Read Rupa’s opinion piece in the Sunday Telegraph.
First it was Tory-run Wandsworth in south London that scrapped its Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). Then Labour-held Redbridge abandoned its Quiet Streets scheme. Now my neck of the woods, Ealing in west London, appears to be next.
The botched handling of LTNs were a key factor in the overthrow of the last leader of Ealing council, in charge of Labour locally since Tony Blair and of the town hall for over a decade. The replacement regime made amends by removing the worst example of its many schemes, leaving nine LTNs.
Under government rules, residents were supposed to be consulted on these after six months. The previous Ealing administration managed to extend this to a year, after the introduction of a lucrative system of fines was deemed a significant enough change to justify an extension. At long last, the results of the consultation are now in. Seven LTNs do not enjoy the backing of a majority of residents. Even among those living within an LTN, who you’d have thought would enjoy the tranquil streets, up to 80 per cent of people are against them.
Yet despite these results, the poisoned chalice of central funding and the conditions imposed by Westminster mean that, because government guidance changed during the consultation, the remaining LTNs cannot yet be scrapped. As I type, my screen is flashing with emails from constituents who are furious that their wishes are being ignored.
We can all get behind the goal of reducing unsustainably high vehicle dependency. But the dramatic and undemocratic way these LTNs have appeared was completely wrong. Had such schemes reacted to local demand they might have been better received than the road-clogging monsters created by unelected bureaucrats to maximise their access to Grant Shapps’s funding pot.
These changes have divided communities and pitted borough against borough. Bromley sued Croydon after the latter dumped traffic on the former. Ealing has had a similar tussle with Hounslow, where residents in LTN streets are exempt from fines via number plate recognition. When I asked for the same for us, I was told it “defeats the purpose”.
This cack-handedness has not only killed off support for LTNs, it is harming the Government’s hope of getting more people cycling. Rage at LTNs has turned residents against even logical examples of new infrastructure to help safe cycling. The creation of properly planned bike lanes is further threatened by the Government’s decision to cut off funding to those, mostly Labour, councils that have abandoned aspects of active travel – a rap on the knuckles for those who dare to listen to residents.
Councils shouldn’t be afraid to prioritise residents with improvements that work for them, rather than falling for the promise of cheques from Westminster. If the Government wants more LTNs, then it must make them fit for purpose.