Meet our Head of Transport, Melanie de Wet – Latest

Meet our Head of Transport, Melanie de Wet

In this Q&A we hear from Melanie de Wet, Head of Transport and Associate Director at Elliott Wood, on how she got into the industry, what the most pressing issues in transport are, and how our Transport Carbon Tool is helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for a site.

What in your opinion is the biggest opportunity in transport at present?

As transport contributes nearly one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the UK (and across the world), transport has a huge part of play in the fight against climate change.

For decades Transport Planners have been promoting the use of sustainable travel modes (walking, cycling and public transport) to help ease congestion on our roads, improve air quality, make travel more inclusive for all, and improve people’s physical and mental health. However, it has been difficult to quantify the impact of our travel behaviour on the environment and as a result change has been slow.

In 2019 the UK government declared a climate emergency, resulting in a target being set to reach net zero emissions before 2050 i.e. to reduce carbon emissions by 80% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2050. By inference, this requires an 80% reduction in carbon emissions from personal/business travel and transport of goods and services, which is a significant challenge!

The minimalist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was quoted as saying, ‘Less is more’. Well, nothing could be truer in reducing carbon emissions from transport than doing less and doing more with less. In transport terms this would involve:

  • reducing the need to travel (working from home when possible)
  • travelling less by all motorised modes of travel (replacing journeys under 2km with trips on foot or bicycle)
  • building less new transport infrastructure particularly roads (this is possible if we reduce the demand for travel particularly by single occupancy vehicles)
  • optimising the use of existing transport infrastructure (repurpose road space into liveable streets/public realm/green infrastructure which historically was allocated to road space and parking)
  • combining personal trips (make one trip for multiple purposes)
  • consolidating deliveries (have Amazon deliveries arrive together than spread over multiple trips, and the use of delivery hubs/last mile cargo bikes for commercial deliveries)
  • promote the use of shared transport infrastructure including bike share schemes and car clubs over private ownership
  • including EV charging point in new/upgraded buildings and infrastructure

As travel behaviour varies depending on land use and location, transport strategies and mitigation should be tailored to each development with the overarching view of reducing transport related carbon emissions. We are excited to have the opportunity to offer the public carbon efficient options while engaging with clients to develop futureproof and commercially viable options.

What’s the one change you would like to see within the transport industry that would benefit the built environment?

For years the construction of new/refurbished buildings has been assessed to make them as efficient as possible, to reduce their embodied carbon, and minimise construction waste. As a result, the efficiency and impact of the construction of buildings has moved on leaps and bounds.

Over the lifetime of a building, the GHG emissions from transport to and from buildings will far exceed the embodied and operational carbon impact of the building. Yet, there is no requirement for developments to assess the greenhouse gas emissions from transport activities. Rather, the focus of the planning system is to mitigate the impact of developments through physical infrastructure improvements or financial contributions which support the provision of further transport infrastructure.

The assessment of the GHG emissions from transport activity at developments would allow not only the most appropriate mitigation measures to be included and promoted at developments but would allow the implication of land use decisions on the environment to be assessed, allowing us to shape our towns and cities in the most sustainable way. This would allow the true whole life cycle carbon impact of developments to be assessed.

To assist with the above, we developed a Transport Carbon Tool, which allows us to assess the annual GHG emissions of transport activities at office and residential developments by mode and journey purpose. This allows us to identify the areas likely to contribute the greatest impact and thus tailor mitigation measures to enable a reduction in GHG emissions for a site. For more details, visit our case study on the transport impacts of office developments in various locations.

What are the current considerations in transport that are impacting the work you do with clients?

The UK’s commitment to reach net zero carbon by 2050 has influenced planning policy and the allocation of public funds to favour more sustainable travel modes. An example of this is the focus placed on new walking and cycling infrastructure brought about through the Government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy and the resulting Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIP).

Planning policies impacting new developments, change of use and refurbishments is a shift in many city centres to low or car free developments, the inclusion of EV charging points, and a general increase in the cycle parking spaces required at developments.

The prioritisation of walking and cycling is clearly welcome and necessary, particularly when it replaces car trips. We therefore welcome the opportunity to work on projects alongside developers and local authorities where we propose public realm improvements that create more inclusive, welcoming spaces that improve access to walking and cycling for all users.

A balance, however, needs to be struck between the ever-growing cycle parking requirements and the actual cycling demand as not to overprovide cycle parking. There is nothing more unsustainable than providing infrastructure that is never used due to the embodied carbon impact of providing the infrastructure.

We are therefore working with developers to assess the level of cycle parking required at new developments taking a balanced view on what should be provided within private space and what can be supplemented by shared cycling facilities within the public realm. For more information, read our case study of residential development in Bournemouth.

What motivated you to pursue a career in transport planning?

I moved into transport planning following a post graduate degree in Town Planning at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. I absolutely loved my degree which covered a wide range of subject matter including courses in architecture, sociology, environmental law and three years of economics amongst the various town planning modules. However, I found myself drawing to the detail of the civil engineering elements of my course.

Questioning my future as a town planner, I did a one year course in property development and management and worked part time as the assistant project manager on what was then the largest roads projects in our capital city, Pretoria – the creation of new collector distributor roads along national road 1 (the N1) which bisects Pretoria. At this point I was hooked, which was great as I was then offered a permanent position at a local Traffic Engineering company called Stanway Edwards and Ngomane Associates (SENA).

20+ years later I have had the privilege of being involved in a wide range of transport related projects, including improving the response time of our emergency services on the N4, being responsible for assessing outdoor advertising applications along the N1 and N3, preparing strategic road models to assess the need for new roads, assessing the financial feasibility of toll roads in South Africa and China, evaluating and setting the priorities for walking and cycling infrastructure improvement schemes, and working on more private developments than I can remember ranging from individual dwellings to the new town of Tornagrain in Inverness. It has certainly been an exciting journey.

What’s your preferred method of transport?

As a youngster I was obsessed with anything on two wheels. These days I favour the most simplistic mode of travel; walking. If time was not an issue I would happily walk everywhere. Not only does it provide the ability to take in every sight and sound, allowing you to feel part of your environment, it is also great for your waistline! Best yet it is free, has no impact on the environment and it can be shared with others.

Find out more about our transport services here and get in touch at if you'd like to speak to the team.