Why can’t we have our LTN exemptions now? It has left us feeling like prisoners

Woman who developed Parkinson’s says controversial roads scheme has made it ‘impossible’ to get around

Friday, 26th November 2021 — By Anna Lamche

Road closure protest_July 30

Islington Council’s Low Traffic Neighbourhoods led to protests outside the Town Hall

BEFORE Christine Eisen developed Parkinson’s, she lived an active, sociable life.

A headteacher at the former Mount Carmel school in Archway, she also taught French and spent her free time visiting her friends around Islington.

“I used to ride a bike, I used to horse ride. I was able to do lots of things: I used to travel a lot, I used to be very social. I had a lot of friends and work colleagues,” Ms Eisen said.

The 75-year-old was diagnosed with the neurological condition in 1991.

“Now I’ve got advanced Parkinsons. I can’t walk and using my wheelchair is agonising in cold weather. I need to be driven. I rely on my car.”

This is where her problem with Islington Council’s Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN) policy of road closures – also known as People Friendly Streets – kicks in.

She said it is now “impossible” to get around and there were no exemptions for the disabled as they meet camera-enforced route filters.

“It’s like being a prisoner,” said Ms Eisen, who is facing problems with the Highbury West LTN.

Christine Eisen

Islington reordered the borough’s roadmap in several places as the coronavirus pandemic struck, with council chiefs warning that people should not rush to replace public transport with cars after the lockdowns. In a bid to reduce pollution, several rat runs were identified with measures then installed on a trial basis – a decision on whether to keep them comes later.

In October, the council released a Resident Impact Assessment, recognising that “disabled people who rely on cars for their mobility are facing increased length, time and cost for journeys… due to LTNs.”

The report reads: “Officers are now recommending the People Friendly Streets programme offers an exemption to blue badge holders.”

However, the exemption will only apply to a single LTN, and blue badge holders will only be able to register a single vehicle to be exempt.

This is in marked contrast to the normal assistance with badges linked to an individual rather than a specific vehicle.

The pledge to bring in dispensations also come with a technical catch: the council report says that the “new [exemption] policy will not be retrospectively applied to any of the trial schemes that are more than 12 months old”.

This is because the public must have a six-month opportunity to object to any changes made to the scheme.

Because LTNs were introduced as experimental – or temporary – traffic orders, there is no further provision to allow for alterations during a set 18-month trial period, even if it is to help the disabled get about.

They must wait until the trial is finished before the exemptions can be introduced.

The Highbury West LTN has not quite hit 12 months so Ms Eisen wants changes to be applied now.

“Time is of the essence,” Ms Eisen said. “If it doesn’t get done now, it won’t be done in time.”

If no changes are made, Ms Eisen would face at least another six months without an exemption, making it more difficult to visit her doctor, friends and family.

She has said that she wants the council to offer all disabled residents a clear timetable that will detail how and when the blue badge exemptions will be made.“I don’t want to whinge. It’s just horrible to be treated like this.

“It’s not just me: there are umpteen other disabled people, only they don’t want to be seen,” said Ms Eisen.

Rowena Champion

“Islington Council appears not to care.

“They have all this documentation on inclusion and equality.”

She added: “If you look on their website, there are lots of statements about making life better for all, making it fair and equal, blah, blah, blah. But in practice nothing seems to happen.”

Ed Cripwell, of Disability Action in Islington, said: “If the council are acknowl­edging that exemptions for disabled people are necessary, then the fact that they have let so many people in LTNs suffer – either through their incompetence or inertia – begs the question: why do they think that’s acceptable?”

He added: “The council is fully aware of the entire scope of the problem. Why can they not extend the exemptions to allow all blue badge holders through all of the LTNs?

“Disability doesn’t just fly away once you leave your own LTN. If Christine can go through the filters in her own LTN, that would allow her to visit her family and give her a massive sense of freedom.

“But there are other disabled residents whose movements are different, and they require a more broad exemption in order to live their fullest life.”

The Tribune asked Islington’s environment chief, Councillor Rowena Champion, for an interview but this request was declined.

Instead, a council press officer said: “Local people are at the heart of everything we do, and we’re listening extremely carefully to their feedback on the people-friendly streets programme.

“Following valuable feedback from local people and disability groups, the council has recently announced measures to make it easier for disabled people to travel in Islington.

“This includes the introduction of people-friendly pavements, which will make Islington’s pavements more accessible for all through improvements such as footway repaving, foliage maintenance, additional dropped kerbs, tactile paving, and street clutter removal.”

They added: “To help make our borough more equal, the council also intends to introduce exemptions for blue badge holders that live in a people-friendly streets neighbourhood to travel through camera-enforced traffic filters within their neighbourhood.

“This will make it easier for disabled people to travel, whilst ensuring that our people-friendly streets neighbourhoods continue to deliver cleaner, greener, healthier streets.”

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