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Low-traffic Neighbourhoods

Volume 834: debated on Tuesday 21 November 2023


Asked by

My Lords, when implemented well and with good community engagement, low-traffic neighbourhoods can improve air quality and bring the obvious health benefits of increased cycling and walking. The Government continue to promote traffic management that enables more choice in how people make their journeys. That is why we are carrying out a review to ensure that, where they exist, low-traffic neighbourhoods are delivering the attractive choices for active travel that we all want to see.

I thank the Minister for that reply and welcome him to his new post, but why did the Prime Minister order a review of low-traffic neighbourhoods? I quote from the Telegraph:

“I just want to make sure people know that I’m on their side in supporting them to use their cars to do all the things that matter to them”.

Does that not include the health of their family, or does the car come first?

I thank the noble Lord for his welcome. On 30 June, the Prime Minister announced a review of low-traffic neighbourhoods to be carried out by the Department for Transport. The review is intended to focus on the processes for creating low-traffic neighbourhoods, including understanding the consultation and engagement processes that were followed for such schemes and the views of local communities impacted by them. The review will focus on the schemes installed since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and will not look at historical street layouts.

My Lords, I too welcome my noble friend to his new role, one that I covet somewhat, having previously been a transport director for this city at City Hall. On low-traffic neighbourhoods, one of the challenges we faced in this city was managing the balance between safety, economic policy and keeping the city moving when implementing policies, especially on the roads. So, on low-traffic neighbourhoods and 20 mph zones, do the Government approve of a blanket approach to this type of policy, or does it have to be a bit more sophisticated?

I thank my noble friend for that question. As a resident of Wales, I can speak with some experience on this. The Government are very concerned about excessive vehicle speeds and believe that any form of dangerous or inconsiderate driving behaviour is a serious road safety issue. The power to impose 20 mph speed limits rests totally with local traffic authorities and I emphasise that the Government support 20 mph limits in the right places. We do not, however, support 20 mph limits set indiscriminately on all roads in England, with due regard to the safety case and local support. The Transport Secretary announced The Plan for Drivers in October, which included an assurance that we will update the 20 mph speed limit guidance for England to prevent inappropriate blanket use.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in Oxford LTNs have been bitterly divisive and a disaster? Teachers are resigning because they cannot get to school; shopkeepers, often of ethnic minority, are closing shops; ambulances cannot get through. Will the Minister ensure that locals are given the truth? So often, we are not told that the pollution displaced from one road simply moves to another. We need to insist that local authorities give us the true scientific picture.

The noble Baroness makes a very good point. We are aware of the Oxford situation and I fully support what she said.

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord to his new role. My question very much follows from the previous one. What are the Government doing to ensure that local authorities undertake frequent and systematic monitoring of air quality, not just in low-traffic neighbourhoods but in traffic hotspots, to ensure that they pursue traffic reduction measures in general and not just in certain targeted areas?

I thank the noble Baroness for her kind words. Transport is the largest source of greenhouse gases in the UK, with domestic transport accounting for some 26% of all emissions in 2021. Road vehicles produce over 90% of transport’s domestic carbon emissions, so the transition to electric vehicles is a clear priority as well as an opportunity to grow the economy. We will end the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2035. From 2040, all new HGVs will be fully zero-emission.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister to his new role—this is a blood sport and he is the fox. Local authorities held accountable to residents at elections are best placed to decide how to manage traffic in their communities, yet we are now more than four months into a Whitehall-led review of the implementation of low-traffic neighbourhoods. Can the Minister explain how much this review process is costing, what value added is expected and whether the Government are contemplating primary legislation?

The review is focusing on fact-finding to ensure that these schemes work for residents, businesses and emergency services and enable more choice in how people make their journeys. We expect the review to report back in early 2024, after which the Government will consider its findings and any necessary next steps to ensure that the schemes deliver the objectives they set out and take account of communities’ views.

My Lords, I very much welcome the review that my noble friend has outlined and, like others, I welcome him to his new role. My concern is with air pollution levels, particularly when linked to health. Among young children, allergies, bronchitis and asthma are very much on the increase. Can this be taken into consideration in the review so that we can understand the impact of pollution on health?

I thank my noble friend for that excellent question. The latest published emission figures show that air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010—emissions of nitrogen oxide are down by 45%. Under the nitrogen dioxide plan, we are supporting 64 local authorities with £883 million of funding specifically to develop and implement measures to address their nitrogen oxide exceedances in the shortest possible time.

My Lords, the Minister will be picking up from his predecessor the portfolio about glare from oncoming headlights. Given the effect of this, the 20 miles per hour speed limit is really important, because eyes do not adjust enough to glare. Will the Minister meet me and others on this continuing issue of glare so that we can move forward on it?

I know that this issue is of particular interest to the noble Baroness. I would be delighted to meet her.

I welcome the noble Lord. Can the review look at the detrimental mental health harms of being forced, for example, to take three times as long to take the kids to school or the disabled and elderly being unable to get taxis from or deliveries to their doors due to LTNs, and the health impacts of heavily congested roads and LTNs? Will the Minister look at a new report, “Clean” Air, Dirty Money, Filthy Politics, which looks at the distorting influence of big money on the science and health evidence? We need to say that there are bad health effects of some of these anti-car policies.

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I take on board what she says, and I cannot disagree with it. There is nothing wrong with driving. Most of us use a car, and for many, life would not be liveable without one, but I take on board exactly what the noble Baroness says.

My Lords, I add my own congratulations to a retired detective who has been put in charge of traffic, which is truly a remarkable promotion. What plans do the Government have to ensure that cyclists do not exceed 20 mph in the low- traffic zones or, frankly, anywhere else that they choose to break the law?

I thank the noble Lord for his kind words. He makes a very good point, and it is something, perhaps, that the Metropolitan Police should take good note of.