Plans for controversial 20-minute neighbourhoods have been halted in Norfolk, amid a growing national backlash against so-called anti-car restrictions.

Norfolk County Council had previously voted unanimously to explore the idea of creating such zones, but has since rowed back on the strategy.

Senior councillors now say there are no plans to bring in the measures and have distanced themselves from the concept.

It comes after prime minister Rishi Sunak ordered a review of policies being introduced by local councils to restrict car use, amid growing debate over their impact.

Such schemes aim to reduce traffic, in part by preventing drivers using quieter residential roads as through-routes.

Some research suggests they reduce localised pollution. But critics, including some Conservatives MPs, argue they harm the freedom of motorists and push traffic onto other roads, causing congestion.

Eastern Daily Press: Prime minister Rishi SunakPrime minister Rishi Sunak (Image: LEON NEAL)

Norfolk County Council held a vote in December to work with other authorities and transport bosses to explore the creation of 20-minute neighbourhoods in urban and rural areas.

The idea behind the neighbourhoods is that people can get to key services, such as healthcare, schools, parks and shops selling fresh food, with no need to get in a car.

Their supporters claim they do not entail any specific restrictions against motorists, but simply promote alternative forms of transport.

But the proposal, led by Conservative councillor Lana Hempsall, sparked a backlash.

Eastern Daily Press: Lana HempsallLana Hempsall (Image: Conservative Party)

There were protests and public meetings in Thetford, amid claims from opponents that the policy was 'anti-car' and part of a wider conspiracy to restrict freedom of movement.

County Hall had insisted there was no intention to stop people using their cars, but that the idea of all services being within a 20-minute round trip on foot was worth exploring when it came to planning and protecting towns and villages.

Eastern Daily Press: Low-traffic neighbourhoods have caused angerLow-traffic neighbourhoods have caused anger (Image: PA Wire/PA Images PA Wire/PA Images)

The council said it was about giving people choice and creating conditions where walking, cycling and using public transport was possible.

But after Mr Sunak's comments - seen as a move to pitch the Conservatives as a pro-motorist party - County Hall confirmed it has rowed back on exploring 20-minute neighbourhoods and low-traffic neighbourhood schemes.

Eastern Daily Press: Graham Plant, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transportGraham Plant, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport (Image: Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk)

Graham Plant, the council's cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport confirmed no formal work had started over 20-minute neighbourhoods.

He said: "Low-traffic neighbourhoods or 20-minute neighbourhoods are simply names given to schemes that have been delivered on the ground elsewhere in the UK and we currently have no plans to deliver schemes under these banners.

"We are aware of the concerns raised elsewhere in the UK where schemes have been delivered, and continue to review all the feedback and evidence coming out of these.

"I have never considered low-traffic neighbourhoods for Norfolk and we agreed to review the evidence and possible benefits of 20-minute zones.

"No formal work on this has been started and we will await to see if there is any new guidance to local authorities following the prime minister’s review."

Mr Plant said the council's Local Transport Plan (LTP) showed the authority wanted to improve travel choices for people, so they can walk, cycle or use public transport, where this is possible, or continue to use their cars.

Ms Hempsall said, since she put forward her motion in December, the connotations of what a 20-minute neighbourhood entailed had changed.

The 20-minute neighbourhoods differ from low-traffic neighbourhoods.

The latter schemes, introduced in cities such as Oxford, aim to limit traffic and encourage people to walk, cycle or use public transport.

But, with barriers put up to stop drivers using quiet residential roads as through routes and businesses saying it has killed trade, it has caused uproar, including among Tory MPs.

Eastern Daily Press: Mayor of London Sadiq KhanMayor of London Sadiq Khan (Image: PA Wire/PA Images)

Anger over the extension of London's ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) - championed by the city's London mayor Sadiq Khan - was also seen as key to the Tories recently holding on to Boris Johnson's former Uxbridge and South Ruislip parliamentary seat.

Confirming the low-traffic neighbourhood review at the weekend, Mr Sunak 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."

Eastern Daily Press: Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County CouncilSteve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County Council (Image: Archant)

But Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group at County Hall, said: "It really is time for a grown-up conversation rather than using this as a desperate electoral ploy.

"You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but local schemes designed with local knowledge usually work better and work out less expensive.

"The county council has lost a lot of trust over roads. That’s been replaced by suspicion and conspiracy theories. It’s going to take a lot of work to win back that trust."