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Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

Volume 831: debated on Monday 3 July 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the balance between (1) the duty of local authorities under section 122 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to secure expeditious, convenient and safe movement of vehicular traffic and pedestrians, and (2) the imposition of low traffic neighbourhoods and low emission zones.

My Lords, the department has made no such assessment. It is for local authorities to ensure they manage their roads in such a way as to fulfil the duties placed on them. They have a wide range of traffic management tools to support them in this.

My Lords, I declare a type of interest in that I drive an all-electric car and I have a clear conscience.

Does the Minister want people to return to work and productivity to increase? I am urging the Government to stop any government inducement to obstacles placed in the way of normal life in pursuit of ideology and fines, not science. Studies prepared for Oxford show that pollution is simply displaced from the centre and the same amount goes to the ring road where poorer people tend to live, and they are the ones punished by fines.

There are about 100 empty shops in Oxford. Businesses near the low-traffic neighbourhoods are folding with great losses, and they are often owned by ethnic minorities. There are tussles in the streets over the barriers, ambulances take longer and the once beautiful Broad Street is filled with industrial crates. Working people are having great difficulties, the consultations are ignored and the scientific evidence is withheld. Most important of all, the traffic blockades discriminate—even the blue badge is not exempt. Will the Government enforce the protection of the rights of elderly, pregnant and disabled people?

There was a fair amount in that statement. The noble Baroness mentioned Oxford, and it is important to understand that all the issues she mentioned should be taken up with the local authority. The Government have never been in control of local roads and are not now. These issues are devolved to the local authority, and I encourage her to raise those issues with her local council.

Speaking of convenience and safe movement of traffic, can the Minister say what is happening with autonomous vehicles, be they cars, lorries or buses, particularly with the trials going on in this country and stretching right across Europe?

The Government believe that there is a huge future for autonomous vehicles, and we will bring forward legislation when parliamentary time allows.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister agrees that we must get this right. The Transport for London web page tells us the details about the scrappage scheme changes and the full eligibility criteria for small and micro-businesses and charities. The new grace period will be available on the discounts and exemptions page at the end of this month, but the scheme is to be implemented in August. Does the Minister think it is acceptable that people struggling with rising costs should have only a few weeks to find out if they are eligible?

The scrappage scheme in London is of course under the remit of the Mayor of London, and the Government have no recourse to have any influence over it.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, raised an important point. Would it not be sensible for the Government to have some conversations with these local authorities? Oxford, with a bereft high street, is not the Oxford most of us know and love, and it is important that we get this thing in perspective. The Government surely have an overall duty here.

My Lords, one-way streets, traffic calming and pedestrianisation have been used for decades. In some circumstances, they have been put in and are not working, and in those cases it is for the local authority to be held accountable by the local electorate. The Government do, however, provide various bits of guidance, both statutory and non-statutory, to assist local authorities to come to the right decisions.

My Lords, on low-emission zones, can Ministers identify any research showing that vehicles travelling over a given distance at a constant 20 miles per hour in a low gear at high revs emit less carbon monoxide than vehicles travelling at 30 miles per hour in a higher gear at low revs? When I asked for the evidence in 2021, this Minister gave the following answer:

“The Department does not have specific results for the situations outlined”.

How can the public throughout the UK have confidence in a speeding regime which lacks detailed assessment?

It is up to local authorities to decide on local speed restrictions, which they are encouraged to evaluate. As the noble Lord will know, in most circumstances 30 miles per hour is the limit, but some local authorities have chosen to make some streets 20 miles per hour.

The noble Baroness’s Question raises the important issue of the safe movement of pedestrians. My noble friend the Minister may be aware that the danger to disabled pedestrians posed by the irresponsible use of e-bikes and e-scooters in the centre of London’s low-emission zone was the focus of a recent Policy Exchange paper, A Culture of Impunity, to which several noble Lords contributed. Can my noble friend write to me with a formal response to its recommendations and place a copy in the Library?

I will certainly look into that, but I am not entirely sure that I will be able to do as my noble friend asks. The safety of people on our roads is critical, and one of the elements of traffic management is the reduction in killed and seriously injured people which I am sure all noble Lords would want to see. It is not just about journey time changes but increasing the number of people walking and cycling, and looking at modal shift and levels of car ownership.

My Lords, I was brought up in Oxford. It was known then as the “city of screeching tyres” and the college buildings were blackened by pollution. Surely the best way to promote the city is to continue with the huge environmental improvements that are taking place there.

My Lords, local authorities are still having to rely on outdated guidance from 2007 for the design and modification of residential streets. In a debate in the other place in November last year, Minister Richard Holden referred to the Department of Transport publishing a revised version of the Manual for Streets early in 2023. Can the Minister please give us update on when we can expect that new manual?

Yes, I can indeed. The Manual for Streets is an important document on which we have engaged closely with stakeholders. That engagement is still under way but I can commit to the noble Baroness that the document will be published soon.

My Lords, I declare an interest: I was invited to a speed awareness course for travelling at 25 mph on Park Lane. Can my noble friend explain how Park Lane, with three lanes and a bus lane, can possibly be a 20 mph zone?

My Lords, I am biased but the question from my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, on the emission levels associated with a 20 mph limit and a 30 mph limit, was splendid. I did not catch whether the Minister answered that question, which is presumably a pretty precise one, on which there can be scientific evidence. Can she try to answer it now?

I am not aware of any research in that area but I will take that question back to the department and write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, I have enjoyed the Minister’s answers, batting away some of the silly questions she has had from her own side. I just wonder whether the explanation for shops shutting is not that people are working from home now but simply the cost of living; and perhaps people are not travelling as far and are shopping locally.

I reassure the noble Baroness that there are no silly questions in your Lordships’ House. As I mentioned earlier, many of these schemes are put in place to enable local economic growth. I cannot conceive of my local town centre still having cars in it: it is a hugely thriving town centre because it is pedestrianised. However, what is really important is that local councils need to get it right. If they do not get it right, they need to listen to local communities and remove any interventions.