I am on motorists’ side, says Sunak as he orders review of anti-car schemes
Prime Minister tells The Telegraph that vast majority of people ‘are dependent on their cars’
29 July 2023 • 9:00pm
Rishi Sunak said he was supporting people ‘to use their cars to do all the things that matter to them’ CREDIT: Paul Cooper
Rishi Sunak promised drivers that he is “on their side” as he ordered a review of controversial anti-car schemes being rolled out across Britain.
In an interview with The Telegraph, the Prime Minister said the vast majority of people “are dependent on their cars” and that “anti-motorist” policies fail to take account of how “families live their lives”.
Mr Sunak has ordered the Department for Transport (DfT) to carry out a review of low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), which often use cameras, giant planters and bollards to turn away cars.
A source said he was “concerned by the levels of congestion outside the roads in which they are implemented”, amid fears that the measures simply displace traffic to neighbouring areas.
The source added: “Of course we want better air quality. But people have to consent and be happy to live in areas where, to varying degrees, cars and vans are blocked.”
Mr Sunak said: “The vast majority of people in the country use their cars to get around and are dependent on their cars. When I’m lucky enough to get home to North Yorkshire, it’s more representative of how most of the country is living, where cars are important.
“I just want to make sure people know that I’m on their side in supporting them to use their cars to do all the things that matter to them.”
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister faced mounting pressure to delay the 2030 phase-out of petrol and diesel cars as it emerged that Chris Stark, the head of the committee on climate change, had told MPs the 2030 ban on the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles may be too soon.
Separately, more than 40 Tory MPs and peers have written to Mr Sunak calling for the deadline to be pushed back. But he insisted that “we are not considering a delay” despite pledging to take a “proportionate and pragmatic” approach to net zero.
Elsewhere in his interview, Mr Sunak launched a highly personal attack on Sir Keir Starmer, suggesting the Labour leader was lacking principles.
He said: “I have a set of principles and values that are important to me, and that anchor my approach to life and to government. I don’t see that across the despatch box.”
Amid growing divisions over net zero, Mr Sunak is preparing to announce a new round of licenses for North Sea oil and gas exploration this week as he seeks to make political capital out of Labour’s pledge to halt new drilling.
But in an attack from within his own party, Lord Hammond, a former chancellor, said successive Conservative prime ministers had been “systematically dishonest” with the public about the trillion pound cost of achieving the 2050 net zero target.
Mr Sunak used the interview to pitch himself as the pro-car party leader – setting himself against Sir Keir, who has been coming under pressure to tell Sadiq Khan, the Labour London Mayor, to axe his planned expansion of the capital’s ultra low emission zone (Ulez) after a public backlash.
Speaking on a visit to Wales, the Prime Minister claimed the Labour Party had become “anti-motorist”, citing schemes such as Ulez and the Welsh government’s plan to introduce a 20mph limit in all residential areas in September.
But he is also concerned about car schemes, such as LTNs, that have become increasingly prevalent since the onset of the Covid pandemic and aim to reduce traffic in residential areas and cut carbon emissions.
The zones, originally introduced by Mr Khan in London, have since been rolled out to places such as Oxford, Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield, with funding from the DfT.
Earlier this month, Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, told The Telegraph he had put an end to Government funding for projects “that are about... banning cars or making it difficult for motorists”.
He suggested local authorities should now consider scrapping existing LTNs where they are unpopular and were implemented with insufficient consultation of local residents.
However, the review ordered by Mr Sunak could lead to the Government intervening to halt existing schemes, including by issuing guidance to councils that those without local support should be scrapped.
The source said: “He [the Prime Minister] is particularly worried by the LTNs that allow no vehicle wider than a bike to travel through – blocking delivery vans, cars for elderly people and families, and sometimes emergency vehicles.”
In a letter to the Prime Minister, organised by the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, led by Craig Mackinlay, and Conservative Way Forward, a campaign group, 42 parliamentarians warn that the 2030 ban on the sale of petrol cars will do “grave harm to the economy”.
The signatories include the former ministers Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, David Davis, and Esther McVey, as well as Red Wall MPs Lia Nici and Marco Longhi.