Exeter's controversial LTN traffic scheme could be scrapped within weeks

The suspension of Exeter's controversial low-traffic neighbourhood (LTN) scheme in Heavitree and Whipton has been recommended 'as soon as is practicable' following a nine-month trial. The results of a statutory consultation, which ended last Wednesday, May 8, has revealed significant opposition against it.

Of nearly 9,000 responses submitted, 81 per cent of people were opposed to the scheme, with only 19 per cent in support. In a report written by Meg Booth, director of Climate Change, Environment and Transport, it states the Active Streets Heavitree and Whipton Trial Scheme has significantly negatively impacted the lives of disabled people, those with health issues and even pupils and a local special school who were said to have been subjected to 'additional distress and pain'.

The report will be discussed at the next meeting of Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders Committee (HATOC), which is made up of Devon County and Exeter City councillors, on Monday, June 3, at County Hall. Members had been due to meet on May 20, but the meeting has been postponed.

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It has not been confirmed why. A final decision will ultimately be made by committee members, possibly by July.

Ms Booth said in the report: "After considering the comments from local residents and partners the analysis has demonstrated that some members of the community have found the trial beneficial and this has had a positive impact, particularly for those who are able to walk and wheel but, a disproportionately higher number of the community have voiced that the trial has had a detrimental effect.

"The committee will now need to balance the opposing and wide-ranging views of the local community along with the evidence collected and reach a decision on continuation of the trial."

The trial began on August 3, 2023, with three barriers and two bus gates installed in Heavitree and Whipton, along with changes to parking restrictions on Ladysmith Road. Its aim has been to remove through traffic from Heavitree and Whipton’s key residential areas to create a safer and more attractive environment for people walking, wheeling and cycling.

The trial was originally scheduled to run for six months. However, following the amendment of the Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders (ETROs) to exempt taxis and private hire vehicles from the bus gate restrictions after significant concerns were raised, the consultation was extended to finish on May 8.

The trial has been funded by the Capability and Ambition Fund secured from Active Travel England. The original budget for the scheme was £190,000 but the report has included a recommendation to increase it to £250,000.

The rise in costs was said to be due to factors such as vandalism to bollards, planters and signage requiring repairs or replacement, and 'unexpectedly' high resources required to respond to correspondence and consultation responses.

In her conclusion in the report, Ms Booth said: "Monitoring data compared to pre-trial statistics shows significant increases in traffic volumes on the boundary roads, particularly on the north-south roads (Polsloe Road andHill Barton Road), whilst vehicle speeds on the boundary roads have reduced.

"There have also been some increases in delays experienced by buses on the boundary roads, particularly on Pinhoe Road. Air quality data does not show any exceedances of hourly limits for nitrogen dioxide on key boundary roads, with monitoring of air quality ongoing.

"There are some positives to consider such as an increase in levels of walking and cycling and reduced traffic volumes within the trial area. However, given the adverse impacts that have been identified for those people with protected characteristics and in consideration of the Equality Act 2010 Public Sector Equality Duty the recommendation is to suspend the trial."

Bollards and bus gates have been installed in Exeter around Heavitree and Whipton
Bollards and bus gates have been installed in Exeter around Heavitree and Whipton

The three recommendations the committee is being asked to consider is:

  • The Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders associated with Ladysmith Road/ParkRoad, St Marks Avenue, Hamlin Lane, Whipton Lane and Vaughan Road are suspended as soon as is practicable

  • A report is taken to the July Committee meeting with a detailed analysis of the feedback that has been received through the consultation

  • The committee approves budget increase to £250,000 from the Active TravelEngland, Capability and Ambition Fund to accommodate additional activities associated with the trial scheme

Ms Booth has previously recommended the trial be halted. In January, she published a success measuring report for HATOC which stated only two out of 10 indicators were performing well.

While some councillors called for an end to the scheme, others raised concerns that the data was too limited to make the 'massive' decision. HATOC concluded that more information was needed and allowed the trial to continue.

The latest report gives detailed information about the consultation responses it has received. During the consultation period, DCC received six petitions, one of which expressed support for approving the trial, three requested the trial be removed and two requested an improved consultation before implementing the trial. In total, 6,451 were against the scheme and 299 were in favour.

An additional petition, regarding ‘excessive traffic using Lower Hill Barton Road to access Hill Barton Road’, was received in April 2024, with 73 signatures. It requested a prohibition of through traffic on Lower Hill Barton Road, and changes to the A3015/ B3181junction on Hill Barton Road to permit general traffic to use an existing bus lane, providing an alternative route between Honiton Road and Hill Barton Road avoiding Middlemoor Roundabout.

According to the report, South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust has not made DCC aware of any adverse incidents attributable to the trial. Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service also said it was not aware of any significant issues.

Devon and Cornwall Police stated any decision regarding next steps should be a matter for local residents and elected councillors. Stagecoach South West highlighted increased traffic on boundary roads near the scheme, in particular Pinhoe Road and Heavitree Road and impact on journey times.

Living Options, who represent disabled people within Devon, stated the scheme has had a 'disproportionate adverse effect on many disabled individuals in the community'. It highlighted many concerns including increased journey times causing increased fatigue and restricting individuals’ independence and movement, a negative impact on mental health such as increased isolation and anxiety about travelling to appointments.

Devon Carers, an organisation representing unpaid carers, said the scheme had increased stress and anxiety for both carers and cared-for people, particularly for those with learning difficulties or dementia. It noted people were missing out on time with paid carers and at care activities.

Three GP practices expressed opposition to the trial, stating that it takes GPs longer to get to work and to patients' home-based appointments. Other reasons given were that it takes patients longer to get to the surgeries, with some missing appointments or not attending surgeries at all, but requesting home visits instead.

They added some patients have had to leave practices to re-register to another practice nearby. One practice supported the scheme stating it would help address the high morbidity rate due to poor health and lifestyle choices.

Vranch House, an independent day school for children with significant physical difficulties and a treatment centre for over 2,000 outpatients with physical difficulties, said the trial scheme has significantly increased vehicular journey times to access the school and nearby businesses, which has caused stress and anxiety to pupils and staff.

It added the trial scheme has caused difficulties when transporting pupils from the school to hospital, including for urgent treatment, causing additional distress and pain to affected pupils, and that the number of patients the school’s community therapy service can accommodate per day has reduced due to increased travel times.

Monitoring of vehicular traffic and active travel on weekdays throughout the trial concluded that in streets within the trial area, reductions in traffic were recorded at many locations, particularly at the locations of the bus gates/ modal filters on Ladysmith Road, Hamlin Lane and Vaughan Road.

However, some increases in traffic were found, including on North Street and part of Sweetbrier Lane between Whipton Lane and Vaughan Road junctions. On the boundary roads, increases in traffic were recorded at most locations, although slight reductions were recorded on sections of Pinhoe Road.

The largest increase recorded was on Honiton Road (east of Sweetbrier Lane), where flows increased by approximately 1,900 vehicles over a 12-hour period (9 per cent), while the largest percentage increase was on Polsloe Road between Park Road and Gladstone Road where flows increased by approximately 1,400 vehicles (21 per cent).

According to the (single-day) Manual Classified Counts (MCC) data, cycle flows increased on most residential streets and boundary roads, with some increases of greater than 100 per cent. However, at the six locations subject to continuous monitoring, the picture was more mixed, with increases at two locations and decreases at four locations

Pedestrian flows increased in two of the six locations subject. The largest increase was on Ladysmith Road (23 pedestrians per day) while the largest decrease was on Roseland Crescent (64 pedestrians per day).

Traffic flow analysis in other areas of the city was said to have increased in some locations such as Prince of Wales Road, Beacon Lane and Honiton Road near the Met Office), with smaller decreases in others such as Prince Charles Road and Cowick Street. However, it was added not all of the increases were attributable to the changes.