Grant Shapps Changes Stance

I have been spending a lot of time on the ABD’s campaign against road closures in Lewisham and other London boroughs over the last few months. It has just achieved some success as Lewisham Council announced a reopening of some roads on Friday. But not enough to appease the complainants, and not enough I think to stop the traffic congestion on many roads.

Part of the problem has been the encouragement by Central Government for road closures and cycle lanes, and funding to assist, as promulgated by Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary.

A Parliamentary e-petition on the subject has already collected near 20,000 signatures in a few days, with some help from the ABD. See https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/552306 . Please sign it and get your friends and relations to do so. And write to your member of Parliament on the Subject.

But it seems the worm is turning as the Daily Telegraph reported the following: “A letter, sent on Friday to local authority transport bosses and local highways authorities and seen by The Telegraph, warns how a ‘notable number of councils used their funding poorly and were simply out of step with the needs of the local communities’. Mr Shapps also said: ‘I saw or heard from the public and parliamentary colleagues about far too many instances where temporary cycles lanes were unused due to their location and design, while their creation left motor traffic backed up alongside them; of wide pavements causing unnecessary congestion in town centres; and other issues that many have, rightly, reacted angrily to.’

He explains how he had ordered his staff to “engage” with those councils where he had ‘concerns’, because badly thought out road closures and cycle lanes had been introduced.

‘Since then, numerous schemes have been scaled back and revised,’ he wrote. ‘I am pleased with this, but the work will continue where local residents continue to have concerns.’

He warns the second round of funding in the scheme could see some town halls receiving ‘considerably less’ money if they fail to ‘embrace good design’ or ‘consult their local communities’.”

Let us hope there is real change but I suspect Lewisham and some other dogma driven London Councils will continue to pursue irrational policies so the fight for sensible measures with democratic input will have to continue.

Photo above is of the demonstration on Saturday against the road closures in Lewisham – no doubt more would have attended if it had not been an illegal event. Video present here: https://youtu.be/cqW2hBfK7k0

Roger Lawson

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Lewisham Backtracking on Road Closures

Lewisham Council have made an announcement concerning their Low Traffic Neighbourhood in Lee Green which has caused so much anger among residents. They have not conceded defeat but instead come up with a half-baked compromise that will only pacify a few people. Some roads are re-opened or made one-way but roads such as Upwood Road will remain closed. It also mentions plans for more “School Streets” (i.e. timed road closures) and longer-term changes for the Hither Green and Catford areas in 2021. The exclusion of HGVs from some of the roads may undoubtedly be welcomed by many people however.

You can read the details here: https://lewishamcovidresidentialstreets.commonplace.is/news/2020/10/16/changes-to-lewisham-and-lee-green-low-traffic-neighbourhood-announced? See Map below also.

It’s actually very difficult to understand the logic behind these changes as some local residents will find their journey’s improved while others will not. It is also not at all clear that it will substantially relieve the extra traffic loads on the main roads such as the South Circular.

They claim these changes are the result of “what the local community has told us” but as there has been no formal consultation process or surveys performed they are likely to have only listened to a very selective audience.

These changes are due to be implemented in the week commencing the 9th November when there will no doubt be another bout of confusion on which routes are permitted.

The group of local residents who oppose the road closures, which is supported by the ABD and which now has support from over 10,000 people, will wait to hear your comments before commenting further. Please let us have them.

Note that there is a webinar meeting hosted by Mayor Damien Egan for local residents on the 22ndOctober at 7.00 pm which you can register for here: https://consultation.lewisham.gov.uk/highways-and-transport/lewisham-and-lee-green-ltn/

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Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and Disabled People

The population of the UK contains a high proportion of “disabled” people. According to Government statistics they actually represent 22% of the population (that’s 13.9 million people). In London a borough such as Lewisham reports that 15% of the population consider themselves disabled.

Disabled people face numerous problems such as access to health services and access to employment. They often rely on “carers” for assistance with many activities such as shopping.

How do Low Traffic Neighbourhoods such as the Healthy Neighbourhood plans (and associated road closures) in Lewisham and other boroughs affect them? We certainly know from the numbers responding to our campaign against the road closures that a very large number of them object to the road closures.

The problem is that many disabled people rely on motor vehicles for transport as they have difficulty using public transport and suggestions that they should cycle are treated with derision. They also often cannot walk far. They don’t just own cars and use them, they use taxi services or get transported by carers in vehicles. In addition, they often have support from social service workers who use vehicles to get around.

For example, this is one comment just received “I strongly disagree with these closures, I work for the Borough of Lewisham and respond to vulnerable clients in the Borough. These road closures have delayed us responding to our clients, and one day the outcome will result in more serious consequences. Sitting in traffic, unable to access roads, this is not solving anything. If anything the situation is causing more pollution,  congestion and more aggressive drivers. The fact that we as residents of the borough were not consulted is not acceptable”.

Life has become much more difficult for disabled people since the road closures were introduced in Lewisham with much extended journey times as a result. Simply accessing Lewisham hospital is a common complaint.

Has Lewisham Council considered the impact of the road closures on disabled people? In other words, have they done an “Equality Impact Assessment” as required by the Equalities Act 2010?  So far as we are aware they have not done so. Paul Howarth submitted a Freedom of Information Act request on this subject back in February but does not appear to have received an answer – see https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/the_so_called_healthy_neighborho

Just like the lack of public consultation, it seems the Covid-19 epidemic is being used to bypass and abandon the normal requirements for new road schemes.

An interesting recent publication from Lewisham Council was from the Stronger Communities Select Committee (see https://councilmeetings.lewisham.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=6323&x=1 ). The Council is reviewing its obligations under the Equalities Act and have produced a draft report. But perhaps surprisingly they don’t cover this issue. Note that Lee Green Ward Councillors James Rathbone and Jim Mallory actually sit on this Committee so they should surely take a great interest in the impact of the road closures on the disabled community but not obviously so to date.

Lewisham has also created a “Disabled Peoples’ Commission” chaired by Jamie Hale – see https://labourlist.org/2020/02/our-disabled-peoples-commission-can-identify-barriers-and-deliver-change/ . I suggest disabled people who have been affected by the road closures in Lewisham ask the Commission to represent their interests.

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Lewisham MPs Hear Complaints About Road Closures

Last night (on 25/8/2020), Janet Daby and Vicky Foxcroft, two M.P.s who represent Lewisham constituencies, hosted a Zoom conference to hear people’s views about the road closures in the borough. There were as many as 100 attendees when more wanted to join but apparently could not do so. I will only summarise some of the proceedings and the key comments.

It was clear by the end of the event that there were only very few people supportive of Lewisham Council’s plan for a “Healthy Neighbourhood” (or Low Traffic Neighbourhood as others call these schemes involving road closures). Most of the speakers opposed the current road closures and I’ll give some of the comments below. The supporters of the scheme talked about saving the planet, cutting air pollution and road traffic accidents and getting everyone out of cars.

But it was very obvious how many were reliant on vehicles. For example one of the first speakers, Dr Petula Peters who has to take her sister to hospital said it was now an absolute nightmare with the new road arrangements. Her GP was also having difficulties getting to see patients.

Several people complained about the impact on the South Circular as traffic is now forced to use that more. Others spoke about the impact on the elderly and disabled and the lack of an equality impact assessment. It’s all terribly divisive one person said.

The lack of consultation was also mentioned by many people and one good point made was that there was no traffic modelling undertaken before the roads were closed. That would have predicted the current problems.

Many minor roads that were previously quiet were seeing much more traffic as vehicles divert around the closed roads – this prompted some people to ask for the scheme to be extended over a much wider area.

Viv Hammond summarised the views of many in these words: “It has totally changed our lives”. She is very concerned about the air pollution created and it is “making life very difficult”. As Vicky said “the whole idea that cars will go away is just ridiculous. They have cut Lewisham in half. Everyone can’t walk or cycle. A badly thought out scheme that has not worked. What are M.P.s going to do about it?”, She was clapped at this point.

In the concluding remarks from Janet Daby she mentioned that the Council planned a public meeting and consultation in September. She summarised the objections and concerns and will talk to the Council but note that M.P.s have no direct influence over local Councillors.

Perhaps the mood of the audience was summarised by one person who interjected just before the meeting was closed and the audio turned off. He said “A load or rubbish – they’ll do nothing”. It indicated the frustration of residents and the view that Councillors are simply not listening to complaints and acting on them.

But it’s worth pointing out that Lewisham Council’s policies are partly being driven by central Government edicts, as one speaker in the meeting indicated, over which even Labour M.P.s might have some influence. I suggest voters ask them to make representations on the issue.

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