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22 August 2023

Transforming Communities through embedding Sustainable Travel: The imperative for thoughtful Master Planning

by Robin Pointon, Managing Director at GO Travel Solutions


In our rapidly evolving world, the significance of master planning in creating thriving communities cannot be overstated. With a growing emphasis on sustainability, master planners now face the critical task of integrating eco-friendly practices into their developments. Among the pivotal aspects of this process is the incorporation of sustainable travel measures. This article explores the pressing need for prioritising sustainable travel in master planning and the substantial benefits it can bring to both communities and the environment.

The Transportation Sector's Emissions Challenge

Within the UK, the transportation sector stands as the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for around 25% of the UK’s total emissions in 2020. The majority of these emissions originate from road transport, accounting for one-third of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, particularly in urban areas (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).

The European Environment Agency estimates that road transport is responsible for excessive concentrations of approximately 70% of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and 30% of particulate matter (PM). Air pollution-related health issues result in an estimated 24,000 premature deaths annually in the UK, costing the NHS approximately £20 billion each year.  

Compared to single-occupancy car usage, all forms of land surface travel exhibit lower carbon and NOx emissions per person. Addressing this challenge requires proactive and forward-thinking measures in master planning. We must not assume that electrification of vehicles is the solution to the emissions challenge. Even with electric cars and vans, particulate emissions remain and these vehicles still require scarce road space. 

The Cost of Neglecting Sustainable Travel

Failing to prioritise sustainable travel in the initial planning stages can lead to costly retrofitting later on. Developers often encounter obstacles in securing funding and determining the most opportune timing for their projects. Moreover, encouraging communities to embrace sustainable modes of travel becomes an uphill battle without well-established infrastructure from the outset. To ensure the long-term success of sustainable communities, offering residents a diverse range of local sustainable travel options, such as buses, trains, bicycles, and car-sharing services, becomes essential.

The Power of Early Stakeholder Engagement

The key to embedding sustainable travel practices effectively lies in early and robust engagement with stakeholders. Engaging government ministries, technical advisors, local communities and their representatives, developers, contractors, and investors from the outset ensures a cohesive and unified effort towards sustainable transportation goals. Taking a holistic approach, stakeholders must set clear targets for economic, environmental, social, and institutional performance, fostering a collaborative atmosphere.

Community Involvement

A master plan's success greatly hinges on engaging communities throughout the entire process. By making sustainable travel a central theme in the communication strategy, the plan can inspire and motivate residents to actively participate in the journey towards a sustainable future. Thoughtful place-making, creating appealing workspaces, and fostering 10, 15, or 20-minute neighbourhoods that are easily accessible by walking and cycling create a seamless and sustainable living environment for residents. Such a development supports low environmental impacts and enables healthier communities, through the encouragement to walk and cycle for local trips.    


As we confront the hurdles presented by the climate emergency and environmental deterioration, the integration of sustainable travel becomes an indispensable component in the process of master planning. By placing emphasis on environmentally conscious transportation choices and involving stakeholders and communities from the outset, master planners can lay the groundwork for flourishing and sustainable communities. Thoughtful master planning, with sustainability as its foundation, holds the power not only to reduce the transportation sector's carbon emissions but also to forge a brighter future for generations to come.

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