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BREAKING: Exeter LTN scrapped

  • by JW

“Exeter needs to do something about its traffic problem.” [Prof Richard Betts, Exeter University]


The county town has got a problem with traffic – which raises questions such as How are we going to reduce congestion on Exeter’s streets? and How are we going to decarbonise Exeter’s streets?

Of course, pubic transport could be improved – but outside of London buses are expensive, unpopular and quality is poor. In the meantime, cycling and walking could be encouraged – but this means making it safe to cycle and walk.

And so we have the Heavitree and Whipton Low Traffic Neighbourhood project – initiated by the county council, together with the city council. 

However, there have been lots of problems with the Exeter LTN – from fears fuelled by conspiracy theories to such green policies affecting the less well-off to questions about where the pollution is going.

Similar trials in Oxford have also thrown up different opinions on the value of such schemes – from fears that “LTNs can delay emergency vehicles by up to 45 seconds… whilst streets feel safer and more sociable without traffic.” Which raised the question of using cameras rather than bollards to control the traffic.

But despite such practical suggestions and despite the Exeter LTN trial being allowed to continue back in January, the pressures have continued.

And at ‘a very heated meeting’ this morning Exeter’s LTN scheme was sensationally scrapped – as reported on Devon Live:

Exeter’s hugely controversial low-traffic neighbourhood (LTN) scheme in Heavitree and Whipton has been scrapped with campaigners declaring it a ‘victory for democracy’. Members of Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders Committee (HATOC), which is made up of Devon County and Exeter City councillors, debated for more than three hours today, June 3, on whether to make the scheme permanent or axe it.

The Active Streets traffic experiment had been recommended to be suspended ‘as soon as is practicable’ following a nine-month trial after it was deemed to have significantly negatively impacted the lives of disabled people, those with health issues and even pupils and a local special school who were said to have been subjected to ‘additional distress and pain’.

At today’s meeting, it was decided to suspend some of the regulations stopping traffic getting through parts of the city straight away. Others restrictions will stay in place until the school summer holidays.

In the BBC’s coverage of how the Exeter low traffic neighbourhood ended, it has all been very unpleasant – but there are considerations of the longer-term:

The meeting at County Hall heard the scheme had “divided” the city and council officers working on the scheme had experienced “abuse and threats”.

Planters that make roads narrower will remain in place with the aim of reducing speed. Devon County Council will now prepare a further report looking at any of the positive impacts of the scheme and officers will meet with focus groups to look at measures to reduce the use of roads as rat runs.

However, climate change scientist at Exeter University Prof Richard Betts claimed today that council reports advising the scrapping of the scheme were based on ‘poor quality analysis’. And back in October the Exeter climate expert backed the LTN road closures:

“Exeter needs to do something about its traffic problem. It’s causing increased carbon emissions and increased pollution.” Prof Betts said the scheme needed to run for the full trial period of 18 months to gather a full set of data: “It needs a longer period to allow people to see they can make different transport choices.”

Before today’s decision, cyclists were voicing anger as the report called to scrap Exeter LTNs, with Exeter cyclists slaming the council for ‘letting down’ kids by axing the LTN trial:

Exeter Cycling Campaign says the report betrays council promises. The group, which is a registered road safety charity, says: “It should not require bravery to cycle to school.” It says the trial has met its aims of boosting ‘active travel’ and reducing car journeys, and councillors are now being put in an ‘invidious’ position by their officers’ report.

Pro-LTN campaigners say children have been enjoying cycling on safer streets in Heavitree -Credit: Heavitree and Whipton Liveable Neighbourhood Group Exeter cyclists slam council for ‘letting down’ kids by axing LTN trial

An open letter to members of the HATOC says: “What a tragedy that you are now being put in the position of receiving recommendations from your officers to reverse the progress we’ve made in the Active Streets Trial a trial that is delivering on its key aims of enabling active travel and reducing car journeys. You really have been let down here. It seems incredible that the best solution the county council team can propose to you is to allow rat-running cars to again drive past Ladysmith schools and to increase car dominance in these areas of Exeter.”

The campaign says the analysis of the incomplete trial has been poor. And a spokesman said: “The inconvenience of some drivers should not override the benefits available from building active lives and reducing road danger and carbon pollution.” The letter urges HATOC members to ‘take back control’ and stand by their commitments. It goes on: “This is hard, but this is what you have come into politics for to lead and make the bold decisions that will improve our city.”

Today there has been considerable reaction on social media, needless to say, from Oppose Heavitree & Whipton LTN’s | Facebook and LTN Protest Group | Facebook to Heavitree & Whipton Streets for People | Facebook and Exeter Streets for People (@ExeterStreets) / X.