The Proximity Principle: Why we are living too far apart


Housing and planning policy should be governed by the proximity principle: the idea that compact cities, towns and villages produce the best social, economic and environmental outcomes.

Proximity brings people, shops, schools and healthcare closer together. It drives creativity and innovation. It means less distance to travel: people are more likely to walk or cycle, which in turn makes streets safer and more welcoming. There are environmental advantages, too, with less land and energy required.

Before the development of modern transport, proximity was achieved automatically. But today, it requires careful planning and intervention by government. Yet government policy is contradictory. Aspects of it favour proximity, such as planning guidance recommending higher density and brownfield development. However, aspects of it still support dispersal through the encouragement of large new settlement areas, such as urban extensions and eco-towns.

This report, written for CPRE, is based on interviews with housing and sustainability practitioners, including architects, government officials, planners, housebuilders, housing organisations and environmental groups. It also involved qualitative research in four different communities in Cambridgeshire and Tyneside. Find out more about these areas here.

“We wanted a village that was big enough to have a bakers and a post office and things in it, so if you get to a point where you can no longer drive then you can manage. When we first moved to the village, a lot of new building was going on, and in our view that meant the village would be big enough to keep those shops.”

Resident of Somersham, Cambridgeshire

“Everybody talks to everyone else. People will always speak. There’s never anyone who just puts their head down and goes by.”

Resident of Westoe Crown Village, South Shields

“This report breaks new ground in thinking about density and proximity in rural and small-scale communities. It reinforces the urgency of compact development where people, services and amenities are all located close together so that people can live more sustainably in a more socially integrated way.”

Professor Anne Power, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE

“This is great – accessible, convincing and actionable stuff.”

Alice Owen, Arup

“Living in well-designed, compact settlements has enormous benefits for community and climate. This report is a timely reminder for an overcrowded island addicted to urban sprawl.”

Jon Reeds, Brownfield Briefing

Download the report here.

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