Greenwich Council says it is “disappointed” with the lack of consultation from Lewisham Council on another scheme to stop rat-running across the boundary between the two boroughs.
Upwood Road in Lee has been sliced in two to stop streams of drivers trying to avoid the South Circular Road and A20 and to make it easier to walk and cycle.
But while local residents have voiced relief at losing often dangerously-driven traffic from their road, they are unhappy the two councils have not worked together on a better scheme, and fear mayhem when the private school Colfe’s, which is based on Upwood Road, returns in September.
More than 300,000 people have watched a video of a stream of drivers mounting the pavement after the closure went in this week after it was tweeted by Tom Edwards, the transport correspondent for BBC London. The telecoms provider Openreach says it is investigating after one of its drivers was seen apparently leading the traffic onto the pavement.
Low traffic neighbourhood / modal filters on Upwood Road, Lewisham. pic.twitter.com/qlTDP5TSYS
— Tom Edwards (@BBCTomEdwards) June 30, 2020
It was a frightening experience for Anne McCoy, who lives on the border between the two boroughs. “It was insanity, it was so frightening,” the Greenwich resident told 853. “The police were here, it was awful.”
The road was originally meant to be closed as part of a “healthy neighbourhoods” scheme stretching from Lewisham town centre to the borough’s eastern border in Lee. The scheme was brought forward as part of emergency “Streetspace” plans to make it easier to walk and cycle in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which has slashed capacity on buses and trains.
Locals have long endured drivers racing between the A20 Sidcup Road and Burnt Ash Road – a rat-run which starts in Greenwich borough in Abergeldie Road, passes along Horn Park Lane and then turns into Upwood Road, crossing the border into Lewisham.
Anti-social driving had been a problem for many years during the rush hour, McCoy said. “We’re used to aggression and bad driving on this road – it was stand-off city every day.”
To address this, Lewisham has placed planters just centimetres inside its boundary to stop motor traffic passing through – creating what one Greenwich councillor last week called a “hard border” between the two boroughs. A bollard will follow next week to complete the job. At the moment a “road closed” sign is in place – when drivers aren’t getting out and moving it.
But residents 853 spoke to on Wednesday evening said Greenwich should have closed one of its roads instead – suggesting access should have been blocked at Abergeldie Road, allowing Upwood Road residents more freedom yet stopping the rat-runners from coming off the A20.
As with the South Row scheme on Blackheath – another Lewisham scheme which has increased cross-border tensions – a lack of signage has been criticised, with just one small sign on the Greenwich side of Upwood Road to warn drivers.
Greenwich has now come forward with its own plans to close Abergeldie Road, and possibly Horn Park Lane and nearby Crathie Road too.
McCoy said that while “something had to be done”, the scheme did not address pressing problems with commuter parking and parents driving their children to the nearby private Colfe’s school, where fees are up to £17,000 per year.
“It won’t be quiet in September because they’ll all come back,” McCoy, who lives on the Greenwich side of the border, said of the school drivers. “Greenwich have done nothing until the last minute. This will be gridlocked.”
Stood close to the border-blocking planters, she added: “We might not have needed this if we’d done something else.
“Greenwich could have done something on Abergeldie Road, then it might not have to be like this, in the middle of a road. It sounds like Greenwich did not respond to Lewisham, from what I can gather. As a result, Lewisham went for it, and it was a way of getting it through and I get that.”
“There’s been this disconnect – there’s no signage up there,” she said, referring to Horn Park Lane and Abergelde Road.
While Greenwich held a couple of public meetings about the original proposals, a map of its plans for its side of the border came “only last week”, she said. This map only included plans to block off Abergeldie Road – a map sent by the council’s press office to 853 this week contained more extensive plans that were not in the map sent to residents.
“The letter said that ‘62 per cent of Greenwich residents who we consulted didn’t want to do anything [on Upwood Road]’ – but now Lewisham are doing this, all of a sudden Greenwich want to do something so we’re all in line.”
Another resident has sent 853 a copy of the letter, in which Greenwich says that Lewisham was not obliged to consider any objection it made, and that it was “disappointing” that Lewisham had gone ahead with the scheme.
As an NHS worker in Lewisham who needs her car for work, McCoy is considering parking her car on the Lewisham side of the planters. “I feel so powerless. I know there’s a bigger picture – but it was the total lack of co-operation. Could we have done something less extreme than blocking off people’s ability to move on their own road?
“Something had to change because it was so dangerous. But they haven’t got rid of the key things which are commuter parking and the school run.”
Her next-door neighbour, Tim Hewitt – a Lewisham resident – questioned the need for a permanent blockage at all, as the road was quiet at other times. “A better solution would have been something that was timed – between seven and nine,” he said. “It’s glorious on this road on a Sunday.”
He joked: “We’re lucky, we’ve just retired, we haven’t got to go out!”
The two neighbours have been able to compare the different approaches between the two boroughs – Greenwich’s letter came with a named contact, while Lewisham’s didn’t.
“I think me and Tim talk more than the two councils do, there’s been a total disconnect between them,” McCoy said. “The lesson of it all is communication – as so often in life.”
She recalled watching the planters being installed, with a Lewisham Council staff member getting a tape measure out to make sure there was a 50cm gap to enable her to access her drive.
“We were each allowed a 50 cm swing from the edge of the kerb so we could get out. Then they left and the ‘road closed’ sign just blew over,” she said.
Sizwe James, Greenwich’s cabinet member for environment, sustainability and transport, said: “We are in regular contact with Lewisham Council about this traffic management scheme, although we were disappointed with the short notice we received regarding its implementation. Despite 62% of residents who responded to our traffic survey earlier this year being against the change to Upwood Road, Lewisham Council deemed the scheme necessary.
“We are keen to work collaboratively with Lewisham Council on any plans that affect residents on both sides of the borough boundary. Last week, we wrote to residents in the immediate area to update them on Lewisham’s plans and enclosed a proposal to help reduce traffic on Greenwich roads that may increase as a result of Lewisham’s measure.
“We will be monitoring the impact of Lewisham’s change to Upwood Road and will repeat our traffic survey from week commencing 13 July. If traffic volumes persist or worsen on adjacent Greenwich roads, we will look to implement our proposal on an experimental basis.”
Sophie McGeevor, Lewisham’s cabinet member for environment and transport, said: “Driving on pavements has never been acceptable. We have been working with our colleagues at Greenwich Council on the implementation of these measures which are designed to make walking and cycling more accessible for residents and to support social distancing.
“We are also working closely with the Metropolitan Police road safety team to monitor traffic and ensure public safety on our streets. We encourage residents who witness any dangerous driving to report this to the police. ”
Updated Friday at noon to point out that Greenwich residents were sent a different map to the one supplied by the council’s press office.
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