Fury as low traffic neighbourhoods blamed for increase in fire engine delays last year

·4 min read
Fire engine stuck in low traffic neighbourhood
Fire engine stuck in low traffic neighbourhood

Low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) contributed to up to 3,000 delays to fire engines responding to emergency calls in London, the highest ever on record.

Analysis of the latest data published by the London Fire Brigade show firefighters experienced slowed response times 3,035 times, equivalent to 253 each month, due to “traffic calming” measures.

That is a rise of 42 per cent on 2020, when there were 2,145 delays triggered by schemes meant to control motor cars.

The statistics showed that in 2021, roughly one in five delays to fire engine callouts were due to traffic calming measures – the second most frequent reason for slowed responses – behind only congestion and roadworks, which were responsible for 7,433 delays.

Traffic calming measures were also more frequent than delays caused by incomplete or wrong addresses being given, which were listed as the reason for delay 1,739 times in 2021.

In May 2020, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, provided councils with hundreds of millions of pounds to create the low traffic neighbourhoods in an attempt to promote walking and cycling following the pandemic.

However, critics claimed that closing roads to through traffic simply shifts congestion onto main roads, creating more gridlock and pollution.

The Telegraph has obtained numerous examples of police, fire and ambulances logging delays to 999 calls due to locked bollards and planters used in LTNs.

Videos have also been posted online showing emergency vehicles forced to make U-turns and officers, paramedics or firefighters grappling with locks on bollards to try to get past.

However, cyclist lobby groups claim LTNs make the roads safer for both pedestrians and cyclists.

While the fire brigade data cites “traffic calming” as the cause of the delays, that description may also include schemes other than LTNs, such as speed bumps, 20mph zones, rumble strips and narrowing chicanes.

Overall, traffic calming measures were recorded as affecting two per cent of the 158,972 callouts in 2021, according to the London Fire Brigade.

Fire engines deployed from stations in the borough of Hackney saw the most number of delays due to traffic calming measures, with 168 in 2021, a 66 per cent rise on 2020.

Meanwhile, delays in Lamberth nearly doubled from 83 in 2020 to 160 in 2021. Enfield came third highest, with 158 in 2021, compared to 102 in 2020.

Bexley, Merton and Sutton – all in south London – experienced the fewest delays caused by traffic calming measures, with 27, 35 and 43 respectively.

Ruth Parkinson, a Hackney resident opposed to the rollout of LTNs, said: “Since the introduction of the LTNs, residents have been saying we’ve all seen ambulances and fire services being delayed. We’ve videoed it and uploaded it onto social media. But we have been ignored and even called liars.

“This has endangered lives and it has to stop. Hackney has 70 per cent of closed roads far greater than any other borough so no wonder we’re the most affected.”

A London Fire Brigade spokesman said: “Our attendance targets are to get the first fire engine to an incident within a London wide average of six minutes and a second fire engine within a London wide average of eight minutes. We have continued to meet this target successfully throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and we will continue to monitor our performance.

“The Brigade supports proposals to promote active travel and we work closely with our local authority partners and are consulted when there are any road closure proposals. If we have any concerns that any changes may impact our response times, we will raise these and work with the local authority to find the best solution.

“While the data provided will include some data in respect of the impact of low-traffic neighbourhood schemes, it also includes all types of other traffic calming measures like speed bumps, so it is not accurate to suggest that all delays are due to the LTN schemes.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Well-designed traffic calming schemes need not cause congestion and can help the emergency services by reducing the amount of traffic on certain streets. The detailed design of these schemes is a matter for local authorities.”

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