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The problem with the Exeter LTN

  • by JW

How not to penalise communities most at risk from the harms of air pollution.



Exeter has been struggling to make itself a more pleasant place to live and work.

There have been questions about how ‘green’ is Exeter – and how ‘green’ it will continue to be.

And, still more mired in anger and controversy, are the questions about how we are going to reduce congestion on Exeter’s streets and how we are going to decarbonise Exeter’s streets.

Last Friday, the County Council put out an update on the Heavitree and Whipton Low Traffic Neighbourhood:

Central government funding has now been received, which will allow Devon County Council to continue work on this scheme. The Council will now be preparing detailed designs, taking on board feedback received from members of the public during the Phase 2 Consultation, as well as from key stakeholder groups. A decision on whether to proceed with a trial of any of the proposals will be made at a future meeting of the Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders Committee.

Here’s the Agenda for Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders Committee on Tuesday, 23rd January – a week today. And here’s the report from Meg Booth, Director of Climate Change, Environment and Transport: Active Streets Trial Scheme Update.pdf

Today’s media re headlining that the Council could suspend the controversial scheme – or even that the controversial Exeter travel scheme could be abandoned

The report sums up: “The key measures of success that need to be met for the trial include public feedback supporting the view that the scheme has made travelling in the area easier, safer and more enjoyable, reduced motorised traffic volumes on residential streets and an increase in sustainable travel, and no worsening of air quality on East Wonford Hill.

“Whilst on many of the residential streets, traffic has reduced and active travel has increased, other metrics highlight concerns with the outcomes of the trial, such as impact on bus services and increased traffic on boundary roads.”

And there have been responses from campaigners both for and against the scheme:

Ian Frankum, who has campaigned against the scheme, said: “Huge increases in traffic, and probably pollution, on arterial roads – some by as much as 20% – is catastrophic and caused huge disruption for people across the city. We just hope now our politicians are brave enough to follow the data and community outcry and make the right decisions and suspend the trial. Let’s focus on what we can do together to improve our streets rather than continue with a trial that has failed dismally.”

Ian Martin, a supporter of the scheme, said it would be “premature” to abandon the trial part of the way through.


To understand the issues particular to the Exeter LNT, it might be helpful to look at the background issues, some lurking in the darker corners of public discourse.

The whole Low Traffic Neighbourhood idea and the connected notion of the 15 Minute Neighbourhood have become mired in the world of conspiracy theories

Here’s a Reddit thread generally supportive of the Exeter scheme – with a comparison to the controversy in Oxford:

I used to live in Exeter, and I now live in Oxford and we’ve had LTNs for about a year now. It is absolutely hilarious watching the same nonsense surrounding them unfold in Exeter as we have had here.

The same thing will happen there as it did here, mostly people will accept them and find them to be good for where they live (some adaptations will be needed – hence the trial), and a loud mostly unhinged minority will cause problems by vandalising them (causing a waste of money and delays to emergency services), blame their business failures on them and suddenly care about ambulance response times and disabled access despite never having been interested in them before and only then as an excuse to try and stop the LTNs.

Oxford was even subject to the completely mad far-right nut-jobs such as Katie Hopkins and Right Said Fred amplifying the noise across to America followed with a big march through town by the same types as Anti-5G and Anti-Vaxers and then swiftly followed by the 15 minute city lockdown conspiracy people.

It’ll be a year of noise, people will get used to them and life will move on.

Indeed, whilst there have been national reports about conspiracy theorists infiltrating the UK’s low-traffic protests, taking advantage of people’s concerns, it was reported last month that a far-right group has “tried to inflame the traffic debate” in Exeter itself. Although certainly not all national groups questioning LTNs are of this ilk.

It’s very much about dealing with mis/disinformation at the local level:

How on earth did an urban planning model – the 15-minute city – spawn the fantasy that a shadowy cabal is aiming to lock the populace in their homes, denying us permission to move around freely and monitoring our every second? And why have these fears about a concept designed to cut pollution taken root in the city of Oxford?

However, it is perhaps too easy to dismiss opposition to such schemes as coming from ‘nut jobs’.

The Heavitree scheme largely affects the less well-heeled parts of the city – and the question of ‘fairness’ should be addressed.

Looking at the really big scale of national policy making, these pages have looked at whether to carbon tax or not to carbon tax. Because the consensus seems to be that carbon taxes are unfair. Certainly, back in early 2018, the protests sweeping French cities were a forceful reminder that without economic justice, the green transition will not happen. And in a piece in the Guardian last month, it was made clear that five years on, the world is failing to learn the gilets jaunes’ lesson about class and climate:

From the reaction to Ulez in London to heat pumps in Germany, eco-policies are still too often felt as sanctions on working people… It began with a petition. In May 2018, Priscillia Ludosky, a gently spoken French-Martinique small-business owner who sold natural cosmetic products, launched a call on for lower prices on petrol at the pumps. It gathered steam and she was contacted by Eric Drouet, a lorry driver. Together they organised a protest against a carbon tax on petrol that was due to be implemented the following year (notably, this was not long after Emmanuel Macron cut taxes for the ultra-rich). The call was eventually answered by hundreds of thousands of people across France, in rural areas and cities. The gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement was born.

Looking at the Ultra-low Emissions Zones in London, when they were first being introduced some four years ago, the question was being asked whether the ‘Liveable Streets’ policies penalise the poor. Last summer the Mayor of London suggested how policymakers can win the argument on climate action:

According to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, a core principle underpins the environmental policy changes he is driving for the capital: justice. More than a rhetorical flourish, he argues that framing environmental policies, such as measures to reduce air pollution, as issues of social justice is crucial to expose the misconception that these policies ignore disadvantaged communities. This is an argument opponents of the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone  (ULEZ) deploy, saying that groups such as ethnic minorities, disabled and working-class people will be disproportionately penalised. For Khan, the opposite is true – since the people in these communities are most at risk from the harms of air pollution, he argues that his efforts to tackle the problem are driven by a commitment to improve their lives, as he explained during his recent appearance at the LSE Festival.

In his newly released book, Breathe: Tackling the Climate Emergency, Khan discusses why implementing lasting policy solutions to environmental issues presents policymakers with such difficulties and dilemmas, and how these can be overcome. He uses his own personal story of developing adult-onset asthma while training for the London Marathon, as well as the stories of many other Londoners, as a starting point to emphasise the serious and sometimes fatal consequences of a polluted environment.

And here’s some fresh air and less congestion happening on the streets of Heavitree:

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