Integrating Active Travel in New Developments

‘The Close’ Retirement Apartments (CG Image – Front View) – McCarthy & Stone

Nuneaton has a landmark new residential development currently in the building phase. By McCarthy & Stone, this new block of retirement apartments is sited at a prime town centre location which offers a number of benefits for the older generation – directly opposite the town’s main library, backing on to a key public park, only 250 metres from the main Sainsbury’s supermarket, a short walk to the museum and art gallery and a larger park, literally at one end of the town’s main shopping area which includes a bi-weekly market, only roughly 450 metres away from the bus station and 550 metres from the train station – in other words, this should be perfect for car-free living.

Building work underway – April 2019

It should be and indeed is (if by ‘car free’ you only mean walking, bus and train; not cycling) – but looking at the CG images, you wouldn’t know it. They feature the development’s car park and one shows a car being driven down the street. All fine, except that’s not accompanied by images of people walking or cycling, and the bus stop that certainly used to be on this street is not shown. By pictures alone, there is little to say that by living here, you can go about your day-to-day life without a car. There are also no images of cycle storage either for residents or their visitors – presumably on the assumption that the latter will visit by car.

‘The Close’ (CG Image) – McCarthy & Stone Website
‘The Close’ (CG Image) – McCarthy & Stone Website

Of course, that the images don’t actively show car-free living doesn’t mean it’s not possible at the new homes. A quick look at the map and a scout of the location will show just how convenient and easy it is to walk to a lot of the town’s key amenities. But promotion is important. This is a key selling point of the plot, one that is vitally important for the older generation (and everyone, for that matter) yet visually it is omitted. But cars and car storage is shown prominently, reinforcing the notion that travel by motor vehicle is a necessity – when in this case, it may be less than ideal.

The omission of any visual cycle storage and absolutely no mention of it in cover text is perhaps even more significant. If there is no provision for cycles then cycling will not be an option for many unless they’re willing and able to keep a cycle in an apartment – not necessarily possible depending on lift size, apartment space, agility, type of cycle etc. It also means that residents’ visitors will not cycle for lack of somewhere to secure their bikes.

There’s a lot good about this development. Generally speaking, it will improve the visual aesthetic of the area which, in my opinion, was drab with old, small shopping units and a public car-park (of which there are far too many in Nuneaton). This new building will smarten up the area and its location definitely does lend itself well to retirement living (with caveats such as any noise from nearby night life) with easily accessible amenities. However, it is absolutely important that when new developments are planned and built, active travel is put at the heart of the designs and promotional materials.

Church Street before building commenced (Google Streetview)

It looks like an opportunity has been missed here, not only to physically include generous cycle provision for both residents and guests in order to reduce the dependence on the car, but to properly promote the possibilities of a car-free lifestyle and the benefits that brings – benefits that are key for the target demographic: reduced financial burden and a continually active and social lifestyle with the benefits that brings to both physical health and mental wellbeing.