Wednesday 4 August 2021

Government makes it hard for councils to remove LTNs

A lorry lifting a planter during the removal of LTN 21 in Ealing.

On 30 July the government issued new statutory guidance that will make it difficult for Ealing Council to remove the remaining 2020 Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. The Prime Minister appears determined to keep the COVID-19 active travel schemes - even if some of them are unpopular. Chris Heaton-Harris, Minister of State for Transport said "Authorities which are proposing to remove or weaken schemes should not proceed with their plans unless they are satisfied that they have had regard to the guidance.”(1) 

The new guidance says: "we continue to expect local authorities to take measures to reallocate road space to people walking and cycling. The focus should now be on devising further schemes and assessing COVID-19 schemes with a view to making them permanent. The assumption should be that they will be retained unless there is substantial evidence to the contrary."(2)

The new guidance doesn't say what substantial evidence would be required to remove a scheme, but it might include the scheme increasing road traffic injuries, causing severe congestion, or producing more pollution. Research by Westminster University shows that the 2020 LTNs in London halved the number of road traffic injuries within the schemes compared to the rest of London and did not increase the number of injuries on the boundary roads(3). In Ealing the council's reports on traffic levels showed an increase in traffic on Churchfield Road in Acton and on Popes Lane in South Ealing, but the reports repeatedly say that congestion has not generally been a cause of concern.(4) The council has only published an interim report on pollution, covering a four month period. It shows that pollution on all roads was down, presumably due to lockdown during the period. The council says that "a final report will be produced using 12-month monitoring data and published in due course." (5) In short, there is nothing here that looks like the substantial evidence needed to remove an LTN.

The council hasn't yet published all the traffic data on the schemes, so we are still waiting for the full evidence of their effect. The government insists that  "Schemes must not be removed prematurely or without proper evidence. And any decisions on whether to remove or modify them must be publicly consulted on with the same rigour as we require for decisions to install them." (2) It also says "Engagement, especially on schemes where there is public controversy, should use objective methods, such as professional polling to British Polling Council standards, to establish a truly representative picture of local views and to ensure that minority views do not dominate the discourse."(2)

If, despite all this, a council does decide to remove an active travel scheme, then the government is threatening to cut its general transport funding. In Gear Change - One Year On, published on Friday, it says  "an authority’s performance on active travel will help determine the wider funding allocations it receives, not just on active travel.”(6) This may mean that money for resurfacing roads, filling potholes and other capital projects could be pulled.