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

How Popular are Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs)?

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are often claimed by their promoters to be popular with most residents. They produce figures from surveys that claim to support that view, but it very much depends on who you survey and what questions you ask (and how). It’s very easy to get support for such schemes by asking “would you like traffic to be reduced on local roads?”. As most people don’t like traffic congestion which delays their journeys they will answer Yes to that question even if they don’t want roads closed and their own journeys delayed by the typical measures used in LTNs.

Lewisham Survey Results

The ABD recently undertook a survey of Lewisham residents who had responded to our campaign on the LTNs in the borough. We tried to ask unbiased questions and which did not lead the respondents to give a particular answer. About 550 people answered the survey before the changes to roads were introduced on November 9th and here’s a brief summary of the responses:

  1. We asked them whether they supported the existing road closures and other traffic measures introduced by the council? 97% answered No.
  2. The main reason for answering No was increased journey times or traffic congestion but increased air pollution, delays to emergency service vehicles, problems for service providers and difficulties faced by the elderly/disabled all rated highly at over 86%. There were also numerous individual negative comments supplied.
  3. For the few respondents who supported the road closures the main reason given was because they thought it might help climate change.
  4. The use of temporary traffic orders and without public consultation was deplored by 96% of respondents, and 97% said they were unnecessary because of the Covid-19 epidemic.
  5. Some 93% also said it was both unnecessary and impractical to restrict access to vehicles although 57% said it was important to encourage walking and cycling (“active travel”).
  6. A surprisingly large number of respondents (28%) said they suffer from age, infirmity or disability that inhibits their mobility and 13% said they suffer from medical conditions as a result of air pollution. This reflects other surveys of the health of the population in London where an ageing population and particularly past unhealthy life styles such as smoking are creating social problems. But such people have often come to rely on motor vehicles.
  7. 95% of respondents said they owned a motor vehicle and 37% own a cycle. Clearly respondents to the survey were mainly those who have been badly affected by the road closures in Lewisham which may not be surprising.

If anyone would like more details of the survey and its results, please contact the ABD.

LTNs for all?

For a contrary view you can read a recently published paper entitled “LTNs for all”, subtitled “Mapping the extent of London’s new Low Traffic Neighbourhoods” (see  https://tinyurl.com/yy5gdg4y ). It’s published by an organisation called Possible which is a charity working toward a zero carbon economy and promotes car free cities. The lead author is Rachel Aldred who is a Professor at Westminster University and Director of their Active Travel Academy. Needless to say it is an extremely biased document as it ignores all the objections reported to LTNs in London. But it does give a good overview of the number of LTNs that have been installed and those boroughs who have installed a lot, or in other cases none at all. The installation of LTNs does not seem to depend on local traffic problems or the wishes of the community but on the enthusiasm of some local councillors for them.

The evidence given in the paper for support of the LTNs and the “evaporation” of traffic is very selective when other surveys have shown the contrary. Of course opposition to LTNs depends on how they are installed and what measures are used. Simply closing roads to stop traffic as done in Lewisham, Waltham Forest and some other London boroughs creates major problems and surveys such as the ABDs and the LibDems (see  https://tinyurl.com/y5ttyd92 ) in Lewisham show how much opposition there is to badly conceived schemes that are installed without public consultation.

There is a discussion of “equity” in relation to transport in the paper. It suggests that where people have no gardens or nearby open space that it is justified in limiting access to roads. After a lot of muddled discussion, it says “While these differences [in street type] are relatively small (e.g. 90.2% of low income Outer Londoners live on residential streets, against 91.5% of the richest group), they suggest that in terms of social equity, it is more important in Outer London to introduce main road measures alongside LTNs, and ensure that high streets within an LTN area are included where possible”. In other words, after diverting traffic from side roads to main roads, they propose to introduce measures on main roads in addition to limit traffic!

It is unfortunate that the Possible paper does not look in any detail at the objections to road closures which is the main way LTNs are introduced at present.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

Press Release: Growing Opposition to Road Closures

The ABD has issued the following press release:

Opposition to road closures, particularly in London, has been growing. Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) have proved to be anything but and have worsened traffic congestion in the City.

A number of grass-roots campaign groups have sprung into existence to oppose these measures in boroughs such as Lewisham, Lambeth, Islington, Croydon, Ealing, Waltham Forest and several others – see this web page for a list of those known to the ABD:  https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/london-road-closures.htm

They typically have collected thousands of signatures opposing the road closures, and two of them (Croydon and Ealing) have already filed for Judicial Reviews in the High Court.

They have also run public street demonstrations despite the current Covid-19 restrictions which shows the strength of feeling against these schemes.

For example, the ABD has been actively supporting a campaign by local residents in Lewisham where nearly 12,000 people have signed a petition asking for removal of the road closures and proper public consultation on them. The lack of public consultation using the Covid-19 as a spurious excuse has what has particularly angered residents.

You can read more about the Lewisham campaign here: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/lewisham.htm and the many irate comments we have received from residents here: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/Lewisham-Comments-Received.pdf

ABD Campaign Director has commented: “The road closures have been justified on environmental grounds but in reality the closures have meant people have simply driven around them on main roads this emitting more air pollution and damaging the health of people who live on those roads. There has been no modal shift as few people are willing to take up cycling and they have been avoiding public transport during the epidemic. The advocates of these schemes might have had the best of intentions but they have been shown to be abject failures. The dogma that promoted these schemes is still being actively promoted with claims such that traffic will evaporate if roads are closed. But it does not.

Democracy has been thrown out of the window as local councils impose these schemes on the electorate without consultation. Some have backed down and withdrawn the closures but most boroughs are persisting while the Government and TfL support them with new “guidance” and funding. I suggest London boroughs need to listen to their electorate a lot more if they don’t wish to see a political revolution”.

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Sadiq Khan Bailed Out Again and Legal Action Over LTNs

A deal was done over the weekend to keep Transport for London (TfL) afloat – at least temporarily. The Mayor’s Press Release issued yesterday (see below) was headlined “Mayor sees off plan to extend C-Charge as deal reached on TfL funding” which is a typical bit of political point scoring from Sadiq Khan. There was of course an enormous amount of opposition to extending the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) to a wider area as so many people would have been affected. But the Mayor has had to concede to some changes to keep London’s public transport system functioning until next March.

Some of the details are:

£1.8 billion of Government grant and borrowing made available – but note the increase in borrowing when TfL already has too much debt.

Concessionary fares will remain for older and younger Londoners.

Public transport fares will only increase as previously agreed.

Transport for London to make £160m of savings this financial year, and City Hall will need to raise additional income to protect concessions for older and younger Londoners for future years – if the Mayor wants to continue these. But where is he going to make those savings or raise the additional income from? It does not say.

A modest increase in council tax is to be looked at and the temporary changes to the central London Congestion Charge that were introduced in June 2020 will remain, i.e. they are likely to become permanent.

As one commentator said, this looks like kicking the can down the road as it will not solve the basic imbalance between income and expenditure in TfL over the next 6 months so come next March some tougher decisions will need to be made. It is very unlikely that the impact of the Covid-10 epidemic will have disappeared by then.

Postscript: the full terms of the bail-out have now been published in the Government’s letter to Sadiq Khan. See https://tinyurl.com/yyyxnvnp . You can see why he might be furious over the outcome because it makes it clear that TfL will remain under Government scrutiny and the Mayor has to come up with a sensible and “sustainable” financial plan for it.

Legal Action Over LTNs

The Daily Telegraph has reported on the commencement of legal action against Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) in Enfield which we covered in a previous blog post. See link below to full article. It refers to “Emergency Traffic Orders” when I think it is talking about Temporary or Experimental Traffic Orders introduced under the Emergency Procedures introduced in June because of the Covid-19 epidemic.

The Telegraph articles also refers to legal challenges being mounted in Croydon and Lambeth. The OneLambeth campaign are raising funds for the legal challenge – see https://www.gofundme.com/f/OneLambeth . Please support them.

It will be worthwhile to follow these legal cases and we hope to report more details in due course.

Just to show how strongly the residents of Crystal Palace (Croydon) feel about the road closures, see this YouTube video of a demonstration over the weekend:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMrQna7tFmM

Telegraph Article: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/10/31/green-roads-council-becomes-first-taken-court-campaigners-say/

Emergency Traffic Order Procedures: https://tinyurl.com/ybns7rwx

Mayor of London Press Release: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/mayor-reaches-deal-on-tfl-funding

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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