A Conservative group in the London Borough of Haringey has posted images to social media likening low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) currently being rolled out in the borough to the apartheid regime that existed in South Africa from 1948 until the early 1990s.
An image posted on social media by Tottenham Conservatives at the weekend, but which since appears to have been deleted, shows a picture of a sign written in English and Afrikaans at a whites-only beach in apartheid-era South Africa, and below that a picture of planters at an LTN.
The words ‘The Old Apartheid’ have been superimposed on the upper picture, and ‘The New Apartheid’ on the lower one.
While that specific post appears to have been deleted from Tottenham Conservatives’ social media feeds, a number of others on Facebook and Twitter make clear their opposition to LTNs, which were heavily promoted by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps as a key part of encouraging active travel to help the country in its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
LTNs are currently in place in three areas of Haringey – Bounds Green, Bruce Grove and West Green – under the council’s Haringey Streets for People initiative, which it says were introduced after three rounds of engagement with the local community, and with exemptions available for a number of categories of people including Blue Badge holders.
Despite the fact that LTNs have been a key Conservative policy at national level, Tottenham Conservatives have pledged “to abolish Labour LTNs,” claiming that they “have led to endless traffic jams, chaos and congestion,” arguments often employed against such interventions, which primarily aim to prevent rat-running drivers from using residential streets as short-cuts to avoid congested main roads.
To abolish the LTNs in the borough, the Conservatives would first have to gain control of it, something that has not happened for more than half a century, and it is over a decade since the party even had a councillor elected there.
Haringey Council has been controlled by Labour ever since the borough was created in 1964, other than a three-year period from 1968 when the Conservatives won a solid majority there.
Since the turn of the Millennium, the Tories have held just one seat on the council, from 2009-10, with the Liberal Democrats providing the main opposition in the borough.
According to 2016 Greater London Assembly population projections cited by Haringey Council in its State of the Borough profile published in June this year, 16.5 per cent of residents in 2020 were estimated to be from a black ethnic group, and 10.1 per cent Asian.
And as London Cycling Campaign pointed out last week, less than half of households in the borough have access to a motor vehicle.
While conveniently ignoring the fact that especially in many parts of London, car ownership is by no means the norm, opponents of LTNs have regularly used inflammatory language against them, including likening them to apartheid.
As we reported in November last year, the leader of the 10 Conservative Councillors on Hounslow Council was forced to apologise after comparing to apartheid ones put in place in Chiswick.
> Tory councillor apologises for comparing LTNs to South Africa’s apartheid era pass laws
Councillor Gerald McGregor subsequently sought to clarify his comments by explaining that what he actually meant were the pass laws that were in place in South Africa until the 1980s and which imposed severe restrictions on black people in terms of travel, residence, employment and citizenship.
“I used the word ‘apartheid’ as Hounslow seems to be preventing people from using their vehicles,” he said. “What I meant were the pass laws. That’s actually what is happening in Chiswick right now.”
Labour councillor Salman Shaheen described Councillor McGregor as “a bombastic dinosaur … from another era.
“It’s shocking for a modern-day politician to compare apartheid to the traffic challenges of Chiswick,” he added.
“It’s so out of touch. They are using language that is disgracing themselves.”
Councillor McGregor subsequently apologised for his comments, saying: “The language is inappropriate and has understandably caused offence to residents and this was never my intention.
“My words fell well short of the high standards by which I try to conduct myself in public life and, while I will never stop standing up for people across the London Borough of Hounslow, I recognise that in future I must take more care with the language I use.”
Another Conservative member of Hounslow Council, Councillor Joanna Biddulph, was criticised after claiming that active travel interventions in Chiswick were like “Belfast during the Troubles,” and she also claimed LTNs introduced in Grove Park and Strand on the Green would turn the area into a “ghetto.”
More recently, former chair of Chiswick Riverside Conservatives David Giles was suspended from the local party after he described Labour Hounslow councillors as “the Brentford Taliban.”
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