In an interview in the Sunday telegraph, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stated that he has asked the Department for Transport (DfT) to launch a review into the roll out of Low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) seen across various councils due to controversy over their implementation.
The Local Government Association has responded to this, asserting that councils are “best placed to make decisions with communities”.
What are LTNs?
Low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) are residential roads in which bollards, planters or strategic “point closures” allow vehicle access to all addresses in a neighbourhood but reduce through traffic. Along with vehicle barriers, pavement widening, and other measures are also often introduced. This is intended to make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists as well as reduce air and noise pollution.
Under LTNs, local councils attempt to limit traffic in town and city centres – with drivers often prevented from using quiet residential roads as through-routes and it also encourages the uptake of other modes of transport. However, opponents of the scheme say it has created hotspots of traffic which means people end up spending more time in their car. Other critics have cited supposed issues with emergency services being blocked from certain roads and enhanced problems for disabled people.
The adoption of LTN policies has particularly angered some Conservative MPs who have criticised the measures as attacks on motorists and in recent months, it has emerged as a concern among some on the right of the Conservative Party. Nick Fletcher MP suggested in the Commons earlier this year that traffic control plans being mooted by local councils across the UK were part of an “international socialist concept” which would take away personal liberties.
What did Rishi Sunak say?
Rishi Sunak told the Telegraph that “The vast majority of people in the country use their cars to get around and are dependent on their cars. When I’m lucky enough to get home to North Yorkshire it’s more representative of how most of the country is living, where cars are important.
“I just want to make sure people know that I’m on their side in supporting them to use their cars to do all the things that matter to them” He continued.
In a letter, 43 Conservative MPs and peers called on Mr Sunak to delay the ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars from the current deadline of 2030 to 2035. The politicians – including former minister Sir Jacob-Rees Mogg and ex-party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith – called the policy “heavy handed”, and claimed it would do “grave harm to the economy”. The prime minister has insisted he will stick to the 2030 cut-off, but Downing Street confirmed last week that ministers were scrutinising existing pledges “in light of some of the cost of living challenges”.
Responding to reports the Prime Minister has ordered a review of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, Cllr Linda Taylor, Local Government Association transport spokesperson, said:
“Councils are on the side of all road users and residents, and are working hard to tackle congestion, make our air cleaner and improve the quality of life in their communities. We want to work with government to achieve this.
‘It is important that we consult with all residents and businesses to find the best solutions to ease congestion and improve air quality for everyone.
“However, it is councils who are best placed to make decisions with their communities in improving the lives of people and businesses. As democratic organisations they continually review all kinds of services and schemes based on local circumstances. Therefore, a national review is unnecessary.
“Only with long-term certainty of funding and consistency of government policy can councils invest confidently in transport schemes and help meet the Government’s own target of 50 per cent of urban journeys being walked, wheeled or cycled by 2030.”
The Labour Party’s response mirrors that of the LGA, asserting that it should be for local communities to decide.
Debates over council traffic plans are far from new but it is no surprise that Sunak’s appeal to motorists and car owners comes after the Conservatives’ narrow victory in the Uxbridge and Ruislip by-election earlier this month, which saw the Conservative candidate tap into local concerns about the expansion of London’s ultra-low emissions zone (ULEZ).
Overall, councils need to find ways to reduce emissions in their communities to meet international carbon reduction commitments. Many of the criticisms of LTNs have also been disproved but it remains vital that councils bring their communities with them, by demonstrating the value that such programmes bring to not only air quality, but the future of our planet and our health.