Opposition councillors outvoted by Labour members, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter
A last-ditch attempt to stop a low-traffic neighbourhood (LTN) scheme in Bowes Park from being made permanent has failed.
Opposition councillors called for the Bowes Primary Area Quieter Neighbourhood to be removed during a scrutiny meeting on Thursday, claiming it was not working and was underpinned by “unreliable” and “misleading” data.
But Labour councillors voted to confirm Enfield Council leader Nesil Caliskan’s decision, taken in December, to keep the scheme in place.
Designed to stop rat-running drivers and boost walking and cycling, the LTN was introduced on an experimental basis by the council in the summer of 2020. It involved closing residential streets to through traffic using physical barriers and enforcement cameras, while allowing access for residents. It meant the area could no longer be used as a shortcut by drivers to reach the North Circular.
Although data recorded by the council showed reductions in traffic of 17% within the LTN and 7% on boundary roads, with only a 2% rise on surrounding roads, opponents have claimed the scheme causes increased congestion and pollution, along with access problems for residents and the emergency services.
More than 52% of residents who took part in the public consultation on the LTN submitted negative views on it, compared with less than 25% who said they welcomed the measures.
Members of the Conservative and Community First groups both subsequently ‘called in’ the council leader’s decision to the overview and scrutiny committee in an attempt to force a rethink. The opposition councillors criticised the data set out in a report on the scheme, written by the council’s healthy streets programme director Richard Eason.
Presenting the first of the two call-in requests, Conservative councillor Maria Alexandrou claimed the traffic data was unreliable, as there was no information for eight of the 29 roads in the LTN. She also called the cycling data “highly suspect”, with decreases in some roads and increases of up to 8,200% in others.
Cllr Alexandrou told Thursday’s meeting: “The scheme has failed in all its objectives. It has not increased active travel, but it has increased congestion, it has increased emissions, and it has increased accidents. The scheme was never going to work, it never will, and it must be removed.”
Similar concerns over data were raised during a separate call-in by independent group Community First and Labour’s Yasemin Brett, who represents Bowes ward. Daniel Anderson, a member of the group, presented the call-in on behalf of his Community First colleague, Green Party councillor Charith Gunawardena, who was unable to attend.
Cllr Anderson claimed the data was “unreliable and potentially highly misleading”, and it did not form a “robust evidential basis” to show whether the benefits of the scheme outweighed the harm caused.
He said the data failed to show the overall impact of the scheme on vehicle use, emissions and active travel, and that post-scheme testing took place during a period that included World No Car Day, London Car Free Day, and a nationwide petrol shortage.
In addition, Cllr Anderson said pedestrian counts took place on a single day, 20th July 2021, which was the day after lockdown restrictions were eased and temperatures hit 31 degrees.
Responding to the claims, Cllr Caliskan said the report showed cycling was up by 20% and walking up by 14%.
Warning that the borough’s population was set to rise significantly during the next 15 years, the leader said there was a need to reduce short car journeys to tackle air pollution. She acknowledged that traffic schemes were “painful and difficult for residents” but insisted they had a part to play in cutting emissions.
Richard Eason said pedestrian counts were taken and showed some “seasonal variation”. He added that it had been challenging to obtain baseline data in certain cases, and acknowledged the Covid-19 pandemic had affected travel patterns.
Responding to the concerns over cycling data, he said there would “naturally become roads that cyclists will focus on and that will become more direct routes”. Richard also said traffic data had been removed for some dates to take into account the effect of the fuel crisis, adding: “I am confident in the data that has been presented.”
During the call-in debates, Conservative committee member James Hockney asked whether it was fair to make the scheme permanent when 76% of people with a disability had shown opposition to it.
In response, Cllr Caliskan said the council was proposing exemptions for Blue Badge holders and those with caring responsibilities that would improve their access to the LTN. She added that the council should work “more proactively” to make sure the views of those with disabilities are heard.
Labour’s Hass Yusuf asked if fines raised from enforcement cameras were going down, following criticisms made by some councillors that the scheme was a “cash cow”.
Deputy leader Ian Barnes said fines from the Warwick Road camera had dropped by 60% since the start of the scheme, and he hoped it would go down to zero.
Responding to a question from Labour’s Mahmut Aksanoglu, Cllr Barnes said the council did not plan to remove all physical barriers and replace them with cameras, pointing out that this would allow cars to travel through and cause a danger to pedestrians.
Raising further concerns over the data, Community First’s Derek Levy asked the council leader if she felt the LTN had been “reliably, conclusively measured and evaluated with independent analysis, to back up that which you believe to be right?”
Cllr Caliskan responded that the data and the report had been put together by officers “who have specialised knowledge”, including traffic experts, engineers and air quality experts, and she had “faith in the professional judgement of the officers”.
During the votes on both call-ins, the two Conservative committee members and Cllr Levy voted to refer the decision on the LTN back to Cllr Caliskan for reconsideration. But they were outvoted by the four Labour members who chose to confirm her original decision.
After the result of the second vote sparked angry heckling from the public gallery, committee chair Susan Erbil adjourned the meeting.