Low Traffic Neighbourhoods — [Carolyn Harris in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at on 20 May 2024.

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[Relevant document: Summary of public engagement by the Petitions Committee on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and accessibility, reported to the House on 14 May 2024, HC 188.]

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Labour, Battersea 4:30, 20 May 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered e-petitions 632748 and 651094 relating to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and accessibility.

It is a pleasure, Mrs Harris, to serve under your chairmanship. The petitions call for an independent review and an exemption for blue badge holders, and were signed by more than 17,000 people. I congratulate the creators of the petitions, Mike Spenser and Mark De-Laurey, who are here today. Many thanks to the Petitions Committee for producing a survey, completed by 7,000 people, to which I will refer in my speech.

Low-traffic neighbourhoods, or LTNs, are traffic-control measures that reduce motorised traffic within a limited area. They are intended to make active travel more comfortable and enhance public spaces for pedestrians. Studies have shown that there are benefits, from improved road safety to better health outcomes, as people are encouraged to walk and cycle rather than drive. Their introduction, however, has proven to be controversial in some of our communities.

There is an irony in the fact that the introduction of LTNs was intended to bring communities together when, in some cases, they have now become a source of controversy. Of the respondents to the Petitions Committee survey, 78% said that LTNs had a “negative” or “very negative” effect on them, with only 17% saying that LTNs had a “positive” or “very positive” effect on them.

I support the efforts to create a more sustainable transport system, and actions to tackle what is a climate emergency. It is my intention to use this debate to present some of the challenges and to put forward recommendations for action that can be taken to prevent the problems that so many of our communities have experienced.

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Shadow Minister (Youth Justice)

More than 28,000 deaths a year are linked to air pollution. Does my hon. Friend, who has begun her speech excellently, agree that much more needs to be done to monitor and reduce air pollution, so that we can improve the quality of life for us and our constituents?

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Labour, Battersea

My hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that I absolutely agree with her, and I will come on to that later in my speech. It is really important that we tackle not only air pollution and air quality but some of the inequalities that may come about as a result of some of the changes being introduced.

Although the basic idea of LTNs dates back to the 1970s, the latest wave and the name itself are far more recent. During the pandemic, the Conservative Government encouraged local authorities in areas with high public transport use to reallocate road space to help to enforce social distancing and encourage active travel. Statutory guidance was issued, and the Government’s active travel fund provided money for LTNs as experimental traffic orders, or ETOs. Many would argue that that is where the problem possibly started.

Although the reasoning behind the introduction of LTN measures was understandable given the circumstances, the way in which they were implemented has created problems. As they were introduced as ETOs, the usual legal obligations to carry out a full consultation were often waived, and some councils decided to perform their public sector equality duty on a rolling basis. This resulted in changes being imposed on communities without their input or approval, often without sufficient information, and with little regard for equality considerations.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Party Chair, Labour Party, Chair of Labour Policy Review, Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

I stated back in March ’22 that I was concerned that continuing with the roll-out of LTNs in my area before bus prioritisation would worsen congestion, further negatively impact bus uptake and increase division around active and public transport measures in Oxford’s communities. As my hon. Friend is stating clearly and eloquently, the timing of the introduction of LTNs in cities like Oxford has underlined the lack of a joined-up approach to the issues.

Does my hon. Friend share my concern at the manner in which the Conservative Government initially funded these projects, stating that LTN money could not be used for longer-term, more integrated transport plans? Does she agree that while many local residents will understandably support LTNs in the streets they live on, if we are to tackle the climate crisis, we have to ensure that everyone, not just those on higher incomes, can get from A to B and travel in a cleaner, greener way? People who live on council estates surrounding city centres also need their transport needs considered.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Labour, Battersea

Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes the point that we must ensure that communities are brought along on this journey and that there are challenges that the Government have not addressed.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Labour, Battersea

I will make some progress.

Common complaints about LTNs have included the shifting of traffic to boundary or sacrificial roads, increased congestion, barriers for emergency services, worsening pollution and a negative knock-on effect on public transport. Many communities that have been impacted by traffic moving to densely populated areas are from poorer and black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds. One survey respondent described the impact, saying:

“The traffic was pushed out of [an] extremely wealthy [area] and onto the roads of the poor…The result was complete GRIDLOCK. The arterial roads remain highly congested to this day and it is horrible and stressful to be stuck in polluted traffic for hours on a journey that should take mere minutes.”

The introduction of LTNs has in some cases had a greater impact on disabled people, with 86% of those who responded to the survey saying that LTNs had a “negative” or “very negative” impact on them. Some of the concerns included the installation of bollards and planters, locked dropped kerbs, excessively longer journeys, which are not only inconvenient but lead to higher costs, and the failure to exempt blue badge holders from LTN schemes.

Increased travel times are not just mild inconveniences. Many disabled people often find commuting far more exhausting. In the most extreme cases, the added hassle caused by the longer journey time makes travel difficult, robbing them of the energy they need for when they arrive at their destination. Worryingly, travel times were also linked to the increased cost of petrol and taxi fares, adding to the financial burden borne by disabled people. That has the potential to prevent them from travelling or, worse, to keep them trapped in their homes. Someone living with multiple conditions said:

“The LTN has added to my journey times and costs and also my fatigue levels are increased due to the extra stress and travelling, added to this I suffer with anxiety as MS means I sometimes need access to a toilet quickly, with my journey time now increased threefold it makes it very difficult.”

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Justice)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the excellent speech she is making. The LTN she describes sounds as if it has physical barriers. Does she agree that where an LTN is enforced through camera technology and residents can enter or leave their homes by the route that suits them best, they do not suffer from the problems she has described so well?

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Labour, Battersea

Making sure that routes are accessible is crucial, and using technology such as cameras can be a way forward. I will come to that shortly.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Labour, Battersea

That’s fine—no need to apologise!

Moreover, not all LTNs have blue badge exemptions; that is the focus of one of the petitions we are debating. Although LTN schemes are different everywhere and councils have different policies for blue badge holders, disability is not a geographical issue. The lack of exemptions has led to there being a postcode lottery. One respondent to the Petitions Committee survey said:

“I cannot take my mother who has a blue badge to medical appointments as it would result in going through an LTN and getting a fine.”

Southwark Council in London recently had to scrap its plans for a low-traffic neighbourhood after a backlash from residents, including local disability groups, as blue badge holders and disabled motorists would not be exempt. Many of the benefits of LTNs do not help disabled people. For instance, active travel measures such as cycling infrastructure are not always accessibly designed. Narrow cycle lanes, designed with a standard two-wheel bike in mind, cannot be used by trikes or other non-standard vehicles. This really is about creating an inclusive public realm.

The accessibility issues around LTNs show that society is rarely designed with the needs and interests of disabled people in mind, and that often leads to their exclusion. In fact, many of the issues predate the introduction of the schemes and stem instead from the existing barriers. LTNs are inaccessible because street spaces themselves are not inclusive, so simply removing them is not a solution, as the status quo ante was not always inclusive and accessible.

A basic principle of the disability rights movement has always been, “Nothing about us without us”, which signals the importance of consultation and co-production in any policymaking that impacts our lives. Given the sometimes routine exclusion of disabled people from decision making, the existing approach to policy development has had and will have a wide impact. Poor consultation on low-traffic neighbourhoods and their imposition in a time of national crisis has allowed controversy to arise.

At first glance, the Department for Transport’s review in March this year shows support for LTNs, but the responses were based on a limited set of data. The surveys featured were limited to residents of only four geographical areas, and they had a low response rate. The review also failed to consult public health professionals, older and disabled people’s groups, and those representing black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.

The Government have issued guidance on the implementation and monitoring of LTNs, which could help to ensure that future schemes are more inclusive and have community buy-in and support, but given some of the concerns about the Government’s review, there is a case, outlined in petition 632748, for an independent review that has a specific focus on the impact on disabled people and consults all the relevant people and stakeholders. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government will agree to that? In the short term, LTNs must permit access to blue badge holders, as Mike Spenser called for in his petition.

A more sophisticated LTN design might include cameras, as my hon. Friend Ruth Cadbury mentioned, to permit other vehicles and allow disabled people to access areas via any vehicle they choose, including taxis. Not all disabled people are blue badge holders, and many of them rely on public transport, including taxis.

Another recommendation could be for the temporary suspension of LTNs introduced during the pandemic until legal obligations are met and assessments and proper traffic baselines have been carried out. Although LTNs are the responsibility of local authorities, will the Government consider updating the guidance so that such an approach can be adopted? The current guidance is based on legislation that can lead to statutory requirements to consult, but if a traffic regulation order is made, key stakeholders such as the police and ambulance service must always be consulted.

There is also a requirement in the regulations to consult other organisations that represent people likely to be affected by the provisions of the order, as the local authorities see fit, but have the Government considered amending the legislation to put in place a mandatory requirement to consult other groups and stakeholders, such as those representing disabled people? LTNs can work in certain areas if they are supported by the community, which includes those who live on boundary and sacrificial roads. To enable that, will the Minister agree to develop a national framework for local authorities to use when planning new LTNs and monitoring existing and new schemes?

Successful and sustainable improvements to our transport system and public realm must always consider the interests of all who will be affected. Disabled people know this all too well; however, the interests of all communities everywhere can benefit from this simple lesson, and we can avoid the problems that we see today. I think all of us present can take that point. I am sure the House will agree that for a system or a scheme to work, it is important that we bring our communities together behind us so that all schemes can be successful.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet 4:45, 20 May 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Harris. I thank Marsha De Cordova for introducing this debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee, and every one of those members of the public who chose to add their names to the petitions and take part in this debate.

I represent a constituency that has thankfully not had low-traffic neighbourhoods inflicted on it, and I am here to argue that we do not want them. We have seen how they operate next door in Enfield, and we do not want that kind of traffic mayhem transported into our borough. I want my constituents to be able to get where they want to go without too much unnecessary hassle.

A successful economy depends on movement and mobility, and schemes that deliberately cause traffic delays by restricting access to our road network cause economic damage. Ultimately, such schemes make the economy grow less vigorously than it would otherwise have done, and make everyone worse off than they would otherwise have been.

As we heard from the hon. Member for Battersea, this is not just an issue that impacts people who drive cars; it affects people in buses, taxis and vans, all of which are hit by the congestion caused by LTNs. We all know that local businesses suffer when their customers and suppliers find it harder to get to them, which is another consequence of the schemes. However, people’s simple freedom to live their lives in the way they want is also restricted by this kind of anti-car measure, which inflicts unnecessary delay and headaches on them.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

The right hon. Lady makes a powerful point that people should live their lives as freely as possible, without too many interventions, and should therefore be free to use their car. Does she not recognise that other road users, such as people who walk or cycle or young people who try to walk to school, but who feel that cars are endangering them or making them less free to use the road, are on the other side of the argument?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Of course, I am a strong supporter of measures that have a positive impact on cycling safety, and we must ensure that the rules of the road strike the proper balance to protect vulnerable road users. However, I do not believe that LTNs are the way to deliver that.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Justice)

Like me, the right hon. Lady represents an outer London suburban borough. In her constituency, are there really no residential roads that are a continuous traffic jam as rat-runners queue to get to the main road by missing the main junctions? Before LTNs were implemented, the residents of those roads, such as Wellesley Road in Chiswick or the Teesdales in Isleworth, did not have the freedom to go home or leave home in their own cars because of the continuous traffic jams outside their homes.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Of course, I accept that rat-running takes place, but again, I do not believe that LTNs are the right way to deal with that; there are much better alternative ways to manage traffic that should be considered first. I am especially concerned that older people, who perhaps do not find it as easy to get around as they used to, are particularly disadvantaged by LTN schemes, as that generation might be dependent on their cars or on taxi transport. It would certainly help if blue badge holders were exempted from the schemes, but that does not cover the millions of people with very real mobility impairments that are not serious enough to qualify for those badges.

On the rationale for the schemes, we are told that it is to get us out of our cars and make us walk and cycle, but what about the parents of young families who cannot simply load their young family on to a bicycle, as blithely advocated by the Mayor of London and Transport for London?

We also live in an era of increased awareness and concern regarding crimes against women, so we must also listen to the women who feel real fear and insecurity because an LTN means they can no longer be dropped off right outside their home by a taxi when they come home at night. They might find it more difficult to get taxi transport because they live in an LTN. The equalities impact of LTNs and a range of anti-car measures were not properly taken into account before the schemes were introduced.

As I have said before, I am a strong supporter of measures to improve cycling safety, but dogmatic measures forcing cars out of more and more road space are not the right answer and the air-quality benefits of LTNs are heavily contested. The additional congestion that they cause on main roads might worsen emissions in those locations, which are often places where people on lower incomes live, including many people from minority ethnic communities. Again, the equalities impact of the schemes is severe.

Traffic does not evaporate when we close roads, much as TfL would wish it to. It just moves to a different road. An area can be told to put up with increased emissions because a more affluent nearby street has demanded an LTN. Such projects can be extremely socially divisive, as has been clearly illustrated by the debate in places like Tower Hamlets.

Roads policy from the Mayor of London and London Labour boroughs has too often seemed to reflect the views of a limited number of vocal pressure groups, rather than the broader consensus of opinion and rather than embracing the views of women, minority ethnic communities, the elderly and the disabled. Consultation has far too often been inadequate, not least because it tends to focus only on the people who live in the street to be included in the LTN and ignores those who travel through those streets or the roads on to which traffic is displaced.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

The right hon. Lady is being generous in accepting interventions, and I thank her for that. I used to be a councillor—not in my constituency but in another local authority—and the problem was always one of consultation, which I fully agree with. More people should be consulted on planning applications, but the argument is always about what is mandatory and what a councillor must do to consult, which is quite narrow. We know that councils are all cash-strapped and do not have the ability to consult more widely. Does she agree that we need a mandate to consult more widely, as well as the funds for that?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

If councils are not able to consult adequately, they should not introduce the schemes in the first place. Over the past 24 hours I have received emails from many people, particularly in London but beyond as well, which seem to me to be cries for help from people who are frustrated that their lives have been turned upside down by the schemes.

LTNs are an experiment that have failed. They harm our economy and our capital city, and they punish people just for trying to get around in a bus, a car or a taxi. It is time to halt the introduction of new LTNs and time for the Government and the Minister to intervene to start removing existing LTNs. The madness must stop.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 4:54, 20 May 2024

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mrs Harris, and thank you for upgrading me to Sir Wera. We are having a good debate, and I congratulate Marsha De Cordova on introducing it so thoroughly. I also congratulate the people who signed the petition so that we could have the debate. Of course, the whole point of these debates is that they come to the House because people want us to debate certain issues, and I am always in favour of doing so; it is important that we do.

In many of our local council areas, low-traffic neighbourhoods have become very contentious, with both opposition and support. The term LTN is new, but the concept is not: the planning principles of LTNs have been used in street design since at least the 1960s. The concept has suddenly become controversial because of the motives behind LTNs, such as reducing traffic and encouraging active travel, and because they are at odds with the Government’s new-found pro-driver policy.

Most of us are all sorts of things: we are motorists, we are pedestrians, and we are cyclists; we use the road in all sorts of ways. It is important to look at the issue in the round and to understand the different uses of the road by different users. It is particularly important, as has been mentioned, to ensure that vulnerable road users are not excluded from our streets. That is an important principle to which all local councils need to adhere.

In Bath, my local council has been very brave in introducing a wide range of LTNs—12 in total. That has created a lot of reasons for people to write to me. I have had 57 people write to me about LTNs, but there are 70,000 people in my constituency, so although 57 is a relatively large number, we have to think about the number of people as a proportion. We are usually written to by people who do not agree with what is being done, rather than by those who agree with what is being done. Among the 57 are people who agree with LTNs. One wrote recently:

“Dear Wera, I just wanted to write in support of these zones. As a cyclist (walker and motorist) they are wonderful for those neighbourhoods. I live on the…estate and there have been moans about the LTZ at Sidney place—I have not noticed a change in the congestion myself and fully support the trial.”

I congratulate my local council on having been brave, as well as on making the LTNs a trial. Councils have to be careful to support what they introduce with data, and I have challenged my own council to provide such data to local communities and to those who oppose LTNs. I have facilitated access between local groups who are opposed to a particular LTN and councillors and council officers, so that we have discussions and so that people understand what LTNs are for, what is being measured, what the council wants to achieve and how LTNs can improve our neighbourhoods. It is important that each council is transparent about what it wants to achieve, provides the data, and communicates and engages, as we have heard. The council must ensure that it includes as many people as possible in the debate about how it wants to move forward.

An official study commissioned by the Prime Minister, which was intended to show that LTNs are unwanted, concluded that they are genuinely popular, particularly once they are implemented. The Department for Transport surveyed residents in LTN trial areas in London, Birmingham, Wigan and York: 45% of respondents supported the schemes, 21% opposed them, and 58% were unaware that they lived in a low-traffic neighbourhood.

It is no wonder that the Government delayed the publication of the study, because ultimately it produced the opposite of what the Government thought it would produce. Despite the results of its own report, the Department for Transport has said that it will no longer provide central funding for LTNs, and there are also plans to cut councils off from Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency databases.

This debate must be evidence-led. As I have said, it should be about the evidence, not about what people fear. Change is always difficult; managing change is one of the most difficult things that we have to do as politicians, as I remember well from my time as a councillor. People are afraid of change, and the most important thing that we need to do as political leaders is respond to and communicate on people’s fears about change.

The debate has to be evidence-based, and there are some legitimate concerns, as we have already heard. For example, disabled people worry about their mobility. In most cases, proper consultation, comprehensive exemptions and more accessible transport options are solutions that widely dispel those fears. LTNs themselves must be fully accessible, with dropped kerbs and no street clutter, otherwise disabled people feel penalised for driving without access to alternatives. As I have already said, whenever there are concerns, people can write to me, and usually those fears are dispelled once they fully understand how the schemes are implemented.

LTNs have clear benefits: they improve air quality, increase the number of journeys made by walking and cycling, and show reductions in street crime. A study found that after three years, street crime decreased by 18%, with an even larger reduction found for violent crimes, and the most significant reduction for sexual assaults. One study found a 50% reduction in road casualties within LTNs with no increase on neighbouring roads. I know Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg is going to speak because what is being done in Bath city centre will affect neighbourhoods in his constituency. People fear the possible result in neighbouring wards or boundary streets, but clear evidence from the surveys shows that there is no such result. If there is evidence of it, of course we need to look at that.

Early findings indicate that LTNs make neighbourhoods a lot safer after they have been introduced. Air pollution is an invisible killer. A claim often made by opponents of LTNs is that emissions increase outside the designated LTN, but there is little evidence to suggest that that is the case. Researchers at Imperial College London found that NO2 declined by 5.7% within liveable neighbourhoods, and 8.9% on boundary roads. The Government’s own report acknowledges:

“By reducing traffic and emissions, LTNs can contribute to a cleaner, safer environment”.

Improvements to air quality, coupled with increases in active travel, contribute to healthier lifestyles, with long-term benefits through reducing demand on the NHS.

It is unfortunate that an unhelpful argument has broken out between central Government and local authorities. Local authorities want to work with Government to reduce emissions and make our roads safer, but this Government are intent on reducing councils’ abilities to do so. Theresa Villiers said that councils should consult more widely, and I agree with that. It is the best way of increasing democracy and allowing people to be part of the decisions made in their neighbourhoods. However, councils do not have the money or resources to do that, so the mandatory requirement is very limited, and although money is being put towards wider consultation, councils are being hampered. I absolutely agree that councils must consult more widely in order to include a wider group of people, but they also need the money to do so, which they currently do not have.

That consultation would be great for democracy, except that we then have to think about how widely we consult. Is it the whole of the city? Is it the whole of the city and North East Somerset? Should it go beyond North East Somerset? Councils often end up consulting just the neighbours who are directly affected. As I have said, I am sad that this issue has ended up in debate, when we could have had an agreement across our communities, local government and central Government.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I will speak at greater length later, but the main thrust of the petition is to seek a review. That is what the Government have done, and that is what we are debating today. The debate is about a review of LTNs, and she is characterising it as a “them or us” situation. With respect, I am not sure that is a fair approximation of the review sought by the petitioners, which is exactly what the Government have provided.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

Absolutely; I agree. It is meant to be about a review, but I find the argument is often skewed towards the people who simply object. I am happy to listen to what the Government have to say in response and to what the review process is producing. In my constituency of Bath, we are in the middle of a big discussion about LTNs and their principles, and I speak as a constituency MP.

Implementing LTNs must be bottom up and not top down. Councils must work closely with residents when they intend to implement LTNs. I look forward to the wider discussion, but, as I said, there are many proven benefits to the principles of LTNs, and I hope those principles are not neglected in the Government’s review.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset 5:05, 20 May 2024

May I begin by saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Harris, and by thanking you for understanding that I will not be able to stay till the end? I congratulate Marsha De Cordova on her fine introduction to this important discussion and my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers on her speech, which I agreed with almost in its entirety.

It is a particular pleasure to follow Wera Hobhouse. My seat is a doughnut seat: the hon. Lady is the jam in the centre of the doughnut, and I am the heavy, leavened dough that surrounds the hon. Lady’s jam.

I wish to speak in the debate because of the effect that LTNs are having on my constituents. The anti-car policies that are being introduced have a big effect on people living in rural areas. They affect them as they try to go about their business without the concomitant benefits. An LTN being introduced in a city does not help someone living in a rural area who needs to go through, or do business in, that city. The fact that it also has effects on the businesses in the city is perhaps more a matter for the hon. Lady than for me, although many of my constituents own and have interests in businesses in Bath.

We have touched on consultation. As I understand it, opposition to the Sydney Place scheme has been 100:1 and more than 4,000 people have signed a petition against it—it is about not just the 57 who may have written to the hon. Lady, but the thousands of people living nearby who will be affected. We have to remember that, in 2022, 78% of journeys were taken by car and that, however much we wish to pretend otherwise, we are a society, a nation and an economy based on the internal combustion engine. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet said, that is where our economic activity comes from. It is how people get to their jobs and take their children to school. We have to make a choice, as a Government and as local councils, about what approach we take to politics. Do we really think that we should be telling people how to lead their lives? Should we tell them what is good for them and make them do it?

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Justice)

I hear what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. I do not know his seat well, but he has described it as a doughnut of the countryside around Bath. Would he not agree that, if everybody who can drive who lives in the centre of Bath or London drove everywhere, the whole road system would be gridlocked, and that providing safe alternatives—decent public transport, and safe routes to walk and cycle—takes up a lot less space than everybody driving their own vehicle?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

The hon. Lady says that, but the self-same council that is keen on these low-traffic neighbourhoods has cut the number of buses in my constituency. It has kept most of them in Bath, but the ones in the rural areas it has cut like Billy-o.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

It was the West of England Combined Authority Mayor who cut the number of buses in Bath, and my councillors have made many representations about that. Traffic has been one of the biggest issues ever since I turned up in Bath over 10 years ago, and traffic has doubled in the past 15 years. How does the right hon. Gentleman propose that we deal with that?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

I am glad the hon. Lady asked me that question because, before the Lib Dems took charge of the Bath and North East Somerset Council, I was working with the previous council on the Bath bypass. That would have joined the A36 and the A46 and been the most sensible thing to do, but in accordance with this whole LTN, anti-motorist approach, as soon as the Lib Dems got in, they did not want the bypass. Why? Because they hate the motorist. They do not like people taking charge of their own lives; they think they know best and they want to tell people what to do. That is why this approach is so bad.

I encourage my hon. Friend the Minister to take away the funding from the schemes, to apply the rules and guidance that came out, I think, on 17 March, to make them into firm law and to implement them on the schemes that are already in place. We should be on the side of freedom and of liberty, of people going about the lives that they choose to lead, rather than thinking that we know best.

The thing that has reduced pollution has been not LTNs, but improvements in the internal combustion engine and, most crucially, the move away from diesel engines. Bear in mind, it was not that long ago that the know-all Government were telling people it was such a good thing to have diesel engines. People were pushed into having them and the percentage of diesel engines in this country shot up. Why? Because the Government of the day wanted to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and ignored the emissions from particulates and oxides of nitrogen, and that led to a decline in the air quality where cars were, which is being improved now, as people have gone back to petrol engines or diesel engines have been improved.

That is the way to do things, to maintain liberty, freedom and choice, and to recognise that the overwhelming majority of journeys are taken by car and that the free flow of traffic is essential to our economy. The Government made a decision in the emergency of the pandemic to do something that seemed to be a solution at the time. Many decisions were taken during the pandemic that, with hindsight, turned out to be wrong. This is one of them. It is time to reverse it. It is time to back freedom and the motorist.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Justice) 5:12, 20 May 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Harris.

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Marsha De Cordova on her excellent introduction to the debate. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to a review of low-traffic neighbourhoods, but I certainly hope that they are not stopped, as the right hon. Members for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) have suggested they should be.

In my constituency, measures to create what we might now call low-traffic neighbourhoods have been in place for decades. On Chiswick Lane, a barrier that keeps traffic from cutting through from Chiswick High Road to the A4 via Airedale Avenue, Netheravon Road and Beverley Road has been there for more than 40 years. Worple Road in Isleworth is closed to through traffic trying to take a shortcut from the A316 over to Old Isleworth. Pears Road in Hounslow used to be a back road avoiding Hounslow High Street and Hanworth Road. Chiswick Common Road has long since been cut off as a vehicle route from Chiswick High Road to Turnham Green Terrace. Those have been in place for a long time. They use physical barriers such as bollards and planters, and no one—no one—has contacted me or their local councillors demanding their removal. Furthermore, if those barriers were to be removed, there would be many objections.

Such measures to prevent rat-running were implemented because there was an issue for residents on those roads. The number of drivers avoiding traffic jams on main roads by using residential side roads grew over the past 10 or so years, in particular, following the mass use of real-time sat-navs.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

Does the hon. Lady agree that a council does not pick issues out of thin air, but responds to residents writing to the council in large numbers to say that they want change? The council does not just decide to do something to annoy people.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Justice)

The hon. Lady makes a good point. My experience is with Hounslow. I cannot say whether each local authority implemented change that was needed—or whether they plucked ideas out of thin air in 2020—but that is certainly the case in Hounslow.

The nightmare for residents who live on roads that are rat runs, particularly since the mass use of sat-navs, is that it varies; at some times of the day there is speeding, and at others there are continuous traffic jams, with vehicles spewing fumes and preventing residents from driving into or out of their own road. That environment takes away the freedom of children and older people to feel safe walking around their neighbourhood, particularly at junctions and crossroads. National figures show that more people cycle where they feel safe. Many of us own bikes but are not brave enough to cycle when roads are busy.

All the low-traffic neighbourhood measures that were implemented in Hounslow in 2020 were introduced in neighbourhoods or on roads where residents had long been angry about the impact of rat-running and had been calling on their councillors—I was one of them—for action for years. The measures introduced by the Government in 2020, during covid, which are probably the one thing I can compliment former Prime Minister Boris Johnson on, provided regulatory change and the funding to make implementation by local authorities happen quickly.

Local authorities, including Hounslow, used temporary measures to try out what worked. Some roads are now low-traffic neighbourhoods as a result of that work, including the whole south Chiswick area, which I will come to shortly; Green Dragon Lane, a road with almost all social rent housing where only a minority of people have use of a private vehicle; Occupation Lane in Brentford, at the top end of a council estate; and the Teesdales near West Middlesex University Hospital, where there were continuous battles between drivers trying to pass each other on a narrow road with resident parking.

Since they were implemented on those roads and others in Hounslow, the LTN measures have been achieving exactly what residents had asked of the council. They are stopping through traffic using the road as a shortcut while allowing residents to pass freely. Residents can drive into and out of their roads, and walk to and from their homes safely, especially when crossing and at corners. No longer are there long traffic jams with vehicles spewing out fumes and drivers getting angry when trying to pass.

Some of the schemes were revised. One was tried that removed through traffic from Turnham Green Terrace in Chiswick, a popular shopping street with very narrow pavements. The idea was to make it more business friendly, but local councillors asked for it to be removed, so it was. The schemes can be modified. Another popular shopping street, Devonshire Road, was closed completely. Concerns were expressed by the shop owners, but not by the restaurant and bar owners, so Devonshire Road is now open to through traffic during the day so that people can access the shops, but in the evening it reverts to a traffic-free road with tables and chairs outside on the carriageway, which benefits the restaurants and bars.

Physical barriers are not the only tool. In many cases there are often far better tools to create a low-traffic neighbourhood. Hounslow has made extensive use of camera technology and enforcement so that any vehicle can enter and leave a neighbourhood or road whichever way suits its driver, so long as it enters and leaves by the same way it came in, or arrives, stays and then leaves later.

I want briefly to address school streets, which are a subset of liveable neighbourhoods. There have been over 30 in Hounslow, and headteachers have told me of their benefits. They have cut out a lot of the conflict between the tiny minority of parents who insist on driving their children to school and the much larger number of parents who walk their children to school and get very angry at the behaviour of some selfish drivers. Those drivers are no longer able have close access to the school. One headteacher told me that an awful lot of families are now walking to and from school rather than making a trip of a couple of hundred yards in a vehicle every day.

Hounslow’s largest low-traffic neighbourhood started life before covid and was known as the south Chiswick liveable neighbourhood. Rat-running drivers seeking to avoid the Hogarth roundabout when travelling from the A3 or A316 to head west on the M4 or A4, or travelling either way between Chiswick bridge and Kew bridge parallel to the River Thames, had long been an issue. Thousands of vehicles a day were travelling straight through that neighbourhood without stopping, and most of them were long-distance; they were not local Chiswick vehicles.

In 2019, after full consultation, residents supported in principle the implementation of the liveable neighbourhood for south Chiswick. It was actually implemented in 2020 using the covid emergency measures, because funding had not been available prior to that. The impact has been significant: a 50% drop in through traffic, more people walking and cycling, and a drop in average vehicle speeds. On the boundary roads, there were not greater traffic jams and higher volumes, but a reduction in traffic of between 2.8% and 9.3%, despite the closure of Hammersmith bridge. That suggests that low-traffic neighbourhoods encourage a modal shift away from private vehicle use and towards public transport, walking and cycling.

The most remarkable impact we have seen in Chiswick is the loss of a council seat in the 2022 elections by the party that campaigned vigorously against the low-traffic neighbourhood that had been implemented two years earlier. For the first time in 48 years, a Labour councillor was elected to represent the Chiswick Riverside ward—hardly evidence that local people hate the LTN.

Following concerns raised locally, Hounslow has made improvements to the LTN scheme, and could perhaps make some more. I would like to see improved signage warning drivers that they are entering an LTN. Another suggestion is the use of a “one strike and then you’re fined” rule to warn people not to drive through the area again. I have been fined for not being able to see a sign in an area I did not know very well. I was a bit annoyed with myself. It was a school street and I was driving through at the very end of the school street restrictions. That annoys people, and does not help their ability to support what I believe overall are very good policies.

There is no doubt that restricting through traffic in an area achieves its purpose if it is done well and there is a need, with less pollution directly outside people’s homes, safer roads and easy access for residents. There is national evidence that there is more walking and cycling in quiet areas, and that more walking and cycling in retail areas—Walthamstow town in Waltham Forest being the best example—has strong economic benefits for local businesses and high streets. We know the benefits to tourism areas of easy, safe, segregated cycling infrastructure or quiet areas to cycle. I do not know how many other people look for cycling opportunities when they are going on holiday, but good cycling measures are a draw to tourists.

Low-traffic neighbourhoods, if they are implemented where they are needed, are properly consulted on and use clear signage and appropriate technology—camera enforcement or bollards and planters, as appropriate—can work.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Labour, Battersea

I thank my hon. Friend for her speech. As she is drawing it to a close, and as she has said that low-traffic neighbourhoods can work, I want to pick up again on the barriers that disabled people face. Does she agree that it is important to co-produce the design of any low-traffic neighbourhood with disabled people and their organisations to ensure that they are inclusive? Does she also agree that those who have a blue badge should be exempt from such schemes?

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Justice)

As Front Bencher myself, I will defer to my colleague on the Front Bench today, although it seems to me that exemptions for blue badge holders would make sense, for the reasons that my hon. Friend gave in her speech.

Let us remember that disability is not one thing. Some disabled people rely on a private vehicle to get about. Many disabled people cannot drive, for all sorts of reasons. Many, particularly frail elderly people, can walk short distances, but need to feel safe. They want to know that they can be seen at the corners of roads when trying to cross, so pedestrian build-outs and clear crossings, and so on, are essential. Good design is important, as is segregation between pedestrians and cyclists, where appropriate, so that no one fears being mown down by somebody cycling too fast in an area that should be for pedestrians. That is particularly true of one form of low-traffic neighbourhood: pedestrianised retail areas or town centres—although I am not sure whether we are talking about those in this context.

Nobody likes getting a fine for driving a route that they have always driven, but there is no reason why councils cannot use a first strike and then a fine the second time for those who did not notice the changed signage. I agree that we should consider exempting blue badge holders, particularly for a barrier-based LTN where the alternative journey is a long way round. However, if the proposals are not working and not delivering the improved environment that residents said they wanted, they can be reversed and something else can be tried.

The majority of my constituents do not have sole use of a private car and, being in London, do have alternative travel choices. Those who live on roads in LTNs should have the choice, so that, should they want to restrict their road, they can. They should not have the choice to use their road as a shortcut imposed on them by other drivers, particularly those who are not even local, such as—in our case—those driving between Surrey and Heathrow airport. Why should our residents have to put up with those drivers using their small residential roads as a shortcut?

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport) 5:28, 20 May 2024

It is an honour to respond to this debate on behalf of the official Opposition with you in the Chair, Ms Harris. I thank my hon. Friend Marsha De Cordova for sponsoring the debate and all those who have added their names to these two important petitions: a petition calling for an independent review of low-traffic neighbourhoods and a petition calling for the exemption of blue badge drivers from low-traffic neighbourhoods.

I thank hon. Members for their contributions this evening—I have been getting better at learning the names of Members’ individual constituencies, but bear with me if I get any of them wrong, Ms Harris. My hon. Friend Janet Daby is quite right that we must continue to work hard to reduce the impact of air pollution on our constituents. My hon. Friend Anneliese Dodds said that we need a joined-up approach—I quite agree with that—and that everyone should be able to travel from A to B in a green way.

I heard a lot from the right hon. Members for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) about the so-called war on motorists and how there were alternatives to it. I have to say, I did not hear many mentioned, but I thank them for their advocacy on behalf of their constituents. I think this shows the importance of proper consultation and considerate planning.

My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea said that low-traffic neighbourhoods can work when they are supported by the residents they affect, but that that must include consultation and co-production with disabled people. I agree with Wera Hobhouse that effective consultation is important and that the views of all the different kinds of road users should be taken into account. Crucially, I agree that the debate must be based on evidence. Finally, my hon. Friend Ruth Cadbury was right to draw attention to the ongoing consultation about LTNs. Where there is a clear need for change, action should be taken. Her recognition of the positive impact on school zones was also important.

Low-traffic neighbourhoods have become a common part of many communities across the country in recent years. They play an important part in delivering safer streets and cleaner air and in helping encourage people to use active travel to get around. We know that benefits local economies, improves physical and mental health and brings down carbon emissions.

In many areas, LTNs have become a core part of life for the communities who live in them, with many enjoying the reductions in noise and air pollution thanks to the reduction in congestion as a result of roads being closed to through traffic. Obviously, there often need to be exemptions: emergency services, public transport, permit holders, and sometimes taxis. However, the overall reduction in most through traffic from LTNs is still significant.

Studies have shown that in areas where LTNs have been introduced, traffic has been reduced by 32% on average, with only a 4.5% increase in traffic on boundary roads. Nitrogen dioxide pollution has fallen by up to 9% in some areas with those schemes. Inside LTNs in Waltham Forest, road injuries have fallen by up to half compared to before the schemes were introduced. Data shows that 61% of people living in low-traffic neighbourhoods support the schemes. It is important to talk about the benefits of the schemes, because, despite what the Government try to say, the evidence shows that for the most part they are popular with local people and effective at achieving the desired reduction in levels of pollution and road injuries.

However, not everybody who lives in low-traffic neighbourhoods supports the schemes. Some have legitimate criticisms of how the schemes have been designed and implemented. In some individual cases there has arguably been a failure to consider the needs of particular groups, including—as is the subject of one of the petitions—those with limited mobility and blue badge holders. We can all agree that local authorities that introduce the schemes should ensure that accessibility needs are carefully considered and prioritised as proposals are designed and consulted on.

Many low-traffic neighbourhoods already exempt blue badge holders, but many do not. The Government’s own review on low-traffic neighbourhoods has found that of the LTNs surveyed, 38 exempted blue badge holders and 34 did not. It is clear that more can be done to ensure that LTNs consider the needs of those with limited mobility. I am interested to hear the Minister’s views on how the needs of disabled people, and those with limited mobility, can be considered from the start of the process when it comes to designing and implementing low-traffic neighbourhoods.

There is a balance to be struck between ensuring that the needs of all constituents are properly considered, and supporting the right of local communities to make the right decisions for their areas. That point—that this is a decision for local communities—is extremely important. Measures to improve road safety around schools and in residential streets are vital for the safety of children, are often demanded by local communities themselves, are essential to meeting legally binding objectives set by central Government on, for instance, air pollution, and are ultimately decisions to be made by those who know their local areas best.

Labour’s position on low-traffic neighbourhoods is clear: they are decisions that should continue to be made by local authorities, not be decided by diktat from Whitehall or Westminster. Of course, these decisions must be made with proper consultation, and the concerns of each community must be taken on board. Central Government have a role to play in ensuring that is the case, but if we go too far we risk undermining the independence and autonomy of the elected local decision makers who know their areas best.

Although I appreciate the strength of views in the petition that calls for a review of LTNs, as colleagues have noted the Government recently commissioned a review and published it just weeks ago. It came after the Prime Minister claimed that he wanted to stop “hare-brained” safety schemes and the so-called “war on motorists”, so let us look at some of its findings. Some 58% were unaware that they lived in low-traffic neighbourhoods altogether. Of those who were aware, more people were positive than negative. A clear majority of people were concerned about the number of vehicles travelling through their areas, and they were equally concerned about the pollution that they caused. That is not exactly the outcome it appears the Prime Minister was looking for when he commissioned the review. Perhaps that is why it was reported that the Government tried to permanently shelve it.

It would be remiss of me not to point out the pure hypocrisy behind the Government’s apparent about-turn on low-traffic neighbourhoods. Despite decrying these schemes, which their own review have found to be largely unobtrusive and popular, as part of the so-called “war on motorists” senior Conservatives themselves championed the schemes from the start. In July 2021, a prominent politician described low-traffic neighbourhoods as “transformational”, and warned:

“if you are going to oppose these schemes, you must tell us what your alternative is”.

Who was that? It was the disgraced former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

In November 2022, another distinguished colleague of ours in this House said that decisions on low-traffic neighbourhoods are

“entirely a matter for local authorities…to make.”—[Official Report, 14 November 2022;
Vol. 722, c.493.]

Who was that? Why, it was Mr Holden, the Chair of the Conservative party. Would the Minister like to tell us what the current Prime Minister thinks the alternative to these schemes is? Does he agree with the right hon. Member for North West Durham that they are best left to local authorities themselves to decide on?

It is increasingly clear that the Prime Minister’s desperate attempts to deflect on to this so-called “war on motorists” are just hollow soundbites with no substance behind them. Just a quick look at his record confirms that. The cost of driving is soaring: car insurance costs are up 80% in just two years. The charge point roll-out for electric vehicles remains off track. The Government are set to miss their own 2030 target of 300,000 public charge points by several years. The state of our local roads today is just shocking: there are more potholes on British roads than craters on the moon.

Despite the Prime Minister’s and the Transport Secretary’s desperate attempts to politicise local transport issues such as road safety, school streets and reducing local air pollution, the evidence tells us that these schemes remain largely popular, and that they are effective and inobtrusive for most people. Although the Prime Minister may be keen to airbrush history, not too long ago these very schemes were championed by the most senior figures in his own party.

Many LTN schemes are far from perfect, and there are perfectly legitimate questions about how to design them with sensitivity to the needs of constituents—especially disabled people and those with limited mobility. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s views on how we can best support local authorities to do just that, but we should not forget the basic principle that decisions about local roads and local neighbourhoods are best made by those who live in those neighbourhoods and those who have been directly elected to represent them. These powers and responsibilities have been devolved to local government for many years. We should not let a desperate quest for political relevance from those at the top of Government to lead us to put our lives at risk, fail to tackle harmful air pollution and backslide on the basic principles of local democracy.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 5:39, 20 May 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Harris. I thank Marsha De Cordova for her introduction. I particularly thank everybody who submitted their name in support of the respective petitions.

Let me gently push back on Simon Lightwood. There is not a question of trying to politicise something given that the very purpose of the Petitions Committee is that we in Parliament answer a petition. It is not from any of us; it is from the people who put forward their names for a petition. Then, there are criteria from the Petitions Committee, and we then try to address and answer those petitions.

While I will get into the substance of this particular debate, the first and fundamental point, surely, is that traffic management has existed under various statutory formats for some considerable time, and the implementation of what is now called low-traffic neighbourhoods dates back in statute to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. As Ruth Cadbury outlined regarding her area of Chiswick, there have been versions of that in some shape or form for a very long time, and local communities have co-existed with them on an ongoing basis.

However, there is no doubt that this issue has caused concern and is upsetting—and, in certain places, dividing—communities. It is also the case that the administration of the blue badge scheme, which dates back to section 21 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, is something that is causing genuine concern—I am going to try to address that in detail—by reason of the implementation of low-traffic neighbourhoods.

I want to try to address this debate as calmly and even-handedly as I possibly can. There are a number of reasons for that: both because I think it is the right thing to do as a Government Minister—where we are trying to navigate different sets of priorities in different local communities—and because, clearly, the purpose of the original petition was for Government to have a review. The review that we published on 17 March sets out in quite some detail the approach that the Government take, but it is a first version. The final version will be produced later this summer.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Labour, Battersea

The Minister will know that, as part of any review, it is best to gauge the views of all key stakeholders. One key stakeholder group that really did not have an opportunity to contribute was older and disabled people. For example, the leading charity for transport issues, Transport for All, was not engaged or consulted as part of this review. Will the Minister agree to ensure that, as he publishes the future review, they will be consulted? It is so important that the voices of disabled people and their organisations are heard in this. Will he commit to that?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

With great respect, I am going to push back slightly because, clearly, one of the key purposes of this review, which I am going to set out in quite a lot of detail, is an assessment of issues in relation to what are called exemptions and exceptions. Included as part of that are vehicles exempted from restriction—generally indicated on the traffic signs; those can include permit holders, buses, taxis and disabled badge holders. There is a detailed section on exactly that point, and there are further sections about how implementation should take place for that. More particularly, we are, on an ongoing basis, engaging with the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee—or DPTAC—via the Local Government Association and individual local-government organisations. With respect, I will return to that in a little more detail later.

Low-traffic neighbourhoods clearly expanded during the early stages of the covid-19 pandemic. The rapid roll-out led to concerns that they were being imposed, and that communities had not been fully involved in their development. There were also concerns that the roll-out did not properly take into account the needs of many organisations, including disabled people, and representations were made in a whole host of ways, leading up to the actual review itself.

We have to accept that low-traffic neighbourhoods can work where they are well designed and where there is, crucially, local support for them. But they can also do harm where they are poorly thought through and introduced with insufficient public engagement and support.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am not going to give way to the hon. Lady yet; I want to try to make some progress. I will, of course, let her come in at a later stage.

The Government have been clear that effective traffic management is not about dictating travel choices, but about enabling more choice in how people make their journeys. Local traffic measures must work for residents, businesses and emergency services. We can bandy about examples of successes and failures—there is no doubt whatever that there have been both—but it is clear that some communities have been upset and antagonised by low-traffic neighbourhoods. That is particularly true in London, and one could give examples from Tower Hamlets and, I believe, Ealing and Streatham. Certainly, as a cyclist in London, I have experienced and seen some, and I did a further visit to the Wandsworth Bridge Road last week. Some of those communities have introduced low-traffic neighbourhoods and then abandoned them.

Similarly, where I live in the north-east, a low-traffic neighbourhood was introduced in Jesmond. It has subsequently been abandoned, in circumstances where there has clearly been an impact on the local community, which was upset about how it was implemented, and a massive effect on businesses. There must be due consideration of the impact on local communities, which we all like to represent in our constituencies, and of the consequences of channelling all traffic, for example, on to one major road, while massively reducing traffic on side roads and impacting on parking. Businesses will unquestionably suffer as a result of a downturn in the local economy, and they have done so.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I will not give way yet, so let me make some progress. We need to ensure that changes to local roads properly take account of communities’ views and are implemented in a way that does not fundamentally dictate how people should travel.

I want to keep returning to the petitioners, because they are the people we are addressing today. The first petition asks that the Government carry out an independent review of LTNs. After the initial reply was sent in April last year, the Prime Minister announced in July that he was commissioning just such a review. He also set out—a fair point has been made—the plan for drivers, and a fundamental effort was made to look at all aspects of how transport was being undertaken.

The review of LTNs commenced in September last year, and set out to ensure that schemes work for residents, businesses and emergency services, the last of which have not, with respect, been mentioned as much as I thought they would be in the debate. This additional project was separate from the work already under way to review schemes funded through the second tranche of active travel funding, including a deep dive into the impact of segregated cycle lanes and low-traffic neighbourhoods. It included a literature review, a survey of local authorities in England, an in-depth study of four schemes, and interviews with key stakeholder groups.

The LTN review completed in January this year and concluded that there are some significant key issues with the implementation of LTN schemes in England. That was based on externally commissioned, independent research and analysis carried out by an independent contractor. I will not go into the details of the particular points that can be found upon reading. There has not been much reference today to the document of 17 March, but I strongly urge all colleagues to read it in detail. However, I have a little time, so I will set out the opening couple of paragraphs:

“Last year, the Department for Transport commissioned a review of low traffic neighbourhoods… The research shows that, while they can work, in the right place, and, crucially, where they are supported, too often local people don’t know enough about them and haven’t been able to have a say. Increasingly and frustratingly, we see larger and larger low traffic schemes being proposed by some councils despite concerted opposition by local residents and by local businesses, and in some cases”

—as I have outlined—

“being removed again. This guidance makes it clear that should not happen.

It also sets out that, even if they are introduced, councils should continue to regularly review low traffic neighbourhoods, ensuring they keep meeting their objectives, aren’t adversely affecting other areas, and are locally supported. This guidance makes clear our expectations, and…will carefully consider how councils follow it, alongside other appropriate factors, when looking at funding decisions.”

I do not propose to read out a substantial review document, but it goes on to say:

“Ultimately government can make changes to the legal framework if advice is overlooked—although working cooperatively with local councils is by far preferred. We need a fair approach, where local support is paramount, and this guidance sets out how that can be achieved.”

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

I do not think anybody in this room would disagree with anything the Minister has read out, because it is about the engagement that local councils have. For that reason, does he not agree that Bath and North East Somerset Council is taking exactly the right approach? It is having a trial period of LTNs, with proper success criteria that can be evidenced. If an LTN does not work against the success criteria, it will be removed. Is that not the right approach?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I do not propose to sit in judgment on an individual local authority’s approach in trying to persuade local communities, which is the purpose of this process, that there should be restrictions on one cohort and that there might be difficulties for other cohorts—I include bus travel, emergency services and problems for the disabled—and to make an assessment of whether that individual local authority is doing a good or a bad thing. What I will say, however, is that, self-evidently, the things we have talked about are not happening up and down the country at present; that is patently clear. We can say that very clearly because a large number of local authorities are abandoning their LTNs.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

If the hon. Lady will bear with me, I will let her come in in a second.

In answer to Wera Hobhouse, she should ensure that her local authority, if she has such influence, sets out an approach that tallies with the guidance and ensures that businesses, disabled groups and key organisations, including public transport and emergency services, are not adversely affected.

I echo the point made by my right hon. Friend Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg: there is a concern and a danger that those who benefit in the inner city will be impacted by those on the outskirts of local communities. We have seen exactly the same thing with traffic-exclusion zones and the ultra low emission zone, where there are very strong arguments for such measures. There is a very small traffic-management approach in the centre of Bristol, for example, but the wider London version measures hundreds of square miles, and the impact can patently be seen in the opposition from some groups and the way in which it has been implemented. I hope that that answers the point from the hon. Member for Bath.

I promised Anneliese Dodds that I would give way, so I will do so now.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Party Chair, Labour Party, Chair of Labour Policy Review, Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

Does the Minister accept that his Department has been part of the problem? He talks about enabling choice, but I wrote to the Department for Transport in 2022 to say that there was a need for a joined-up approach and that there were concerns about how bus operators would operate, which was critical for people who were not able to cycle or walk. The response I got back did not say that my city could have a joined-up approach or that it could have longer-term funding. Instead, it effectively said, “This is the programme.” If we really are going to have action on the climate crisis, perhaps his Department should have listened a little more.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I slightly regret giving way to the hon. Lady, who raises an individual letter about her individual city. The review is addressing something that has existed for many years, and the Government think they have come up with a balanced and measured approach. I would also make the point that other aspects of the implementation have to be done, as in her area, by the local authority. It is for her local authority to take the local community with it. If it is not taking the local community with it, it is incumbent on the local authority to look at how it is implementing these things and at whether it can continue to sustain that. With respect, multiple local authorities have failed to do that and have then had to abandon schemes, which sadly reflects badly on those local authorities.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Will the Minister be clear with the House that no more central Government funding will go to these schemes? Government statements have indicated that there are circumstances in which access to the DVLA database might be restricted; how bad does a scheme have to be before the Government will consider taking that step?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I probably should not be taking so many interventions. I am trying to respond to the debate without prejudicing the final version of what is an interim review.

My right hon. Friend is a very experienced Cabinet Minister of old—that is not a very fair way of describing her previous experience—and she will understand that I have an obligation not to prejudice the final version of the review. I merely direct her to paragraph 3 of the foreword, which I did not read out—I was not going to read the whole thing out—but says that

“a consultation will also be launched on targeting the use of DVLA data by councils to enforce substandard LTNs and other anti-motorist traffic schemes.”

If my right hon. Friend looks at the actual review, there are passages contained therein on funding. However, much as I said, the preference is to have worked with local authorities; it is only in extreme circumstances that the issue of funding that my right hon. Friend describes would come into play. I suggest she takes the individual document and awaits the final Government version, which will be there and responded to.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am sorry but I will not. I have taken multiple interventions and am going to try to make some progress. I am only on page 6 of my speech, which was meant to take only 10 minutes.

The review that has taken place has flagged particular concerns over the impact on disabled residents, the high number of penalty charge notices, the cost of the LTN schemes, and even concerns from individual emergency services that delays to crews caught up in LTNs could potentially risk lives. Those are not concerns that should be under-managed in any way.

Many disabled residents, as well as groups representing the views of disabled transport users, felt that inadequate consideration had been given to their needs and the impacts of LTN schemes on disabled people. In addition, several LTN schemes reported by local authorities to the DFT had not carried out equality impact assessments. We believe we have tackled these issues through the draft guidance, which sets out clear expectations for comprehensive and in-depth local engagement and full consideration of the needs of all road users in such a scheme.

We are clear that we will not support LTNs in future unless they are designed and delivered having had regard to the new statutory guidance, which will apply to new and existing schemes. Although it is guidance, we reserve the right to take further action if local authorities do not follow it. Local authorities are expected to consider the guidance. As with the new guidance on 20 mph limits, those that do not follow it could find implications for the future award of funding. As I have set out, I will pass that message on.

On the key accessibility point, the Government are committed to improving transport accessibility and supporting disabled people to have the same access to transport as everyone else. The LTN review found that too many schemes had not fully considered the impact of the changes on disabled people. I make the point that local authorities are bound by the public sector equality duty, and it is for them to ensure that they fully consider the impact of any proposed scheme in such a way. Any infrastructure they install should be delivered in a way that enables them to comply with equalities legislation.

The second petition we are debating requested that a flag be added to DVLA records to identify vehicles that belong to blue badge holders, so that they can be automatically exempted from any restriction and not attract enforcement activity. Although I understand the concern, I am afraid that currently that is not a viable solution. I will try to address in detail why that is the case. Clearly, blue badges are linked to the individual and not the vehicle. A badge holder may travel as a driver or a passenger in any vehicle, including a taxi or minicab, allowing them to access more easily the goods and services that they need to use. Therefore it is not possible to flag with the DVLA every vehicle in which a blue badge holder may travel. Likewise, although local authorities have access to a record of blue badge holders in their area, badges are registered to the individual and not the vehicle in which they travel.

Notwithstanding that, our draft LTN guidance makes it clear that local authorities should always consider exemption from restrictions for blue badge holders, as well as for deliveries and other essential services. It also addresses things such as emergency services. Again, I do not want to read out the entirety of it, but I encourage anyone who is passionately interested or who is contemplating this matter to look at the sections on exemptions and exceptions and how the individual situation for disabled people can be improved. The guidance sets that out in quite a lot of detail.

To answer the point made by my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers when she identified particular problems, I make the strong point that there should be considered, ongoing, good-practice principles of monitoring and evaluation, in line with the active travel fund monitoring guidance, but, where local authorities detect hotspots, where a disproportionate number of PCNs are issued or where representations or appeals are being made, that should alert them to a possible need to review the cause. The monitoring of PCNs and challenge levels should be carried out from the outset. That clearly includes monitoring the impact on local communities, the impact on the disabled, the impact on individual businesses, and the way in which the fines are being taken.

I cannot address much more, given the nature of the guidance being an unfinished document that the Government have to respond to.

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

I will be brief. In my reading of the Department for Transport website and the “Low Traffic Neighbourhoods” research report, at no point is it mentioned that it is an interim or draft report. Will the hon. Member elaborate on that and explain, if it is an interim report, when the final report is expected?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am afraid the hon. Gentleman has misinterpreted that. The final report will be this summer.[Official Report, 21 May 2024; Vol. 750, c. 10WC.] (Correction)

The situation in terms of the way ahead is that we need to find a way in which our local communities can use a process that has been around for a considerable time and managed in local communities in, by and large, a satisfactory way, but has clearly been expanded substantially over the last few years. We need to find a way in which the Government can provide the guidance and then local authorities can implement the schemes in an appropriate way. If they are not implemented in an appropriate way, clearly there have to be consequences.

I assure the petitioners, who are the most important people here, that we are working to ensure that local authorities give proper consideration to the needs of all users and gain buy-in across the local community, in all shapes and forms, when discussing and then implementing any local authority LTN schemes.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Labour, Battersea 6:03, 20 May 2024

First, I again thank not only the original petitioners for creating the petitions but the thousands of people who took the time to sign them, and the many thousands who responded to the Petitions Committee’s survey on low-traffic neighbourhoods and accessibility.

I also thank all the hon. Members who spoke today. It was a robust debate, despite the Minister’s response. I thank Theresa Villiers, Wera Hobhouse, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is no longer in his place, and my hon. Friends the Members for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) and for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) for their contributions.

I must say that in my view the Minister failed to address some of the points that I raised in my questions about the accessibility of the schemes and the need for an independent review. We ask for an independent review because sadly the Government carried out a review that was not exhaustive and did not include many key stakeholders, such as disabled people. We learned today that it was an interim review and that a review will be published in the summer. I am lost for words as to what to say about that, other than to make a final plea to the Government, once again, to ensure that disabled people are included as part of the review. Involving committees linked to the LGA is not the same as consulting the 14 million disabled people, potentially, who live in affected areas, including me.

On the issue of blue badges, it is a shame that, with the petitioners present, the Government have come forward with no solution to ensure that anybody who holds a blue badge is exempt from the schemes. Ultimately, this has been disappointing, but the conversation still needs to go on. As we have said, low-traffic neighbourhood schemes can work if they are done properly, are led by evidence and are fully inclusive and accessible to us all.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered e-petitions 632748 and 651094 relating to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and accessibility.

Sitting adjourned.