Local Transport controversies in England – more chapter and verse
The controversial Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) saga continues this week…
LTN is a scheme where motor vehicle traffic in residential streets is significantly reduced by minimising the amount of traffic that comes from vehicles using the streets to get to another destination. In the past month, we have reviewed the legislation behind temporary traffic orders, looking at how easy it would be to continue these unconsulted-upon changes post-pandemic. We also considered the threat from the Department of Transport to reclaim funding where local authorities do not consult residents, businesses and emergency services on experimental walking and cycling and LTN schemes.
There is an awful lot of opposition against these schemes, leaving communities divided. Many schemes have been abandoned due to resulting traffic congestions and accidents and increasing concerns over air pollution and impact on local communities.
However, it seems that the tight deadlines set by the Government to enforce the experimental scheme meant that Councils had limited time to consult the public and key stakeholders beforehand. To add to the confusion, Council leaders claim that although consultation was desirable, if they took time and consulted on the scheme, they would not receive further funding from the Government.
Let’s cast our minds back to May 2020. The Transport Secretary announced the new walking and cycling and subsequent LTN projects for Councils in England, funded by the Emergency Active Travel Fund of £2 billion. These projects were designed to enable social distancing as well as continue the Government’s long-term ambition to promote wider physical activity effectively.
The fund was essentially split into two different phases; tranche 1 and tranche 2. Tranche 1 funding (£250 million) supported local authorities in installing temporary projects for the Covid-19 pandemic, also known as the ‘experimental’ or ‘trial’ phase. Local authorities seeking to retain such schemes post-pandemic must keep the scheme under constant review for six months, including the impacts on air quality and traffic, and the sentiment of the local community, by way of public engagement and consultation. The experience and feedback should be used to decide on whether they should be made permanent and in what form. Tranche 2 of the Emergency Active Travel Fund provided authorities with additional funding to support the creation of a longer-term project.
Bearing this in mind, it is clear that the responsibility to engage and consult local communities and key stakeholders on these schemes is that of local authorities. The controversy and backlash from the public is ultimately a direct result of the lack of public consultation and engagement.
Earlier this year, the DfT published a new Local Transport Note, LTN 1/20, which sets out a comprehensive national standard for the design of cycle infrastructure. The guidance strongly emphasises that highways and transport professionals undertake stakeholder engagement at an early stage to increase political and public acceptance and ensure strong evidence base for the schemes and develop proposals in the most inclusive manner.
In it, local authorities are reminded to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty and make reasonable adjustments to ensure the design of the infrastructure is accessible for all. In doing so, local authorities must choose the right engagement methods to enable and encourage participation from people that are protected under the Equality Act 2010 (e.g., disabled people and children and young people) and key stakeholders (Cycling, walking and equestrian organisations; groups representing disabled people; local residents; local campaign groups; local schools; business groups and major employers; Universities; places of worship; taxi operators and freight operators). Involving the public and key stakeholders at an early stage allows decision-makers to identify and provide alternative solutions for technical issues of a specific proposal, but also to anticipate and pre-empt any likely objections.
Professionals working on designing and communicating information regarding such schemes are also reminded to be transparent about their intentions, benefits, and any disadvantages as well as provide detailed proposals, including clear and concise maps and drawings, so as to build trust and discourage misrepresentation.
To retain such schemes and avoid community opposition, local authorities must undertake good community engagement. It’s no longer about informing people about what is being done; rather, it’s a two-way street – allowing different people and groups to express their ideas, views and concerns. In turn, this feedback should be used to inform the development and improvement of options for communities. Take a look at the Institute’s Green Recovery Engagement Service to help you undertake cost-effective community engagement. If you are interested, please get in touch with Sheena Ahmed.