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LTNs and 15-minute cities accused of being led by cycling lobbies, official review called a “whitewash”

Petitions signed by thousands have asked for a national referendum on 15-minute cities, also raising questions over the legitimacy of LTN reviews led by Sustrans and Prof Rachel Aldred

Over 14,000 people have signed a petition calling for an “independent” review of LTNs, which will now be led by Active Travel Academy’s Professor Rachel Aldred, leading to claims that it will declare them successful in a ‘whitewash report’, while another petition has asked for a national referendum for implementing 15-minute cities amidst reports of Oxford Council ‘covering up’ risky data.

Prof Aldred of University of Westminster, who has more than 15 years of experience researching active travel, has been appointed by the Department of Transport (DfT) to “undertake an independent evaluation of active travel schemes funded in 2020/21, including low-traffic neighbourhoods”.

However, people have complained to the petitions committee that Prof Aldred has a track record of supporting the creation of cycling infrastructure and LTNs and so the review will not be independent, The Telegraph reports.

The newspaper, which was recently condemned for using divisive rhetoric such as ‘death traps’ without any evidence, said that it has seen letters that highlight how Prof Aldred was a director and elected trustee of the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) for six years, and that she had proclaimed her “work has helped shift perceptions among policymakers”.

Prof Aldred has been previously involved in authoring several peer-reviewed and published researches, as well as reports and studies for organisations and the government that claim that that LTNs help “overall traffic evaporation” both inside and outside the LTNs. 

> Low traffic neighbourhoods in London are not mainly introduced in more affluent areas, researchers find

A spokesman for the Department for Transport, which has allocated £171,916 for the review, said: “All independent research is commissioned through a competitive process, in line with strict Government guidance. Once research has been conducted, policy decisions will ultimately be for ministers to take.”

The Telegraph reported that one of the letters sent to the petitions committee and Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, accuses Prof Aldred of “clearly setting out to present LTNs as a success, even though the evidence on the ground suggests otherwise,” adding that “this will be seen as a whitewash and [be] widely repudiated.”

Another letter claimed that pretending Prof Aldred’s unit was conducting an independent review of the Government LTN policy was “one of the worst cases of being allowed to mark one’s own homework.”

Similar concerns of pro-cycling policies being led by cycling lobbies were raised this year in January, when The Telegraph reported that cycling charity Sustrans was paid £200,000 for consulting on two controversial LTNs in Haringey, north London.

> London borough Conservative group posts images to social media likening low-traffic neighbourhoods to apartheid

During the consultation, Sustrans allegedly did not speak to businesses on the High Street. Cllr Mike Hakata, the deputy leader of Haringey Council, said: “We are launching a business survey soon, and I’d strongly encourage the Myddleton Road traders to take the opportunity to have their say again.”

However, residents soon spoke about the benefits of the LTN. One mother wrote on a local news website: “Walking with the kids, we can hear birdsong and leaves rustling in the trees. The air smells fresh, and it’s so calm and peaceful. It’s like being in the countryside, except we’re in London. In the park I meet a woman who tells me she’s delighted not to have lorries thundering past her home, and she'll finally get another cat - her last two were killed by drivers outside her house.

“But it’s seeing my five-year-old daughter be able to ride her bike on the road that really brings it home,” she added. “‘I’ve been waiting for this for so long,’ she tells me. She happily rides to the park on the road, singing away.”

Accusations of pro-cycling policymakers don’t end here though. The Telegraph recently reported that “left-wing” council officials in Oxford “covered-up” data that could potentially put the 15-minute city plan in jeopardy.

The council provided a summary report during the official survey, which said modelling estimates show the scheme “will reduce traffic flows by around around 20 per cent within the city inside the ring road, and around 35 per cent in the city centre” but “increase total traffic flows by around three per cent on the ring road”.

> Why is the 15-minute city attracting so many conspiracy theories? Plus access for disabled cyclists in the latest episode of the Podcast

However, The Telegraph claims that it has obtained the full results now which shows that traffic will increase in eight of 19 locations modelled, and its speed will stay the same or decrease in all but one of these areas – some of which are already controversial low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs).

A petition, which already has 13,000 signatures, has been launched by a Lewisham resident (who regularly tweets “LTNs don’t work”) calling for a “legally binding national referendum on whether any local authority should be able to implement a 15-minute city policy”.

The petition reads: “People need to be given the choice about whether or not they want these policies to be implemented in their areas. We believe it's far too important for the people not to be allowed to vote on these policies before they are implemented!”

However, a 2022 survey found that majority of people in different parts of Oxfordshire wanted “remarkably similar” amenities within their neighbourhood, such as GPs, cafes, pubs, banks, gyms, parks and so on, serving as a foundation for the 15-minute city policy that aims to provide these within walking distance to the residents.

> Tory MP attacks 15-minute city concept with known conspiracy theory

However, despite the council repeatedly clearing that there would be no physical barriers, nor would residents be confined to their local areas or need permission to travel across the city, several groups like Not Our Future and the Together Declaration have come forward to protest these developments.

The Oxfordshire Council, in response, has said that an internal review this month found the information provided was “sufficient and appropriate” and complied with the Gunning Principles of how local councils should engage residents.

Adwitiya joined in 2023 after finishing his masters in Journalism from Cardiff University, with a dissertation focusing on active travel. He's currently living in Cardiff and for the most part moans about the abruptly ending cycle lanes, if he's not cursing the headwind. Adwitiya also covers local and national politics for Voice Wales, and sometimes dabbles in topics related to science, tech and the environment. Cycling became a part of his life just a couple of years ago, and now he can't think of a single reason why anyone would drive if they could cycle. He usually uses his bike for commuting, but he also loves excursions on the Taff trail, however never underestimate his ability to find an excuse to watch something on GCN instead.

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