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Labour council banks millions in fines after introducing low traffic neighbourhoods

Lambeth LTN Watch hold a protest rally outside Lambeth town hall in Brixton
Lambeth LTN Watch hold a protest rally outside Lambeth town hall in Brixton - JAMIE LORRIMAN

A council has doubled the number of fines it issues to motorists banking up to £50 million after introducing seven controversial low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), The Telegraph can reveal.

Lambeth council handed out a record 392,341 penalty charge notices (PCNs) to drivers and motorcyclists who entered roads closed to motor traffic since the Government roll-out of LTNs in 2020.

If all those fines were paid at the full £130 rate, it would mean the south London council would have made more than £50 million in just four years.

The data, released following a Freedom of Information request to the Labour-run authority, show that between 2015 and 2018, before LTNs were introduced, there were no fines issued for vehicles entering roads closed to motorised traffic, known as Code 52M contraventions.

But with the roll-out of LTNs, the council has now issued a staggering 392,349 Code 52M fines from 2019 boosting the income from motorists.

That figure for just five years will soon dwarf the entire 403,755 fines issued for bus lane contraventions over nine years.

Residents fighting the low traffic neighbourhoods in Lambeth protest outside the High Court in London
Residents fighting the low traffic neighbourhoods in Lambeth protest outside the High Court in London - GEOFF PUGH FOR THE TELEGRAPH

Jim Bennett, of Lambeth LTN Watch which patrols LTNs advising motorists of “poor signage” that can lead to fines, said the council is becoming addicted to funds it is generating from LTNs.

“Lambeth claims the receipts from LTN fines are ring-fenced in the transport budget,” he said. “But, there are no visible signs of any extra expenditure on the road network. In fact, there appears quite the opposite: potholes don’t get fixed, leaf mulch is still on the pavements and air quality monitors are conveniently failing when the results are too high.

“I would say that Lambeth council has built this revenue stream into its budget calculations, and needs to increase the number of LTNs to feed its growing habit.”

Lambeth has built five permanent LTNs, in Oval and Stockwell, Railton, Ferndale, Tulse Hill and Streatham Hill. Two new LTN trials have also begun in Streatham Wells and Brixton Hill.

While the council claims LTNs lead to a “modal shift” in people abandoning cars for bikes or walking, critics say they simply force traffic and therefore pollution onto major roads where often poorer communities live.

The Lambeth data shows that the number of fines issued each year has remained constant. In 2021, a total of 145,564 fines were issued for cars and motorbikes that entered roads closed to them, the following year 120,359 such PCNs were handed out, and in 2023, there were 110,728 fines sent out.

Those figures far exceed the usual top fine issued for cars straying into bus lanes (2021, 43,660 fines; 2022, 49,695; 2023, 38,959).

Protesters in Brixton demonstrate against low traffic neighbourhoods brought in by Lambeth council
Protesters in Brixton demonstrate against low traffic neighbourhoods brought in by Lambeth council - JAMIE LORRIMAN

Luke Bosdet, an AA spokesman, said LTNs have “divided communities”, adding that London Tribunals’ traffic adjudicators who hear challenges to PCNs have highlighted “poor signage and ruthless enforcement”.

He said: “The fines haul rubs salt into the wound. If councils intend to use road restrictions to pump money into their coffers, even for transport-related spending, that should be transparent and accountable.

“That includes publishing fines per restricted road, bus lane and yellow box – after all, enforcement is clearly not doing its job if the ticket rate fails to drop.”

Simon Williams, RAC head of policy, said: “The eye-watering total of £51 million in fines suggests something is seriously awry in Lambeth as motorists don’t set out to break the rules and cost themselves money.

“We suspect poor signage must be to blame for this many drivers to be caught, so we urge the council to carry out a review as a matter of urgency. We believe it has an obligation to treat drivers fairly – sadly, the sheer number of fines being issued implies the opposite.

“As so many people are getting fined, the effectiveness of the LTNs must be called into question. Many will no doubt hope they are axed as part of the current Department for Transport review ordered by the Prime Minister, who argues they are ‘anti-motorist schemes’.”

CCTV camera used to enforce low traffic neighbourhood restrictions in Lambeth
CCTV camera used to enforce low traffic neighbourhood restrictions in Lambeth - JULIAN SIMMONDS FOR THE TELEGRAPH

In December, The Telegraph revealed how residents opposed to the Streatham Wells LTN had begun volunteer patrols to try to prevent motorists confused by signage unwittingly entering the LTN and being fined.

Meanwhile, a newsletter from Woodmansterne School near the Streatham Wells LTN highlighted how buses travelling on main roads had become “increasingly unreliable” making some pupils late for classes.

The pamphlet explained how “some families” had contacted teachers to warn that the local LTNs had also created “more pollution” because congestion meant “cars, buses and heavy goods vehicles [were] idling for longer”.

A Lambeth council spokesperson said: “The low traffic neighbourhoods in our busy London borough have been introduced to make the areas safer, more sustainable and to improve the quality of life for everyone living in our local neighbourhoods.

“The restrictions are clearly marked and fines are only issued when road rules are broken.

“We are pleased to see that the number of fines issued have been falling steadily since 2021, a trend we welcome and one that we expect will continue.

“Any revenue from fines will be spent on transport projects, but we don’t want anyone to get a fine. We want people to change their behaviour and embrace the opportunities here to be more active and help cut pollution.”