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Low traffic neighbourhoods – what do LTNs mean for small businesses?

4-minute read

UK residential street with parked cars
Conor Shilling

Conor Shilling

31 August 2023

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Low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) have become a hotly-debated issue across the country.

Whether you drive for work or own a business in a residential area, LTNs could have an impact on things like travel costs or footfall.

Read on to find out how they work, where they’re situated, and why the government is planning to review them.

What are low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs)?

Low traffic neighbourhoods are residential areas where local councils introduce a range of measures to reduce traffic.

By lowering the number of vehicles on the road, the aim is to encourage more people to walk or cycle. At the same time, it’s hoped these areas contribute to reduced air and noise pollution as well as fewer road accidents.

LTNs are designed to reduce ‘rat-running’, which is when drivers use residential roads as shortcuts.

It’s important to note that LTNs don’t restrict access. For example, people that live in a LTN will still be able to drive in it.

The measures used in LTNs have been around since the 1970s. However, the government announced £250 million of funding in spring 2020 to expand LTNs in London as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A guide to low traffic neighbourhoods – how do they work?

UK low traffic neighbourhoods restrict traffic using the following methods:

  • barriers
  • road signs
  • bollards
  • planters
  • automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras

These restrictions are designed to stop vehicles from using LTNs as a cut-through, rather than penalise drivers who live in the area.

While some vehicles are prohibited from driving through LTNs, pedestrians and cyclists are encouraged to use them.

Some LTNs are only in use during certain hours of the day.

What happens if I drive in a LTN when I shouldn’t be?

While restrictions such as barriers and bollards prevent vehicles from entering an LTN altogether, those using ANPR cameras can lead to drivers being fined for cutting through an area they shouldn’t be.

If a vehicle is caught driving through a LTN without permission, the driver could be fined £130 (reduced to £65 if paid within 14 days).

Low traffic neighbourhoods London – where are they?

The majority of London boroughs have LTNs. Analysis shows that after the City of London, Hackney has the highest LTN coverage at around 70 per cent. This is compared to boroughs on the outskirts of London, such as Bromley and Bexley, where the coverage is less than 10 per cent.

As a result of Hackney low traffic neighbourhoods, miles driven in the borough increased by almost 12 per cent in the last year which is higher than the London average, according to The Times.

Proposals for new LTNs are being put forward frequently by local councils. Already this year, Waltham Forest has approved more schemes to be launched before 2028, while two more are set to be added in Lambeth.

However, a proposed LTN in Dulwich Village was withdrawn by Southwark Council after complaints that disabled drivers wouldn’t be exempt.

Councils make over £50 million in London low traffic neighbourhoods

Between 2021 and 2023, low traffic neighbourhood London fines eclipsed £50 million, according to Freedom of Information requests made by The Sun.

The local authorities to make the most in fines* during this period were:

  • Lambeth (£11.2 million)
  • Islington (£10.7 million
  • Barking and Dagenham (£6.8 million)
  • Ealing (£6.6 million)
  • Croydon (£6 million)
  • Lewisham (£5.7 million)

The research shows that the busiest LTN in the capital was St Ann’s in Haringey, with almost 50,000 motorists fined during 2022.

*These figures appear to be based on all motorists paying the full £130 fine, rather than the discounted rate of £65.

Where are low traffic neighbourhoods near me?

The majority of LTNs are in London due to the extra funding provided by the government in 2020.

Other LTNs are located in the cities of Oxford and Bristol, while the following cities have applied for funding from the Department for Transport to create their own LTNs:

  • Birmingham
  • Sheffield
  • Manchester

The introduction of LTNs across the country could mirror the Ultra Low Emission Scheme (ULEZ). ULEZ was first introduced in London in 2019, but since then a number of clean air zones have been launched in UK cities such as Edinbrugh, Portsmouth, Bradford, and Bath.

What is the impact of low traffic neighbourhoods on small businesses?

If you’re a business owner who needs to drive for work, a low traffic neighbourhood could increase your travel time.

As well as potentially stopping motorists from taking the shortest routes, LTNs have been criticised for diverting traffic to main roads which could further elongate journeys.

Increased time spent travelling to work could also contribute to higher fuel costs if drivers have to take a longer route to their destination.

Small businesses based in LTNs have also raised concerns about the impact they’re having on footfall.

One business owner who runs an independent clothes shop wrote into the Daily Mail’s This is Money section, asking for advice on how to reduce the impact of a LTN on their customer numbers.

They claim their footfall has dropped and sales have reduced by 30 per cent since the LTN was introduced.

Prime minister calls for review of LTNs

In July, prime minister Rishi Sunak called for the Department for Transport to review LTNs, describing them as “anti-motorist”.

At the moment, there’s no set definition of what an LTN should be and it’s thought that a review could see clearer guidance proposed or legislation put forward.

Following Sunak’s call, a government spokesperson said a review into LTNs would look into whether the measures “work for residents, businesses and emergency services”.

As yet, there’s been no further details of how the review could be organised and when it might take place.

What could happen next?

While those affected by low traffic neighbourhoods wait for news on the government’s proposed review, it seems unlikely that the debate around these areas will die down any time soon.

The impact of motoring from an environmental and cost of living perspective has become a hot political issue in recent months.

And with a general election due next year, the major parties could well use controversial schemes like LTNs and ULEZ to attract voters who sit on either side of the debate.

Has a low traffic neighbourhood affected your business? Let us know in the comments below.

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I-Wei Huang/
Conor Shilling

Written by

Conor Shilling

Conor Shilling is a professional writer with over 10 years’ experience across the property, small business, and insurance sectors. A trained journalist, Conor’s previous experience includes writing for several leading online property trade publications. Conor has worked at Simply Business as a Copywriter for three years, specialising in the buy-to-let market, landlords, and small business finance.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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