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Low traffic zone report a 'whitewash', says mother of girl killed by pollution

·4 min read
Ella Kissi-Debrah and her mother Rosamund
Ella Kissi-Debrah and her mother Rosamund

A Government report praising low traffic neighbourhoods is a “whitewash”, an air quality campaigner whose daughter died from pollution has said.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah has rounded on a Department for Transport review published one year after ministers launched a “green transport revolution” meant to boost walking and cycling.

The 39-page pamphlet released last week and called ‘Gear Change: One Year On’ claims low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) do not cause congestion and gridlock on other roads.

Ms Kissi-Debrah, a World Health Organisation advocate for improved air quality, said: “The whole thing is a complete whitewash.”

She condemned as “absurd” the report’s insistence that it is false to claim LTNs “displace traffic to other roads”.

Ms Kissi-Debrah’s daughter, Ella, became the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death after she died in 2013 from an asthma attack caused by air pollution.

Ella was brought up near the South Circular Road in Lewisham in South East London.

Three years before she died aged just nine she suffered multiple seizures and was admitted to hospital 27 times.

Last year a coroner found nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels near her home exceeded World Health Organisation and European guidelines and contributed to her death.

Ella Kissi-Debrah
Ella Kissi-Debrah

“When my daughter was alive the congestion on the South Circular was bad,” she said. “But, since the introduction of LTN schemes around the route it has become far worse. The congestion is terrible. This Government simply doesn’t care.”

The report says the “common claim” LTNs force congestion elsewhere is false, adding how “councils are also reporting reductions in traffic on most (though not yet all) of the roads around the LTNs.”

It also makes no mention of how some councils, including the Tory borough of Wandsworth in South West London, produced reports which established road closures led to pollution on boundary roads.

Levels of toxic car exhaust pollutants actually dropped across a large part of South London after Wandsworth scrapped its LTNs scheme, council officials found.

Analysis of quantities of NO2 at 11 streets showed levels were higher when residential roads were closed, but dropped when seven LTN schemes were dismantled.

The report, which has a foreword by Boris Johnson, claims for every one person opposed to LTNs two are in favour. It adds how “most people do not feel strongly about these schemes” and only a “small minority” are opposed so councils should not allow schemes to be “vetoed” by one group.

The Telegraph analysed 10 council consultations involving 25,000 people which showed three quarters of them were in fact opposed to LTNs.

In Harrow, 6,073 people - 82 per cent of those asked - were against road closures and pop-up cycle lanes forcing the council to scrap its schemes.

Meanwhile, numerous councils around the country have scrapped schemes after widespread public opposition. Cycle lanes and road closure schemes have been withdrawn in London boroughs including Ealing, Hackney and Harrow, as well as West Sussex, Liverpool, Brighton, South Gloucestershire, Trafford, Portsmouth and Surrey.

It also refutes the suggestion LTNs have not increased emergency response times, despite numerous Freedom of Information requests revealing how police, fire and ambulances have reported problems caused by new road closures when responding to 999 calls.

A spokeswoman for OneUK, an umbrella group for campaigners across the country fighting the schemes over concerns they are ill thought out, said it was “appalling” the Government was throwing yet more money at schemes which “undermined” the public transport infrastructure, as well as elderly and disabled residents who cannot walk or cycle.

“LTNs offer a terrible return on investment just at a time when the country is in need of astute and sensible infrastructure investment,” she said.

“There is also no evidence LTNs reduce pollution or congestion and, in actual fact, evidence presented in Judicial Review against Hackney Council has shown congestion has risen significantly in surrounding main roads where many people live, work and attend school and where pollution is already above legal limits."

A Department for Transport spokesperson said the report was "produced based on detailed academic studies, widespread consultation with key stakeholders and surveys of public opinion".

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