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Suffolk County Council adopts new street guide in bid to provide safer environment for communities

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Suffolk County Council has adopted a new streets guide, aimed at providing safer, more attractive and more inclusive environments by setting out the council’s expectations.

The guide provides principles to inform and influence the work of designers and developers.

Areas covered include priority at junctions, ‘no parking’ zones outside schools, information at bus stops and optimum height of kerbs.

SCC Cllr Richard Smith Picture: Suffolk County Council (58299073)
SCC Cllr Richard Smith Picture: Suffolk County Council (58299073)

The document is designed as a tool to guide rather than a list of rules to follow, and it is therefore not a statutory document.

Conservative councillor Richard Smith, cabinet member for economic development, transport strategy and waste, said at a meeting of the cabinet on Tuesday: “This guide will serve as a modern, up to date endorsement of the best in street design and it has the approval of all of Suffolk’s districts and boroughs.

“It is designed primarily to influence developers, and they too have been consulted.

Suffolk County Council headquarters.. Picture: JASON NOBLE LDRS
Suffolk County Council headquarters.. Picture: JASON NOBLE LDRS

“The design principles in this document prioritise the needs of pedestrians and cyclists, with a focus also on those most vulnerable – such as those with disabilities and young people.

“It gives priority to creating easy emergency access and emphasises the importance of good landscaping, including an objective of ‘right tree, right place’.

“The design guide can be updated when necessary, and perhaps one of these necessary updates will come before too long when we have more details about electric vehicle (EV) charging.

“We’re waiting for the outcome of EV charging trials held elsewhere in the country and, once we establish best practice, we will want to incorporate it in this design guide.

Andrew Stringer questioned the proposed impact of the guide. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography 2022
Andrew Stringer questioned the proposed impact of the guide. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography 2022

“It will also be useful to interested members of the public, who will be able by consultation to judge developer’s proposals against what we would wish to see, as laid out in the document.

“Of course, the final planning decisions lie with Suffolk’s planning authorities, but this common-sense guide should influence the design and planning process at all stages, and help to raise standards.”

Cllr Smith explained that the previous design guide was 20 years old.

As well as establishing the hierarchy of street users, with pedestrians first and private cars last, the guide encourages the use of raised crossings at junctions to promote reduced speeds and reinforce pedestrians’ priority.

It explains that ‘no parking’ zones should be extended outside schools and mirrored on both sides of the street to improve visibility for those crossing, and that designers should show how they will ensure on-street parking does not affect other vehicles or risk the safety of street users.

The guidance also suggests that cycle parking should be provided in areas with the most footfall to reduce the opportunity for theft, and a minimum kerb height of 65mm should be implemented to help blind and partially sighted people clearly distinguish between road and pavement.

Although he called the guide a “good document”, Green councillor Andrew Stringer questioned how far it will make an impact on planning at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.

He pointed out his view that problems arise from cost cutting that takes place when county council officers make some decisions over highways planning, which they do through an agreement called a section 278.

He said: “It’s this system that we desperately need to review and demistify.

“In nearly every single case, we’ve found that what’s happening is officers are underestimating the cost of what’s needed to comply with the design guide at the beginning of the process.

“When planning permission is given and they find the cost is higher, there’s not enough money in the system to implement the work and a cost cutting exercise takes place.

“So, I would urge the provision of training for councillors as to how this system works and a review of the system itself, to ensure the design guide can be followed.”

The executive director of growth, highways and infrastructure stated he would look into further training for councillors, and suggested the document carried weight as councillors had been consulted.

The cabinet voted unanimously in favour of the recommendation to endorse the guide and incorporate it into the county council’s own development proposals.

Work on the Suffolk Design Streets Guide began in 2020, and its first update is expected in 2023.