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Exeter's low-traffic neighbourhood could be scrapped

Saturday, 25 May 2024 08:05

By Bradley Gerrard, local democracy reporter

Protesters at County Hall (image courtesy: Guy Henderson)

Recommendation it should be suspended

A controversial trial aimed at limiting traffic in certain neighbourhoods of Exeter could face the chop.

The so-called ‘active streets’ trial takes in roads in Heavitree and Whipton and led to a huge outcry from residents.

Physical barriers prevent traffic accessing certain roads, while ‘bus gates’ only let through approved vehicles.

It was hoped the scheme would encourage more people to walk and cycle, and potentially reduce pollution.

However, residents say the unintended consequences mean that traffic on roads around the perimeter of the area have become jammed with traffic, leading to higher emissions on city roads, and that previously short journeys are lengthened significantly.

Now a new report set to be debated at the next Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders Committee (HATOC) on Monday 3 June recommends the trial is “suspended as soon as is practicable”.

An impact assessment carried out by the council shows more than four in five (82 per cent) of the 8,952 responses to a consultation were opposed to parts of the scheme, with just 18 per cent in favour.

A traffic filter in Vaughan Lane was the least supported, while the Ladysmith Road/Park Road bus gate and St Mark’s Avenue traffic filter were backed most.

Key objections include increased pollution, greater traffic congestion, increased fuel costs and a negative impact on the delivery of care services.

And nearly 2,000 people felt the community was “insufficiently consulted” before the trial’s implementation.

Protesters almost filled the public gallery at Devon County Council’s annual meeting in County Hall on Thursday (23 May), a day before the report became public.

Even though the HATOC committee – which also includes Exeter City Council members – has the final say on the issue, residents aired their frustrations again to the full council, saying they aren’t being listened to.

Ian Frankum, a vocal campaigner against the active streets’ trial, said the community’s “impassioned please had been largely rejected” and that thousands of signatures of protest were “cynically swept aside.”

He continued: “Data in January showed the trial was failing on key measures of success, and the latest report confirms little has changed,” he said.

He said weekly protests at County Hall had taken place to try to bring the trial’s issues to the attention of councillors, and that a new independent councillor for Exeter, who campaigned on LTNs, had been elected.

“Show some leadership and suspend the trial,” Mr Frankum urged the council meeting. “Consult those affected and seek better ways to deal with the issues at hand and find better ways than this divisive experiment.”

Another resident, Gina Wells, an unpaid carer for her husband who has advanced, complex dementia, outlined her challenging situation which means she can’t leave home for more than an hour.

“I am one of hundreds of unpaid carers living in this city saving the social care budget money, and I want to tell you how much more difficult my life has become because of the low-traffic neighbourhood trial,” she said.

She told the meetin gthat aspects of the trial, such as a bus gate on Whipton Lane and the block on Vaughan Road, meant she had to use some of the city’s busiest streets, such as Honiton Road and Pinhoe Road.

“Turning on to Honiton Road has always been difficult but now at peak times it is all but impossible and you have to rely on drivers to let you in.

“I can’t always chose when I can leave my husband, so can’t always avoid busy times.”

Another resident, Joe Bolton, who runs a sweet delivery company called Sugar Rush, said it was “nice to speak to the council without you ignoring us, which is a recurring theme.

“Five times I have voiced my opinion, and five times they have been restricted or deleted, even though I’ve never used a swear word and never named one of you personally,” he said.

“Since these pointless blocks have been put in place, my company has seen a downward turn in sales, as my customers are unable to wait so long and drivers are spending hours in traffic,” he added.

“Remember, we don’t just do a one-way trip, we drive around all day and all night.”

Lucy Haigh, a newly elected independent councillor on Exeter City Council, said residents were in Devon’s council chamber as they had “nowhere else to express their concerns.

“I was recently elected in Heavitree ward, as local residents felt they were not being heard, and so I ran as an independent to focus on local issues and the biggest one, without a doubt, is the low traffic neighbourhood,” she said.

She added a recent review of LTNs nationally had urged councils to “take the community with you”.

The HATOC committee will meet on Monday 3 June to debate whether to accept the officer’s recommendation to suspend the trial.

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