Only two out of the nine trial Low Traffic Neighbourhoods installed in Ealing at the start of the pandemic command the support of their residents, according to responses to consultations conducted by Ealing Council.
A council summary of the findings shows large majorities of respondents living within seven of the LTNs, ranging from 58 per cent to 82 per cent, are opposed to the schemes being made permanent and even larger proportions of residents of roads on the boundaries of six of them – 92 per cent in two cases – feeling the same way.
There was strong opposition from boundary road residents too to the two schemes that commanded the support of most of those living within the LTNs, one of which is not currently functioning due to the effects of a road closure in the neighbouring borough of Hounslow.
In a video, council leader Peter Mason said he was “pleased” by residents’ support for those two schemes and that these would become permanent, with a smaller version of the one adversely affected by Hounslow’s actions to be devised.
However, Mason explained that the council is presently unable to take any decisions about the future of the seven LTNs rejected by residents “as the government guidance on LTNs like Ealing’s suddenly changed on 31 July”.
This guidance, contained in a letter from transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris, warned council leaders that they must not remove “cycle schemes” funded by the government until they have been allowed to “bed in” and threatened to reduce financial support for councils it regards as having “prematurely removed or weakened such schemes”. However, although LTNs are mentioned in the minister’s letter, the threat refers only to “cycle schemes”.
Mason told residents: “I’m sure local people will understand that our decisions on the trial schemes need to be legally robust so we need to hold off on making final decisions for now” but is “hopeful” of being able to do do in September “once we’ve gone through the government guidance”.
He criticised the government’s approach as “heavy-handed” and “top down” and a poor way to secure popular support and pledged that although the council will “continue to explore further LTN schemes, we will only be implementing them where we can get public support.”
Over 20,000 responses to the council’s LTN consultations, which took place in June and July, were received, some of them as feedback through the Commonplace community engagement platform and others by email.
Mason said the air quality and traffic-monitoring data “available to us at this stage” show that “since the easing of lockdown there has been only marginal improvement” in both areas and that therefore “we are pretty much back to where we were before the pandemic”.
He added that the council has no data about whether the new LTNs have changed the amount of walking and cycling that is taking place, but that he wants the monitoring of such “active travel” to be “a key part” of its assessment work in future. Ealing plans what Mason called “a huge expansion of the borough’s cycling provision” along with “five new school streets” in addition to the ten it has already.
Mason became Ealing’s leader in May after being elected leader of the council’s majority Labour group in preference to the long-serving Julian Bell, an enthusiastic cyclist who had strongly championed the the borough’s new LTNs. These were introduced from May 2020 without prior consultation, with the government and Transport for London claiming they would aid social distancing during the pandemic as well as encouraging more “active travel”. Bell’s handling of the issue and the prominent opposition to the schemes by some residents is thought to have contributed to his defeat by Mason.
Bell was a member a group called the Ealing Cycling Commission, formed to promote bicycle-riding in the borough, which included Andrew Gilligan, a former media supporter of Boris Johnson, who gave him the job of “cycling commissioner” when he was London Mayor and appointed him as his special adviser on transport when he became Prime Minister. Following his securing the Downing Street role, Gilligan said in an interview that he believed in “more filtering of neighbourhoods”, more segregated bicycle lanes and an increase in the London congestion charge.
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