Image credit: Tara Earley

Council to make LTNs permanent amid 15-minute cities dispute

The Oxfordshire County Council has made the decision to continue the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods scheme in east Oxford today, which has previously been linked to controversy over 15-minute cities.

In an interview in September, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke on plans to stop councils creating 15-minute cities to halt “anti-car measures”. He attacked “hare-brained schemes” like LTNs and expressed that “cars are freedom for most people”.

The measures mean that motor vehicles are prevented from using shortcuts through residential areas, aiming to calm traffic and make streets safer.

Meeting in County Hall, the Liberal Democrat and Green Party cabinet agreed to keep the LTNs, but there would be exemptions for emergency services, waste and postal services, and vehicles hired on a private basis.

This comes after former mayor of Oxford Mark Lygo said that it was “[t]ime to rethink Oxford’s LTNs”, saying that the scheme “isn’t working”. He pointed to congestion and that the scheme has “made bus journey times in Oxford considerably worse”, so the decision-makers need “a different approach”.

Emily Kerr (Green Party), Oxford City Councillor for St Mary’s Ward, said that she was “pleased” at the decision today as it “is a welcome step to ensuring Oxford has safe, clean and green streets”.

Kerr said the changes had meant “cycling is up 20%, car use is down 10%, road collisions have halved, and children are walking, scooting and cycling to school at unprecedented rates”. Council work would now need “to address the key issue of peak-time, peak-date congestion at The Plain roundabout” for a good system for all.

In September, the city council’s cabinet member for housing Linda Smith (Labour) expressed that “routes through the conglomeration of LTNs are needed to allow the traffic to move”. This came after a 90 minute journey she had to take to get to Marston and back.

Consultation on the proposal for east Oxford LTNs began in March 2021, engaging with the public to create a report shown to cabinet in June that year. Changes at that point included redesigning the traffic filter on Magdalen Street, where use of private cars is restricted in favour of buses and cyclists.

After the trial began in May 2022, consultation reopened with the response reflecting improvements for pedestrian and cyclist safety.

The six-month trial was also shown to reduce noise and pollution, but concerns over traffic being displaced elsewhere and reduced access to important locations emerged.

A protest in February against changes took place in order “to say no to 15-minute cities”. Protestors held discouraging driving in this way infringed their freedom, one of whom was Laurence Fox who has connected the plans to a wider plan to control people

The controversy also led to vandalism and bollards going missing, hampering evaluation of the scheme. As a result, the council again asked for the general public’s view in June 2023.

Feedback contributed to the proposals put to council today, including the suggestion to use automatic number plate recognition cameras instead of bollards in several locations and introduce bollards or planters on Jeune Street in St Clement’s.

Image credits: via Tara Earley.

Image description: A shot of Broad Street’s new flower planters against a blue sky.