Government claims it blocked councils from installing low traffic neighborhoods (LTN) appear to have been a fiction, the Guardian has learned, another apparent sign that Rishi Sunak’s ‘driver plan’ is up to now mainly performative.
Following the revelation last month that the prime minister’s decision to prioritize driving over walking and cycling was driven in part by “15-minute city” conspiracy theories, documents show that a claim about a broader policy change was fabricated.
In May last year, when the most recent tranche of Department for Transport (DfT) funding for local active travel schemes was exposedsome newspapers were informed that ministers had blocked all money going to LTNs, which use physical barriers or cameras to stop car traffic on small residential roads.
An article read: “Mark Harper, the transportation secretary, has defunded all projects involving the creation of car-free zones.”
However, official documents seen by the Guardian show that the absence of LTN was because none of these programs which wanted money from the DfT were judged to be of good enough quality and Harper had not played no role in the decision.
Applications lodged by councils with Active Travel England, the quango which oversees the quality of walking and cycling schemes, show a series of planned LTNs were rejected because the plans were not ambitious enough.
The documents were obtained by campaign group Transport Action Network (Tan), which is taking legal action against the Government over cuts to active travel budgets.
Harper reiterated idea of banning LTN funding in an interview in July. However, documents show that the way Active Travel England evaluates schemes has not been changed.
The DfT is awaiting a review into the future of LTNs. This was supposed to be completed by the end of last month, but officials now say only that it will arrive “in due time.”
Other internal documents seen by the Guardian show DfT officials warned ministers that it would be extremely difficult to actively ban councils from creating LTNs or introducing other measures such as speed limits at 20 mph. “Legal powers exist, but the bar for their use is set very high and, to our knowledge, they have never been exercised,” one senior official wrote.
The basic idea of modal filtering – allowing direct access for pedestrians and cyclists but not motor vehicles – is a standard urban planning tool and has been used for decades in many UK cities.
However, after a series of such schemes were introduced quickly during Covid and branded as LTNs, some local opposition was amplified by Tory-friendly newspapers, prompting a Number 10-led response.
Sunak’s plan for drivers, presented in September, promised a crackdown on LTNs, 20mph zones and bus lanes. However, since then nothing has apparently been done to implement these measures.
Chris Todd, director of Tan, said he had no objection to the general idea of examining the effectiveness of LTNs: “Reviewing recent LTNs is a great way to learn how to further improve new ones and to give people more choices for walking, rolling and cycling. But these latest revelations from ministers making it up as they go along show we cannot trust the Tories to make our streets safer.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “It is important that people who choose to walk and cycle can do so safely, but this should not come at the expense of people who rely on cars or who prevent emergency services from accessing roads.
“That’s why we’re looking at low-traffic neighborhoods, and none were funded in the last round of active travel funding.”