What’s happened to the Headington low-traffic neighbourhoods?

Oxfordshire County Council received government funding to trial low-traffic neighbourhoods in Headington starting this spring, but now seems to have shelved or indefinitely delayed them without any clear explanation or formal decision. What’s going on?

A cyclist using a minor road in Headington, Oxford
A cyclist braves the streets of Headington – would you like to cycle here with children?

The County Council has recently restated its goals to cut 1 in 4 car journeys by 2030, deliver a net-zero transport network by 2040 and have zero, or as close as possible, road fatalities or life-changing injuries by 2050 in its Central Oxfordshire Travel Plan (“COTP”), which includes plans to introduce 6 traffic filters, a workplace parking levy and an enlarged Zero Emission Zone in the city centre (see image below). The Council is currently running a consultation on COTP until 3 October 2022.

Map of central Oxford showing proposed locations of 6 traffic filters and expanded Zero Emission Zone
Image: Oxfordshire County Council

In light of these goals, we’re pleased that:


Whats happened to the Headington LTNs?  Why have trials of low-traffic neighbourhoods not gone ahead here in Spring 2022 as originally planned?

Headington still desperately needs low-traffic neighbourhoods to protect people living, walking, wheeling and cycling on its minor roads from physical danger, noise and air pollution from motor vehicles and to create liveable streets where people can enjoy travelling safely and easily by walking, wheeling and cycling and local communities thrive.

LTNs will also make Headington’s main roads safer for people walking, wheeling and cycling because they significantly reduce the number of motor vehicles turning into and out of side roads, which is where the majority of main road collisions involving these road users take place.

Although we support the Council’s proposed COTP schemes due to the benefits they will bring for Oxford as a whole, they will do very little to help reduce motor traffic volumes in Headington and are therefore unlikely to improve congestion, air quality and road safety or enable more walking, wheeling and cycling here.  In fact, it’s possible they may even increase traffic on Headington’s roads.

Why no protection for Headington?

Without the protection of low-traffic neighbourhoods, Headington will be the only area in the ‘Eastern Arc’ of Oxford that remains a high-traffic suburb. (See Mind the gap and these illustrative maps: LTNs and modal filters map and LTNs of Oxford – Google My Maps.

Headington residents had a legitimate expectation that LTNs would be trialled here by now, but it appears that the Council has abandoned or indefinitely delayed LTNs in Headington:

  • The Council bid for, and received, funding from the Department for Transport’s Active Travel Fund to implement LTN trials in Headington – it was included in the Council’s Emergency Active Travel Fund Tranche 2 Bid Document (“Tranche 2 Bid Document”) as part of the £1,810,248 Cowley and Headington Scheme (see page 10). The Tranche 2 Bid Document said regarding the East Oxford and Headington LTNs:

“With a local campaign supporting LTNs and significant support from City and County members, we intend to introduce 5 LTNs to support the quiet cycle routes and generate local walking and cycling journeys. The LTNs will create inclusive cycling and walking along residential roads and support the strategic Quietways. Additionally, they will help support the economic viability of the local shopping centres in Headington and Cowley Road. Detailed designs have been produced by local communities in co-operation with councillors.”

…and set out the detail of the proposed Headington LTNs as follows:

Quarry Village LTN: The LTN requires 3 modal filters. This includes a traffic filter which will prevent a major rat run through the area. The modal filters will significantly reduce traffic on Quietway OCR 11 and support cycling and walking to Windmill Primary School where Oxon CC Cllr Priority Funding has already been secured to introduce a School Street scheme. Windmill Primary School is the largest primary school in Oxfordshire and has long-standing issues with school gate congestion and air pollution.

Headington LTN: This includes 6 traffic filters to create a liveable neighbourhood. The LTN supports Quietway OCR 11 and walking and cycling trip to Headington shopping centre.

Old Headington LTN: This includes 3 modal filters, of which one will remove most traffic from Quietway OCR 8.”

  • The County Council was awarded £2,985,000 of Tranche 2 Emergency Active Travel Funding to pay for the Headington LTNs and other schemes included in the Tranche 2 Bid Document.
  • Stakeholder engagement meetings were held in May 2021 to obtain feedback on the Council’s proposed modal filter positions.
  • The Council’s active travel website advised that the Headington trials would be programmed to follow the Cowley and East Oxford LTN trials, with implementation of the trials scheduled for Spring 2022 – as could still be seen on the Council’s webpage on the Headington and Quarry LTNs (see below) until August 2022:
OCC's Active Travel webpage in August 2022, stating development of the proposals had been delayed
Timetable on OCC's Active Travel webpage in August 2022 showing implementation of the Headington LTN trials set for Spring 2022

Why the delay?

The reason for the delay/abandonment of the Headington LTNs is unclear, as we’ve heard conflicting and inconsistent information from the Council, including:

  • a lack of funding because the East Oxford LTN trials and Quickways exceeded the budget and used up the Tranche 2 Cowley and Headington Scheme funding
  • the Headington LTNs will instead be implemented alongside or after COTP, but with no definite timeframe given
  • the Headington LTNs are “not going to be progressed in the immediate future until the core schemes have been studied”, with no reasons given for this change in the Council’s plans
  • there is still political will to implement the Headington LTNs but no funding is available
  • the Headington LTNs are not being progressed because the Council felt it was politically not sensible to do so, with references being made to negative reports about the Cowley and East Oxford LTNs in the Oxford Mail
  • a BBC news article dated 4 August 2022 stated that “Mrs Leffman confirmed there are no further plans for any new LTNs in Oxford or Oxfordshire”
  • the Council has decided that the COTP traffic filters need to happen first
  • the Headington LTNs were de-prioritised relative to the Cowley and East Oxford LTNs because Headington has lower levels of deprivation.

Suggestions that the Headington LTNs will be delivered alongside COTP are not backed up by the Council’s public information about COTP: there is no mention whatsoever about the Headington LTNs (or any other new LTNs) in the Council’s COTP Consultation Draft document.

So, what’s the reason?  Is it lack of funding, lack of political will, fear of critical Oxford Mail articles, populism vs leadership, traffic management considerations or something else?

What will happen to Headington without low-traffic neighbourhoods?

As a major employment area and home to 5 hospitals and 2 university campuses, Headington will still attract significant destination traffic, which must be managed.  The COTP schemes are likely to have a limited traffic-reducing effect in Headington.

  • With the introduction of the COTP traffic filters, workplace parking levy and extended Zero Emission Zone, the Council must provide commuters to Headington employment sites with alternative options. The Headington hospitals and university campuses are less than two miles from Thornhill P&R, but the Council’s own proposed cycling routes to the John Radcliffe (via Old Headington), Churchill/NOC/Warneford (via Quarry and New Headington) and between the main sites (via New Headington) are unsuitable for cycling due to being dominated by motor vehicles. LTNs were intended to support the Council’s Quietway cycle routes through Headington (as described in the quote from the Council’s Tranche 2 Bid Document above and illustrated in the map below).
Map showing Council’s intention for LTNs to support the Quietway cycle routes through Oxford
Image: Oxfordshire County Council

Combined with inadequate cycling infrastructure on Headington’s main roads, how can people safely use the alternative, sustainable transport modes that the Council’s own policies are requiring them to switch to?

  • New housing is due to be built on Headington’s periphery – without protective measures, through-traffic on our minor residential roads is about to get worse.
  • The 3 proposed Headington LTNs (Old Headington, Headington Quarry and New Headington) are surrounded by traffic-calmed areas or pre-existing LTNs in Marston, Northway, Lye Valley, Wood Farm, Horspath, Sandhills and most of Barton and Risinghurst (except for the new short-cut opened up through Barton Park and well-used short-cut through Risinghurst allowing drivers to bypass Green Road Roundabout): Headington needs to be brought into line with the standard of its neighbouring areas.
  • Headington is home to 8 schools: Headington Quarry Foundation Stage School, Windmill Primary, St Andrew's Primary, St Joseph’s Primary, Headington Prep, Cheney School, Headington School and Rye St Anthony. Children living in and travelling through Headington deserve safe walking and cycling routes to school as in surrounding neighbourhoods. There are also increasing numbers of Headington children going to Swan School who need a safe cycling route (for which the Old Headington LTN would have been key).
  • Headington’s 3 private schools and Magdalen School down the road significantly increase private car traffic volumes in Headington, adding to difficulties for local residents.

Without low-traffic neighbourhoods, and with nothing in the COTP package that will reliably reduce traffic levels here, Headington will remain a uniquely high-traffic suburb between the Horspath Driftway exit from the Ring Road and the Old Marston/Elsfield Road exit from the Ring Road.

What’s happened to the Tranche 2 Active Travel Funding for the Headington LTNs?

There are some important questions regarding the non-implementation of several Tranche 2 Active Travel-Funded schemes, including the Headington LTNs, particularly as the Government’s Gear Change: One Year On publication says on page 21 that:

“We will reduce funding to councils which do not take active travel seriously, particularly in urban areas. … This includes councils which remove schemes prematurely or without proper evidence, and councils which never installed them in the first place. As Gear Change said, an authority’s performance on active travel will help determine the wider funding allocations it receives, not just on active travel.”

The Council has now failed to install several of the Tranche 2 schemes for which it received funding, including the Headington LTNs, a bus gate on Old Road/Warneford Lane, a bus gate on Cowley Road, the Jericho LTN, widened and protected cycle lanes on Banbury and Woodstock Road and several other schemes around the city.

What now for Headington?

Headington residents have been following the Council’s progress and patiently waiting for our turn for safe liveable streets to be implemented here, only to now find out that we’ve been left out and left behind compared to the rest of Oxford.

Those of us with children feel particularly betrayed, as they’ve been denied safe walking and cycling routes to get to school, sporting activities and friends’ houses which children in Cowley, East Oxford and the historic LTNs surrounding Headington have.  We constantly worry about the safety of our children when walking, scooting or cycling around Headington’s roads.  Three Headington councillors voted to make the Cowley LTNs permanent, yet they oppose LTNs in Headington: do they think children in Cowley deserve the protection and benefits of LTNs but children in Headington don’t?

Residents’ Associations in Headington have been begging the Council for traffic-reduction measures for decades to deal with the high volumes of through-traffic in our neighbourhoods but have been repeatedly ignored.  The ‘free money’ and clear mandate from central government in the form of Active Travel Funding to install LTNs was the perfect opportunity to address Headington’s traffic problems without impacting the Council’s budget, but it seems this opportunity has been wasted.

We recently wrote to Councillors Liz Leffman (Leader of the Council), Andrew Gant (Cabinet Member for Highway Management), Dan Levy (Active Travel Champion) and Duncan Enright (Cabinet Member for Travel & Development Strategy) asking them to:

  • answer our questions regarding the Active Travel Funding for the Headington LTNs and other abandoned Tranche 2 schemes
  • confirm (i) what decisions have been made regarding the Headington LTNs, (ii) when they were made, (iii) by whom and (iv) the reasons for the decisions regarding the Headington LTNs
  • commit to implementing the Headington LTN trials as a matter of urgency, setting out a clear timetable for this and if necessary securing further funding for them

We’ve been promised a full response to our letter and will provide an update if/when we hear anything.

Care about low-traffic neighbourhoods in Headington? Please make sure your view is heard!

  • Write to your Councillors to let them know you want to see LTNs in Headington. (Although LTNs are within the remit of the County Council as the Highways Authority, it is definitely worth also letting your City Councillors know your views. Unfortunately, most of the Headington-area County and City Councillors no longer support LTNs in Headington – nor any other COTP schemes that would benefit Headington, such as the traffic filter on Marston Ferry Road, for that matter – so they really need to hear from residents that support them).
  • Become a member of Headington Liveable Streets (if you aren’t already) to help demonstrate local community support for low-traffic neighbourhoods in Headington – please see our membership application form here.
  • Get in touch with us at hello@headingtonliveablestreets.org.uk if you’d like to help achieve the aim of getting low-traffic neighbourhoods trialled in Headington.