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Rishi Sunak is committed to net zero despite declaring war on ‘anti-car schemes’, sources insist

Rishi Sunak has not abandoned the Government’s net zero commitments despite the Prime Minister signalling a major watering down of green policies, senior Government sources have insisted.

Mr Sunak declared at the weekend that he is “on the side” of motorists, ordering a review into low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) and opposing the expansion of ultra-low emission zones in London.

The Prime Minister declared war on such “anti-car schemes”, which aim to promote cycling and walking, while producing cleaner air for local residents.

It comes as amid growing speculation that the Prime Minister could soon commit to a major expansion of North Sea oil and gas exploration, with a decision due on whether to approve the development of Rosebank, 80 miles north-west of the Shetland Isles.

Last week, Mr Sunak ordered a review of all net zero policies, with the intention of scrapping those that are seen as “proportionate and pragmatic”.

Despite the apparent backtrack on the Government’s green agenda, a senior source rejected the idea that the Prime Minister was retreating on the issue.

“We remain fully committed to net zero, his language is that it needs to be proportionate and pragmatic and that has always been his approach since he has had a senior role in government,” the source said. “It is about striking the right balance of finding technologies that can help provide us with new green sources of energy, and also taking into account the costs of such commitments.”

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Sunak said he had asked the Department for Transport to launch a review into LTNs, which aim to limit traffic in town and city centres, and have caused deep divisions in local communities, such as Oxford and parts of London.

But it remains unclear what action central Government could take if it found a council had introduced an LTN that was opposed by local residents.

In what was a major pitch to motorists, the Prime Minister said: “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.”

Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, who has spoken out before about LTNs, said the Tories are “about giving people more choice on how they travel, not banning you from driving your car”.

The move was backed by Gareth Bacon, Tory MP for Orpington, who said it is “becoming increasingly fashionable for people to attack motorists, as if motorists are somehow a problem”.

“If you live outside central London, getting around is not very straightforward by public transport,” he told i. “So, people do need their vehicles, and making life as difficult as possible, or as expensive as possible, I just don’t think it’s the way forward.”

Labour attacked the move, branding it “pure hypocrisy” that the Conservatives were now denouncing a policy that they were “instrumental in introducing and accelerating at pace”.

Shadow Transport Secretary, Louise Haigh, added: “Measures to improve road safety around schools and in residential streets are often demanded by local communities themselves. That’s why these are decisions for local authorities and must be done with proper consultation and taking on board the concerns of communities.”

The LTN policy was introduced by Boris Johnson in February 2020 as part of a £5bn active travel plan and expanded during the pandemic.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Local traffic measures must work for residents, businesses and emergency services.

“That’s why we are reviewing the impact of low-traffic neighbourhoods introduced by local authorities and will provide more details in due course.”

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