London Opposition to LTNs, Lewisham Council Meeting, Commonplace and Ealing Opposed to LTNs

There are now multiple campaigns all over London opposing Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). See this web page for a list of some of them (if you know of more please let me know so we can add to the list): https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/london-road-closures.htm . They show how anger is growing against the road closures which have been counterproductive in so many ways.

Lewisham Council Meeting

There was a meeting of Lewisham Council’s Overview and Business Scrutiny Panel on the 24th November. They finally got around to discussing the Report on the “Temporary measures to support safer talking and cycling in response to the Covid 19 pandemic”, i.e. the report on the Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) introduced in Lee Green and Lewisham. But it is of course a misnomer as this was a scheme planned well before the epidemic hit and it has nothing to do with the epidemic at all.

You can actually watch a recording of the meeting (see Ref. 1 below) but you would not find it particularly revealing (Item 4 is about 58 minutes in).

The Chairman and other speakers blamed the Government for the timescale imposed to implement the measures which meant there was no time for public consultation. But it is important to note that the Council did not have to take the money or implement the schemes as they have done! It was their choice to do so.

It is clear the Council hopes that the traffic will “evaporate” over time as people get used to the road closures but that is surely a vain hope (note that traffic congestion has certainly reduced in recent weeks but that is because of the lock-down restrictions recently in place with shopping, eating out and visiting friends severely restricted).

There were however some concerns expressed about the use of the Commonplace system as a consultation method, which I cover below in more detail.

Reference 1: Council Overview and Scrutiny Panel Meeting: https://councilmeetings.lewisham.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=121&MId=6060&Ver=4

Commonplace System

The Commonplace system is used by a number of Councils and other organisations as a consultation mechanism, or a “community engagement platform” as they call it. It is a commercial operation which sells its services to councils (see https://www.commonplace.is/ ) and is funded by venture capital.

One of the first London Councils to use it was Waltham Forest and Lewisham have used it more recently to cover their Lee Green LTN scheme (see https://walthamforest.commonplace.is/ and https://lewishamcovidresidentialstreets.commonplace.is/ ).

The system is not an unbiased platform in that typically it is used to promote what a Council is planning to do – and more recently that means after decisions have already been made to implement schemes.

It also has the problem that unlike a conventional public consultation only people who are internet enabled, and are even aware of the platform, can respond. This excludes a large number of people such as the elderly who are not internet connected or don’t spend much time on it. So it tends to be dominated by young activists and those active in local politics, i.e. the comments on it are unrepresentative of the wider population.

How unrepresentative is it? It’s impossible to say because little information is collected on the profile of those who add comments and not even names are shown on the published comments, i.e. people can comment anonymously which is never a good idea.

But it is very clear if you look at the comments published on Lewisham’s LTN that many comments are repetitive and the same comments are made on multiple roads. There seems to be no attempt to stop duplicate comments so the system can be exploited by organised activist groups such as cyclists.

There is no way that Lewisham Council can get a balanced view of the comments received or any statistically useful information. They can pick comments out to justify any stance they wish to take.

Wildly inaccurate comments can also be made on the platform with no “rebuttal” possible – you can only “Agree” with comments, not “Disagree” with them and you cannot comment further in response. Clearly there are many people commenting who are not directly affected, and those that are affected just give very polarised comments. The comments are not helpful in determining a sensible compromise to meet the needs of the majority.

In summary, Commonplace is a system that can be used by Councils to claim they are “listening” to residents when in reality it is not a fair and honest way to collect the views of all residents. It is not an alternative to a proper public consultation and is more designed to promote the views of scheme promoters than collect unbiased information.

DO NOT ACCEPT COMMONPLACE AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO PROPER PUBLIC CONSULTATIONS!

Surveys Give the Truth – Ealing Opposes LTNs

Surveys of residents are more likely to give an unbiased and honest view of LTN schemes. Those undertaken by the LibDems and the ABD in Lewisham show a very large percentage opposed to road closures. The latest such survey is one done by the Conservative Party in Ealing – see https://www.ealingconservatives.org.uk/news/LTNSurveyResults . As their headline says: “95% of people living in Ealing’s LTN zones want them removed”. The Ealing Commonplace site just shows again how the platform just provides a way for extremists of all kinds to vent their anger rather than provide constructive criticism.

Funds for Legal Action

It is clear that Councils such as Ealing and Lewisham are going to persist with schemes that are opposed by the majority of local residents. As it will be two years before local councillors come up for re-election, and they are unlikely to change their minds in the meantime, the only short-term way to stop the proliferation of road closures under the name of “Low Traffic Neighbourhoods” is to mount a legal challenge.

We believe there are good grounds for a legal challenge to these measures and have looked at the legal issues in some detail and have taken legal advice already. But we do need to raise substantial funds to launch a challenge (thanks to those who have already donated but we need many more people to do so).

PLEASE SUPPORT OUR CAMPAIGN AGAINST ROAD CLOSURES BY GOING HERE TO DONATE: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/legal-fund.htm

Legal Challenge Against LTNs in Ealing

A group named One Ealing have launched a legal challenge against Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) in the borough. They are raising funds using Crowdfunder to cover their costs and I suggest that you give them some support. See https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/oneealing

They say on their web site: “Ealing Council has divided our community by installing CCTV cameras, bollards and placing planters in an unsafe and undemocratic manner. We are all for cleaner air, but not at the expense of the residents and schools on the main roads”. In other words, they have the same complaints as in other London boroughs where LTNs are installed.

PLEASE SUPPORT THEM.

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Active Opposition to Cycle Lanes in Enfield

There is a very active campaign against new cycle lanes in the Green Lanes area of Enfield (the A105). They have an impressive web site (see http://saveourgreenlanes.co.uk/ ) and have already pursued a judicial review on the matter. Their complaint is that the cycle scheme will lead to increased congestion, and suggest the cycle lanes should be put on other roads.

They managed to generate over 1,500 objections to a public consultation but Ealing Council have so far ignored the objections.

Comment: It is good to see that there is an active voice against inappropriate cycle lanes where a preference is given to a small minority of road users as against other road users and local residents. Please give them a donation to help them.

Roger Lawson

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Ealing’s Hypocrisy over its Controlled Parking Zones

Ealing Council is the latest London local authority to announce plans to charge residents living in Controlled Parking Zones a sliding scale of permit prices based on CO2 emissions, a move that has provoked outrage across the borough.

The Labour administration, which increased its majority in May’s local elections, approved a new Transport Policy in June which will see most residents permit charges rise, some by as much as 60 per cent. Diesel owners will face an automatic £50 surcharge, while homes where more than one vehicle is registered will also see financial punishment. The Council estimates that its new scheme will raise an extra £700,000 a year on top of an already sizeable surplus from parking schemes.

Ealing Council says the aim is to reduce car usage among residents, a so-called ‘modal shift’ to ‘incentivise residents to use other, more sustainable modes of transport’. However, opponents of the scheme claim it is yet another stealth tax, and one that cannot be defended on environmental grounds since the Council is rolling out ‘shared use’ bays in CPZs across the borough to encourage commuters to drive in and park for just £4.50 a day.

Local resident Simon Hayes organised a petition calling for the Transport Strategy to be withdrawn and the proposed extension of shared use bays to be scrapped. More than 2,800 residents across the borough supported the petition but the demands were rejected by the Council at a meeting on July 24.

“This transport strategy is a total nonsense,” said Mr Hayes. “It is clearly a revenue raising exercise and there are two prongs to the fork they are poking in the eyes of every car owner in an Ealing CPZ. What makes it worse is Labour didn’t even campaign on this policy in May because they knew it would be a vote loser, but are simply imposing it without consultation”.

“The Council is punishing residents because they own a particular type of car which they may not be able to afford to change. We are told not to drive, but the council fails to recognise that most journeys residents make are essential, whether for work or family reasons or simply because alternative modes of transport just aren’t available. Many people in this borough are getting by and can ill-afford another financial burden.”

“But then the Council is actively encouraging non-residents to park in CPZs for just £4.50 a day. That’s almost the amount it costs to park for one hour in many of the borough’s car parks, so clearly it’s inadequate.”

“There will be no regulation of the vehicles that drive in, so even the most polluting commuter vehicle will be entitled to add to congestion and pollution without sanction. It will also cut the number of spaces available to residents, in roads where parking is already tight.”

Mr Hayes also challenged the Council’s claim that this transport strategy is pollution fighting measure. He said: “This will do nothing to tackle pollution problems in Ealing. It is targeted at a relatively small area of the borough, mainly central and south Ealing, Acton and Chiswick, which Labour itself has identified as the “affluent” areas.”

“There are no proposals to encourage ‘modal shift’ in the parts of the borough where CPZs are not in force. Those areas contribute equally, if not more, to pollution and congestion since they are often poorly served by public transport. There’s not even a proposal to encourage such a shift among those residents in CPZs who enjoy off-street parking and thus don’t pay for a permit.”

“The real causes of pollution in Ealing are the heavily used arterial routes, including the A40 and North Circular Road, running through it. Poor road layout and eternal roadworks create numerous pinch points that slow down traffic and increase the levels of pollution. Council leader Julian Bell – a notorious car-hater – starred in an online video last year alongside the A40 in Acton highlighting the pollution problems there. But even he can’t stick a toll booth on that road to charge the HGVs, vans and other far more polluting vehicles from passing through.”

Ealing Council has defended its policy and claims the law is on its side. Head of Legal Services, Helen Harris said: “I remain happy that Ealing Council’s Transport Strategy is lawful and in compliance with the legal principles set out in the Barnet case.  Revenue generation formed no part of the justification for the Strategy.”

Ms Harris has yet to respond to requests about the failure to consult residents on the proposed changes to the permit charges or the failure to consult on the expansion of the shared use bay schemes or the legal grounds on which it can impose a charge on certain residents but not others.

Mr Hayes has vowed to continue to fight the proposed plans.

He said: “There is a great deal of anger about this right across the borough. Even Labour voters are aghast at the arrogance of the Council. It may take a judicial review, but there is something seriously wrong if Council’s are allowed to set arbitrary taxes such as this without challenge. For too long now local authorities, particularly in London, have been allowed to get away with these stealth taxes. We’re all for improving air quality, but targeting only certain road users is the wrong way to go about this.”

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Ealing 20 Mph Zone

The London Borough of Ealing is proposing a wide area 20 mph speed limit in Acton. You can read more about it and respond to the consultation (which ends on the 18th December so you need to get your comments in quickly) here: http://www.ealing.gov.uk/info/200628/current_consultations/2059/acton_20_mph_speed_limit_trial_consultation

This is a “trial” scheme, but if successful is likely to be rolled out across all of the borough. From past experience such trial schemes are rarely rolled back simply because of the money spent on implementing them.

The Alliance of British Drivers has consistently opposed wide area 20 mph schemes because there is no evidence of road safety benefits. In fact the council are pre-empting a study which has been commissioned by the DfT on such schemes, but evidence from existing ones make any benefits appear to be very unlikely. Indeed in some schemes, accidents have increased. Although traffic speeds may be reduced by 1 mph (on average) in such schemes, that is hardly noticeable by most people.

But it can add significantly to journey times and put you at risk of collecting a speeding fine for driving at what you might consider a safe speed. The council’s supportive arguments are full of dubious claims, such as that it will reduce traffic congestion – that is simply nonsense as there is no evidence whatsoever to support that. Likewise they say lower speed limits will encourage cycling and walking, which might be beneficial if it was true, but again there is no evidence of such effects in existing schemes.

The council does not tell you what this scheme will cost in the consultation material, but it will be expensive. And it will be a waste of money that would be better spent on other road safety projects.

So please make sure you object if you live in the borough, or drive through it.