Published:

Last week, a study came out showing that road injuries have halved in low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) installed in March to September of 2020.

One paper called the research a “significant moment in the debate over the use of LTNs” which have “faced noisy opposition”. Soon after Sadiq Khan Tweeted saying: “The evidence is clear: LTNs dramatically reduce road danger – particularly for pedestrians – making neighbourhoods safer places for everyone.”

The story and the reaction to it were comical and depressing in equal measure. For starters, the study must have some of the most state-the-obvious results of all time. It turns out that if you block cars going down roads, there will be less car injuries. Who knew! But more worryingly, it seems to have been taken as evidence of why we need more LTNs in Britain.

What’s my problem with LTNs, anyway? As ConservativeHome readers may know, I have written about this topic before, and it’s the most boring issue I’m passionate about – simply because I don’t like to see hard-working people hurt by illogical policies (which LTNs are).

The first time I discovered LTNs was in April this year when a delivery driver helped me move back to London. In short, we had to stop and re-route numerous times due to how many LTN signs had been put up blocking roads (more on that here).

The next time I discovered LTNs was when I ordered a taxi – approximately 500 metres away – and it took 20 minutes to arrive. “Where are you?” I said, rather urgently, on the phone to the driver. “Sorry, it’s these LTNs”, he replied. 

We subsequently ended up in traffic – because LTNs block so many roads – where he told me “I hate London at the moment”. Both he and the delivery driver seemed at their wits’ end.

It’s not hard to see why. According to The Daily Telegraph, which has been one of the few papers to cover issues with LTN, tradesmen are hiking prices up by as much as a quarter to negate LTN’s practical effects, often resulting in them being able to attend less jobs.

Khan has reassured us all that LTNs are safe, but he is, essentially, trying to counter a phantom objection. Who has said they aren’t safe? Indeed, my road is nice because it’s an LTN. The other day I watched two people play ping pong in the middle of it, and it all felt very idyllic.

But something about the ping pong bothered me – yes, really – as it seemed to symbolise what’s wrong with LTNs, which increasingly look like an excuse for upper middle-class playgrounds (in my area, at least). Who cares about the delivery driver stuck in traffic…

The result of LTNs is that plumbers, electricians, builders and many other tradesmen and women, often self-employed, struggle to get about in areas to carry out services and drop off things that we all need (unless you think supermarkets can survive on deliveries made by bicycle in the future?).

Worst still, how are the elderly and people with disabilities meant to get around if cars are banned from their road? And what about those subjected to all the emissions on “non-LTN” roads? These questions seem to be ignored in the “debate” on LTNs, which no one remembers having.

Shockingly, LTNs have even generated £14 million in fines over the last 12 months – mainly because people don’t know what they are. It’s no wonder. Councils quietly installed 72 LTNs in March and September in London last year – when we were all mostly at home, oblivious and conveniently unable to protest.

LTNs aren’t just a London thing, incidentally. They are happening all over the country, in places such as Bath and North East Somerset, where the Deputy Council Leader recently told residents that they “are here to stay”. The council set to spend £2.2 million on its programme in the next two years. Speaking about residents’ concerns, a councillor in the area said leaders simply need to “hold [their] nerve“, as though people will simply get used to having roads closed off.

My area is one of the worst offenders for LTNs, and there are now regular protests against them – although they hardly get any media coverage. In general, there’s quite a lot of snobbery towards anyone who dislikes LTNs, as if they’re not intelligent or caring enough to value their higher, environmental purpose.

There is a greater point to this. First, it’s clear from Khan’s reaction that councils want to roll out more LTNs. Far from being concerned about them, the “party of business” appears to have endorsed the scheme, with the Conservatives allocating £2 billion towards projects that promote “active travel” over the next five years and encouraging London’s transport authority to spend £100 million on walking and cycling schemes.

I predict LTNs will cause real economic pain. When there are so many variables that are already unknown about the national recovery from Covid (empty supermarkets, for instance), turning cities into assault courses is hardly the best idea.

Furthermore, LTNs seem emblematic of an era in which councils, committees and MPs seem to think they can bring any policy in, so long as it’s attached to “environmentalism”, Coronavirus (the initial excuse for LTNs) or now “safety”. It seems to me that LTN protests are just a taster for the backlash leaders will get, so long as they continue to stop consulting people on such radical decisions.

Either way, some parliamentary interest in LTNs cannot come soon enough…