View from the chamber: Low traffic neighbourhoods keep Londoners stuck, not safe

Cllr Michael Maurice doesn't think low traffic neighbourhood schemes are safe.

Cllr Michael Maurice doesn't think low traffic neighbourhood schemes are safe. - Credit: Archant

In the last few weeks, councils across London have introduced low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), cycle lanes and School Streets.

You might have come across them yourself. If you’ve been stuck in gridlock or unable to travel via your normal route, these schemes are probably the reason why.

This all started when London’s councils received extra funds from the government to make the streets safer. But most councils, including Brent, have spent these funds in a way the government hadn’t banked on. Instead of spending the money to keep Londoners safe, councils spent the money to keep Londoners stuck.

As elected representatives, we of course have a duty to clean up London’s air. Our children shouldn’t have to grow up with lung problems just because Sadiq Khan is failing to take action. But we need to get the measures right. And these schemes have actually increased pollution — leading to worse air quality than before.

Councillors of all parties will have heard complaints about these schemes from residents and businesses. Some councillors have listened – like in Wandsworth, where councillors suspended the LTN. Unfortunately, it seems like Labour councillors in Brent aren’t allowed to listen to anyone.

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Labour leaders have barred their councillors from knocking on doors to find out the views of residents. A very odd decision for elected representatives to take.

Why were these schemes introduced? The theory is that if councils block roads and stop rat runs, people will be dissuaded from using their cars and air quality will improve. That’s all very well and good. But we’re in the middle of a pandemic and the government has advised people not to use public transport if possible.

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In fact, social distancing rules mean the bus service is running at half capacity, so if you need to get somewhere, you have little choice but to use your car. Even after the pandemic has passed, people will still want to use their cars. It’s foolish to expect otherwise.

I think most Londoners are like me. We want sensible measures to cut pollution and improve safety. That’s why I support the closure of streets around schools (School Streets). These closures are only for a limited time in the mornings and afternoons — and even then only during term time.

But the total closure of streets, like we’ve seen with LTNs, shifts the traffic from one road to another, usually a main road. And traffic moves so slowly now that vehicles are pumping out more fumes than ever before.

As for new cycle lanes, these have been introduced again without any thought for the drivers who have to use roads. Most of the time, these new lanes are deserted.

Luckily these measures haven’t been implemented everywhere. In Barnet, Bromley and Hillingdon, the councils refused to implement them. And as I mentioned earlier, Wandsworth introduced the LTNs — but seeing the level of objection and the resulting chaos quickly did a U-turn. And what do these four councils have in common? They are all Conservative-led.

I don’t think that is a coincidence. It often seems like the Labour mayor, the GLA and Labour councils are anti-car.

Sadiq Khan himself said that we can’t have a car-led recovery. But as Conservative candidate for mayor Shaun Bailey said, most Londoners would be happy with any kind of recovery.

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