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How can Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods work?

  • by JW

“The government’s own report shows the popularity of LTNs; and the ‘trial then consult’ approach as being successful in broad terms.” [London Cycling Campaign]

“LTN schemes must be led locally: local circumstances and conditions can play a crucial role in finding a successful way forward.” [LSE]


There has been some reaction to Newcastle City Council deciding to scrap another low traffic neighbourhood. Here’s the local response:

Council bosses claimed that the restrictions had resulted in too many vehicles diverting to surrounding streets and back lanes, rather than sticking to main roads, and failed to produce a sustained shift to walking and cycling. But the news has been met with dismay from some campaigners, who have accused the Labour-run council of taking a “backwards step” in its stated ambitions to make Newcastle a greener city after the axe also fell on LTNs in Jesmond and Fenham.

And here’s the response from Exeter, where LTN opponents are ‘living in hope’ of the city’s own scheme being scrapped:

Ladysmith school run in Heavitree post the LTN changes. Photo credit: Devon Live and Lorna Devenish: Lorna Devenish (@LKDevenish) / X

Ian Frankum, who has been a vocal member of the Stop the Block protest group, told DevonLive: “The Labour MP Ben, his successor Steve Race and the current crop of candidates for the upcoming May 2 elections have a pretty stock answer to enquiries about the LTN trial and that is to complete the official consultation which closes May 8. “I hope that this feedback, when released, is acted upon alongside the data of course, which early indications show success measures are failing, the latest guidance from the Department of Transport puts great store in consultation, consensus and the will of the community, something many of us feel was flawed; we live in hope.”

The Heavitree and Whipton scheme has already come close to facing the axe, following a report submitted to Devon County Council, which suggested it was only performing well in two out of its 10 targets. It said that conditions for walking and cycling had improved inside the trial area but that traffic had increased on some boundary roads. It also said that the results were so far inconclusive on other measures. While some councillors called for an end to the scheme, others raised concerns that the data was too limited to make the “massive” decision. The Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders Committee (HATOC) concluded that more information was needed and allowed the trial to continue.

Meanwhile, there are other examples of schemes being shelved: a Greater Manchester LTN has been abandoned, as Withington’s controversial traffic calming scheme comes to an end, having divided the local community.

But to what extend are the people affected really ‘split down the middle’ – or is it a vociferous group who are pushing for these schemes to be scrapped? Certainly some of the complaints from those against the LTNs are politically motivated – with communities and the media having to deal with mis/disinformation at the local level.

Moreover, last month, the Government tried to bury a report which found that Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are effective and popular. To reiterate: despite the politicisation of the issues, the government’s own report shows the popularity of LTNs:

Broadly, the findings for 99 LTNs delivered since the start of the pandemic revealed, that LTNs cut traffic volumes and pollution levels (although the results on boundary roads can be “mixed”), don’t impact emergency services response times (again, results for Disabled people are “mixed”), and do cut road danger and crime.

Less than 20 percent of those delivered during the pandemic have since been removed – marking the LTN schemes and indeed the ‘trial then consult’ approach as being successful in broad terms. And while many residents are unclear across the four LTN schemes surveyed in greater detail (near 60% of residents didn’t know there was an LTN), support among these people is generally twice the level of opposition.

It’s interesting too that proportions of support and opposition were broadly replicated across all ages and genders and for those who responded as Disabled or with a health condition. Interestingly, those who said they were business owners in the area were markedly more positive about the LTNs than the general responses. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those opposed to the LTN were also more likely to not see issues with pollution and traffic as seriously.

And yet, whilst most people do see that the point of LTNs is to reduce pollution and congestion, so many schemes don’t seem to work that well – with the latest to be scrapped in Streatham, London, which many saw as a disaster. Perhaps, then, we need to be looking at successful LTNs, such as Oxford, where the council is to replace bollards with cameras in April.

Fundamentally, however, if these schemes are going to work, it is becoming clear that low traffic neighbourhood schemes must be led locally; ironically, given the government’s current hostility to LTNs, these have been imposed from the centre:

What is the purpose of Active Travel England (ATE)? On one level, the answer to this question might seem obvious. ATE, founded in January 2022, exists to promote active travel, such as cycling and walking, and to enable the implementation of schemes that facilitate active travel. The difficulty for ATE comes in balancing the degree to which it exists as a top-down enforcer and inspectorate, or as a bottom-up advisor and facilitator. The answers that ATE finds to this conundrum will play a significant part in determining the trajectory of active travel policy in England.

[During the pandemic] in order to finance new schemes, the Government created in May 2020 an Emergency Active Travel Fund (later the Active Travel Fund) amounting to £220 million in total for the first two tranches… The Government’s top-down strategy caused many local authorities to become concerned that they were being forced into introducing LTN schemes rapidly, while being threatened with losing funding for schemes deemed unsatisfactory by Government. 

The top-down character of the Government’s vision for ATE has continued with the demands for consultation, but there was little guidance on how actually to bring about successful implementation… local authorities were largely left to their own devices, with the Government’s top-down strategy providing little assistance.

To achieve its maximum impact, the emphasis on ATE as a top-down inspectorate needs to be softened, so that the CF [January 2023’s Capability Fund] can work in a more collaborative way with the local authorities. This is particularly important with controversial LTN schemes. Local circumstances and conditions can play a crucial role in finding a successful way forward, and a high degree of discretion can be required in such processes as consultation and detailed planning.