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Government falsely claimed it blocked low-traffic schemes, documents suggest

Papers obtained by a campaign group taking legal action over cuts to active travel budget show Active Travel England deemed council applications to be insufficiently ambitious to receive funding, and transport secretary Mark Harper had no role in decision

Documents obtained by a campaign group suggest that Transport Secretary Mark Harper and the government have not blocked councils from installing low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), despite their claims.

The news, reported in The Guardian today, comes after Transport Action Network (Tan), the campaign group currently taking legal action against the government over cuts to active travel budgets, got hold of documents which showed Active Travel England's decision-making process regarding applications for funding from councils for low-traffic schemes.

Exeter LTN bollards (picture credit Devon County Council)

And while in May of last year some newspapers and media figures were briefed that ministers had blocked money for LTNs — designed to promote cycling and walking by preventing through-traffic on certain routes, either through the use of cameras or physical barriers — this claim that funding had been stripped or blocked is reportedly not seen in the papers.

> How to save a low-traffic neighbourhood: Overcoming hecklers, "dodgy" data, and political intrigue as councillors prevent early scrapping of active streets trial

Rather, the applications show that the lack of funding approved for LTNs was in fact because none of the schemes that wanted Department for Transport money were deemed to be of high enough quality, while "a series" of applications by councils to Active Travel England were rejected due to being insufficiently ambitious. Harper had no role in the decision, the documents suggest.

The transport secretary repeated his assertion about blocking funding for LTNs in July 2023, during an interview in which he blamed the "controversial" schemes for setting "people against each other".

Railton LTN (picture credit TfL)

He said the schemes were "banning" cars and "making it difficult for motorists", rhetoric that culminated two months later with Rishi Sunak and Harper telling their party's conference of their "proudly pro-car" status and unveiling a 'Plan for Motorists' to end the so-called "war on motorists".

> Rishi Sunak's 'Plan for Motorists' will 'rob people of choice' and force them to drive, say cycling and walking campaigners

Harper said his government would review guidance on 20mph speed limits in England and opposes their blanket use, would continue the review into low-traffic neighbourhoods, and aims "to stop councils implementing 15-minute cities", pledges that left Cycling UK to accuse the Conservatives of an "ill-fated attempt to win" votes that would be "undermining" active travel success.

Peter Walker, the newspaper's deputy political editor, also reported that other internal documents showed that DfT officials warned ministers that actively banning LTNs or other measures, such as 20mph speed limits, would be extremely difficult.

Cyclist LTN planter, Hackney London (by Adwitiya Pal)

"Legal powers do exist, but the bar for their use is set very high and they have not to our knowledge ever been exercised," one senior official reportedly wrote.

Tan's director Chris Todd said the latest update shows "we can't trust the Tories to make our streets safer".

> "Crackpot conspiracy theory" led to government slashing active travel funding

In October the High Court granted his campaign group a legal challenge to the government's active travel budget cuts, as ministers were forced to concede that they were aware of the "devastating" impact that the decision to slash the budget would have.

Commenting on the information seen in the documents, Todd said: "Reviewing recent LTNs is a great way to learn how to make new ones even better, and give people more choices to walk, wheel and cycle. But these latest revelations of ministers making it up as they go show we can't trust the Tories to make our streets safer."

Arnold Circus LTN (via Bob From Accounts on Twitter)

A DfT spokesperson commented: "It is important that people who choose to walk and cycle are able to do so safely, but this should not come at the cost of people who rely on cars or prevent the emergency services from accessing roads. That is why we are reviewing low-traffic neighbourhoods, and none were funded in the latest round of active travel funding."

Comments from emergency services about such schemes refutes the idea suggested above that schemes could "prevent emergency services from accessing roads".

In March 2021, the London Fire Brigade said LTNs have had no impact on response times, while police in Bethnal Green last year urged Tower Hamlets Borough Council not to scrap a Liveable Streets LTN scheme, saying that it has resulted in a reduction in antisocial behaviour-related crime.

Dan is the news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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don simon fbpe | 4 months ago

The tories lied to appeal to the hard of thinking, again?

Muddy Ford | 4 months ago

It seems to me Rishi just wants us to use more oil, because his wife's dad told him to. Infosys has $bn deals with BP and Shell. More oil licences, pushing out date to adopt EV, 'on the side of motorists'.  

lonpfrb replied to Muddy Ford | 4 months ago
Muddy Ford wrote:

Infosys has $bn deals with BP

They announced the deal but BP denied it according to the Register. Sending critical infrastructure jobs offshore is not in the national interest.

Muddy Ford replied to lonpfrb | 4 months ago

lonpfrb wrote:
Muddy Ford wrote:

Infosys has $bn deals with BP

They announced the deal but BP denied it according to the Register. Sending critical infrastructure jobs offshore is not in the national interest.

The deal is real. It's even on BP's own website, as well as every other financial website between Asia and UK.

eburtthebike | 4 months ago

This can't be true.  I've met Mark Harper twice and he seems like a fine, upstanding truthful chap.

But he's a tory, so it's true.

hawkinspeter | 4 months ago

How much longer do we have to put up with the Tories and their ridiculous "culture wars"?

jaymack replied to hawkinspeter | 4 months ago

'till December; I'm afraid that they've not finished their public realm vandalism just yet.

chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 4 months ago

Like jaymack says but:
a) probably this will increase the freedom of (some) Conservatives to front for the more "out of the box thinkers" and
b) if Labour do get in expect very little to change for active travel.  Rather - now when you campaign instead of being decried as "limiting people's freedoms" or being a luddite you'll be lectured about all those nurses and hard-working people and accused of being a bourgeouis who's blocking the proletariat's aspirations (to drive) with your priveledge *.

* I'm possibly confusing Labour with a left-wing organisation here.  It'll likely just be "we have to provide for all these people" and "we cannot endanger growth".

chrisonabike replied to chrisonabike | 4 months ago

Don't rate myself as a prophet but I have rapid confirmation of (a) in the strong and stable form of Liz Truss!  Who apparently thinks they'd be more popular as the conspiracy party.  First objectives - dealing with the fifth column of radical left civil servants who got in the way of she and her chancellor's excellent plans to fix our finances.  Apparently also shredding meddlesome human rights legislation and other such wokery.  (Perhaps she was re-reading Thatcher's "no such thing as society" speech and mentally substituted "protected group"?)

ktache replied to chrisonabike | 4 months ago

What the free marketeer idealists Truss and Kwasi didn't realise when they attempted to unleash their free market reforms was that the all knowing markets really weren't into it.

Cyclo1964 replied to ktache | 4 months ago

You hit the nail on the proverbial head there. The said markets are very much process driven and do not like loose cannons causing chaos. Unfortunately lettuce Liz is an attention seeking looney who is likely to be around for while a bit like the orange across the Atlantic! 

brooksby | 4 months ago

Government fails to tell the truth?

I am so utterly shocked by this revelation!


IanMK replied to brooksby | 4 months ago

Luckily we have a robust free press that hold the government to account when they tell such obvious whoppers. (more sarcasm)

chrisonabike replied to IanMK | 4 months ago

You mean our wonderfully balanced media, who are neither looking to whip up a frenzy for attention nor beholden to vested interests?

the little onion | 4 months ago

So, let's see if I understand this:

Government states aim that it wants more of X, and creates funding for local government to create X

Government then states it wants less of X, and says it is stopping local government doing X

All the while, it wasn't actually stopping local government doing X


This is just nuts!

IanMK replied to the little onion | 4 months ago

Or... government wants more of x so sets up a QUANGO, allocates a budget and appoints executives.
QUANGO then sets ambitious targets for delivering x. Meanwhile the government denies that it ever wanted x in the first place whilst failing to remove the funding or the QUANGO.

eburtthebike replied to the little onion | 4 months ago
1 like

It still stopped it by cutting the funding by 75%.

chrisonabike replied to the little onion | 4 months ago

If you do something, it always costs more than you think and upsets people *.

However if you are seen / believed to be doing nothing people get irate.

SO: set up some others to look into doing something, but don't provide enough cash for much to happen.

Best of both worlds!  Plus if people get offended you can always blame the group you set up and / or can their funding.

* Making something happen (for others, not just you and your pals) can actually be hard.  There's certainly a trope about ambitious politicians reaching the higher offices only to be shocked that when they pull what seem to be the levers of power nothing happens.  Of course that's partly because those levers really only ring bells on other people's desks (and so on).  Even if what politicians can control "does something" it frequently takes a lot of time to have effect.  And doing something at national level will not go nearly fast enough or far enough for some and go way too far for others.

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