Divisions over a controversial low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) scheme in Enfield have deepened, with a long-standing Labour councillor siding with opposition Enfield Council members to call for an eleventh-hour rethink.
Former cabinet member Yasemin Brett, who represents the ward whose residents are affected, announced at a local forum that she had broken ranks to sign a “call-in” request challenging Labour-run Enfield leader Nesil Caliskan’s decision to make the Bowes LTN permanent.
The call-in has come from six former Labour colleagues of Brett who have left to form a separate Community First grouping. Conservative councillors are also demanding a rethink as well as pledging to scrap LTNs entirely – putting the contentious schemes centre-stage for May’s council elections.
Brett, who will be standing down in May, told the Enfield Dispatch the scheme had “caused a lot of upset at a time when people are very fragile. This experiment shouldn’t have been carried out now, when people are feeling like this, in the middle of Covid”. While she had not joined her call-in co-signatories in leaving the Labour group, she admitted to residents that “it has been difficult”.
The decision to green light the scheme was taken in private by council leader Nesil Caliskan on New Year’s Eve. It will now be reviewed at the council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday (20 January). The committee can refer the decision back to Caliskan for a second look.
Blocking motor vehicle access to 13 streets except via the three-lane A406 North Circular Road dual carriageway, the scheme has divided opinion since it was introduced on an experimental basis in September 2020, costing £350,000 in government and Transport for London funding.
Council reports argue it has been successful in “significantly” reducing traffic that diverts through the area to avoid a regularly congested stretch of the A406, resulting in more walking and cycling being encouraged and improvements to the environment.
Traffic volumes are down 16 per cent overall in the LTN according to before and after monitoring, with walking up 14 per cent and cycling up 20 per cent, though the scheme has been found to have had “negligible impact” on pollution levels so far.
Councillors and residents opposed to the LTN have challenged the council’s data as insufficient to justify making the scheme permanent. “The council talks about ‘future’ benefits – none have been realised to date,” claimed anti-LTN spokesperson Roland Hewes. “The LTN makes our daily lives more difficult.”
Officers acknowledge that due to the pandemic’s impact on travel patterns, reported changes “should not be considered” as solely influenced by the scheme.
Warwick Road, the main cut-through at the focus for some residents’ demands for action, actually saw an increase in traffic in the morning peak period between 8am and 9am, though there was a decrease between 5pm and 6pm. There was more traffic too in Highworth Road, which goes past the local primary school.
A consultation showed more than half of residents who responded expressing concerns about the scheme and fewer than a quarter welcoming it, though the council says the responses were predominantly from car owners and that the “project is aimed at generating longer-term changes in travel behaviour, rather than simply managing the flow of motor traffic through a particular neighbourhood”.
Support for the scheme ranges from enthusiasm to “now it’s permanent we have to give it a go”. But several hundred local people joined a protest march at the end last year, and opposition groupings remain unconvinced.
With little optimism that the council’s scrutiny committee will side with the scheme’s opponents, attention is already switching to May’s vote, with issues including plans for homes on Green Belt land and a contentious change to fortnightly bin collections bubbling under alongside the LTNs.
Going ahead with the scheme showed that “despite many objections, the Labour administration has failed to listen to the community once again,” said Conservative group leader Joanne Laban.
“We are all thoroughly depressed that the council has no respect for due process and the views of the residents it is meant to serve,” said Hewes. “Let this be the last year of Labour running Enfield council.”
Labour has a healthy majority in the Bowes ward, where the Tories polled below the Green party in 2018, but the party has seen seven councillor defections in all as well as losing a seat in a by-election.
The 2019 general election saw swings away from Labour in all three parliamentary seats in the borough, and in last year’s London Mayor vote Tory candidate Shaun Bailey polled ahead of Sadiq Khan borough-wide on first preferences, a result suggesting Enfield may be one of the more interesting boroughs to watch in May.
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