South Row’s planters go, but Lewisham Council still wants to cut Blackheath rat-run

South Row, Thursday 24 June
The closure made life safer for walkers and cyclists, but infuriated many drivers

Lewisham Council says it still wants to stop traffic from using a Blackheath rat-run, six months after suspending the scheme because of problems faced by nearby almshouses.

Planters and a bollard were placed in South Row in June as part of a programme to make it easier for people to walk and cycle while capacity was reduced on public transport because of the pandemic. The street is part of a frequently-used cut-through between Kidbrooke Park Road and Blackheath Village, crossing the boundary between Greenwich and Lewisham boroughs.

But the scheme was plagued with problems – not least a disagreement with Greenwich Council, which said it was not consulted about the scheme. The planters were originally placed at the western end of South Row, leading to traffic simply diverting down a narrower side street past a school instead. The closure was moved to a spot near the Paragon, but drivers then mounted the heath in their cars to avoid the blockade until new obstructions were put in place.

After three weeks, the bollard was lowered and the street reopened to through traffic because of problems accessing Morden College, the 300-year-old almshouses which lie just off the heath, although the planters remained in place. Heavy vehicles cannot access Morden College from the east because of a 3-tonne weight restriction over a railway tunnel underneath Kidbrooke Gardens; while the streets to the south are part of the private Blackheath Cator Estate.

Map of Blackheath
The road closure, marked with an X, disrupted access for heavier vehicles trying to access Morden College. The blue shaded area marks the borough of Lewisham

The planters were removed just before Christmas, but Lewisham Council has told 853 that this was to prevent vandalism and that it still intends to reinstate a scheme in the area.

A spokesperson added: “This modal filter was temporarily lowered as a result of discussions with Morden College about their delivery and servicing requirements and the difficulties that they were experiencing. Discussions are being held with the Royal Borough of Greenwich and Morden College about reinstating the filter and we hope to share an update on this soon.”

The row over the South Row closure was an early indicator of the furore that would greet a much larger scheme implemented by Lewisham Council shortly afterwards, when it introduced a low-traffic neighbourhood in Lee Green and Hither Green to stop rat-running between the South Circular Road and A20. That scheme was implemented as the first lockdown ended and traffic levels soared in outer London, leading to persistent jams on streets on the outside of the scheme. Lewisham partially rolled back some of the measures in November, allowing one-way traffic through some of the streets, although some measures, such as a bollard on the borough boundary at Upwood Road in Lee, remain.

Across the other side of Blackheath, Greenwich Council’s only attempt at a low-traffic neighbourhood, in streets west of Greenwich Park, was also blamed by critics for congestion in neighbouring streets. Last month it emerged that the London Ambulance Service had asked Greenwich to install cameras rather than the bollards and planters that were eventually used. Similar measures are set to be adopted in streets to the east of the park to deter rat-runners from using those roads.

The schemes are being funded by government money, with Boris Johnson saying in November: “We want to do everything we can to make it easy for people to include some activity in their daily routines – whether that’s cycling to work or walking safely to school.”

However, they have infuriated many drivers. Weekly demonstrations against the schemes were held in Islington, while the scheme in west Greenwich was hit by vandalism in August. In Northfields, west London, oil poured onto the road in an attempt to injure cyclists as a response to a scheme put in place by Ealing Council.

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