Exeter's LTN scheme is sensationally scrapped

LTN protesters outside Exeter Guildhall
-Credit: (Image: Guy Henderson)

Exeter’s hugely controversial low-traffic neighbourhood (LTN) scheme in Heavitree and Whipton has been scrapped with campaigners declaring it a 'victory for democracy'. Members of Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders Committee (HATOC), which is made up of Devon County and Exeter City councillors, debated for more than three hours today, June 3, on whether to make the scheme permanent or axe it.

The Active Streets traffic experiment had been recommended to be suspended 'as soon as is practicable' following a nine-month trial after it was deemed to have 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'.

At today's meeting, it was decided to suspend some of the regulations stopping traffic getting through parts of the city straight away. Others restrictions will stay in place until the school summer holidays.

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Cllr Rob Hannaford (Ind, Exwick and St Thomas) said the phased approach was a ‘fudge’ but Cllr Phil Bialyk (Lab, Exwick) said lessons had been learned and a compromise could be made.

“I think this is a sensible solution,” he said. “It is time for healing.”

A boisterous public gallery at County Hall heard arguments for and against the LTN trial, which has seen restrictions placed on some roads in the Heavitree and Whipton areas since August last year, stopping through-traffic in a bid to cut pollution and make the roads safer.

Heavitree estate agent Lyn Burgoyne said her business had been badly hit ‘almost overnight’ when the Active Streets Heavitree and Whipton Trial Scheme began, but climate scientist Professor Richard Betts of Exeter University said council reports advising the scrapping of the scheme were based on ‘poor quality analysis’.

Stop the Block protestors -Credit:Ian Frankum
Stop the Block protestors -Credit:Ian Frankum

HATOC members heard arguments for and against the experiment. Objectors say the trial scheme merely moved congestion and pollution elsewhere, and roads on the fringes of the trial area were experiencing jams and delays.

More than eighty per cent of more than 24,000 people who responded to consultations said they were against the scheme. A report to the committee recommended stopping all the experimental traffic regulation orders as soon as possible, but members agreed an amendment that the Hamlin Lane, Whipton Lane and Vaughan Road closures should be suspended within weeks.

St Marks Avenue and Ladysmith Road will wait until schools have closed for summer at the end of next month. Wooden planters in the road will stay in place to slow traffic, and discussions will be held with schools and community groups to discuss the way forward.

Bus gate on Ladysmith Road, Exeter -Credit:DevonLive
Bus gate on Ladysmith Road, Exeter -Credit:DevonLive

Chairman Carol Whitton (Lab, St Davids and Haven Banks) proposed the amendment and said lessons must be learned from the trial. “It is not for politicians to inflict harm on the most vulnerable in our society,” she said,

Cllr Lucy Haigh (Ind, Heavitree) was elected to the city council last month after campaigning against the project. She said: “I and many thousands of others believe this experiment is failing in many areas and should be suspended.”

Cllr Peter Holland (Con, St Loyes) told members: “This is a moment in time when you can make a difference for thousands of people.”

Cllr Alison Sheridan (Con, St Loyes) added: “‘To right this terrible wrong, action must be taken." But Cllr Tess Read (Green, St Davids) urged: “If not this scheme, then what? That’s what we need to explore.”

Stop the Block protestors -Credit:DevonLive
Stop the Block protestors -Credit:DevonLive

Following the meeting, Ian Frankum, one of the prominent campaigners who had vehemently opposed the scheme since it was introduced, expressed his joy at the decision to scrap the scheme and acknowledged the impact it has had on local residents and businesses during the trial period.

He said: "The decision today is vindication for our communities, the vast majority of whom have been opposed to this trial from day one. It's a victory for the carers paid and unpaid, the elderly, the infirm, the SEND children, those that work, live and visit loved ones across Heavitree and Whipton.

"It's a victory for Lucy Haigh our new Independent councillor who has been campaigning for this for over a year; what a start to her career in public office. It's also a victory for democracy.

"We need to recognise and thank the HATOC group - many new members - for taking this brave decision. Clearly for some, this would have been a difficult one, however, it reflects the failure of the trial in achieving its goals or winning any kind of local support, so therefore it is the right one.

"Also, thanks to the DCC officials for their professionalism. They have had a very challenging time over the last 12 months managing and analysing the huge amounts of data, FOI requests and emails, and interpreting it for the councillors to base their decisions on.

A protest by Safe Streets Now Exeter who acted as human bollards to prevent unauthorised vehicles from passing through the bus gate installed on Ladysmith Road as part of the LTN trial -Credit:Safe Streets Now Exeter
A protest by Safe Streets Now Exeter who acted as human bollards to prevent unauthorised vehicles from passing through the bus gate installed on Ladysmith Road as part of the LTN trial -Credit:Safe Streets Now Exeter

"Thanks to the countless determined protestors who have given their time demonstrating at DCC and ECC, the weekly protests and the collection of the petitions in the high street through all weathers. The thousands on various Facebook Groups and other social media platforms who have shared their thoughts, photographs and other evidence.

"They have been a huge inspiration and motivated us to keep going. The brilliant Heavitree Advocates and LTN Protest group who have helped set the strategy and kept up the profile often through some difficult times never flinching or losing faith.

"This is a victory of common sense and has gone some way in restoring a little trust in democracy and has shown that the little people still have a voice in local policymaking. There have been casualties and we very much regret the impact it has had on some of the businesses which have closed or lost custom as a result of this experiment.

LTN protesters outside Exeter Guildhall
LTN protesters outside Exeter Guildhall -Credit:Guy Henderson

"I hope those politicians who entered this venture without proper consultation learn a valuable lesson from this. Safety of children was never a real issue. It was safe before the trial and will continue to be so when the barriers are removed.

"There may well be a compelling argument for some restrictions for a timed period near schools but there was never a need for a blanket ban. We now need to heal our fractured communities and look at how we can improve living and working within them but for all, not just for the few.

"That has to start with improvements in the punctuality and reliability of our public transport."