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Sound of the suburbs is quietening, says report

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Suburbs are in decline, becoming less stable and sustainable, according to Civic Trust research. In contrasting areas in Birmingham, Bristol, London and Tyneside, the research identifies 'signs of stress' including: deteriorating community facilities; declining local shopping centres and parades, with outdated facilities and a gradual loss of jobs; public transport that has not adapted to changing needs, leading to increasing dependency on cars; large areas of ageing housing of a single type with little adaptation to reflect changing housing needs and social patterns.

The significance of this lies in the fact that more people live in suburbs than any other type of area - 25 million in England alone. And despite some piecemeal attempts at improvement, 'opportunities for improvement are being lost'. These should include better local transport routes, particularly within and between suburbs, and an attempt to stop all retail drifting out of town.

In general, existing sources of finance should be used, says the report, but it suggests a national 'community chest' to support development with money from the Lottery's New Opportunities Fund or a parish rate.

Although the report calls for some local densification, and replacement of housing with flats, a spokesman warned, 'Development has to be sensitive - we mustn't drive people out. We have to improve transport and local facilities, and maintain their quality of life - that means green space as well.'

Ove Arup supported the research. 'Sustainable Renewal of Suburban Areas' by Michael Gwilliam, Caroline Bourne, Corinne Swain and Anna Prat, is published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

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