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Rishi Sunak accused of seeking to exploit division over LTNs as he orders review of schemes

Cycling UK urges Prime Minister not to use lieveable neighbourhood initiatives as a “political football”

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.

> ‘The War on the Motorist’ deconstructed — looking at the truth behind the myths

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.

> Levels of motor traffic nearly halved within London LTNs, new study finds

“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 War on the Motorist’ Part 2 — Encouraging people to drive less and consider alternative transport

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.”

> Rishi Sunak pledges to “stop war on motorists” and review LTNs

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.

> “Clear evidence” does not support “flat earther” LTN 999 delay headlines, says Cycling UK

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.

> Whose ULEZ is it anyway? Political chicanery as clean air zone set to expand to outer London 

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.

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53 comments

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Surreyrider replied to Dnnnnnn | 6 months ago
1 like

Yes there is one hope they're selling (inadvertently) - the hope that we all vote them out of power and they stay out for a long time. I don't care who takes over - they can't be worse than this lot.

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brooksby | 6 months ago
15 likes

The coverage of this in the Grauniad reckons he also wants to stop councils being able to declare 20mph zones willy nilly. He appears to want a small State, but one with ULTIMATE POWER (none of yer localism or devolution).

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ktache | 6 months ago
6 likes

It would seem he's got It in for 20s plenty too...

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levestane | 6 months ago
5 likes

The political timescale is totally unsuited to undoing 200+ years of ecological damage. This gives some idea of what might be coming, but of course the probablistic approach is easy to dismiss.

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Rich_cb | 6 months ago
6 likes

This has to be seen in the context of Starmer also significantly rowing back on support for green policies.

Sunak is now shifting further to create space between the two parties.

The era of bi-partisan support for crucial net zero policies appears to be coming to an end.

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chrisonabike replied to Rich_cb | 6 months ago
10 likes

I'm not entirely convinced that the Uxbridge election was all about ULEZ for several reasons (some enumerated e.g. here).  Sadly Starmer and team look like they're so terrified of muffing their chance at office they'll try to follow the Conservatives around.

Perhaps the noise about this simply provides a demonstration of the power of "alternative facts" (AKA lies and misdirection) with a receptive audience?  Seems that even outer Londoners are fairly evenly split on ULEZ expansion (with overall London support).  However there are a significant minority quite happy to believe if told that they'll have to pay to travel regardless of having e.g. a Tesla, or that LTNs will trap them in their homes or make main streets impassable.

Anyway - hopefully a temporary (year-ish) wobble; otherwise it looks more like a flip to a bi-partisan lack of support!

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Rich_cb replied to chrisonabike | 6 months ago
3 likes

The problem with the UK FPTP system is that a tiny number of swing voters essentially decide each GE.

It doesn't take a huge number of voters who care enough about ULEZ to turn up and vote to alter the result significantly.

I'm anticipating lots of 'Core Vote' policies to be rolled out between now and the GE, unfortunately it looks like Net Zero is in the firing line on both sides.

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chrisonabike replied to Rich_cb | 6 months ago
6 likes
Rich_cb wrote:

The problem with the UK FPTP system is that a tiny number of swing voters essentially decide each GE. It doesn't take a huge number of voters who care enough about ULEZ to turn up and vote to alter the result significantly. I'm anticipating lots of 'Core Vote' policies to be rolled out between now and the GE, unfortunately it looks like Net Zero is in the firing line on both sides.

I just realised an even tinier number of Conservative party members decided that we got Liz Truss (who certainly changed the political direction), then an electorate of zero Conservative MPs got us Rishi!

The overall London numbers (not got figures for other ULEZ locations) suggest this would have support there.  As you suggest though that isn't the only political calculation.

It was smart politics when Cameron managed to blindside Clegg on the Alternative Vote - also not helped by Labour sitting on the fence of course.  It was unfortunate however; having a more proportional system might at least reduce one source of quibbles.

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Rich_cb replied to chrisonabike | 6 months ago
5 likes

AV referendum was biggest missed opportunity for British politics in my lifetime.

ULEZ might broadly achieve majority support but if the opponents are more motivated than the supporters and hence turn out in greater number that broad support won't necessarily translate to electoral success for politicians who support it.

This is particularly pertinent in the outer boroughs of London where support for ULEZ is lower and the seats are more marginal.

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Hirsute | 6 months ago
25 likes

"I am on motorists’ side", says Sunak. He tells us "how important cars are for families to live their lives".

//pbs.twimg.com/media/F2SEZT0WYAAzd9x?format=jpg&name=360x360)

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chrisonabike replied to Hirsute | 6 months ago
4 likes

Shurely "tragic and extremely salient as are the deaths of a few children (or even adults) from crashes, or a few more from respiritory illnesses and the effects of particulate pollution, surely we would all agree that this a price worth paying for the vast number of visits to the hospital in an emergency / trips to see their grandparents / access to a better violin teacher / collecting food on the way back from our busy work lives / runs to school or the park or a Burger King a few hundred metres away (not safe otherwise because cars) / visiting Peppa Pig World?"

Our (bigger) cars (mostly) keep our precious cargo safe.

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Gimpl replied to Hirsute | 6 months ago
1 like
Hirsute wrote:

"I am on motorists’ side", says Sunak. He tells us "how important cars are for families to live their lives".

//pbs.twimg.com/media/F2SEZT0WYAAzd9x?format=jpg&name=360x360)

Wow - that is very low!

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chrisonabike replied to Gimpl | 6 months ago
4 likes
Gimpl wrote:
Hirsute wrote:

"I am on motorists’ side", says Sunak. He tells us "how important cars are for families to live their lives".

Wow - that is very low!

Shocking - yes.  Of course mature people - the authorities! - would never put out e.g. a campaign which shows the deadly consequences of human behaviours.  Or if you want an example featuring an actual victim (real dead person) - from a different context - Rachel Whitear.

If this is not a consequence of mass motoring with few restrictions (albeit a rare one) what is it?  Just a "bad apple" behind the wheel?  Or is it just "one of those things"?

An isolated, tragic accident ... of the kind which regularly happens.

Mr. Sunak is certainly trying to gain political capital by reassuring people he's behind them, against any restrictions on their right to drive.  How does that not put him in the "we really wish this wouldn't happen, but ... so sad" category?

Of course most of us are in that category!  Until we have reason to have an emotional connection to the subject.  Perhaps instead we could re-think the system that's supposed to make us safe when travelling - but is actually primarily tasked with providing the highest motor vehicle capacity?  Maybe there's a middle way?

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Hirsute replied to Gimpl | 6 months ago
8 likes

I'm fed up with decades of car centred living.
I'm fed up with the number of KSIs for road traffic per day where it's just accepted as collateral damage.
I'm fed up with powerful lobbies stopping change.
I'm fed up with no review of motoring offences ( see 13 year old killed by speeding, uninsured driver).
So when sunak says he's on the side of motorists he isn't really wanting to think of the consequences of not restricting motor vehicles.

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Car Delenda Est replied to Hirsute | 6 months ago
2 likes

Forgive us if we think that preventing this horror from happening again takes precedence over you being offended.

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Hirsute | 6 months ago
22 likes

//pbs.twimg.com/media/F2SLgR-WgAABti7?format=jpg&name=small)

.

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levestane | 6 months ago
3 likes

It's encouraging that the major political parties are seeing votes in environmental issues. It will be interesting to see what voters think.

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quiff replied to levestane | 6 months ago
2 likes
levestane wrote:

It's encouraging that the major political parties are seeing votes in environmental issues. It will be terrifying interesting to see what voters think.

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Muddy Ford | 6 months ago
17 likes

He is proving himself to be an absolute pr1ck, if he is falling for the loudmouth fair fuel UK argument. Next up, I expect him to denounce jabs as mind control injections for Gates and global warming as a hoax perpetuated by WEF in order to confine us to 15 minute prison environments. Why does he think that only motorists are suffering from the cost of living crisis? Are motorists the only ones that go to work?  

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Legin replied to Muddy Ford | 6 months ago
13 likes
Muddy Ford wrote:

He is proving himself to be an absolute pr1ck, if he is falling for the loudmouth fair fuel UK argument. Next up, I expect him to denounce jabs as mind control injections for Gates and global warming as a hoax perpetuated by WEF in order to confine us to 15 minute prison environments. Why does he think that only motorists are suffering from the cost of living crisis? Are motorists the only ones that go to work?  

He's not falling for any of it. The Times leaked the news that all the Tory party have as a strategy, to win the next election, is divide and rule. They plan to pick on all the toxic areas of conflict to sow discontent between the public. Never forget there was no apetite for Brexit until Cameron offered a referendum and the extremists succesfully focused on that which divides us, not that which unites us. Scumbag Sunak will do the same. He'll be happy if there is rioting in the streets.

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chrisonabike replied to Legin | 6 months ago
1 like

Sunak seems an unlikely Trump-lite, but he is very rich so there's that!

I doubt he's up for street riots *. I bet plenty in his party would be delighted if there were though - a good bit of police vs. protestors on the news while you're manifesting being the defenders of law and order!

* unlike Trump who came oddly close to channeling Chairman Mao with his "bombard the headquarters" at the start of the cultural revolution.

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Mungecrundle | 6 months ago
16 likes

Desperate man looking down the barrel of an upcoming election.

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Car Delenda Est replied to Mungecrundle | 6 months ago
1 like

The annoying thing is that it seems to be working.
Going by Electoral Calculus' predictions they're going to lose the next election, but back when he got the job they looked like they wouldn't be running in the election after.

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