Santa Claus may be coming to town, but whether he makes it to your low traffic neighbourhood is an entirely different matter – or at least that’s the case in Exeter, where a controversial new traffic-calming initiative has forced a community group to change the route of its annual eleven-day Christmas parade through the city.
The Crystals’ melodic warning about pouting and crying has also evidently gone unheeded following the news, with one “upset” resident describing Father Christmas’ altered route as “so disappointing”, declaring “bah humbug to the LTN scheme”.
The Heavitree and Whipton Active Streets trial in Exeter, introduced at the beginning of August as part of an 18-month trial by Devon County Council, feature four modal filters using bollards or planters in a bid to increase safety and encourage walking and cycling, while four bus gates were installed to allow access to local residents, buses, and emergency vehicles.
However, the scheme has proved highly contentious, prompting a wave of protests and vandalism in recent months. A week after the trial began in the summer, masked youths ripped out the bollards at the entrance to the LTNs before fleeing on bikes, prompting the police to warn that removing such barriers constitutes a criminal offence and that they are monitoring anti-LTN groups on social media.
And in October, protesters sent death threats and filled the letterbox of the local MP’s house with faeces, leading to one man being cautioned by police, while a councillor’s bike tyres were slashed.
The rising tensions led MP Sir Ben Bradshaw to appeal to the “overzealous” protestors to “calm down” and put an end to this “abusive and alarming criminal behaviour”.
However, the opposition to the traffic restrictions appears to show no signs of receding during the festive period, as community group Exeter Round Table announced this week that for the first time in at least a decade, their annual Santa Float won’t be travelling through Heavitree, while only a small part of Whipton will be visited due to, the organisers say, the new “roadblocks” leaving them unable to find a suitable alternative route.
“We have decided not to visit Heavitree and Whipton due to the LTN blocking our route in two places,” Exeter Round Table’s Martin told Devon Live.
“I did try and find an alternative route, but it was not possible due to the various bus gates and bollards. We will be visiting the new estates in West Clyst for the first time and we have added Summerway onto the end of our Beacon Heath route so we at least visit a tiny part of Whipton.”
Meanwhile, Father Christmas’ non-appearance thanks to the altered route has not gone down well with some locals living in the LTNs, with one “upset” Heavitree resident saying: “It’s so disappointing that the blocks and bus gates in Heavitree and Whipton Barton have led to no visit from the Round Table’s Santa this year.
“My own children and now my grandchildren always look forward to this special event which always heralds the start of all the Christmas excitement in our house.
“I hope the charity doesn’t suffer financially by these restrictions. Bah humbug to the LTN scheme.”
Like the television advertisements and music in the shops, or that one overenthusiastic friend who insists on putting their tree up in November, the annual consternation over the impact of active travel schemes on Christmas plans seems to be starting earlier each year – with Exeter actually late to the party when it comes to deploring the death of the season at the hands of cycling and walking initiatives.
In October, a business owner in a suburban part of Manchester spoke out about being left frustrated by an overrunning active travel project, which will see a new £13.4 million cycleway laid, claiming that “Christmas is ruined”.
“It’s just a kick in the teeth after everything we’ve had to go through in the last few years as businesses,” Frankie Dyer of Barbakan Delicatessen said of the extended cycle lane works. “This is just something that we did not need to have to endure. And to say that it will be going on until December 22 is just a devastating blow. Christmas is basically ruined for us.”
And way back in July, a row broke out in Oxford over a cycle lane running through the middle of the city’s Christmas market, prompting the market’s organiser to step down from her role over “safety fears”.
Last year, the county council closed the bike lane and installed a diversion route for cyclists while the market was in place. However, it says that the alternative route will not be possible this coming Christmas – a decision described by a Conservative opposition councillor as an example of “woke wonkery of the worst kind”.
Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.