Rishi Sunak has ordered a review into the rollout of low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), saying he is on the side of drivers.
The prime minister said in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph he had ordered the Department for Transport to review LTNs policies, which aim to make residential areas cleaner and safer places for pedestrians.
Labour accused him of reversing the Conservatives’ own acceleration of LTNs across the country, and said it should be for local communities to decide.
The party’s shadow international trade secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, told Sky News it was “staggering” Mr Sunak was pitching himself as a friend of motorists, adding it was “yet another press release” policy from the PM.
Under LTNs, local councils attempt to limit traffic in town and city centres – with drivers often prevented from using quiet residential roads as through-routes and it also encourages the uptake of other modes of transport.
However, opponents of the scheme say it has created hotspots of traffic which means people end up spending more time in their car.
Mr Sunak told the newspaper: “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.”
The pitch to motorists and car owners comes after the Conservatives’ narrow victory in the Uxbridge and Ruislip by-election earlier this month, which saw the Tory candidate tap into local concerns about the expansion of London’s ultra-low emissions zone (ULEZ).
That success has seen some Tory MPs on the right of the party urge Mr Sunak to engage in a rethink on net zero, amid hopes of attacking Labour’s green ambitions – though others have pleaded with him to stay on track.
The adoption of LTN policies has angered some Tory MPs who have criticised the measures as attacks on motorists and in recent months, it has emerged as a concern among some on the right of the Conservative Party.
Conservative MP Nick Fletcher suggested in the Commons earlier this year that traffic control plans being mooted by local councils across the UK were part of an “international socialist concept” which would take away personal liberties.
Mr Thomas-Symonds told Sky News his party was “in favour of well planned low traffic neighbourhoods”, but added: “They have to be decisions that are made by local communities.
“There are local communities around the country that actually want to reduce traffic in their neighbourhoods, want to push to have a low traffic neighbourhood. There are other areas where local concerns would need to be taken into account.”
Taking aim at Mr Sunak, the shadow minister said: “I have to say, I’ve seen some coverage this morning that the prime minister is posing as the friend of motorists, which I just find staggering.
“This is the prime minister who personally cut the potholes budget to such an extent that the money could have filled eight million potholes from Land’s End to John O’Groats and back again.
“This is the prime minister when there were petrol retailers not passing on falls in prices to consumers, who refused to put anything mandatory in place.
“As ever, I think with this government you have to judge them by their actions and not by yet more empty words.”
The article was not the first time Mr Sunak has hit out at LTNs.
In last summer’s Tory leadership contest, he promised to review the policies to consider the impact on emergency services, but knocked back calls to change the deadline for the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales.