Croydon Council has started a consultation – another one – over its the filtered traffic “healthy neighbourhoods” schemes in on Holmesdale Road and Albert Road in South Norwood, in the knowledge that if they were to bow to pressure of a vocal minority they could be forced to return hundreds of thousands of pounds in funding to the government.
Low Traffic Neighbourhood schemes – LTNs – were rolled out across the country over the last 18 months, backed with more than £250million in funding from the Tory government to encourage socially distanced walking and cycling, and in efforts to discourage car use for shorter journeys and to eliminate residential streets being used as rat runs.
On Friday, Andrew Gilligan, Boris Johnson’s special adviser who is now a government appointee to the board of Transport for London, confirmed that councils which have “prematurely” removed their traffic-reductions schemes are having their grants pulled. Typically, the grants made towards such projects are more than £200,000.
LibDem-controlled Sutton and Tory-run Wandsworth both dropped their LTNs at the first sign of public opposition. Recent court rulings, over LTNs in east London and Lambeth, have seen Transport for London win its appeals against legal challenges to schemes brought by lobby groups backed by black cab drivers and road freight organisations.
There had been a threat of a legal challenge against Croydon’s LTN schemes, too, though after collecting more than £10,000 from the public in a crowdfunding appeal, the former bankrupt businesswoman behind the campaign has since gone very quiet (including over what she intends to do with the money raised).
On Friday, the Conservative government’s transport minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, issued a letter to all the leaders of transport and highway authorities in England, warning that experimental active travel measures must be kept in place for long enough for a proper assessment of their impact to be made.
Department for Transport officials said they had stopped all funding “until we can be sure of the authority’s commitment to active travel”.
As Gilligan put it, “We have halted funding, pending discussions, to councils which have prematurely removed schemes… London councils have had similar letters from TfL.”
Heaton-Harris instructed councils to conduct consultations and evidence-based reviews of schemes before their removal. The schemes that the DfT has in mind include school streets, pop-up cycle lanes and LTNs.
“Premature removal of schemes carries implications for the management of the public money used in these schemes and for the government’s future funding relationship with the authorities responsible,” Heaton-Harris wrote.
“The department will continue to assess authorities’ performance in delivering schemes and, following the precedent we have already set, those which have prematurely removed or weakened such schemes should expect to receive a reduced level of funding.”
The government requires “objective tests of public opinion, such as professional polling, to gather a truly representative picture of local views” before LTNs are removed.
“These requirements also apply as much to the removal or modification of existing schemes as to the installation of new ones,” the minister wrote. “In many cases where schemes have been removed or modified, there appears to have been little or no consultation.”
Among the biggest losers is cash-strapped Liverpool city region, which risks losing grants totalling £1.89million after it removed its traffic-reduction measures.
Heaton-Harris says that over the past year, cycling has increased by 46 per cent, with parts of the country witnessing the greatest number of cyclists using the public highway since the 1960s.
Croydon announcing its consultation at the same time will, therefore, be regarded as a fortunate coincidence.
Surveys for the schemes in South Norwood and Woodside are open until August 24 – a brief window during the height of what is usually the summer holiday season, which many will regard as a deliberate coincidence.
“Croydon introduced these temporary schemes last year in response to government calls for councils to encourage walking and cycling using partial road closures, and as part of the long-term response to the borough’s climate emergency declaration,” said a press release issued from the propaganda bunker in Fisher’s Folly.
“The changes aim to keep these schemes’ benefits while improving access for local people. The proposals are to extend the schemes for up to 18 months on an experimental basis with some changes following resident feedback.”
The council’s press release tried to pass the buck for the schemes by stressing that they “are funded by Transport for London and the Department for Transport”.
On Holmesdale Road and Albert Road, the council wants to replace planters with enforcement cameras. This would improve access for residents, emergency vehicles and drivers with permit exemptions, such as black taxis and Dial-a-Ride. And the cameras would also generate £60 fines for drivers of vehicles without a permit or the ability to read road signs.
The council is undertaking to conduct air quality and traffic monitoring before finalising any decision on whether to make the schemes permanent.
To take part in Croydon’s consultation, visit the council’s website by clicking here.
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