Low traffic neighbourhoods: What are they and why are they controversial?

A review has been ordered by Rishi Sunak of divisive low traffic neighbourhoods.

The prime minister’s move comes as green policies and the path to net zero promise to be a key battleground in the run up to the next general election.

The Tories narrowly held Boris Johnson’s former seat after tapping into local concerns about the expansion of London’s ultra-low emissions zone (ULEZ) by the city’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan.

Read more:

The Conservatives’ green policies – and what could be scrapped

But nature campaigners have warned they will “not stand by” while politicians use the environment as “a political football”.

Mr Sunak is due to meet energy bosses this week to set out his plans for the UK’s fossil fuels and green industries.

So what are low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) and why are they controversial?

Designed to encourage cycling and walking by limiting driving in side roads, the rollout of LTNs was paved by the government in 2020 with £225m in funding. They were implemented in areas from spring of that year.

Schemes include segregated cycle lanes, wider pavements and closing roads to motor traffic.

Read more:

LTNs are about ‘taking back control’ from Whitehall

Starmer told to ‘get off the fence’ and challenge Sadiq Khan on ULEZ

The key aim is to reduce air pollution, noise nuisance and traffic accidents by getting people out of their cars and tackling rat-running, where people use residential streets as short cuts.

How do they work?

LTNs use barriers, bollards, road signs, and planters to restrict cars, vans, and other vehicles, while allowing pedestrians and cyclists through.

How many are there?

There is no official public tally but it has previously been reported there are around 300 schemes already running or planned across the country, including London, Bristol, Oxford and Newcastle.

Other cities such as Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield have also introduced LTNs.

So LTNs work and are popular?

It depends who you talk to with the success of schemes disputed.

Supporters argue the measures have cut noise and air pollution, encouraged people to opt for more healthy and environmentally friendly types of travel, strengthened communities and helped local businesses with the extra footfall.

But critics believe while they may have improved areas where they are located, they push the problems elsewhere.

This includes creating congestion and causing longer journeys, generating more polluting emissions.

Many LTNs are also not recognised by satnav leading to traffic snarl-ups.

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Although some claim LTNs make it easier for emergency services to reach their destination, others argue they do the exact opposite, hindering the response to 999 calls as vehicles cannot get through.

It is not just practical considerations, Conservative MP Nick Fletcher has previously suggested the traffic control measures were part of an “international socialist concept” which would take away personal liberties.

Some people have been so infuriated that they have vandalised LTN measures such as setting fire to planters blocking roads.

What about ULEZ?

The Ultra Low Emission Zone – more commonly known as ULEZ – aims to reduce air pollution in London and other big cities by charging heavy polluting vehicles to drive on central roads.

Mr Khan wants to expand the zone to the borders of the capital, but he’s been met with fierce opposition.

Even Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called on his colleague to “reflect” on his decision in the wake of the party’s defeat at the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election.

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