Masked youths have removed bollards restricting access to a new low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) in Exeter – and then fled by bicycle. In response, police have warned that removing such barriers constitutes a criminal offence, adding that they are monitoring anti-LTN groups on social media.
The bollards have been installed as part of an 18-month trial of an LTN that came into force in parts of the Heavitree and Whipton areas of the city last Thursday.
The scheme, which is now in a statutory six-month consultation period, includes four modal filters using bollards or planters, as well as four bus gates to allow access to local residents, buses, and emergency vehicles.
Confirming in June that the trial scheme had been given the go-ahead, Devon County Council said that the changes would “reduce traffic on residential streets and support local people who want to walk, wheel, scoot or cycle.
“All properties within the area will remain accessible by car, but residents may need to use different routes for some journeys,” the council confirmed.
“The scheme has been developed following two phases of consultation with local people and businesses, and further engagement with local councillors and other key stakeholders,” it added.
But Devon live reports that on Tuesday evening, bollards in three locations – St Mark’s Avenue, Hamlin Lane and Vaughan Road – were removed by vandals.
One local resident told the website: “I saw two young lads wearing balaclavas on bikes come along and remove them. I called the police."
According to reports, nearly all of the bollards had been replaced by yesterday morning – but the new one on Vaughan Road was ripped out again just a couple of hours later.
The LTN has been part-funded with money from Active Travel England’s Capability and Ambition Fund, with each bollard said to cost £215 to replace.
Devon County Council has appealed to members of the public to make their feelings known through the ongoing consultation rather than taking matters into their own hands.
“Devon County Council has been made aware of the vandalism to the temporary bollards in Heavitree and Whipton, and is working to replace these.
“If there are further incidents of vandalism we may have to install more robust, vandal-proof measures but we would ask the local community to please work with us and provide feedback via the statutory consultation.”
A private group called Exeter’s Barricades Activists has been set up on Facebook and within two days had amassed nearly 700 members.
The founder of the group, which uses the slogan, “rebel against Exeter, destroy all barricades,” says in its description: “I think a few too many are fed up with the idea of being blocked in, paying more for fuel to get five minutes around the block, and so many worrying situations that could potentially happen, or already happening. Let's now stand against this as a community.”
Devon & Cornwall Police said that people who cause damage to LTN bollards, including removing them, are guilty of a criminal offence, and that they are aware of groups on social media that encourage such acts of vandalism.
A spokesperson for the force said: “We are aware of a number of incidents where traffic bollards have been removed or damaged in the Heavitree, Whipton and Polsloe areas of Exeter.
“We are also aware of a number of social media accounts encouraging such action. The local neighbourhood team is carrying out enquiries and working with local authorities in relation to the matter.
“Officers are warning the public that causing damage to the bollards is a criminal offence and urging anyone who witnesses such incidents to contact police. One incident of criminal damage has so far been reported to police.
“Police were called at 11.50pm yesterday, August 8, after two bollards were cut down and removed in Hamlin Lane. Officers are seeking the suspects, described as aged around 16 to 18, and wearing black clothing and caps, plus balaclavas. They were both on bicycles.
“Anyone with information which may assist police is asked to contact us via our website, or to telephone 101, quoting crime reference 50230217738,” police added.
In an interview published in the Sunday Telegraph last month, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that he had ordered the Department for Transport to undertake a review of LTNs, many of which were implemented during the coronavirus pandemic.
Local authorities across England implemented hundreds of such schemes with the help of government funding provided when Sunak served as Chancellor of the Exchequer under then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who strongly encouraged councils to introduce them as a means of combating air pollution and preventing drives looking to avoid busy main roads from using residential streets as rat runs.
Sunak’s intervention saw him accused of trying to exploit divisions over LTNs, which are generally viewed favourably by the public in surveys, but which attract opposition from a vocal minority, with some opponents vandalising planters and bollards as well as in some cases CCTV cameras intended to enforce restrictions.
When the scheme in Exeter was approved in June, Councillor Danny Barnes, Chair of the Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders Committee (HATOC) and local Devon County Council member for Heavitree and Whipton Barton, said: “More than 2,000 vehicles travel along many of these residential streets every day and this deters local people from cycling or walking.
“We have been engaging with the local people since 2020 and it is clear that from what they have told us that the amount of traffic and the lack of priority for walking and cycling is a concern.
“Previously we introduced humps to reduce traffic speeds at the Whipton Lane/Sweetbrier Lane Roundabout, and modal filters to create quieter streets on Homefield Road and Chard Road.
“Now by trialling these additional interventions we hope to create a safer and more attractive environment for active travel while ensuring that all properties remain accessible by car,” he added.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.