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Voters targeted on Facebook with anti-low traffic neighbourhood ads

As Britain goes to the polls, candidates try to win support by opposing moves to cut traffic – and in some cases, also by spreading fake news

As Scotland and Wales and much of England goes to the polls today to elect local councils, Britain’s voters are being targeted with adverts on Facebook from candidates opposed to measures aimed at reducing the volume of motor vehicles on the roads such as low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) and clean air zones (CAZs), according to research by the Guardian.

All councils in Scotland and Wales and all boroughs in London, plus seats in more than other 100 local authorities across England, are being voted on today.  

As far as the latter are concerned, today’s election is for either half or one third of the seats on the council, although Birmingham is among 14 local authorities where the full council is being elected this year.

The cost of living crisis and ‘partygate’ are among the national issues that have dominated press headlines in the run-up to the elections, which has also seen Tory candidates brand themselves in their campaigning literature as ‘Local Conservatives’ in what  has been widely interpreted as a bid to put distance between themselves and Westminster, and try and focus instead on their own areas.

And according to analysis by the Guardian, that includes 136 adverts opposing LTNs and CAZs in 21 local authority areas across England – accounting for almost four out of five such ads on the social network.

Of the other 28, the newspaper says that 19 were placed on behalf of independent candidates, six by Labour and three by the Liberal Democrats.

The opposition of some Tory candidates to LTNs of course puts them in direct conflict with national government, which has said it wants to encourage active travel and reduce motor traffic to ease congestion and help meet the UK’s emissions reduction targets, and has provided funding to local authorities around England to develop such schemes – and subsequently stipulating that they must be given time to work, rather than being scrapped within weeks of their implementation.

Other than the London borough of Croydon, with almost 40 examples, adverts against LTNs and CAZs were most prevalent in boroughs in Greater Manchester, where Mayor Andy Burnham has pledged to introduce a CAZ and where the Bee Network of pedestrian and cycle-friendly routes is continuing to be developed.

The Guardian noted that separate analysis had found widespread sharing on Facebook of misinformation about the proposed Greater Manchester CAZ – including the made-up claim that trees close to a motorway junction were to be cut down as part of the initiative.

While the concept of LTNs has been around for decades, and hundreds of examples from the 1960s and before can be found around the country, during the coronavirus pandemic they have became a major topic of political debate in a number of London boroughs and in towns and cities beyond.

Some councils have caved in to a vociferous minority of voters and removed LTNs and in some cases, cycle lanes before they have had a chance to bed in and be evaluated, contrary to government guidance.

In some areas such as the Hounslow in west London, which is Labour-controlled but currently has 10 Tory councillors in the affluent Chiswick area to the east of the borough, support for and opposition to LTNs and other active travel initiatives has resulted in a bizarre situation where a Labour local authority is implementing what is effectively a Conservative government policy – which is being opposed by its own locally elected representatives.

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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