Turning London into a Ghetto

We have covered the disastrous mismanagement of the finances of Transport for London (TfL) in several previous articles. That came home to roost when the coronavirus epidemic reduced people’s inclination to use public transport thus reducing TfL’s income and resulting in the need for Government bail-outs.

The latest wheeze by Mayor Sadiq Khan to fix his financial difficulties is the proposal to charge anyone who drives into London from outside a tax of £3.50 per day (or £5.50 for more polluting vehicles). The whole of the Greater London Authority (GLA) area which is that within the M25 would be subject to the “charge” (i.e. tax) so yet again we have the situation that those who have to pay the tax are not represented because they have no say in who gets elected as Mayor of London. This is totally undemocratic.

There are estimated to be 1.3 million journeys into London from outside each week which are mainly into the outer suburbs. But it would seem the Mayor is keen to turn London into a ghetto of cyclists and public transport users. Even with the new tax which might raise £250 million per year, it won’t solve the financial difficulties of TfL. It’s still likely to need another bailout from the Government of another £3 billion.

There was an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph last week that reported that the UK population is “in the biggest fall since the Second World War”. The over-population of our crowded island, particularly in London and the South-East, has been one of my major concerns for some years. This has led to congested transport systems and a major shortage of homes.

The population reduction is not because of deaths from Covid-19 which have only risen slightly above the normal levels but an “unprecedented exodus of foreign-born workers” resulting in a fall of 1.3 million in 2020. The largest fall was in London where it may have been 700,000. The article also suggests there is likely to be a “baby bust” as couples delay starting a family which might push the birth rate to its lowest on record according to estimates from PWC.

Such a reduction in the population of London will have negative consequences for the economy in general and particularly for the finances of TfL so the proposals for more taxes and Government bail-outs may only be a short-term fix to TfL’s financial difficulties. They still have not faced up to the issue that the public transport network needs to be downsized to meet the demand.

The proposed Greater London “boundary charge” will be the subject of a feasibility study and later public consultation before it can go ahead. It will clearly require permission from central Government. You can read more about this and other proposals to fund TfL in the “Financial Sustainability Plan” – see http://content.tfl.gov.uk/financial-sustainability-plan-11-january-2021.pdf

Although some reductions in bus services are proposed to save money, TfL are also proposing to go into commercial property development so as to generate more income. It was of course the speculation in commercial property development that got the London Borough of Croydon into such major financial difficulty that they have effectively become insolvent. Perhaps this is not such a wise idea after all?   

An interesting chart from the Plan is this one:

It shows how underground train usage has been reduced to a small fraction of former levels by the pandemic and bus usage is not much better. Traffic levels are also below normal and cycling rose during the summer but has since fallen back to previous levels. There is no cycling revolution in London as some people claim.

The Plan also suggests that with the demand for active travel growing “to capitalise on enthusiasm during lockdown we should invest in reallocating road space from private cars in a way that allows for mixed use” (see page 38). So it looks like we still even more money wasted on cycle lanes and worse gridlock in London.

The Plan also proposes Road User Charging as a way to finance the Mayor’s Transport Strategy (see page 94). In other words, this is likely to be another way to raise taxes on Londoners.  

In total, these proposals will hasten the destruction of London’s economy and encourage even more people to leave London to live elsewhere. Certainly anyone reading the Plan will get the urge to do so.

Roger Lawson

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Make Lee Green and Croydon Committee Review of LTN

It has come to my attention that a leaflet has been circulated in Lewisham by an organisation (or one person) called “Make Lee Green”. It argues that Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) are a big part of the solution to make “A safer, healthier, more sustainable Lewisham”. It then quotes some very selective and misleading statistics.

For example it says “80% of journeys in London will be made by foot, bike or public transport by 2041”. That may be the Mayor of London’s objectives as published in his Mayor’s Transport Strategy a couple of year’s ago but the chance of this happening is very low. The recent trends tell us that the Mayor is nowhere near on target to achieve that. For outer London boroughs it is very unlikely to be met. For example, for the whole of London, before the pandemic hit, the figure was just over 60% but with lockdown measures continuing, the overall “active, efficient and sustainable” mode share – public transport, walking and cycling – could in fact be “the lowest seen in London since the early 2000’s, and not be back at 2019 levels until well into 2021″, the latest report concludes (see links below).

A lot of the journeys are by bus and how are buses more sustainable than cars? They are not, and bus users are not participating in active travel and neither are they necessarily “efficient” if people have to go on round about routes to reach their destinations.

Overall traffic volumes have actually been falling in London in recent years, particularly car trips, but LGV and PHV trips have increased as more people use internet shopping and more people use services such as Uber. These both tend to be trips on minor roads to access local premises and homes, but LTNs do not remove those trips.

So who is publishing and circulating these misleading Make Lee Green leaflets? There is no name and address on the leaflet and neither is there any on their associated web site, where they are even using a proxy service to conceal the identity of the web site owners. In summary the leaflets are simply a piece of distorted propaganda from someone who prefers to remain anonymous. Is it more than one person? We should be told.

OnLondon Travel Report: https://www.onlondon.co.uk/latest-travel-in-london-report-details-extent-of-covids-impact-on-capitals-transport/

Travel in London Survey: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2019/12/27/travel-in-london-survey-how-its-being-made-more-difficult/

Croydon Committee Review of LTN

I mentioned previously the report on the LTN in the Crystal Palace and South Norwood area of Croydon. It was discussed by the Traffic Management Advisory Committee last night (12/1/2021). Ian Plowright, Head of Transport, gave a very misleading summary of the report and the new proposals to convert the LTN to an “experimental” scheme using ANPR cameras to enforce. Eliska Finlay, representing “Open our roads” gave a good speech in support of scrapping the LTN altogether (see https://webcasting.croydon.gov.uk/meetings/11439 for a recording of the meeting).

The views of committee members were 2 in support of the ANPR scheme but 3 were against. It will now depend on decisions by the Chair of the Committee and others. But there is a good chance the whole scheme will be abandoned. That is particularly bearing in mind that the funding of an ANPR scheme will require approval of funding by both TfL and the DfT which may not be forthcoming.

In summary this was an ill-conceived scheme which has had very negative consequences for residents of that part of Croydon but also in neighbouring boroughs, particularly Bromley. It should be scrapped as soon as possible.

The public survey responses were quite clear. The LTN scheme in Croydon is not wanted. No doubt Lewisham residents would say the same thing if they were asked about their LTN, as would residents in other London boroughs who have been suffering the consequences of these ill-thought out schemes.

Roger Lawson

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How Many Objections has Lewisham Council Received to the LTNs? They Claim Not to Know.

How many objections has the London Borough of Lewisham received to the road closures and other aspects of the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in the borough? Nobody knows apparently.

We submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request in early November in which we asked for the numbers and have finally received a response. That’s way past the legal limit for responses for which they have apologised. But they now claim they have no information on the subject.

I consider their response to be disgraceful.

I specifically worded my request so that they could give estimates of the number of objections if exact figures were not available.

But it is clearly a nonsense when the Council invites people to send comments to traffic@lewisham.gov.uk about the LTNs but does not record how many of the comments received are objections. Even if not recorded at the time there is nothing stopping them from reviewing past comments received by council officers and councillors. The number of objections received is clearly vital information when the Council is considering the impact of the Temporary Traffic Orders used to implement the LTNs and I simply do not believe that the Council has no information on this subject.

I believe they are deliberately trying to avoid responding to my FOI request. Just like Mayor Damien Egan did in reply to a similar question in a Council Meeting.

It would seem that Councillors and Council staff are deliberately trying to conceal vital information from the public on this issue, when we know that there have clearly been a very large number of objections – for example we have collected over 12,000 signatures on a petition requesting removal of the road closures.

Councillors are turning a deaf ear to complaints in the hope that people will come to accept the LTNs. But they will not.

Our complaint about the failure to respond to the FOI Act request will be pursued further.

Roger Lawson

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Croydon LTN Supported by Council Despite Overwhelming Public Opposition

Croydon Council introduced a Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) in the Crystal Palace and South Norwood areas using Temporary Traffic Orders a few months ago. In included road closures on such roads as Auckland Road (see photo above). The closures generated a very large number of complaints about increased traffic congestion and generally making life more difficult for residents including opposition from the neighbouring borough of Bromley into which traffic was diverted. A campaign group called “Open Our Roads” was formed to oppose the closures (see https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2020/10/18/crystal-palace-campaign-against-road-closures/ ).

Croydon Council have undertaken a public consultation on the LTN and produced a report on the survey results. This will now be considered by a Traffic Management Advisory Committee on the 12th January. See link before for the report. It’s 370 pages long so here are some key points to note from it:

  1. They propose to remove the measures implementing the LTN but propose to replace them with a scheme based on an Experimental Traffic Order. This will include a number of road closures enforced by ANPR cameras from which they will no doubt generate considerable revenue, although there will be some exemptions for local residents. Note that in December Croydon effectively declared bankruptcy by issuing a Section 114 notice due to financial mismanagement over several years by the ruling Labour administration. They are desperate to raise income it seems.
  • These proposals are being made despite 75% of residents within the LTN area opposing the retention of the scheme and 62% opposing the introduction of an ANPR scheme. Some 61% want the scheme removed altogether with only 23% opposing – these are very decisive numbers for any public survey and do not even include responses from those living outside the LTN who responded.
  • There was very decisive opposition from areas such as SE19, SE20, SE25 and within Bromley.
  • Journey times in areas such as the Crystal Palace Triangle showed “moderate to significant” increases in peak periods, with a “serious” increase in the PM peak.

The proposal to retain any part of the LTN scheme is clearly totally undemocratic. They argue that the survey done was not a “truly representative picture of local views” which is surely nonsense. It is certainly no justification for continuing with the LTN and imposing an Experimental Traffic Order.

Will Councillors do what their residents want or ignore them in the name of pursuing a response to the “Climate Emergency” they have declared? We will soon see. But they should bear in mind that there is no evidence that LTNs create any overall benefits in terms of air pollution because it often just means drivers have to drive further to get to their chosen destinations and sit in traffic jams for longer.

Unfortunately Croydon is one those London Councils where Councillors decisions are apparently driven by dogma and not by logic.

Report to Traffic Management Committee: https://tinyurl.com/y57nbcse

Daily Telegraph Report: https://tinyurl.com/y53xcf4t

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The Season of Goodwill – But Not Everywhere

As this is likely to be my last blog post before the New Year, I would like to wish all our readers a Happy Christmas and best wishes for the New Year. It cannot be a worse one than this year surely!

In this traditional season of goodwill, it seems rather thin on the ground of late. The French have blocked lorries from crossing the Channel ports because they apparently fear the spread of the new Covid-19 strain. The result is that at least 150 trucks are queued up on the M20 in Kent with more spread around the country. On a normal day as many as 9,000 lorries cross the Channel and there is a fear we might run out of lettuce and strawberries over the holidays.

In reality the French are mainly blocking their own countrymen and other European truck drivers from returning home for Christmas. They will be stuck on the motorway with no toilets or other services. How uncharitable is that! And it’s all pointless as the new virus strain is undoubtedly already widespread on the Continent.

Meanwhile the Brexit free trade negotiations are still stuck on arguing about fish. Let us be generous in this season of goodwill and let the French have some cod, haddock and mackerel which can swim over the border anyway. They have for hundreds of years traditionally fished in English waters so to abruptly kick them out along with the Spanish and other European fishing fleets just seems spiteful when we otherwise might get what we want from a trade agreement. It’s not being fair to put much of the French fishing industry out of work on New Year’s Day for the sake of a principle.

We need a new Entente Cordiale and to stop this petty bickering.

Likewise we need fewer arguments over Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and other attacks on the role of vehicles on our roads, driven by dogma on all sides. More compromise and consultation are required. It’s surely not impossible!

Have a good Xmas.

Roger Lawson

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Ella Kissi-Debrah Inquest and the South Circular

The Coroner on the reopened inquest into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah has delivered a verdict that says air pollution “made a material contribution” to her death. This decision has been long awaited, and indeed campaigned for, by those opposed to air pollution, particularly from vehicles.

Was the verdict surprising? I suggest not because it is well known that high air pollution can trigger and exacerbate asthma attacks, particularly in those sensitive to such events.

Ella Kissi-Debrah lived about 30 metres from the South Circular (A205) in Lewisham. This is a road that is often congested and is one of the few roads around the south of London and hence is used by many HGVs, buses and numerous other vehicles. Air pollution is obviously very high as a result along the road and no doubt nearby. The coroner’s verdict that air pollution contributed to the child’s death is not unreasonable. But Ella Kissi-Debrah seems to have had a long history of health problems that compounded her difficulties. Using this death as grounds for generalisations on the effects of air pollution on the population would not be wise.

This is a road that has not been fit for purpose for at least 50 years. This writer has been avoiding it for that length of time ever since I have lived in South-East London. There has been an abject failure by bodies such as TfL and the boroughs through which the road runs (including Lewisham) to improve the road and tackle the congestion which is a prime cause of the high air pollution.

Whether air pollution generally in London is a major threat to public health at its current levels is another matter altogether, however much campaigners on this issue promote the coroner’s verdict. With vehicles getting cleaner, while air pollution from other sources has been rising in London, simplistic analysis would be wrong. People have actually been living longer in general but it still makes sense to tackle the worse air pollution hot-spots.

Unfortunately Lewisham Council have actually made matters worse on the South Circular by closing roads under the banner of “Low Traffic Neighbourhoods”. This has diverted traffic from side roads onto the main roads including the South Circular, making it even more clogged up for most of the day. Ms Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, Ella’s mother, has complained about these actions and was quoted in the Times as saying “lots and lots of people live in these roads that are already gridlocked. And lots of children that live in these areas have respiratory issues. Is it morally right to add more traffic to those roads? We have to ask that question”.

In conclusion, as someone who has suffered from asthma in the past, let me say that cleaning up the worst locations on London’s roads for air pollution should be a high priority. Asthma is very unpleasant even in mild forms, and although treatments have improved in recent years, deaths from asthma can exceed 1,000 in a year in the UK.

There are several ways to reduce air pollution in high locations but certainly one of them is to ensure that roads have adequate capacity for the demand imposed on them.

Postscript: The Coroner’s verdict was widely misreported, including the BBC saying that air pollution was “the cause of her death” on TV News, implying it was the sole cause. The Coroner actually said that he intended to record “air pollution exposure” as a third cause of death in addition to acute respiratory failure and severe asthma. But he did criticise the authorities for failing to take action on excessive air pollution. Sadiq Khan made his usual political point by blaming his predecessor for lack of action on air pollution, but one might just as well blame Ken Livingstone and the Government before the GLA was formed because the problems on the South Circular go back many years.

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Tax Rises from the Mayor of London

I just received a letter from Shaun Bailey. No this is not a personal Xmas card from the Conservative Party candidate for Mayor because I think everyone in the street received a copy. It’s a note about the current Mayor’s proposals to raise the Council Tax Precept that all Londoners pay to fund his operations. This is some of what the note says:

IF YOU DO NOT TAKE ACTION, YOUR MAYORAL COUNCIL TAX WILL RISE BY 21.2%

The Mayor of London levies a tax called the Mayoral Precept. Every household in London pays this tax as part of their council tax bill.

This tax is bundled together with your local council tax. And the Mayor’s portion is set to rise by 21.2%.

To stop this tax rise, you must take action. Please visit www.stopkhanstaxhike.com

Sadiq Khan has already raised your mayoral council tax by 20.3% since 2016. But now he’s planning to raise it even further — in order to pay for his waste at TfL.

Over the last four years, he accumulated £9.56 billion in wasteful spending at Transport for London.

£159 million on free travel for friends of TfL staff. £828 million on pension overpayments. £5.25 billion on Crossrail delays.

Now TfL is on its second bailout. And in the second bailout’s settlement letter, Sadiq Khan revealed that he’s planning to pass the cost on to Londoners with a rise in council tax.

<END>

That’s not the only way the Mayor is planning to raise taxes. He is proposing to raise as much as £500 million every year by charging anyone who drives into Greater London from outside the metropolis. He has already asked Transport for London (TfL) to look into such a plan which might involve a daily fee of £3.50 – but that could soon be raised once the tax is in place and cameras installed to pick it up.

Mr Khan argues that public transport users subsidise road maintenance in the capital as some of that expenditure comes from public transport fares. But bus users should certainly contribute to road maintenance surely?

In addition he is ignoring the fact that technically most of London’s roads are maintained by local boroughs. In fact he is simplifying the issues of where the money comes from because much of it comes from central Government.

The impact on outer London boroughs, and those who live in the wider South-East, of such a tax could be devastating. There are three groups of people who would be badly affected: 1) Those who drive into London for employment (not many do so to central London, but those who work in the outer London boroughs often do so); 2) those who drive into outer London Tube or Rail stations to park as part of their commute (“rail heading” as it is called); and 3) those who drive into outer London “town” centres such as Orpington and Bromley for shopping. Many service providers to businesses in London also visit from outside such as plumbers, accountants, etc.

Perhaps it is worth pointing out that none of these people will get a vote to decide who is Mayor of London. In effect it is taxation without representation, a good enough cause to start a revolution.

It really is time that central Government takes over the government of London and the management of its finances as Sadiq Khan has made a complete hash of it. Allowing him to tax those who live outside London but just want to visit it will cause a mass exodus of businesses and people from London. It will also be the final nail in the coffin of many High Street retail businesses in London.

The Mayor of London has already introduced the LEZ, ULEZ and central Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax) which have been primarily driven by the Mayor’s desire to build an empire based on raising taxes from Londoners rather than reducing congestion or air pollution. The latest proposals are yet another feeble excuse for money grabbing.

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Pollution in LTN Rose, Nigel Farage’s Roads Election Pledge, and Emergency Service Access Problems

The Daily Telegraph has run a couple of interesting articles on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) recently. The first one (see Reference 1 below for link to the article) reports that NO2 levels fell substantially in Wandsworth after an LTN was removed. The air pollution increased on main roads where traffic congestion increased, often grinding to a halt during rush hours. There were also problems with access by emergency services to the LTNs.

The article also lists the 31 councils who have removed, modified or cancelled green roads initiatives.

The second article was on the commitment by Nigel Farage and his Reform Party (formerly the Brexit Party) to field candidates who oppose local politicians (“any and everyone”) who support the madness of the Government’s green transport revolution – see Reference 2.

Mr Farage is quoted as saying: “If measures to improve the environment really are necessary, they can only be introduced sensibly and with proper consultation, not sneaked through cynically under the guise of the pandemic”.

Comment: The ABD would certainly agree with that. The Reform Party might gain a lot of supporters in Labour controlled London boroughs such as Lewisham, Lambeth, Croydon and others where LTNs have proved to be deeply unpopular. Such boroughs were seen as good targets for the Brexit Party in the past as the concerns of many working-class voters have been ignored by the new socialist elite.

Emergency Service Access Problems Reported by the London Ambulance Service

The second Telegraph article also mentions a Freedom of Information Act request handled by the Borough of Greenwich (see Reference 3). It includes these comments from the London Ambulance Service:

“The London Ambulance Service (LAS) cannot support any scheme that involves the closure of a road to traffic using static bollards, lockable bollards, coffin bollards, gates or physical barriers like planters. The main reason for this is our vehicles do not carry any form GERDA or FB keys to access these obstacles and delays can be detrimental to patient safety.

Existing schemes already create us problems and gates and bollards are not generally routinely maintained pan London and are difficult to unlock anyway.

The nearest available ambulance is dispatched to a 999 call so we do not profile emergency access routes like the LFB because any crew from across London can be dispatched if they are nearest and this might not be a local crew.

Any delay in response to an address behind closures could be detrimental to patient safety and cause serious harm, injury or even death to a patient due to the ambulance response being delayed.

Consideration also needs to be given to the wider health and social care providers who will need access to address and are on tight schedules. Patient transport ambulance picking patients up for chemotherapy or dialysis appointments, district and community healthcare teams and social care carers will all be delayed by having to navigated additional road closures and restrictions leading to delayed care, welfare issues, humanitarian concerns and potential for emergency admission as a result of delays. Addition missed clinical appointments has a detrimental effect on service delivery and patient flow through the NHS system. Consideration of exemptions for these staff through restrictions would also need to be given.

Although the LAS does support the need to ensure social distancing this cannot be at the detriment of patients calling 999, but currently the use of any kind of bollards/gate/planter to close road is not acceptable”.

Clearly the “modal filters” used in so many LTN schemes are not advisable such as that blocking access to an ambulance in Lee Green (photo above). . Such objections may be why Councils are now installing camera systems to close roads instead. But that just creates complaints about the number of PCNs generated through inadvertent mistakes.

Reference 1: Pollution rose in Low Traffic Neighbourhood: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/12/05/exclusive-pollution-rises-low-traffic-neighbourhoods/

Reference 2: Nigel Farage’s roads election pledge:  https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/12/05/exclusive-nigel-farages-roads-election-pledge/

Reference 3: London Ambulance Service FOI Letter: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/low_traffice_neighbourhood_corre_7#incoming-1657822

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Cycle Lane on Kensington High Street Removed

A “temporary” cycle lane on Kensington High Street is being removed – note the reference to “temporary”, it was never intended that it would necessarily be made permanent. It was installed as part of the temporary Covid-19 emergency measures and financed accordingly. But cyclists are angered by its removal.

Johnny Thalassites, lead member for transport in the borough has said: ‘The cycle lane was a trial scheme to help those hopping on bikes during lockdowns and encourage shoppers to the High Street. Businesses and residents have told us loud and clear that they believe the experiment has not worked. We are listening”. The council claims to have received hundreds of emails asking for it to be removed and large numbers of signatures to a petition.

The whole scheme was planned to cost over £700,000 and the council has received £313,000 in funding via TfL’s Streetspace fund for the cycle lanes. But Cycling Commissioner Will Norman is suggesting TfL should ask for the cash back.

This is what the petitioners said on Change.org about the scheme: “The Council of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) has, without much consultation, created bike lanes along Kensington High Street, from Hyde Park all the way to Hammersmith, on both sides of the road, restricting the traffic to one lane for all vehicles (cars, vans, motorbikes, buses, etc.).

Kensington High Street was already a busy road, but as a consequence of this scheme, it has become unmanageable. The traffic East to West is now backing up all the way to the Albert Hall and on some days almost to Knightsbridge, and it is taking an unacceptable amount of time for commuters, workers, families dropping off and picking up from schools, taxi drivers and vans delivering goods to residents and businesses, to cross this crucial bottleneck.

This scheme has introduced chaos to an entire area of West London”. See photo above showing the congestion it caused, from the petition site.

Comment: Reducing road space to include cycle lanes so that a whole traffic lane is removed is never a good idea on busy roads. In addition putting cycle lanes on roads where heavy traffic is present and hence some air pollution is also not a good idea. Best to put them on quieter back streets. But the major objection to this scheme was the lack of public consultation before it was installed. It’s now being removed without public consultation.

The lack of public consultation has meant an enormous waste of money and it could never have been justified by the Covid-19 epidemic.

It is also proposed to remove the cycle lane installed on the Euston Road, and there are many objections to the one on Park Lane where there is a good alternative “off-road” route for cyclists.

The ABD suggests that cycle lanes should be off the road, or cyclists should share road space with other road users as they are perfectly capable of doing. The removal of traffic lanes just causes big problems to other road users and there is never any cost/benefit justification provided. With the number of cyclists using the new “pop-up” cycle lanes being small, most of them could never be justified.  

At least it is good to see that the Council in this case has actually listened to local residents and businesses who mainly opposed the scheme.

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London Opposition to LTNs, Lewisham Council Meeting, Commonplace and Ealing Opposed to LTNs

There are now multiple campaigns all over London opposing Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). See this web page for a list of some of them (if you know of more please let me know so we can add to the list): https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/london-road-closures.htm . They show how anger is growing against the road closures which have been counterproductive in so many ways.

Lewisham Council Meeting

There was a meeting of Lewisham Council’s Overview and Business Scrutiny Panel on the 24th November. They finally got around to discussing the Report on the “Temporary measures to support safer talking and cycling in response to the Covid 19 pandemic”, i.e. the report on the Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) introduced in Lee Green and Lewisham. But it is of course a misnomer as this was a scheme planned well before the epidemic hit and it has nothing to do with the epidemic at all.

You can actually watch a recording of the meeting (see Ref. 1 below) but you would not find it particularly revealing (Item 4 is about 58 minutes in).

The Chairman and other speakers blamed the Government for the timescale imposed to implement the measures which meant there was no time for public consultation. But it is important to note that the Council did not have to take the money or implement the schemes as they have done! It was their choice to do so.

It is clear the Council hopes that the traffic will “evaporate” over time as people get used to the road closures but that is surely a vain hope (note that traffic congestion has certainly reduced in recent weeks but that is because of the lock-down restrictions recently in place with shopping, eating out and visiting friends severely restricted).

There were however some concerns expressed about the use of the Commonplace system as a consultation method, which I cover below in more detail.

Reference 1: Council Overview and Scrutiny Panel Meeting: https://councilmeetings.lewisham.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=121&MId=6060&Ver=4

Commonplace System

The Commonplace system is used by a number of Councils and other organisations as a consultation mechanism, or a “community engagement platform” as they call it. It is a commercial operation which sells its services to councils (see https://www.commonplace.is/ ) and is funded by venture capital.

One of the first London Councils to use it was Waltham Forest and Lewisham have used it more recently to cover their Lee Green LTN scheme (see https://walthamforest.commonplace.is/ and https://lewishamcovidresidentialstreets.commonplace.is/ ).

The system is not an unbiased platform in that typically it is used to promote what a Council is planning to do – and more recently that means after decisions have already been made to implement schemes.

It also has the problem that unlike a conventional public consultation only people who are internet enabled, and are even aware of the platform, can respond. This excludes a large number of people such as the elderly who are not internet connected or don’t spend much time on it. So it tends to be dominated by young activists and those active in local politics, i.e. the comments on it are unrepresentative of the wider population.

How unrepresentative is it? It’s impossible to say because little information is collected on the profile of those who add comments and not even names are shown on the published comments, i.e. people can comment anonymously which is never a good idea.

But it is very clear if you look at the comments published on Lewisham’s LTN that many comments are repetitive and the same comments are made on multiple roads. There seems to be no attempt to stop duplicate comments so the system can be exploited by organised activist groups such as cyclists.

There is no way that Lewisham Council can get a balanced view of the comments received or any statistically useful information. They can pick comments out to justify any stance they wish to take.

Wildly inaccurate comments can also be made on the platform with no “rebuttal” possible – you can only “Agree” with comments, not “Disagree” with them and you cannot comment further in response. Clearly there are many people commenting who are not directly affected, and those that are affected just give very polarised comments. The comments are not helpful in determining a sensible compromise to meet the needs of the majority.

In summary, Commonplace is a system that can be used by Councils to claim they are “listening” to residents when in reality it is not a fair and honest way to collect the views of all residents. It is not an alternative to a proper public consultation and is more designed to promote the views of scheme promoters than collect unbiased information.

DO NOT ACCEPT COMMONPLACE AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO PROPER PUBLIC CONSULTATIONS!

Surveys Give the Truth – Ealing Opposes LTNs

Surveys of residents are more likely to give an unbiased and honest view of LTN schemes. Those undertaken by the LibDems and the ABD in Lewisham show a very large percentage opposed to road closures. The latest such survey is one done by the Conservative Party in Ealing – see https://www.ealingconservatives.org.uk/news/LTNSurveyResults . As their headline says: “95% of people living in Ealing’s LTN zones want them removed”. The Ealing Commonplace site just shows again how the platform just provides a way for extremists of all kinds to vent their anger rather than provide constructive criticism.

Funds for Legal Action

It is clear that Councils such as Ealing and Lewisham are going to persist with schemes that are opposed by the majority of local residents. As it will be two years before local councillors come up for re-election, and they are unlikely to change their minds in the meantime, the only short-term way to stop the proliferation of road closures under the name of “Low Traffic Neighbourhoods” is to mount a legal challenge.

We believe there are good grounds for a legal challenge to these measures and have looked at the legal issues in some detail and have taken legal advice already. But we do need to raise substantial funds to launch a challenge (thanks to those who have already donated but we need many more people to do so).

PLEASE SUPPORT OUR CAMPAIGN AGAINST ROAD CLOSURES BY GOING HERE TO DONATE: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/legal-fund.htm