Liveable Streets Cabinet decision
Mayor Lutfur Rahman has done the unthinkable. At Cabinet on 20 September 2023, he decided that Low Traffic schemes in Bethnal Green and Arnold Circus will be removed.
This decision is the culmination of a year and a half of uncertainty, campaigning and consultation after consultation for the residents affected. However, for the campaigners in Bethnal Green, it is just the start of a long road to ensure that these popular LTNs are retained.
Residents were out in force at a protest outside the Cabinet meeting, however the anti-LTN organisers had made sure that their people all got tickets to sit in the public gallery for the meeting itself. This created the impression in the room of an overwhelming majority in favour of removing LTNs.
The Council Chamber was packed to the rafters, with the public gallery spilling out into the atrium and the majority of the Aspire councillors in attendance. There were only a few Labour councillors in attendance.
There was another stressful moment when I realised that my question had not been accepted by the Mayor – he has full discretion over who is allowed to speak at the Cabinet meetings. I approached the Mayor before the meeting to ask him to accept my question, which he did agree to eventually.
Below is a video of my question:
One striking feature of the report sent to Cabinet by officers was the overwhelmingly supportive consultation result, with 70% residents in support of the schemes. Such a supportive result is unusual across London, where sometimes LTNs are made permanent despite 60% residents in favour of removing them.
The impact of removing LTNs
In removing them, Lutfur Rahman is condemning hundreds if not thousands of residents to higher exposure to air pollution, road danger, and an increase in carbon emissions which will impact all of us, but those in the Global South more.
Furthermore, in making the decision to remove the LTNs, Rahman is also putting further strain on his already tense relationship with City Hall, Sadiq Khan and TfL. TfL have already withheld funds to the council, preventing active travel interventions being implemented, such as cycle parking and traffic calming measures.
Controversial LTNs? Debunking the consultation results
I made the point in my speech that LTNs are often described as effective but controversial. But we already know this about LTNs – controversiality of this or any other policy should not be a reason to not go ahead; instead it’s a reason to make the policy work better and to have a more effective and meaningful engagement with those who have concerns.
The consultation results were questioned by the Conservative Councillor Peter Golds who highlighted that some of the respondents lived outside Tower Hamlets. Lutfur Rahman responded by criticising the consultation process. I was particularly angry about this, seeing as Rahman, now in charge of the local authority, can and should have ensured whatever more robust consultation process would have achieved his high standards. Maybe he would have only been happy with a consultation response supportive of removal.
What is the alternative?
As part of my recently-completed Masters’ thesis on LTNs in London, I did a review of all the academic literature about LTNs. The research shows unequivocally that LTNs are the single most effective and cheapest way to reduce car use in cities and get people to switch transport mode.
So, the decision by Mayor Rahman seems to go against the academic consensus as well as the residents and businesses who are overwhelmingly supportive.
So, what is the Mayor going to do to achieve these same results? My question remains unanswered, despite assurances from the Mayor in that meeting that the administration will invest £6m in infrastructure to improve air quality, road safety, walking and cycling and planting more trees.
Details of these investment plans are nonexistent, and I sorely hope that the money will be shared equally among the stated aims above. However, this money could be spent more effectively if invested in new LTN schemes which would deliver even more traffic and air pollution reductions than any of these individual policies could.
Title photo credit: Rebecca Unverzagt