Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been urged not to use low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) as a “political football” after he ordered the Department for Transport (DfT) to undertake a review of them, a pledge he first made while bidding to become Tory leader last year, with the schemes now highly likely to be a key campaigning issue ahead of the next general election.
The charity Cycling UK accused Sunak of seeking to sow division between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians after the Sunday Telegraph published an interview with the Prime Minister in which he said he is on the side of drivers, and claimed that “the vast majority of people in the country use their cars to get around and are dependent on their cars.”
In response, Cycling UK CEO Sarah Mitchell insisted that people want to reduce their dependency on motor vehicles and that interventions such as LTNs enable to do just that, and that it was “lazy to label LTNs as anti-car.”
She said: “Rather than attempting to pit drivers, cyclists and pedestrians against one other through divisive rhetoric, and turning low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) into a political football, the government should be celebrating their popularity and success.
“Evidence shows LTNs are overwhelmingly popular, and their support only increases once they’ve been implemented and people see the benefits.
“It’s lazy to label LTNs anti-car, people want to be less car dependent. Liveable neighbourhoods give people the opportunity to drive less and cycle more, consequently enjoying cleaner air, safer streets and less traffic and congestion.”
During his interview, conducted during a visit to a distribution centre in North Wales, Sunak also hinted that he plans to push back the date that sales of new petrol and diesel-powered cars will be banned, currently set for 2030.
Sunak, who is MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire, said that his rural constituency is “more representative of how most of the country is living, where cars are important.
“I just want to make sure people know that I’m on their side in supporting them to use their cars to do all the things that matter to them,” he added.
Schemes aimed at excluding through traffic from residential areas are nothing new – pretty much every housing scheme built since World War 2 adopts that model within its street design, and there are many towns and cities across the country that over the years have restricted access on older streets through using bollards and other infrastructure.
LTNs entered the public consciousness in 2020 as councils rolled them out with the help of emergency government funding at the height of the COVID-19 crisis, encouraged to do so by then Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former Transport Secretary Grant Shapps as active travel was put at the heart of their plans for post-pandemic recovery.
One reason behind the implementation of those more recent LTNs is to prevent rat-running drivers from using residential streets as short cuts to avoid congestion on major roads, something that has become increasingly prevalent due to real-time routing provided by navigational aids such as Google Maps and Waze.
The Sunday Telegraph quoted a government source as saying that on the topic of LTNs, Sunak is “concerned by the levels of congestion outside the roads in which they are implemented”, although research from the University of Westminster has established that is not the case.
“Of course we want better air quality,” the source added. “But people have to consent and be happy to live in areas where, to varying degrees, cars and vans are blocked.”
That final point touches on one claim regularly made by opponents of LTNs who claim that they ban motorists from certain streets, whereas in reality they restrict access through blocking routes to through traffic, making the streets within the area safer and less polluted for the people who live there.
Mitchell accepted that there is a need for consultation with local residents ahead of LTNs being installed, but maintained that if done properly in conjunction with other measures aimed at reducing traffic, their positive impact can be “enormous.”
“LTNs are not always a magic bullet on their own,” she said. “They need to be designed in consultation with communities and may need additional measures, such as investment in healthy and sustainable alternatives. This will ensure they reduce traffic overall rather than simply sending it elsewhere.
"If done well, their benefits are enormous. That's why Cycling UK is urging the government to encourage their take up - for the benefit of everyone in our communities, and for the planet.”
The review, ordered by Sunak, which in line with the DfT’s responsibilities would cover England outside London, would presumably assess those more recent interventions rather than what are termed ‘historic LTNs’ that pre-date the coronavirus pandemic.
It is not the first time that the former Chancellor of the Exchequer has sought to establish his credentials as being on the side of drivers. During his unsuccessful campaign against Liz Truss for the Conservative Party leadership last year, he pledged to end what he claimed was a “war on the motorist” and to review LTNs, with his supporters describing him as the “most pro-driving Chancellor in history.”
At the time, his opposition to LTNs was reportedly due to his belief that
His plans to review LTNs are said to be based on his belief that they impede police, fire and ambulance vehicles, despite what Cycling UK has described as “clear evidence” to the contrary and the fact they are supported by the emergency services themselves.
Earlier this month, the forthcoming expansion of ULEZ to cover the whole of Greater London was the key issue in the by-election of Johnson’s former seat, Uxbridge and South Ruislip, which the Conservatives held with a much-reduced majority, and amid reports that some voters were misled into believing that the £12.50 daily charge would apply to all motor vehicles, not just the most polluting ones.
That result – albeit on a low turnout of just 47 per cent – appears to have emboldened Sunak, who replaced Truss as party leader and Prime Minister in October last year, to use opposition to measures aimed at reducing or restricting traffic and its associated pollution as a key campaigning area ahead of the next general election, which needs to take place no later than January 2025 and will most likely happen some time next year.
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.