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“My children are not part of any cycling lobby”: Residents hit out at council after emails show officials disregarding locals’ opposition to removal of LTN as “concerted response from cyclists”

A Freedom of Information request has shown emails from council officials who believe that the backlash to its decision to remove an LTN is due to the “cycling lobby”, despite positive responses from residents in prior surveys

A thread of emails between members of the Newcastle City Council has been released which shows the officials deciding that the removal of a low-traffic neighbourhood trial was the “right solution for the community”, despite mostly positive responses and “absolutely no backlash” — and then attribute the negative response against the decision to the “cycling lobby”.

The area in question is South Heaton, Newcastle, where an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO) was put in place in October 2022 for 18 months. The trial was set to expire in April this year, and despite surveys indicating positive attitudes towards the trial, the council decided to move forward in getting rid of the traffic calming measures anyway.

In fact, the LTN had enjoyed so much support that on 20 April, just three days before the final day of the ETRO, locals in support of the scheme came together to stage a demonstration with children holding up placards pleading the council bosses to keep the area “car-free” and warning that 3,000 vehicles per day could now return to the road.

However, council staff swooped in and ripped out the bollards the next day — two days before they were supposed to go, leading to residents labelling the council’s decision-making as an “utter farce”.

Now, emails exchanged between the council members with redacted names and email addresses have been made public after an FOI request, revealing the reasoning behind the decision, and the councillors already bracing for the locals’ backlash.

> 286 close pass submissions to West Midlands Police resulted in one prosecution, FOI request reveals

One email sent on 8 April, with the subject as LTN Heaton (Ouseburn ward) and Heaton Road Cycle Path, has the text: “We now have a concerted response from the cyclists who are lobbying to keep Heaton Park View closed. [redacted] will be copied into some of these and will therefore be aware of it. There are social media campaigns and petitions appearing”.

Newcastle council emails (FOI)
Newcastle council email 2 (FOI)

The official goes on to say that it is “imperative” to “put out some comms” to “stem the rumours and provide us with a unified response to those contacting us on this”.

Another email dated 9th April, shows the official saying that they’re “happy” with the announcement about the removal of the LTN trials being published the next day, and has the follow-up text: “The cycle lobby will no doubt respond again but it has to be the right solution for communities as a whole.”

“It’s a real shame that the council didn’t pay attention to the residents’ support”

Meanwhile, the screenshots of the FOI have been shared on Twitter and led to a widespread criticism of the Newcastle City Council’s decision-making process, with many cyclists calling it as a “classic othering of social groups” and holding on to “outdated stereotypes”.

“It’s a real shame that the council didn’t pay attention to the residents’ support,” Lawrence Davies, a resident of Heaton, Newcastle, told road.cc. “In other parts of Newcastle, such as Jesmond, there were a lot of protests and backlash. There was absolutely none of that in Heaton, no sort of organised opposition to it at all.

“Even if the scheme that was put in was not quite right, there was the sense that it could have been changed or improved in some way, rather than just removed.”

In February, the council sent letters to the residents of the area, asking whether they’d like to keep all the roads closed, or just open the Heaton Park View at Warwick Street and keep the rest of the bollards in place.

The council received only a 13 per cent of responses, but out of those, 108 supported keeping all the roads closed, while 68 supported opening the Heaton Park View.

In another six-month survey that took place during the consultation period of the ETRO, 48 per cent of the respondents wanted the trial to be made permanent, while 49 per cent were against it.

Despite the close calls, another Heaton resident Keith Farquharson said that there was no way to verify the legitimacy of the nay votes in the survey. He told road.cc that the surveys were open to residents of all locations, and people could have voted multiple times and selected all the negative options, skewing the vote.

“Knowing how the anti-LTN stuff has popped up in Jesmond, the council made no attempts to ensure that only locals could have a say,” he said. “Relying on data that is so heavily unmanaged to make a decision is incorrect. Now, they’re refusing to see the fact that the consultation was flawed and they’re treating it as if it was a truly democratic process when it just wasn’t.”

When the Newcastle Council put in the LTN in Jesmond, it was subject to a lot of backlash from the locals, with a petition littered with “factual errors” launched just two months after the trial to scrap the scheme.

The issue was also raised at a time when the Conservative Government began withdrawing support for low traffic neighbourhoods, before eventually unleashing what was described by many campaigners as an “all-out culture war”, after they were accused of trying to bury a report outlining the benefits of LTNs.

> Government continues “angry rhetoric” against low traffic neighbourhoods despite its own report showing more people support LTNs than oppose them

Farquharson said: “Because they didn’t implement the Jesmond LTN terribly well and they got their fingers burnt with that, I think they get a few vociferous drivers shouting at them and they panic and they pull it out. Then they started complaining about the cycling lobby, and the cycling lobby is just the residents.

“Yes, there are cyclists in the area and people cycle because there is a cycling route, but my son doesn’t particularly cycle. I cycle, but I also drive and I also run. For me, it’s about being able to start a run from my home and get to the park without having to worry about all the drivers ignoring all the lights.

“For my son, it’s about his ability to walk to his school without having to cross a dangerous junction. My son is just getting to an age where it’d be nice for him to go to the park on his own. When the roads were closed, he’d just go to the park and I won’t have any problem with him crossing the road. I’m much more hesitant to let him do it because I just don’t trust the drivers.

“I would guess for someone who has mobility issues or is disabled, it’d mean so much if they could just cross the road safely without having to negotiate an unsafe crossing.”

“This is about so much more than cycling”

Davies agreed that it’s not just about cyclists, but more about the residents’ desire and will for change. He said: “The idea of lumping all residents’ concerns into this cycle lobby is really contemptuous, there are elderly people, there are people with mobility needs or disabilities, or children — my children are not part of any cycle lobby.

“Me and my wife are cyclists, but my mum isn’t a cyclist. My neighbours, the elderly lady who lives across the road from me — they don’t belong to a cycling lobby. All these people deserve to have their voices heard and they deserve to be protected from the dangers of bad driving and excessive traffic.

“There’s a growing number of people who want to see change. Since they announced that they’d take it out, we already have a group of about 40-50 residents who’re working together to do something about it, to communicate to the council the scope of changes that we want to see.

“And also to hold them to account to do the things that they’d said they would do, because this is also part of a much wider story about the council saying that they’re going to combat pollution and they’re going to tackle excess traffic in Newcastle and not doing anything about it.”

> Government tried to bury report which found that Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are effective and popular

Farquharson said that the council had been poor about communicating the fate of the scheme as well. He said: “They didn’t tell us that they were tearing it out until we as a community realised that they had done nothing about it.

“We started protesting, set up a website, and held a street party and demos. We went and decorated the [Heaton Park] gate, put signs and banners up. And then you can see in the emails that they start panicking about them getting negative press just before an election. So they decide ‘Oh we need to put some comms out’.”

“The whole deal’s just put me off voting Labour quite frankly, certainly on the local level. I have no faith in them doing anything. Their attitude has been to ask the people what they want, we’ll tell them what we want, and then they say, ‘Yeah, not going to do that’.”

Finally, regarding the emails, Farquharson said: “Saying it’s a cycling lobby when you’re instead pandering to the driving lobby and ignoring all the residents who live there, whether they cycle, or drive, or walk, just smacks of arrogance.

“Quite a broad section of people are going to miss it, certainly not just the cyclists.”

Davies tended to agree, saying: “Those comments were very, very disappointing. At best, the most charitable thing you can say about them is that they show a real lack of understanding of what the problems are for the residents, who are trying to do something about the excess traffic and inconsiderate driving. The idea that this is some sort of conspiracy or project of the cyclists is astounding.

“This is about so much more than cycling. There are all sorts of reasons why people want safer and cleaner streets. At worst, it shows contempt for residents who the council members are supposed and expected to serve.

“I have to say, this gives me and a lot of other residents very little confidence that these officials can carry out that job effectively or promoting active travel. I don’t think they can do their job if they hold those views.”

Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.

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9 comments

Avatar
polainm | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

Our family has a maisonette in Heaton area. We are selling and moving out of Newcastle. My experience of NCC has been dire. They are vindictive and dogmatic. They are a closed wall of indifference who have no interest in engaging with the public. Their local policies are poorly written often with numerous grammatical errors, referring to 'standards' but rarely reference any. 

This attitude shown in this circumstance is no surprise and is typical behaviour of NCC. I look forward to the day I can put NCC behind me and avoid the city for the rest of my life. 

Avatar
kingleo | 3 weeks ago
4 likes

Apparently, performance driving takes priority over the lives of children and the elderly.

Avatar
brooksby | 3 weeks ago
10 likes

Why were they using email? Any fule kno that you must use WhatsApp because it's far easier to "lose" historic messages and not fall foul of FOI requests...  3

Avatar
polainm replied to brooksby | 3 weeks ago
2 likes
brooksby wrote:

Why were they using email? Any fule kno that you must use WhatsApp because it's far easier to "lose" historic messages and not fall foul of FOI requests...  3

A local authority lying about public representation from non-motoring modes? Surely the UK government standard culture? We all know driving is essential for early death from obeseogenic disorders thus aiding both the NHS and pensions black hole. Sound policy!

Avatar
eburtthebike | 3 weeks ago
12 likes

As a local councillor where I live, I have to ask what their local councillor was doing?  But perhaps they are a petrolhead and hates pedestrians and cyclists.

Cycling lobby?  We should be very worried about being demonised, as we are already an out group and if we become known as a lawless mob that deliberately manipulates and sabotages the democratic process, it will not go well.   Does Matthew Briggs live there?

Avatar
hawkinspeter | 3 weeks ago
12 likes

So, do we need to start recruiting children to the Evil Cycling Lobby?

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brooksby replied to hawkinspeter | 3 weeks ago
18 likes

The Balance Bike Irregulars?

Avatar
ROOTminus1 replied to hawkinspeter | 3 weeks ago
8 likes

Ranks of youth in maillot noir et beige?

Too paramilitary? Swap out the revolutionary berets for areo lids and casquette

Avatar
polainm replied to hawkinspeter | 3 weeks ago
1 like
hawkinspeter wrote:

So, do we need to start recruiting children to the Evil Cycling Lobby?

I can see the Daily Fail headlines now; "swarms of children on bikes terrorising van and truck drivers, causing motorists to stay on motorways to avoid being forced off the road by ice cream bombs and stabilisers gouging out vehicle body work and tyres"

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