The arrival of new Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) across many parts of London has generated large amounts of heat and rather less in the way of light. As On London has reported – from the streets of Enfield, Hackney, Islington, Ealing and Lambeth – the schemes, designed to stop through-traffic in residential neighbourhoods, have been implemented with enthusiasm by many councils, but also loudly opposed by some residents of the networks of streets affected.
Of course, conflict attracts coverage and not every LTN has come up against concerted opposition – that needs to be kept firmly in mind. Furthermore, LTNs are far from new to the capital. It is at least 15 years since my street in Hackney was made part of one. I recall early weeks of irate parping and reversing, which then faded away. Perhaps hostility to this new batch of LTNs, seemingly made fiercer by the absence of advance consultations, will also peter out.
But that might not mean the grievances they’ve raised have disappeared. While politicians and activists promoting cycling, walking, better air quality and greater use of “streets for people” regard them as a bold policy leap forward and a silver lining to the Covid cloud, critics maintain that they simply worsen motor traffic problems in surrounding areas and even penalise the less affluent, by pandering to middle-class values and pushing up local housing costs – an anti-LTN campaigner in Islington has claimed that the borough’s Labour council is trying to clear out the last of the working-class.
There have also been objections to the speed at which schemes have been introduced. This has been justified as a response to Covid-19. LTNs form part of Sadiq Khan’s wider London Streetspace programme, which also encompasses “pop up” cycle lanes, pavement widened and “school streets”, whose aims include making social distancing easier, promoting good health in general, and preventing a car-led recovery from the virus as many people continue to avoid using public transport.
Retrospective consultations are to be held following trial periods, meaning that LTNs can be adjusted or even removed. But opponents are sceptical, complaining that they and their concerns have been ignored by their political representatives. There’s been some fairly nifty nuancing of pro-LTN local councillors’ positions in the face of bombardments of complaints. It was a factor in the recent knife-edge confidence vote in Labour Ealing’s leader. Tory-run Wandsworth suspended all its LTNs after a backlash against them took place.
The higher level politics have been revealing too. Big impetus for LTNs has come from national government. Transport secretary Grant Shapps’s letter to Sadiq Khan of 14 May, setting out the conditions placed on the financial bailout of Transport for London, included a requirement that TfL came up with “an ambitious Active Travel Plan” including “closures of roads to through traffic…utilising at least the £55 million allocated in the [financial] Support Period”. Unlike the bailout package as a whole, the Labour Mayor has embraced this instruction from an otherwise hostile Conservative government – Streetspace was announced eight days before Shapps’s letter was signed off. Meanwhile, London Assembly Tories are railing against road redesign measures the Tory national administration has explicitly encouraged.
Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and the disputes they have provoked provide a big new chapter in the often rancorous story of how the capitals’ streets are managed. They also provide a window on other concerns about neighbourhood change, political accountability and competing definitions of social responsibility, personal freedom and the common good. Wherever you stand on LTNs, all of these themes need to be fairly and thoroughly debated with respect for different viewpoints.
That is why On London and The London Society have jointly organised a webinar debate about them to take place on 15 October (6:30-7:30). There will be four excellent panelists, who collectively offer a range of views on LTNs informed by experience in a variety of different parts of London.
- Leonie Cooper, London Assembly Member for Merton & Wandsworth, environment spokesperson for the Assembly Labour group and leader of Wandsworth Council’s opposition Labour group.
- Puru Miah, a Labour councillor in Tower Hamlets, who is a critic of his party’s local “liveable streets’ programme.
- Caroline Russell, Londonwide London Assembly Member and a Green Party councillor in Islington. Caroline is strongly supportive of LTNs.
- Charles Wright, a reporter for On London who lives in an LTN in Enfield.
The debate will be chaired by me, Dave Hill, On London‘s publisher and editor. Tickets, available HERE, are free for London Society members and £5 for non-members. On London readers whose financial support entitles them to receive the Thursday evening On London Extra email will be sent their own special link to free tickets. Looking forward to it!
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