Low traffic neighbourhood sign

An open letter to our residents, from Leader of the Council, Cllr Russ Bowden

The creation of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) is supported, promoted and actively funded by the current government and they are something that we have given a lot of detailed thought to over recent years.

Since 2018, when we undertook one of the largest listening exercises we’ve ever done to help form the Central 6 Regeneration Masterplan, we have been considering ways to address a key issue that has been consistently raised to us – there is too much traffic, going too quickly, along residential streets.

LTNs are one tactic that we can use to address this problem. LTNs use traffic filters, like bollards, planters or cameras that stop vehicles from using certain streets as a through-road – more commonly known as ‘rat running’ – yet allow all homes in LTN areas to retain vehicle access.

That being said, we know that “low traffic neighbourhood” isn’t a particularly helpful term. What we really mean by LTNs is a commitment to make our residential streets safer, cleaner and greener – and who wouldn’t want that?

We have seen excellent cases of where these types of scheme have worked – most notably in areas of London. They have worked because the people living in them, and many others who routinely use these areas, have changed their travel behaviour – taking fewer short local journeys by car and walking or cycling more.

Therefore, our proposals to introduce experimental LTNs in the Orford and Westy areas of Warrington are aimed at reducing through-traffic and improving conditions for people living in the area, as well as making it safer for pedestrians and cyclists. These proposals came about from the broad key themes raised when pulling together our Central 6 Regeneration Masterplan, alongside a dedicated, scheme-specific consultation. The consultation on the Orford and Westy LTN schemes was supported by press releases, social media and web updates, alongside physical engagement sessions and direct letter drops to households within the proposed areas.

Changes in travel behaviour don’t happen overnight, and we do recognise that sometimes proposals on schemes which aim to change common travel habits, and how our places work, can be unpopular.

We knew that proposals for our Westy and Orford LTN schemes would not have unanimous support – the data shows that this is never the case with LTNs – but we believe that LTNs are going to be a vital tool in delivering against several of our local policy commitments – such as combatting the climate emergency, improving air quality, supporting healthier and more active lives of our residents – as well as fulfilling national policy objectives to support more people to walk and cycle.

An example of a Low traffic neighbourhood in Holland with a cyclist and pedestrian

Considering the benefits of LTNs

The health benefits of walking and cycling are well-known and widely acknowledged. They include better physical and mental health, lower rates of cancer, heart disease and stroke, and, ultimately, less overall pressure on health services. In some areas of the UK, local NHS Trusts are in fact paying for LTNs to be installed, as they are such a powerful tool for improving public health. Improving health is a major challenge for us in Warrington – and we need to look at every possible way we can change that.

By making it easier and more attractive to be active in LTNs, we know that we can help improve the health of our local population. Not only this, but we know we can also address other key, overlapping aims around the climate emergency and air quality.

The government’s own research also shows that LTN schemes established during the COVID-19 pandemic halved road injuries in their areas, compared with no reductions over the same period in non-LTN areas. Indeed, LTNs are tools supported and promoted by the government centrally. Other research has shown that LTNs reduce street crime and fly-tipping.

So, it is clear that data shows significant reductions in traffic, and significant increases in cycling and walking, within the LTNs, as you might expect.

But when we look at areas, like London, where LTNs have been established, data also shows that a common claim about LTNs – that they simply displace traffic to other roads – is in most cases not happening. Sometimes it does happen, particularly at the beginning, as people adjust their travel patterns. But when LTN schemes remain in place for longer, councils have reported that there is a reduction in most (but not all) surrounding roads. This can be largely attributed to people choosing to make these shorter journeys without a car, or at a different time of day.

An example of a low traffic neighbourhood with traffic bollards and signage supporting cycle through routes

Our ambitions for Warrington

We have seen many schemes that attempt to reduce car traffic work well – not just in London – and we want to do the same in Warrington. With an all-electric bus fleet on the way, our bus service improvement plan which will bring reductions in fares, more bus services which run more reliably, continued progress and investment in joining up and improving cycling routes, and a renewed emphasis post-pandemic on addressing health issues in the borough, we are ambitious about supporting people to get out of their cars and travel in different ways.

We also need to acknowledge however that, fundamentally, if we are to encourage modal shift to get people out of their cars, this will not happen without bold intervention.

LTNs are one challenging subject of many potentially difficult conversations we will need to have with our communities if we are to truly address our climate, air quality and health goals. If we don’t consider schemes like the ones we have proposed for Orford and Westy, nothing will improve.

Fundamentally, we see LTNs as being important projects to help us achieve our ambitions for Warrington. For example, if we told you that we were thinking of schemes that would help to reduce traffic in your local neighbourhood, we would expect the majority of people to be hypothetically supportive. Likewise, if we said we wanted to create more safe spaces for people to walk, skate or cycle, people would equally be positive – or at least open-minded – about our ideas. Finally, if we told you we were planning to make changes to improve air quality while also complementing our plans to address the climate and public health emergencies, it’s clear that the vast majority of our residents would be supportive. Yet with LTNs – which will help to achieve all of these points – we have found that the plans put forward haven’t been widely accepted.

In fact, as our plans have been brought closer to being rolled out, we have heard from our residents more than ever before.

Continuing to engage

While we are steadfastly committed to LTNs being one approach of many to support our shared aims, we need to acknowledge the strength of feeling and the feedback we have received from many of our residents – the vast majority of feedback concerning the Orford LTN proposal.

Our broad consultation on the Central 6 Regeneration Masterplan saw concerns being raised around high traffic levels, road safety, air pollution and the quality of streets within these areas. When we rolled out focused consultation work on the Orford and Westy LTN schemes late in 2021, it’s very fair to say we received mixed feedback – but we were expecting this, given LTN schemes are never universally popular.

We need to acknowledge, however, the great deal of feedback we have recently received over the last couple of weeks, including the petition we received on Monday evening.

The plan shows several ‘modal filter’ locations across the Orford area. Modal filters are effectively point-closures that restrict vehicular traffic from accessing a particular street. They are proposed to be located at:  Grange Ave, south of the junction with Westy Lane Griffiths Street, south of the junction with Westy Lane Griffiths Street, south of the junction with Broadbent Avenue Reynolds Street, east of the junction with Tinsley Street Access to the area around St Augustine’s Primary School will be

Our current position

After speaking with thousands of residents in our inner wards over recent years, we have consistently heard that people want a better, cleaner and safer environment where they live. The Central 6 Regeneration Masterplan will help to address this, and indeed is already reaping great rewards. We have seen the Bewsey and Dallam Community Hub open, have made large investments in Bewsey and Whitecross to help tackle crime and anti-social behaviour, supported the opening of a new 3G pitch at Victoria Park, and we’re overseeing excellent progress with our Town Deal – all of which fall within the ‘Central 6’ umbrella.

We need to be very careful not to conflate or confuse the LTN proposals, which is one very small part of what is a genuinely transformative strategy for Warrington’s inner wards, with this wider plan. However, we must also recognise the outpouring of feedback about the LTN proposals, in particular our plans for Orford. We are grateful for the cogent, well-managed, respectful debate we have had with many of our residents about the proposals, including many who attended the peaceful demonstration on Monday. We do however need to state that correspondence making threats to individual officers and elected members is absolutely unacceptable, though fortunately this has been very much the minority of feedback we have received.

After carefully considering feedback we have received over the last couple of weeks, we have come to the conclusion that while we will proceed as planned with the Westy scheme, it is only right to pause our plans for Orford, to reflect on the feedback we have received.

Considering Westy, we have a smaller scheme, across a smaller footprint, and we are confident we will be able to address some longstanding traffic issues in this neighbourhood. As we have always said, however, we will continue to listen to feedback and this LTN will be for a maximum trial period of 18 months, unless the data clearly shows that the scheme is working.

With regards to Orford, we will review plans for this scheme and are committed to re-consulting with our communities on the approach for this LTN. We will propose changed plans for consultation from July, with revised plans expected to be rolled out in autumn, subject to feedback. We remain committed to the objectives of LTNs and to reviewing the Orford scheme, and will work to identify alternative options that we believe will still bring positive outcomes and benefits for local residents and neighbourhoods, whilst taking on board feedback we have received so far.

We are fortunate that we now have a great deal of passionate and engaged residents in the local area who we know will collegiately engage with any new proposals that come forward for Orford, and we will ensure that, once we have further developed our approach and plans, we continue to listen to your views.