Low Traffic Neighbourhoods have been pushed through during lockdown. As restrictions ease, there will be more protests.

1 Jun

Do you know what an LTN is? Up until this year I had very little understanding of what this term meant (Low Traffic Neighbourhood, incidentally). I had seen hints in London – protests about road closures, and so forth – but as is sometimes the case in politics, you only understand the extent of an issue once it stares you in the face.

In April I moved to an LTN, and it’s good in many ways. My road is lovely and quiet. I sleep well at night. But behind that bliss lies an inconvenient truth. LTNs are causing huge inconvenience and anger across the country – due to the impact they’re having on people’s lives and livelihoods. Often tradesmen and women that don’t have much of a voice online.

If you haven’t heard of an LTN before – and you wouldn’t be alone – the term essentially describes areas cars are no longer allowed to go down. Covid has sometimes been used as a reason for them (to enforce social distancing, apparently). But they’re clearly meant to achieve environmental goals. They make sense in terms of the Government’s wider plans. It has set aside £225 million for “emergency” walking and cycling measures in London, Oxford, Manchester, Birmingham, York, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Derby and Cardiff.

LTNs, on the face of it, are a nice idea (who doesn’t want to protect the environment and see more cycling/ walking in our cities?). Yet living in one has taught me some of the big issues with them. For one they mean drivers suddenly have a lot less roads to go down, forcing them onto longer, more convoluted routes. That makes taxis and delivery drivers late. It means more time spent in traffic while everyone heads onto the same road. LTNs are reportedly causing delays for emergency services. They might even make industries redundant (people order taxis, after all, as a quick route to places. What’s the point if they can’t get through LTNs?). 

There are all sorts of articles justifying LTNs – and why press criticisms aren’t justified. But none of this computes with what I see, never mind the sad words of a taxi driver I spoke to over the weekend. “I hate working in London at the moment,” he said, due to the road blocks. He added that he had grown up here.

Perhaps the worst thing about LTNS is their implications for those who can’t get about as easily; people with disabilities, or who are elderly, for example. A report found that three in four disabled people felt “angry and ignored” because they were not asked about LTNs. And why would they feel differently? The state has taken away one of their main transport options.

In the last week, one paper found that three quarters of people who have been consulted are against LTNs. Consultation is an interesting word – because every time I have seen a protest against LTNs (and I am seeing more and more), demonstrators all use that word. People are angry that authorities have pushed through this idea without asking them. 

When I looked into LTNs I found that 70 low-traffic neighbours were implemented in London between March and September last year. In essence, the councils used a year in which we were mostly at home and unable to protest, to get their radical plan through.

Similar to what Andy Street wrote earlier for ConservativeHome, most of us want better environmental policies – but we have to be incredibly careful that they don’t make people’s lives harder, financially or practically.

It’s clear that there is already resentment at some of the “green” policies the Government, and Labour/otherwise councils, are trying to get through. Along with paying off the pandemic, there are no signs that life is getting any cheaper – yet there’s talk of the public having to replace their gas boilers.

Frankly it looks opportunistic of councils to push LTNs through when people weren’t paying attention – and, as with other parts of the Government’s green revolution, I think there will be backlash once people realise the social and economic costs of this idea. That awareness is happening as we ease out of lockdown. Stay tuned.