So, what’s this about a “climate lockdown”?

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Recently, there has been considerable social media chatter, and some newspaper commentary, around an idea that has come to be referred to as a “climate lockdown”. Commentators argue that, while not a stated policy goal, climate and traffic management measures being pursued by national and local government are ultimately intended to prevent people from travelling outside their local community. In essence a climate inspired version of travel restrictions that were applied during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.  

This post investigates whether this is the case – looking at:

  • The policies being pursued by national and local government.
  • The rules governing changes to traffic management arrangements.
  • Who decides what changes are made.
  • What opportunities are available for people and businesses wishing to get involved in such decisions.


Concerns about a “climate lockdown” are largely focused on three separate transport and land-use planning policies:

  • Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.
  • 20-minute neighbourhoods.
  • Low Emission Zones.

These are briefly described below:

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs): There is no formal definition of what constitutes an LTN.  In research on the topic, Prof. Rachel Aldred (Professor of Transport, University of Westminster) offered the following definition:

It’s a neighbourhood in which most or all through motor traffic has been removed from local residential streets (‘filtered’). This can be done in a range of ways: by planters, bollards, or other street furniture that physically block the road (emergency services can have key access to lockable bollards), by camera-enforced ‘gates’ (without physical restrictions, often so buses may get through, but fines may be imposed for illegitimate use), or opposed short sections of one-way street with cycle contraflows, intended to have a similar effect (less popular now, but some older schemes exist)… They have multiple aims – most obviously, to make filtered residential streets truly quiet while still allowing residents, visitors, and deliveries to access all properties by motor vehicle.

While the term LTN may be relatively recent, the concept is not.  The idea of “environmental areas”, residential streets free from though traffic where pedestrians and cyclists take precedence over motor vehicles was outlined in the Buchanan Report (Traffic in Towns) published by the Ministry of Transport in 1963. The design principles set out in this report can be seen in many housing developments built in the UK since the mid-1960s. Recent debate about the creation of LTNs is largely focussed on the retrofitting of such road layouts into pre-1960’s residential areas. In essence, changes that bring the road layout in older residential areas into line with those found in modern housing developments.

The impact of LTNs is explored in another SPICe Spotlight post.

20-minute neighbourhoods: The Scottish Government defines a 20-minute neighbourhood in the approved fourth National Planning Framework as follows:

…connected and often compact neighbourhoods designed in such a way that people can meet the majority of their daily needs within a reasonable distance of their home preferably by sustainable and active travel methods…Housing would be planned together with local infrastructure including schools, community centres, local shops and health and social care to significantly reduce the need to use unsustainable methods of travel, to prioritise quality of life, help tackle inequalities, increase levels of health and wellbeing and respond to the climate emergency.

This definition is largely based on the concept of a 15-minute city proposed by academic Carlos Moreno in 2016 and first adopted by the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, as a basis for planning of the city.

Despite the recent surge in interest in this concept, the idea of the 20-minute neighbourhood is as old as urban living itself. Until the advent of mass car ownership and the growth of car-based developments, such as out-of-town shopping centres and low-density edge of town housing developments, urban residents generally lived within walking distance of the shops and services they needed for day-to-day living. Similarly, service provision was planned by public and private organisations on the basis that users would access facilities by foot, bike or by public transport. These older “20-minute neighbourhoods” are amongst Scotland’s most popular and recognisable locales – the Edwardian and Victorian tenemented areas found in most of our towns and cities.

Low Emission Zones (LEZs): Low Emissions Zones (LEZs) will take effect on 1 June 2023 in Glasgow, 30 May 2024 in Dundee and 1 June 2024 in Aberdeen, and Edinburgh. A person cannot drive a vehicle on a road within a Scottish LEZ unless it meets specified emissions standards or is exempted from the LEZ restrictions. Anyone driving a non-compliant vehicle into an LEZ is liable to pay a penalty charge.

LEZs have been in operation in the UK and across Europe for over 15 years. Research has concluded that LEZs can produce a small reduction in air pollution (particulates and nitrous oxide) and that this may have a small positive effect on population health.


LTNs, 20-minute neighbourhoods and LEZs can only be established after they have been subject to consultation and approval processes set out in legislation, as briefly described below.

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods: LTNs typically involve the “filtering” of traffic at key points in a residential road network, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to pass while excluding motorised through-traffic – that is traffic simply passing through the area without stopping. Permanent filters can only be installed once a local authority has obtained a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO). To obtain a TRO, an authority must:

  • Publish a notice of the proposals in a local newspaper.
  • Consult Police Scotland, the Freight Transport Association and Road Haulage Association and, where appropriate, the relevant fire authority, NHS board and passenger transport authority.
  • Take any other steps it considers appropriate to ensure adequate publicity.
  • Allow potential objectors 21 days to make representations.
  • Hold a public hearing chaired by an independent Reporter if the TRO would prohibit loading at certain times, interfere with bus routes or create a one-way street. The authority can also choose to hold a public hearing in other circumstances. While legislation requires the local authority to “consider” the Reporter’s recommendations, in practice they are almost always accepted.

Any person may object to a proposed TRO. The authority is obliged to consider, but not always act upon, all objections before deciding whether to make the Order. Typically, an authority will carry out non-statutory consultation prior to the formal TRO process, seeking to work with communities to minimise points of contention that could become formal objections, while still meeting policy goals.

20-minute neighbourhoods: The development of new 20-minute neighbourhoods may require changes to road layouts, authorised under the TRO system described above. The creation of wider pavements or segregated cycleways on existing streets may also require a Redetermination of Public Rights of Passage Order, a legal mechanism unique to Scotland within the UK, which are approved under a very similar process to that used for TROs.

Decisions on whether to allow new developments within a 20-minute neighbourhood are made by the relevant planning authority (either the local authority or national park authority) in line with the requirements of Scottish planning law, policy, and the local development plan. Every application for planning permission is subject to a 21-day period during which objections can be submitted to the planning authority. The owners/tenants of neighbouring properties are directly notified of the proposed development, as are the relevant community council, and invited to submit comments and objections. An objection is a “material consideration” in the determination of an application for planning permission. The weight attached to an objection is a matter for the decision maker, considering the circumstances of the application.

Low Emission Zones: Local authorities are responsible for developing new or amended LEZ scheme, with the final decision on whether a scheme can go ahead made by Scottish Ministers. Scottish Ministers can modify any proposed LEZ scheme prior to approval.

Before asking Scottish Ministers to approve an LEZ scheme, a local authority must consult with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, Historic Environment Scotland and representatives of local business, drivers, the road haulage, bus and coach and taxi industries, any others specified in regulations by Scottish Ministers and anyone else the authority considers appropriate. Both the local authority and Scottish Ministers have powers to require an inquiry to be held into a proposed LEZ scheme, if they are not content with one or more elements of an LEZ proposal and believe that these should be opened to public scrutiny, comment and review. Any inquiry report will contain recommendations for consideration by the local authority and Scottish Ministers. No LEZ inquiries have been held to date.

Who decides?

Decisions on the size and scope of any new LTN or 20-minute neighbourhood are taken by democratically elected local authorities. These authorities can only act in accordance with legislation promoted by the UK or Scottish government that was subject to scrutiny and approval by either the UK or Scottish parliaments. Approval of an LEZ scheme is a matter for Scottish Ministers, working in accordance with legislation promoted by the Scottish Government and scrutinised and approved by the Scottish Parliament.


When considering claims of a “climate lockdown” with regard to the policies described above, it is worth noting that:

  • No-one is prevented from travelling anywhere that they wish to go because of these policies.
  • All streets remain open to motorised vehicles, although it is an offence to drive a vehicle through an LEZ that is not exempt or does not meet the required emissions standards.
  • All properties remain accessible to cars, delivery vans and trucks, taxis, and service vehicles such as bin lorries.
  • All decisions on LTNs, 20-minute neighbourhoods and LEZs are taken by democratically elected politicians.
  • The processes for establishing new LTNs, 20-minute neighbourhoods and LEZs are set out in legislation scrutinised and approved by the UK and Scottish parliaments.
  • The processes for establishing new LTNs, 20-minute neighbourhoods and LEZs require consultation with interested parties and the public. Issues raised during such consultation must be considered by decision makers during the approval process.
  • LTNs, 20-minute neighbourhoods and LEZs are being created to support UK, Scottish and local policy goals to reduce climate emissions, reduce local air pollution, reduce road danger, enhance neighbourhood amenity, reduce the need to travel by car, and tackle issues including inactivity and obesity.

Alan Rehfisch, Senior Researcher, SPICe