Fiery Clash at Hackney Town Council Meeting Over LTNs

Fiery Clash at Hackney Town Council Meeting Over LTNs

At the end of last month – Monday 26th of July – Hackney’s Labour-run Council finally did what they have been trying not to do for more than two years. That is, the simple act of discussing, at Full Council a petition by local residents calling for the removal of LTNs, meaningful public consultations and a proper Town Hall debate.

According to Hackney Council’s own constitution, if a residents’ petition “hit(s) the threshold of 750 signatures” that “triggers a right to be debated at Full Council”. The ‘Hackney Road Closures’ petition totalled nearly 17.5 thousand signatures and ran to some 600 pages. 

Yet for more than two years the council rejected, ignored or dismissed various attempts by residents and an opposition councillor to get them to fulfil their constitutional duty and debate the LTN petition. 

Crucially, during those two years of delay, Hackney Council’s Extinction Rebellion supporting Labour Mayor Phillip Glanville, made ‘permanent’ 19 LTNs, thus sidestepping public scrutiny, and ignoring the results of their online consultations, in which large majorities of residents still gave a resounding no to every LTN in Hackney. 

Just to recap – the origin of Hackney’s LTNs lay in central government’s unprecedented emergency Lockdown powers, introduced in response to Covid. With these powers, Hackney Council was able to impose its draconian road closure programme, without consulting residents or business owners in advance. 

From 2020 the council closed off some 55% of our roads, without public agreement or democratic mandate and without even consulting disability or age-concern groups (they claim they consulted these groups, but they evidently did not). 

The council even overturned previous consultation results from 2017 where the residents of London Fields had already said no to their roads being closed. Not surprising then that tens of thousands of residents signed the petition in an attempt to have their voices heard. 

 If not for the tireless efforts and persistence of retired Hackney teacher Ruth Parkinson, the Council might have succeeded in shelving the 17.5k strong petition altogether. It was fitting then that Ruth was finally invited to present the petition to Full Council on Monday. Ruth was joined in the council chamber by two other petition supporters, myself included, and many other supporters in the Public Gallery. 

Any hope of a proper democratic debate were quickly dashed when the council’s  Electoral Services Department set out the parameters for the discussion. 

“Timings are up to:

  • 5 mins – Lead Petitioner(s) introduction
  • 10 mins – Debate/Councillors consider the petition
  • 5 mins – Lead Cabinet Councillor  response”

Petitioners were given a total of five whole minutes to put our case to councillors, which really only allowed time for one of us to speak. And after our five minutes, that was it – were not allowed to respond to anything that was said or discussed by councillors following Ruth’s introduction. We were expected to sit in silence, no matter what was being said. Some public debate.

However it wasn’t just petitioners who were effectively gagged in this ‘debate’. “I’ve been whipped.” Confessed one apologetic Labour Councillor as she passed by to get to her seat. What she meant was that Hackney Labour had instructed its councillors they must toe the line and it forbade from speaking freely during the debate. Indeed, nearly all of the Labour councillors in the chamber sat twiddling their thumbs or looking bored, glum or down at their smartphones throughout the discussion. 

Undeterred, when her time came Ruth took to the floor and introduced the petition. And what an introduction! In just under five minutes, Ruth delivered a devastating attack on Hackney’s LTNs, highlighting how they clearly contradict many of the council’s existing policies, aims and values. Quoting council’s own policies and reports, Ruth showed how the imposition and enforcement of LTNs systematically contradict their own aims and recommendations on discrimination, pollution, schools, road safety, disability and age-discrimination.

“Hackney Council knew that pollution levels were met on side roads BUT NOT ON MAIN ROADS so this deliberate policy to force traffic onto already highly polluted roads is ignoring the effects it has on those living on main roads and using main roads to walk to shop and to go to school.” 

You can read the whole of Ruth’s introduction here. 

Hackney residents and business owners are well used to Transport Chief Mete Coban (Cllr for Stoke Newington) ducking questions, responding with platitudes, half-truths, dirty tricks and slurs, popularly known these days as ‘gaslighting’. Cllr Coban’s immediate response to Ruth and to the 17.5 thousand signatories was very much business as usual. Mete’s first response:

“the “horrific images” of wildfires in the Greek island of Rhodes showed how concerning the climate emergency is.” followed by “Every road is accessible.”

“Our direction of travel is bold,”

Quite how closing Middleton Road is supposed to help tackle seasonal fires in the Mediterranean wasn’t made clear, but this off-the-wall response was about as close as he got to actually answering any of our questions.  In truth, not once did Coban or anyone else on the Labour benches address a single concern or point raised in Ruth’s introduction.

The Mayor remained silent throughout the LTN discussion, which was unfortunate, given that he, along with Jon Burke, was a principal architect of this insane social experiment inflicted on the public. Maybe the Mayor had been whipped into silence along with most of our Labour councillors? Or maybe he had other things on his mind? 

And throughout this farcical excuse for a debate we the public, and those presenting the petition were expected to sit and listen in silence. 

The only opposing voice from an elected representative came from Cllr Steinberger, Conservative representative Springfield Ward, who has been a consistent and staunch critic of the council’s war on driving. It was he and former colleague Harvey Odze who had helped try to get the petition onto the Full Council agenda a year earlier.  “These LTNs are a load of rubbish. Listen to the people…” demanded Cllr Steinberger, but as ever, Glanville’s administration are not interested in listening to anyone, unless their name begins with Hackney Cycling Campaign.

The remainder of Coban’s response was not aimed not at addressing any of the public’s concerns or Ruth’s points and questions, but in party point-scoring against the two Green councillors in the chamber. Did they not support the council’s road closure programme? 

Green Cllr Alastair Binnie-Lubbock sprang to his feet to claim that of course Hackney Greens supported LTNs. Further, the Greens wanted to get fat people out of their gas-guzzling 4x4s and he personally was in favour of ‘people’s assemblies’ to help them do that. Presumably the only people he wants in his ‘people’s assemblies’ are the ones who agree with him? 

For many of us this was our first time in the council chamber. Call this writer naive, but it ought to be the beating heart of our local democracy. But really it’s an empty shell, ruled by remote career-bureaucrats. They pay lip service to democracy and public engagement, but really the hold the public in contempt and use every trick in the book to keep us at arms length. 

They have reduced politics and democracy to unfathomably tedious and obscure procedure in an attempt to bore us all to death. And when that doesn’t work they attempt to slur and gaslight the public and anyone who opposes them. But the public is made of sterner and smarter stuff and we will not go away and we will not be dismissed and pushed around. Watch this space. 

Hackney resident Ruth Parkinson’s address to the Full Council on LTNs.

Hackney resident Ruth Parkinson’s address to the Full Council on LTNs.

Ruth Parkinson’s address to the Full Council meeting on Monday 24th July 2023. 5 mins – Ruth was allowed five minutes to speak and present the residents petition to councillors. A further 10 minutes was ‘allocated’ for councillors to speak and respond. Neither Ruth as the lead petitioner, nor any accompanying petitioners in the chamber were allowed speak again or take part in the discussion. This is her presentation.

“The current LTNs were introduced during the Covid19 emergency under ETOs which were temporary measures to help social distancing. They seem now to have taken on a different purpose to address three major concerns:

  1. Pollution
  2. Road Safety
  3. Physical inactivity

So I’d like to address each one in turn:

1 Pollution According to Hackney Council’s “AIR QUALITY ACTION PLAN 2015-2019” 

“pollution levels are highest in the most densely built up areas…. along the borough’s busiest roads. Away from the busy main roads, air quality objectives tend to be met”

“increasing road congestion contributes to worsening air pollution, delays in vital bus services and freight and makes many streets unpleasant places to walk and cycle”

“schools on main roads in the borough are exposed to higher levels of pollution”

Hackeny Council knew that pollution wasn’t an issue in side streets where LTNs are focused BUT MAIN ROADS

Hackney Council knew that pollution levels were met on side roads BUT NOT ON MAIN ROADS so this deliberate policy to force traffic onto already highly polluted roads is ignoring the effects it has on those living on main roads and using main roads to walk to shop and to go to school.

Quote from Hackney Council’s “Hackney Emergency transport Plan 2020:

“Public Health and Safety Implications will be profound for those groups already disproportionately impacted upon by secondary effects of motor vehicle use, including those on low income, people of minority ethnic background the elderly and children”

Hackney Council knew increasing congestion on main roads would lead to higher pollution levels for people living on these roads, for children going to school on these roads, for people wallking and working on these roads. THIS IS CALLED SOCIAL INJUSTICE. Any reduction in Nitrous Oxide in LtNs is minimal whereas main roads and boundary roads suffered disproportionately. In fact by forcing people to drive more miles to get to their destination both inside and outside LTNs it actually contributes to pollution. More miles are driven not less MORE CONGESTION IS CREATED NOT LESS.

2. Road Safety: From 2 different sources of data as well as Hackney’s own data side roads are not as unsafe as the council implies:

Accidents mainly happen on main roads and at junctions with main roads, NOT SIDE ROADS. In fact data suggests that closing side roads is actually making main roads more unsafe adding to the number of accidents recorded.

Hackney Council collected accident data showing an increase in accidents on surrounding main roads. Clearly the majority of accidents happen on main roads NOT SIDE ROADS. Hackney’s Policy of closing roads makes main roads more “unsafe” not less. KINGSLAND ROAD, MARE STREET, DALSTON LANE, GRAHAM ROAD AND QUEENSBRIDGE ROAD ALL REPORT INCREASED LEVELS OF ACCIDENTS.

3. Physical Inactivity: 

A seemingly “noble” cause but the council’s policy seems to ignore that 14% of the UK population have mobility issues. In the 2021 Hackney census 2021. 1/5th of people living in Hackeny have a disability. That’s 37,020. 16,622 or 9.6% said their disability impacted “a lot” on daily activities. 1/5th of them reported having difficulties accessing public transport. Many of them rely on vehicles through the mobility car scheme or “BLUE BADGE” or rely on buses to go to appointments, shop and live their lives. Hackney Council decided to “clamp down” on Blue Badge holders by failing to immediately give universal exemption to them.

The council knows who they are because the council have records of all Blue Badges issued by the council.

The council has chosen to discriminate against them,to make their lives more difficult through this ableist policy.

The council has a duty of care in law to protect the disabled. LTNs do not help the elderly or disabled (discriminates against them) Why does the council make the disabled suffer to make already “able bodied” walk and cycle a bit more, this is an ableist policy.

As a life long Labour supporter and voter I am shocked that the council discriminates in this way. The Council’s Equality Assessments were woefully inadequate and were excused by the Judge as being done in an “emergency” Well ETOs are over and yet you are still carrying on making them permanent with still no proper in depth EQ assessments.

17,000 people signed this petition so far just to get it discussed (for five minutes). It’s taken over 2 years to get here.

In the online consultations 58% of people in the London Fields LTN said they were against it being made permanent, 64% in Hoxton were against, 64% were against in Homerton… but the Council has continued anyway. The Council is not even addressing the issues created by LTNs.

We appeal to you to give immediate universal exemption to all Blue Badge Holders (not just companies) and to STOP using the party whip to squash debate. We appeal to all council member to listen to us! Stop obstructing debate, take our evidence seriously and take ACTION to ease the pain you are inflicting on our desabled to our elderly to our children and our honest hackney residents who deserve our consideratoin and care.”

Are councils and political leaders ignoring consultation results? 

Are councils and political leaders ignoring consultation results? 

The short answer is yes. Councils like Hackney in East London are overriding clear majority verdicts and making permanent a raft of road closures introduced as emergency temporary measures during Lockdown. Hackney alone has imposed 19 LTNs using Lockdown measures, and to date every single consultation has shown majorities of more than 60% of respondents want them removed. So far the council has ignored every result and made each LTN permanent. 

In 2021, the Telegraph pointed out that “in the consultations made public so far, 18,314 people have expressed a negative view of the active travel schemes, vastly outnumbering the 7,020 residents who expressed their support.” Since then the pattern has continued – the public says no but councils push on regardless. 

Some councils are withholding consultations results altogether, and residents are having to resort to Freedom of Information Requests (FOIs) to obtain information. In the London borough of Brent, for example, resident Sarah Rollinson, forced her council to disclose consultation results for two LTN areas. She found that in Olive Road Area 787 to 198 majority against the road closures. And for the Dollis Hills Area 41 respondents were in favour and 287 were against. 

However, online consultations are increasingly designed to avoid altogether questions that show clear majorities or give clear answers. London Cycling Campaign (LCC) which has played a large part in lobbying for, and designing LTNs, advises councils to “avoid questions that elicit yes/no answers”. Instead, they suggest using “sliding scales of approval” and other methods that help to diffuse and deflect public responses. Little wonder that councils like the London Borough of Hackney have paid these cycling campaigners thousands of Pounds in ‘consultancy fees’. 

With many LTN consultation results reports, you might be forgiven for wondering if the aim appears to be to deflect and confuse the public with mountains of information. Multipage documents for each individual LTN, present responses to a myriad of micro-questions. ‘Do you spend more time in the area?’ ‘Is it easier to cross the street?’, ‘Does the street look nice?’ ‘How many people run or jog?’, ‘Is there more space for cycling?’, ‘Are car trips inconvenienced?’ And so on.

This wealth of information is then usefully broken down by religion, ethnicity, gender – ‘2% of respondents describe themselves as ‘non-binary’ – reports one of Islington Council’s Amwell People Friendly Streets report – sexual orientation, age, cyclist, single car-owner, multiple car-owner, car passenger and so on. Information is broken down again and again until it’s nearly impossible to make sense of. No wonder Islington’s Amwell report-back comes with some 17 accompanying documents. 

Of course, informations can be a good thing, and we might want to know what kind of people are responding. But with so many of these consultation exercises, they are designed deliberately so as to find it almost impossible to find clear yes or no as to whether residents want LTN barriers to be retained or removed from their streets. 

And so, instead of consultations being a process whereby the public gets to decide on projects and proposals, they become one great big ‘conversation’. “We host open digital conversations that are easy to participate  in and representative of the whole community.” Says Commonplace, the pro-LTN organisation behind many of today’s online consultancy programmes. The impression given in these reports is that the public is a diffuse mass of people, all talking at cross-purposes with one another. Everyone has an opinion. All of them, and consequently, none of them are valid. And so the councils, officers and their experts get to decide everything on our behalf. 

Another interesting shift is that councils are moving away from using professional market research companies to conduct quality, in-depth consultations, in favour of activist-organisations such as Steer, Commonplace, Sustrans, and Systra who publicly advocate and campaign around issues like cycling, ’active travel’, Green issue and ‘sustainable cities’. 

In 2016 Hackney Council engaged market research company BDRC to design and manage a consultation on proposals to close or restrict car access to the London Fields area of the borough. Residents and business owners were presented with a set of clear proposals and alternatives. 

After more than a year of real-world community consultations,  a clear majority overwhelmingly rejected LTN-style road closures. However, many did opt for less drastic proposals some of the traffic issues of the area. It was a good piece of research carried out over a period of more than a year. 

As a result of the consultation, Hackney Council dropped plans to close off roads in the area. That was until Lockdown measures allowed them to disregard the views of residents and close their roads anyway. 

Government ‘guidance’ under Lockdown severely restricted the public’s democratic say in local and national affairs. Councils were now allowed to implement a project without any prior consultation or notification, and the public were then allowed to express an opinion on what had already been done to them. This meant that councils like London Borough of Hackney could revive projects already rejected by residents, such as the London Fields closures, and simply impose them. 

It is debatable as to whether pre-Lockdown style consultations were really a satisfactory way of conducting local democracy and taking major decisions. Today’s post-Lockdown ‘digital conversations’ masquerading as democratic participation are really a wake-up call. Our democratic voice is being seriously eroded and it is time for citizens to return to the real public square and take back our democracy. 

Survey reveals LTN road closures hitting women and families hardest

Survey reveals LTN road closures hitting women and families hardest

Government-backed council road closures are hitting young working mothers, carers and their families hardest.

The architects of road closures that have made the news over the past few months, portray motorists as irresponsible rat-runners making millions upon millions of miles in ‘unnecessary journeys’. Roadblocks and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) were introduced last year by councils across London, and other towns and cities, under cover of Lockdown, without notice or consultation. Such drastic measures were necessary they say, to protect children and communities from selfish drivers using neighbourhoods as cut-throughs. Now, nine months on, what have we learned? 

In East London, the Horrendous Hackney Road Closures (HHRC) group was formed in September last year by a group of young mothers and carers, and is now the largest anti-road closure group in anywhere in the UK. The group has more than 7000 members; not surprising given that Hackney Council’s road closures programme is the most drastic anywhere in the UK. Hackney Council says drivers are minority in the borough and should be put at the bottom of the ‘pecking order’. Council bosses have branded protesters as thugs, bullies, ‘birthers’ (born ’n’ bred East Londoners) and degenerates, representing only a self-interested, bigoted minority. 

The council and pro-LTN groups have been consistently demonising drivers and misrepresenting who we are.” Says Josie Hughes from the group. So the campaign group put together a survey to help dispel some of those myths, but also to find out a little more about its rapidly growing membership and why they choose to drive. “We kept the questions as objective as possible, we avoided asking about people’s views or feelings about road closures”. Says Josie. 

More than 700 residents took part in the online survey, which was live throughout November and December last year. Sixty-six per cent of respondents were women. “We already knew from our Facebook group stats that women were the majority in every age category, from 17 to 70.” Explains group member Ruth Parkinson. “Clearly the issue of road closures is particularly hard-felt among women.”

The survey asked about how important owning a car was to the life and wellbeing of their family. Could they forfeit their car without it harming family life? The answer was a resounding no. Ninety-three per cent believed that, “giving up our car would be detrimental to family life.” 

Many women today rely on their cars to help them with a myriad of responsibilities, including childcare, schooling, shopping and household tasks, and of course, holding down a job. That’s not to mention those caring for elderly relatives or dealing with disabilities. Some of the many comments in the survey illustrate this very well. 

“I’m a single mum, self-employed as a cleaner and I have to drive to my clients, due to all the necessary equipment I use. I also care for my disabled grandad who lives in another borough. I take him for medical appointments and take care of him. Without a car I simply would not be able to work, be a mom and a carer all at the same time.”

“We are a large family of adults who share a car. I need access to the car as I do the household shopping, but also to take my elderly parents for appointments. Some of my extended live locally but others live in different parts of London, are are not easy to get to on public transport. Our family is our support system, especially now with elderly relatives.”

“So many women are performing a precious daily balancing act which they can only do with the time-saving convenience of a car.” Says Ruth. “Cars have opened up so many possibilities for women and their families.”

Still politicians and policy makers are certain they know what’s best for us. These road closures are for our own benefit – we just don’t realise it yet. That’s why they employ ‘nudge’ techniques in an attempt to ‘modify behaviour’ rather than actually engage with the residents who elect them. They regard residents as irrational and selfish. Department for Transport states clearly that road closures and LTNs are about modifying and ‘changes will help embed altered behaviours and demonstrate the positive effects of active travel.’ 

Politicians, national and local are using Covid-19 as cover to abandon any semblance of democratic participation. When consulted in 2016, Hackney residents rejected, by almost 70 percent, proposals to close a number of roads. During Lockdown the council closed these roads anyway. Hardly surprising then that one of those most responsible for closing Hackney roads, former transport boss Cllr Jon Burke, said he had no interest in consulting ‘rat-runners’ and relished his new-found powers to  overrule the wishes of residents.

The survey asked about other reasons Hackney residents have for driving. Seventy-nine per cent said they use their car regularly to help others outside of their immediate family – elderly neighbours, friends etc – to do things they would otherwise find difficult. 

“We underestimate the usefulness of our cars as a community resource.” Says Ruth. “Many of our neighbourhood are held together by informal networks of helpers, carers, companions and shoppers. So often the car is an essential part of that equation.

Over the years I’ve used my car for work, to get myself, and colleagues, to and from work, for school and child care drop-off, shopping, ferrying my mum around, taking neighbours to hospital, rescuing stranded teenagers, going to weddings, funerals, christenings, picking family or friends up from airports, train stations, to help friends move house. The list is endless.”

The council say their roadblocks and LTNs are helping to discourage short ‘unnecessary’ car journeys of one or two kilometres, leaving the roads clear for those who most need them. The reality is quite the reverse. Quiet residential, and even school streets have become gridlocked, sometimes for hours at a time. 

Road closures have left many elderly and disabled residents stranded in their homes; massively increased journey times, left people struggling to get to work, hospital appointments, care visits, and pushed many local businesses to the brink of failure.

The motor car may have fallen from favour with today’s political and policy leaders, preoccupied with carbon-reduction targets and visions of a harmonious Green utopia, but it still plays a hugely important role in the lives of many ordinary people. Cars bring pleasure, freedom and convenience to millions of us. To view them as little more as dangerous carbon-emitters driven by selfish, lazy rat-runners, makes for narrow, divisive politics, short-sighted policy.

Read an edited version of this article in the online journal spiked!

From cycle lanes to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods: Who owns our streets?

From cycle lanes to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods: Who owns our streets?

From cycle lanes to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods: Who owns our streets?

Last month I participated in an online debate on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, organised by the Academy of ideas. Speakers were Conservative peer and former deputy chairman, Transport for London; Rebekah Kelly from grassroots campaign group We Are Islington; rormer Hackney councillor and Cabinet Member Rita Krishna; Emma Richman, Executive Director of operations, Peaks and Plains Housing Trust in Manchester. Journalist and broadcaster Ella Whelan chaired a lively and very useful debate and audience discussion. You can watch the video of the whole event here, and read my brief introduction below.  

The full introductory blurb for the debate and speaker profiles can be found on the Academy of Ideas website


There is so much you can say on this subject, but as I have just four minutes for my introduction I thought I’d start with a question posed in the blurb for tonight’s discussion.

“Should we take advantage of the benefits of lower activity in cities and learn a lesson about what life could be like without cars?”

Well, that’s a good question. Even better if we, the public had ever been asked, or engaged in a serious dialogue about what kind of city we want. But we were never asked. LTNs, road blocks and cameras were dropped on us from a great height. Some drivers still don’t know what these things are and drive on through, earning themselves an instant £130 fine, which is great for council’s like Hackney, which has made around £1 million out of LTN cameras since the summer.

One ‘benefit’ we saw under lockdown, is that many ordinary people pulled together, organised independently, creating informal support networks to help elderly or medically vulnerable neighbours.

1. What the imposition of LTNs and road closures does is the opposite of this – because they force many elderly and disabled, potentially into permanent isolation.

2. And far from tapping into the resourcefulness, and community spirit that residents showed during lockdown, the whole policy is built on mistrust of the citizen, and is designed to disempower them.

We are irresponsible, rat-runners who cut through neighbourhoods simply because we’re apparently too lazy to walk or get on a bike. We are not to be trusted with the decision as to whether our journeys are ‘necessary’ or ‘unnecessary’. Our betters will decide that for us.

3. The policy, implementation and the reality of LTNs is division and is acting against the potential for genuine community cohesion we saw signs of under lockdown.

Older and more long term residents are looking on as the neighbourhoods they grew up in are being completely reshaped, not for them but for a younger, more affluent and healthy generation. I’m certain that many newer and younger residents don’t want that, any more than the older ones do, but this stuff is just driving people apart.

And just look at the destructive wedge being driven between cyclists and motorists. Forget cycle lanes – what has really made cycling in London so much better and safer over the last 20 years I’ve been cycling here, is London Drivers. Most drivers are so aware, and conscious of cyclists today. That’s been the key improvement. Yet in treating drivers so badly, and doing it in the name of cyclists, we risk losing those gains and benefits, and creating a war.

You can’t impose community with policies or parklets. Strong communities are about people having a sense of purpose and control. The best and most vibrant communities can be noisy and chaotic and in every way fly in the face of the planner’s idyl that often looks so good on the drawing board. Cars having nothing to do with it.

I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when I went (by bike) to Stamford Hill.

I was struck by a very tangible sense of community and life. It’s buzzing with commercial and social life on the street, but it’s full of cars, and mini-buses etc. But that makes no difference because it is people that a make community.

A city is nothing without commercial life and without citizens who have the freedom to choose how they do things, get around, organise their lives and so on. And for that to work we have to be free to negotiate and work out how to do that, and still get along with one another. There’s an inherent intolerance at the heart of LTNs. They’re about forcing one group’s values and choices on everyone and effectively saying – tough, get used to it.

And why on earth are we waring over this?

But far from being a drag on society, ordinary people are the solution to many of the problems we face today. We need more democratic participation – and even the most seemingly disinterested or disengaged are alive to the possibilities of real freedom and democracy, given the right circumstances. I’m very optimistic that we can rebuild our democracy from the bottom up.