there could be a guarantee that public transport would be available – suggesting this was what would make people think twice about using a car.

Mr Thacker pointed to the need for public transport to be reliable and frequent to make people feel secure that option would be available.

He said there would need to be investment and prioritisation of the networks – to make sure journeys were reliable, run on time and are viable.

He also highlighted the need for “easy” ticketing and payment. And he recognised that this would require investment in the infrastructure and in behaviour change.

He also said that the opportunity was in the number of short journeys in the town – with data suggesting 60 per cent of journeys around Hemel Hempstead were less than five miles.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Nigel Taylor was among those to ask about the gradients of any cycle routes in the area.

And in response councillors heard that there was already some consideration if an e-bike scheme in the area.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Adrian England said now almost all his journeys around Hemel Hempstead were on bike or foot.

He acknowledged that the hills were a problem – but that it was not entire hills, just part of them.

He suggested the reality was that cyclists might have to get off for two or three minutes and then get back on.

And he said that Hemel Garden Communities is capable of bringing a completely new dimension to the way you travel around Hemel.

Meanwhile concerns were also raised by Liberal Democrat councillors about the lack of planned consultation and public engagement.

Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst said there should be proper public consultation and that he was surprised that it had not “gone out” for public comment.

At the meeting executive director for growth and environment Mark Doran acknowledged that it was a high level vision and strategy document. And he said the next phase was critical in setting out the detail.

Executive member for highways and transport Cllr Phil Bibby said: “It is a vision at the moment.

“Any development will depend on funding, as we know, planning permission, whatever.

“But we’re early days and I think it is quite an exciting project – something very necessary to link in particularly to the HERTS to get people across the county.

“I’m sure a lot of work will be happening in the future. ”