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Climate change blog - a new approach to liveable neighbourhoods with AtkinsRéalis

In one of ADEPT's monthly lunch and learn sessions, a team from AtkinsRéalis discussed the concept of 'liveable neighbourhoods'. ADEPT CEO, Hannah Bartram, provides an overview.

We have all seen how polarised much of the debate around place has become. Restricting traffic has been part of highways management since the 1970s, drawing little attention. However, particularly since the pandemic, all that has changed. Strong voices dominate online debate.

Social media appears to wield a sizeable influence on community opinion when it comes to traffic and transport schemes, active travel and low traffic neighbourhoods, or so many in the media would have us believe. But is that really the case? And if so, how can we approach our communities differently and improve our engagement?

In a recent Lunch and Learn, we heard about AtkinsRéalis’ approach to this very issue and it’s one that is gaining traction among place leaders: engage from the start, don’t just rely on the usual voices and really drill down into communities.

I don’t think anyone could have foreseen traffic management becoming such a cause of division, but one way through it is to focus on the benefits – on liveable neighbourhoods that create pleasant places for people - rather than low-traffic neighbourhoods. Getting these messages out into communities through meeting residents where they gather in parent and toddler groups, social clubs and music venues, and finding out how people actually get around in their area, can bring us new insight. 

AtkinsRéalis calls their approach the Four Cs: complexities, communication and comfortable change.


Various studies have shown how data can be biased to certain groups – traffic data focused on peak times and commuter journeys is a good example – it’s accurate only for one type of journey and as such can provide only a limited picture. We know less about how other members of our communities get around at different times. Having unpaid care responsibilities can mean additional trips and many complex travel patterns through the day. We need to consider people with disabilities, shift workers, young people, families with lots to carry and older people. Studies show that women, in particular, often link their journeys (trip-chaining) and therefore get around by car or public transport completely differently. 

Lack of awareness of how the best designed schemes can cause problems for users overlooked in our data can be a huge source of frustration for the communities we serve. Without understanding the different travel behaviours, routes chosen and the reasons behind these decisions, we cannot claim to know what’s best for the people living in them. The first stage in garnering support for new schemes must be to invest in good quality data collection so that we have real insight into barriers and motivations.


As place leaders, we are familiar with the benefits of our schemes which can include greater social cohesion, health and wellbeing, improving air quality and safety, reducing carbon and increasing resilience to climate change and biodiversity, boosting the local economy and reducing inequality. We know people agree with all of these, but they also want to know how a new scheme will affect them and their daily life. It’s at this point projects can run into trouble. Our current approach to engagement and consultation is no longer working, we have to reach our communities at a far earlier stage than we do now.

Telling people how to behave and imposing restrictions on their movements will just escalate emotions and increase polarisation. Despite most people understanding the need to reduce congestion and carbon emissions, forcing change just drives opposition and prevents progress on a really beneficial scheme. It’s one of the reasons AtkinsRéalis talk about liveable neighbourhoods – it takes the emotive traffic element out and emphasises the positive – giving rise to different conversations. Using data to create fictional personas based on how members of the community actually travel to demonstrate impacts has proved successful for AtkinsRéalis in a number of projects. Used from the outset, they enable a tailored approach and the development of messaging that resonates with how people are actually living their lives.

Comfortable Change

Reluctance to change often comes when people feel forced to alter their behaviours. With the Four Cs approach, AtkinsRéalis look at managing change once detailed data has been gathered and meaningful communications with communities has been established. The final stage is to implement comfortable change through co-design. At this point there should be a fairly clear idea about local attitudes - whether radical change would be welcomed, or more likely, people would be happier with a gentle transition.

This smooth transition could start with increasing opportunities for people to move around easier and enjoy their neighbourhoods more. Things like putting in better pedestrian crossings, continuous footways, speed restricting measures, cycle infrastructure and placemaking features like planters and seating can all begin to change the feel of a place. The intention would be to slow vehicles down and indicate that active travel and placemaking are the priority. Once people have become comfortable with these changes – speeds have dropped and people start to make different choices – continued dialogue can establish whether more ambitus changes can be introduced.


Making our neighbourhoods more liveable is not something many people would argue against. A lot of people want places that are safe, healthy, inclusive and attractive, where neighbours can socialise and everybody can access their local services. This concept of liveable neighbourhoods emphasises a tailored approach in contrast to the way that low traffic neighbourhoods can suggest a blanket imposition of restrictive measures.

Evidence suggests that once they have settled down, people really do see the benefits of change, but we need to start the dialogue with them from the beginning. Emphasising the co-creation of neighbourhoods in a way that understands what communities actually need and gives them opportunities to really influence outcomes earlier can enable us to build much needed support.


Hannah Bartram, Chief Executive, ADEPT

Further information

This session was run by AtkinsRéalis:

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