Statement given at Extraordinary Full Council meeting 20 October 2020

Statement response from Councillor Julian Bell, leader of Ealing Council

The council’s legal position is that it has received legal claims in relation to the low traffic neighbourhoods.  As they are subject to current litigation we will not comment on individual schemes but will say that we will robustly defend the legal claims that have been received. 

We all want the best possible neighbourhoods to live in.  During the lockdown fewer used their cars and it had a positive impact on their neighbourhoods and London’s air quality.  This gave us an insight of what life could be like with fewer cars on the roads – walking, cycling, exercise, play and meeting, albeit socially distant, on a Thursday evening to clap for the NHS and our key workers.

As lockdown was beginning to ease, the government and TfL had serious concerns that car use in the capital would double, with less people allowed on public transport and 90% fewer users of the tube, more would take to their cars as an alternative.  The concern was that our streets would be grid-locked and traffic diverted through our residential streets from busy main roads.  Air pollution levels would soar, with two-thirds of air pollution coming from vehicles and we would see an increase in the 387 early deaths already seen in Ealing from air pollution.

The government believed this was going to be a serious issue and asked local authorities to put schemes in place to encourage more active travel and less car use.  Councils could access government funding but only on the proviso they acted swiftly and introduced the schemes to prevent this from happening.

We have a proud record of being London’s greenest borough and wanted to do everything we could to keep people safe, reduce levels of air pollution and with clearer roads, give people the confidence to try different types of travel, particularly for short journeys. We all know there is a climate emergency and urgent action is needed, but this is not a challenge the council can face alone. We have committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and it requires everyone in the community to take action.

Our response to the government’s ask of us was to initially support covid restrictions by implementing a wide ranging programme of active travel schemes, putting in place temporary measures to widen pavements, create cycle lanes and consider safer streets for our children’s return to school.  We agreed to trial low traffic neighbourhoods as part of this approach, although the majority of funding is going on non-low traffic neighbourhood schemes.

We are trialling low traffic neighbourhoods in areas which are expected to see more traffic in the future due to COVID-19 restrictions on use of public transport and the move to more taking their cars as an alternative.  The temporary schemes are designed to ensure that residents on those roads can continue to access their homes.  They are designed to reduce the number of car journeys to create safer neighbourhoods so that more people will feel safe to walk and cycle, rather than use the car for short trips and to discourage drivers from seeing Ealing as a way of shaving a few minutes off their journey through or into Ealing.  There are already a significant number of traffic schemes in place throughout the borough to stop exactly this sort of through-traffic that have had a positive impact for residents in those roads and beyond.

At the same time COVID-19 has also shown us that people with underlying health conditions, such as obesity are more vulnerable to the virus. One in five adults in Ealing are physically inactive and over 30% of car journeys are less than 2 miles. Being more active as part of our daily lives is the easiest way to get fitter and healthier. Low traffic neighbourhoods and the other schemes we’ve introduced will help with this.

We know that people have strong views both for and against.  What we promise is that their views are being heard.  In Ealing we have always been a community that lives well side-by-side, even if their views differ from each other and ask that people remember that and are respectful in how they make their views known.  There are legitimate routes to share your views, oppose or support the schemes but ask that people show others respect in person and online forums, and not condone vandalism.

For many of us, streets in our residential areas have become conduits for through traffic, rather than places where residents can walk, cycle, meet or play. With more drivers relying on sat navs to identify the quickest routes, through-traffic is likely to increase. We want children to be able to play and travel more independently, and older people to be active and mobile. We think low traffic neighbourhoods could be the key to a much healthier, greener and pleasant local neighbourhood.

Statement response from Councillor Mik Sabiers, cabinet member for environment and highways

These schemes have aroused passionate views, both for and against.  In normal circumstances they wouldn’t have been introduced without prior consultation, which would have provided an opportunity for residents to fully understand the impact of them, but because it was part of a response to the pandemic we had to accelerate their delivery. 

The Streetspace Programme has been developed based upon government guidance that such changes are to be delivered ‘as swiftly as possible’ and clarified further to mean ‘within weeks’.  The approach that we have adopted in Ealing to meet this has been via the use of Experimental Traffic Orders (ETOs).

The use of Experimental Traffic Orders, provided for in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, enables schemes to be trialled at the same time consultation and engagement is undertaken.  This feedback is typically gathered within 6 months of the trial to allow the network time to respond to the change made, along with a range of other data such as traffic flows. This is a different approach to the one the Council has typically adopted when implementing traffic management schemes.  This approach has been adopted in response to the new Government guidance and the need to implement schemes ‘as swiftly as possible’.

We have worked closed with the emergency services in our borough and safety will always be our top priority. We have had ongoing engagement with all emergency services and none have raised any formal objections to our schemes. We have publicly apologised that the London Ambulance Service were not consulted at the same time as Met police and fire brigade. We deeply regret this mistake.  The ambulance service has provided feedback and this has resulted in changes from bollards to cameras at some locations. The ambulance service has identified that our way of engaging could serve as a model for other boroughs to follow. The bollards we use are based on fire brigade recommendations, all have standard keys which are readily available and we have offered extra keys to all services. These are the same keys which access other restrictions already in place in the borough.

Only after the impacts have been fully assessed will decisions be taken on whether or not to make each experimental order permanent, modify, or suspend.

We are also introducing Common Place, an online engagement platform that allows for people to post their views on the schemes and will “go live” this week.  Common Place makes it easier for residents to make comments and provide rolling feedback on individual schemes. It also allows residents to highlight specific issues that can be picked up and addressed as necessary.

Later on in the trial we will be asking people to complete a survey, where again they will be able to share their views.  There will also be focus groups with business and residents carried out independently and these will be taken into account when reaching a final decision on each of the orders.

Individual schemes will also have an interim assessment to look at the feedback from residents and businesses, received via email and through Common Place, traffic data, comments from colleagues in the emergency services and feedback from ward councillors.  The purpose of the interim assessment process is to check there are no significant issues that may require action or modification.    The interim assessments are scheduled to take place with a summary report published in December.

At the end of the 6-month period for each low traffic neighbourhood, a final formal review will take place and officers will look at all the available data gathered over this longer period, including air quality, traffic figures, impact on local businesses, feedback from residents  and all views expressed in the initial assessment will be updated, before delivering a report to cabinet for consideration on whether each scheme should  be made permanent, modified or suspended.  As each individual scheme started on different dates, they may not be considered all together but will go to the first appropriate cabinet meeting.  Due to the postponed Mayoral and GLA elections, restrictions will affect when cabinet can consider these reports. It is expected that some reports will be considered after the elections.

I want to reiterate and fully reassure residents, and councillors, that we do want their views and we will listen, and views will be taken into account at the point when the interim assessments take place and final decisions are made.

Ends.

For more details on LTNs see Key facts on low traffic neighbourhoods

To provide feedback on LTNs email TrafficNotices@ealing.gov.uk