A council FoI response suggests that bullish remarks made about removing controversial traffic reduction schemes could prove too expensive to implement. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
That’s the amount just a single low traffic neighbourhood scheme has generated for Croydon’s cash-strapped council in 18 months, according to a Freedom of Information response from the Town Hall.
And that money presents Tory Mayor Jason Perry with the first major challenge of his term in office, after his populist posturing during his election campaign to oppose LTNs and their successor schemes, Croydon Healthy Neighbourhoods, or CHNs.
Because while Perry made all the “right noises” during his campaign to appease the angry anti-LTNers, he knows that the bankrupt borough has budgets for this year and next that depend on £20million – possibly more – income from fines generated from the traffic reductions schemes.
LTNs have bitterly divided public opinion, usually along the lines of those who live on the affected streets, who have welcomed the reduction in pollution, the elimination of rat runners and quietude brought about by the introduction of planters and, more recently, the dreaded ANPRs – automatic number plate recognition cameras. Those who live on the fringes of the schemes, or on nearby main roads, have railed against the displaced traffic that they now have to deal with.
The overall aim of the scheme, in the middle of a climate crisis, to get the public to reduce or even abandon car use is usually forgotten in the often over-heated debates.
The traffic restriction schemes were implemented during the covid lockdown of 2020, using multi-million-pound grants from the Conservative government and following policy laid down by Boris Johnson’s ministers and advisers, in particular, in London, Andrew Gilligan.
And if council officials in Croydon considered removing any of the schemes, they quickly had second thoughts after a barely disguised threat last year from transport minister Grant Shapps that suggested that premature removal of LTNs would see transport funding to the offending borough axed for years to come.
New Mayor Perry will be facing decisions very soon over the future of CHNs, which were approved by the council in November last year. Nine are due to expire this week or in June, with four due to continue until October this year.
“I would like to remove all the LTNs on the first day after I become Mayor,” Perry pledged as recently as last month.
Playing to an audience of one particular interest group which has received funding from the motoring lobby, Perry said of LTNs, “These schemes are having a huge detrimental impact on our communities.”
Perry even played a well-worn, and false, trope, claiming that residents are being fined for driving on their own roads: the schemes as currently in operation offer “exemptions” for local residents, allowing those in possession of disabled blue badges to have two vehicles allowed to use the road without fear of being fined, and other residents of the restricted streets allowed to have up to three exempted vehicles.
He said that he wants “proper data gathering”, which would be a first for this council, which admits it implemented the schemes without having traffic data available for the roads chosen.
Perry’s posturing on this subject is at least disingenuous, because he really ought to know that the rules used to implement the LTNs in 2020 – Temporary Traffic Management Orders – do not require a statutory consultation.
This time round, Perry says, he would hold public consultations, although these are notoriously subject to being hijacked by motoring lobbyists. “I would then re-introduce any scheme that has the backing of local residents and will achieve its stated purposes,” Perry said.
Yet in his very next sentence, Perry contradicted himself, stating that removing the schemes is impossible.
“Owing to how Labour has constructed their budget this is simply not possible,” he said, forgetting to mention the threats from the Conservative transport minister.
“There is well over £20million of future income within the budget which would have to be replaced if this happened. This will take time to work through, to identify alternative sources of income and change the profiling of the borough’s budget.
“I do not want Croydon to be dependent on fining its residents to be able to balance the books but removing that dependency will take some time. I will do it, but it won’t be on Day One!”
Figures for just one of the schemes, at Parsons Mead in Broad Green, serve to demonstrate the council’s dependency on the easy money generated by the ANPRs.
According to the council’s FoI response, the CCTV cameras were installed in 2020 at a cost of just £4,500 – money paid to Croydon ultimately from the government.
By the start of this month, Parsons Mead alone had generated £4,288,284.76 for the council from 86,039 PCNs, or penalty charge notices.
In the same period, 393 appeals against PCNs on Parsons Mead were successful.
According to the council’s FoI response, “On average per week for the month of March 2022 the PCNs issued for Parsons Mead is currently 381.”
Parson Mead’s traffic restrictions were extended, with approval from the Department for Transport, revised and re-implemented as an “experimental” CHN last month, and are due to run at least until October.
The new Mayor will encounter considerable opposition from council directors, such as Steve Iles, who has promised in his budget forecasts £12million in penalty fine income in 2022-2023 and again in 2023-2024.
In a report to council late last year (which is available in pdf by clicking here), Iles made clear the financial risks the council might face if it was to withdraw the LTNs. “Complete removal or significant watering down of the current LTNs is likely to not only risk funding from central government via TfL in the current year, but to risk reduced or zero transport investment funding via/from TfL in future years,” Iles’ report warned.
And he quoted from Tory minister Shapps’ letter of July 2021. “If these schemes are not given… time to make a difference, then taxpayers’ monies have been wasted. Schemes need time to be allowed to bed in; must be tested against more normal traffic conditions; and must be in place long enough for their benefits and disbenefits to be properly evaluated and understood…
“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. 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.”
Which suggests that Mayor Perry, despite all his promises before getting elected, could well be stuck with the traffic restriction schemes for some time to come.
Read more: Residents take to the streets to protest Parsons Mead LTN
Read more: I paid my LTN fine. I won’t be returning to the town centre soon
Read more: Director admits £12m sums on ANPR fines don’t add up
Read more: Confused councillor in roads row after he ‘likes’ vandalism
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