New homes should only be built near train stations

By Frédéric de Kemmeter – Railway signalling and freelance copywriter – Suscribe my blog
15/04/2020 –
(Version en français)
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Many people are often accused of preferring the car to the train. With an average share of 10%, it can be estimated that around 90% of Europeans never use the train. Many of us do not live close to a railway station, and getting from point A to destination B by train can often be a big distance and a waste of time. But there is a solution: bringing homes much closer to railway stations.

An approach to be reviewed
Traditionally, the approach to mobility is often reduced to its technical dimension: mobility is conceived as an addition of the best techniques for the routing of passenger flows. The predominant logic is therefore one of infrastructure, cost optimisation and the organisation of an ever-increasing number of modes of transport. This fixed approach no longer seems to have a future, and many disciplines and pressure groups still pit rail and cars against each other. Sometimes for purely ideological reasons that are outdated…

Mobility requires taking into account the social and economic life of each individual, anticipating future travel patterns, habits and new practices of populations. It is therefore essential to take into account societal organisations as a whole, the nature of different areas and the social and economic fabric that characterizes all human activities. The question of transport raises above all the question of the accessibility of the different places where people live, rather than opposing modes of transport. It would be necessary to make a very fine inventory of each person’s movements every day: which way? Which needs? Which frequency?

Getting closer to stations
Since 1995, the german’s state of North Rhine-Westphalia has been involved in the Baulandinitiative (urban development initiative), which has been strengthened since 1998 by new subsidy rules and makes all new construction subject to public transport. In practice, German municipalities owning land of particular interest to a state can benefit from a « building land cheque » provided by the regional government. This initiative also aims to build a number of social or low-cost housing units, where demand is growing rapidly. It is therefore a mobility policy coupled with a social and, ultimately, environmental objective.

The state of North Rhine-Westphalia has thus determined the centres to be urbanised according to their accessibility, with any large housing project to be built within 500 m of a public transport stop or 1,000 m of a station, either existing or to be created. The housing aid, which covers 200,000 homes in the state, is granted only to homes located less than 1,500 m from a public transport stop or a railway station, or with feeder buses to them.

According to the regional government website, as of October 2018, almost 254 towns and municipalities in North Rhine-Westphalia had received an invitation from the ministry to discuss the potential of the building plots available for this initiative. Since then, 73 cities have committed themselves and 47 building projects have been developed in the meantime. This shows how important local action is, especially when you are far from Berlin. That’s give an idea how Germany can benefit from a very high degree of decentralization for his regional policy.

In Ireland, in Limerick (95,000 inhabitants), an urban project is also being prepared with the development of a 2 billion euro programs with 10,000 housing units, which has just been given the green light by authorities. The 50-hectare complex is located right next to the city’s main railway station. Land Development Agency chairman John Moran said this location will deliver a “very desirable transit oriented development. That form of development will be the key for the future to fostering cohesion and sustainable living in this new local community. Healthy living without car dependency can now become a reality for thousands of new residents in Limerick,” he explains. But it is, like many others in Europe, about urban developments. What about the remote countryside?

In a recent opinion in a newspaper, English entrepreneur Stephen Fear believed granting major planning approvals for extensive homebuilding should firstly focus on villages and towns with an existing railway station. Of course, Stephen Fear speaks for his sector, construction, which is often accused of promoting urban sprawl and rural urbanization. So Fear has thought about the problem and proposes a solution that reconciles the construction sector with the climate cause. « There is no doubt that protecting our greenbelt is important, but with a growing population it is vital that home-building is not artificially restricted because it often produces price inflation and reduces the number of homes available across all sectors, » he explains.

It is true that some policy options in line with the current green wave would like to see a complete stop to all forms of construction in order to « preserve nature ». But this is forgetting that population growth must not be absorbed only by cities, which risk becoming monsters of urban density as seen elsewhere in the world. Example below with Camallera, a village south of Figueras/Figueres, Spain. The right part of the picture could be filled with a clever way :

According Fear, commuters who worked in one place all day would use trains if they were quick, with high frequency and reliable. He takes as example Weston-super-Mare, which is a good town to enlarge because it has a mainline railway station, whereas Portishead wasn’t because it didn’t have a station at all. Stephen Fear thinks that granting major planning approvals for extensive homebuilding should firstly focus on villages and towns with an existing railway station.

Fear saids that the creation of railway stations can meant many commuters didn’t need to drive at all. The network today can accept new stop station without an ocean of money. Furthermore, the design of these railway stations should be intends to epitomize the center of the village, enacting itself as a meeting place for residents and shopping. These little stations should contain a store, bakery and, why not, pharmacy. So these little stations would have an animation throughout the day, rather than two times per day (morning and evening). In order to adapt on all people concerns, apartments and studios for small budgets should be built in the villages, not just houses.

In addition, this policy would to focus on good architectural design with passives and greener homes and sustainable place-making around statio. It is vital that houses’s demand goes hand in hand with quality, an essential goal to reach the sustainable challenge. These « new villages » should be exclusively reserved for pedestrians within a radius of 800m, i.e. about 10 minutes on foot. Cars should be turned away in peripheral car parks, similar to what historic villages do in southern Europe.

This relocation policy can go further. It must also be done on all small regional and local routes, within a radius of up to 30 or 40 kilometers of a large city. One could imagine housing for rent, the price of which includes a monthly pass for the entire railway line, every day of the year without restrictions.

Such a way of conceiving of mobility makes it possible to respond to four challenges for the future:

  • to avoid the growing importance of the automobile in the future and to put people back at the centre of living spaces;
  • to put the train and public transport back in the right place, under conditions of good frequencies and simplified ticketing;
  • avoid emptying the countryside and increasing the demographic burden in the cities;
  • by the end, achieving climate targets in a very different way than Asia.

Sources :

2018 – Bau Land Leben – Ministerin Scharrenbach: Landesregierung setzt neue Initiative für mehr Bauland auf die Schiene
2018 – Thomas Lennertz – Landesinitiative Bauland an der Schiene – Siedlungsentwicklung an Haltepunkten des SPNV
2019 – Die Welt – Gezielt gesucht: Land für Wohnungsbau mit Anschluss an Bahn
2019 – Aachener Zeitung – Mehr Geld und mehr Service des Landes geplant
2019 – Business Live (UK) – Stephen Fear/Opinion – New homes should only be built in towns with train stations


15/04/2020 – By Frédéric de Kemmeter – Railway signalling and freelance copywriter
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