Lewisham Council’s attempt to make a notorious Blackheath rat-run safer for walking and cycling has descended into farce after neighbouring Greenwich Council – whose roads are affected by the scheme – said it was not consulted about the plans.
On Tuesday, Lewisham Council contractors blocked off South Row to stop drivers using that road as a shortcut from Kidbrooke Park Road – which is in the borough of Greenwich – to Blackheath Village, which is mostly in Lewisham.
The closure was welcomed by cyclists in particular, who are encouraged to use South Row as a “safe” route to and from Blackheath and Greenwich. Lewisham Council cabinet member for transport Sophie McGeevor first announced the scheme five days before the planters went in.
However, a lack of signage on the Greenwich side meant drivers continued to flood west down South Row – and then diverted down a narrow side road, Paragon Place, to get to Blackheath Village. South Row was then opened up westbound to drivers to ease the pressure on Paragon Place, then the scheme was suspended yesterday after eastbound drivers ignored “road closed” signs and drove around planters in place to block the road.
McGeevor’s Greenwich counterpart, Sizwe James, says his staff were not told about the scheme. The boundary between the two boroughs divides the route, and also runs alongside South Row for a short stretch.
853 asked both councils if Lewisham had talked to Greenwich about installing signs. Greenwich responded with a statement from James: “Whilst we support the filter that has been installed in Blackheath, we were not consulted by Lewisham Council which meant we didn’t have the opportunity to tell our residents about it in advance. As soon as the filter went in we asked Lewisham to provide signage. We have to make sure we work collaboratively on any plans that affect residents on both sides of the borough boundary.”
Lewisham responded to the question by referring 853 to the statement announcing the effective suspension of the scheme. The roadblocks will be reinstated in the coming week when bollards will be installed in South Row, replacing plastic barriers that have been moved by drivers. It did not address whether the councils had worked together on the scheme.
The scheme also affects the private Blackheath Cator Estate, whose roads could also be used by drivers trying to avoid the blockage. Blackheath Cator Estate Residents Ltd, which controls the roads on the estate, says on its website that it will monitor the scheme and close gates to the estates where necessary.
The two boroughs have form for failing to co-operate on matters to do with Blackheath, with years of discord over its annual fireworks display, which was once jointly organised by the two boroughs. Greenwich pulled out 10 years ago, and relations have only eased in recent years after Greenwich restored some of its funding.
Lewisham’s scheme in South Row is part of a number of “modal filters” designed to make it easier to walk and cycle while public transport capacity is restricted because of the coronavirus pandemic. Six have been installed, another 24 are to come across the borough.
Greenwich has been less forthcoming about its plans, but some vague information emerged last night when it finally released details of a bid for £4 million of funding from Transport for London for a number on schemes, with the bulk of the cash going to plans to approve cycling. The application was submitted last night.
They include a £969,000 bid to complete a cycle route from Eltham to Greenwich Park, which would run via South Row; £246,000 for a route from Abbey Wood to Woolwich; £182,000 for a cycle route on Blackwall Lane in east Greenwich. New routes have emerged: £213,400 for a route on Charlton Road, and a £1.1m bid for a “Shooters Hill” route – there is no detail or map explaining what this is. There is also a £215,000 bid for a cycle route through Greenwich town centre, connecting the two parts of a Tower Bridge to Deptford Creek Bridge and a Greenwich to Woolwich route to be built by TfL.
There is also a £150,000 bid for “low traffic neighbourhoods” – similar to the South Row scheme – however, these have not been identified.
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