‘Doing nothing is not an option’: Supporters and opponents of LTNs speak out as council invites views

Supporters of LTNs outside the Town Hall. Photograph: Julia Gregory

For some, the launch of low traffic neighbourhoods across Islington has been “revolutionary” and brought out more pedestrians and cyclists – but others say it has caused more congestion and pollution on nearby roads.

Islington Council brought in seven experimental low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) during the pandemic and is asking residents what they think of them.

Residents who support the move and those who want to see them scrapped gathered outside the Town Hall to express their views ahead of a debate.

So far the council has announced that the Clerkenwell Green scheme will be permanent.

Ian Kelly, who lives near Highbury Fields, said the scheme there was “revolutionary”, adding: “The amount of traffic has been reduced, it’s been severely curtailed.”

He said: “We really have to take action because of climate change.”

Therese Melville said: “Since we had the Highbury LTN installed, the number of pedestrians and cyclists has increased enormously.  As soon as you leave Holloway Road you are in a quiet space.”

Another Highbury resident Andrea Michell spoke of “a sense of tranquility”.

Residents opposed to the scheme said it brought problems.

Marc Roberts said he is using his inhaler more because of his asthma.

The Canonbury resident said: “It does not improve asthma when you have traffic jams and cars are stationary.”

He said it is “unrealistic” to expect people to stop using cars completely, and that LTNs force motorists to make longer journeys and use more petrol as they are diverted onto other roads.

Driving instructor David Corringall said the debate has spurred him to stand as a Conservative candidate in the May local elections.

He fears that proposed new schemes could impact his work: “Already I have had to stop work up near the M5 and M1 because it takes too long to get there.”

Critics of the schemes gather outside the Town Hall. Photograph: Julia Gregory

Inside the council chamber, Jody Graber, who is campaigning against the scheme, told councillors: “You’ve had this level of anger, of disdain, of upset from all of your residents.”

He referred to the forthcoming local elections in May, saying: “All the people you expect to vote for you are the ones you are ignoring.”

Vocal anti-LTN campaigner Graber fought last May’s by-election in St Peter’s ward to oppose the road scheme.

Addressing full council on the day of a Tube strike with expected increased traffic, he asked: “Where is all that extra traffic going? Nowhere, apart from the main roads you think are suitable for traffic.”

He pointed out the errors in an interim monitoring report on the Highbury scheme, which were spotted by an audit report. It said there was “highly inaccurate data” on traffic numbers on boundary roads.

He triggered the debate into the future of local LTNs after handing in a petition signed by 10,802 people to the council last December.

It said the council was using the pandemic “to push through major changes to
the streets of Islington”, and “closing roads to through traffic and creating more traffic and pollution for the already busy streets that are not able to be closed”.

Rowena Champion, the executive member for environment and transport, said: “We did it because its part of the Covid response.”

She said cutting air pollution is “particularly important in Islington because the additonal traffic was exacerbating the problem and had a serious impact on health and wellbeing”.

Traffic has gone up by 10 per cent in six years, she said, adding: “Doing nothing isn’t an option. It’s transforming our streets, making things better.”

Cllr Champion said changes are being made after listening to residents’ feeback and it was important to hear from a “vast range of voices”.

The Greens’ Caroline Russell, who supports the schemes, said some people report they are using their cars less and others said more work is needed on boundary roads.

Earlier, council leaders said they appreciated that some residents including delivery drivers and carers and people with disabilities need to use motor vehicles to get about.

Outgoing Conservative councillor Rakhia Ismail, who represents Holloway, warned: “There are many more [residents] who have not signed this petition who will be going against you.”

Independent Gary Poole, who is standing down as a St Mary’s ward councillor in May, said: “This city is being strangled by the impact of unnecessary car journeys, it is a public health crisis.”

He said there was no perfect solution but “doing nothing is not an option”.