Two councillors have called for local residents to be allowed to drive through proposed road closures planned for streets between Greenwich Park and the Blackwall Tunnel approach.
Conservative Geoff Brighty and Labour’s Leo Fletcher, who both represent the Blackheath Westcombe ward, spoke as their colleagues on Greenwich Council’s highways committee recommended an existing low-traffic neighbourhood – the Hills and Vales scheme in streets west of Greenwich Park – stay in place.
Last night’s meeting was to discuss the committee’s response to eight separate petitions regarding the Hills & Vales scheme – three against it and five for it.
While council officers simply recommended that the committee noted the report, the councillors went further and expressed their desire that the Hills and Vales scheme should be made permanent after hearing from residents of the area.
Many residents have blamed the Hills and Vales scheme for diverting rat-runners from streets around Crooms Hill and Royal Hill to Maze Hill, which has seen persistent traffic jams since the end of last summer. Now Greenwich Council wants to deal with this by placing automatic number-plate recognition cameras on Maze Hill, Vanbrugh Hill and Westcombe Hill, and placing planters on Halstow Road.
Pip O’Byrne, of the Maze Hill Action Group, said local residents had been living with “an intolerably high level of traffic”, but praised the help from the area’s three councillors – Brighty, Fletcher and Labour’s Mariam Lolovar – and said the town hall had “recognised the problems”.
“We feel that the impact of the West Greenwich scheme over here in the east still has to be recognised and a wider strategic view of the whole neighbourhood needs to be taken into account,” she said, asking why residents to the east of Greenwich Park were not considered when the Hills and Vales scheme was being consulted on.
But she said there “wasn’t a united voice” in the area on having traffic controls in Maze Hill. “Some people would welcome a 24/7 scheme, similar to west Greenwich, but there are a lot of older, vulnerable residents who want access to Trafalgar Road. It’s fair to say that we don’t speak with one voice, but we are united about wanting something done and not returning to the traffic we’ve had.”
Asked about a timed closure of the streets around Maze Hill, O’Byrne said: “People are asking for some access to Maze Hill, which is why we would particularly like to consider [something] like a parking permit zone consideration, so residents can access Maze Hill, in order to address what officers identified as the key problem for Maze Hill, the volume of rat-running traffic, as they call it.
“We would like to discuss ANPR options right now rather than the limited options that we have right now which is 24/7 [closure] or just having timed operations, which a lot of people are considering to give them flexibility.”
Brighty supported O’Byrne’s comments. “Many of the responses show a lot of residents are deeply unhappy with the proposals and the way the council is dealing with this,” he said.
“There are a lot of residents asking whycna’t the ANP system be used to stop through traffic but allow local residents access without fear of a fine? Can it be refined? It happens in other places. That would make the proposals more palatable to some residents.”
He was supported by Fletcher. “If we can look at the ANPR, it would resolve a lot of the issues being raised in Blackheath Westcombe.”
But there were doubts about how wide an exception should be. Greenwich West councillor Aidan Smith said: “I think that’s quiet difficult – where would you draw the line, how would you consult, is a difficult matter. There’s also the burden on the council on having to manage a huge list of number plates, unless it is a small number I think it’d be unworkable.”
A consultation into the Maze Hill and Westcombe Park scheme runs until March 8 at greenersafergreenwich.commonplace.is.
Councillors heard comments from residents both for and against the Hills & Vales scheme, with one criticising the validity of the consultation into the scheme and another, Diane Marsden, asked for the plans to be “revisited”, calling for a one-way system to be introduced instead.
But most residents who spoke praised the scheme – pointing out that most other side roads in the area had benefited from traffic restrictions for years.
One, Matt Wyatt, said the area had been “transformed”. He added: “Traffic through this stretch was backed up every day, my daughter was nearly hit. Since the low-traffic neighbourhood began, these issues have stopped. We can park where we live and we know emergency services can access our houses when they need to. The positives massively outweigh the negatives.”
Another, Hayley Jeffrey, said rat-runners used to mount the narrow pavements on Point Hill. “My children have had it drummed into them their whole lives never to stand on the” she said.
“Our house would shake with vibrations from the constant traffic. A few years ago our porch had to be rebuilt after it cracked and collapsed, missing my daughter. There’s a very mixed community here – residents from all walks of life.
“The many young children living here have learned that since the LTN was installed, it is safer to walk and cycle on the road than it was before. It would be cruel and to open it to traffic once more.”
“Our community is thriving without rat-runners – we all have a space to stop and chat, and I’m yet to meet a neighbour who isn’t a fan.”
Caroline Welch, who has terminal lung cancer, said she was now able to walk to the top of her road without stopping – something she was unable to do before the low-traffic neighbourhood was introduced. “This is because the air quality is so much better here,” she said.
Greenwich West councillor Mehboob Khan dismissed the idea of a one-way system replacing the low-traffic neighbourhood – “eight and a half thousand vehicles down a narrow street just wouldn’t be feasible in terms of air pollution, noise and road safety risks”.
He said the Metropolitan Police had written to the council demanding action in west Greenwich to cut rat-running traffic. “If the council didn’t respond and act on the Metropolitan Police’s advice, they would be held accountable if someone was injured or worse,” he said.
“The latest monitoring of air quality on Blackheath Hill shows that it has been significantly better for the past four months than in 2019 or 2018.”
Khan added: “This is not a council scheme, this comes from what residents are demanding”
Matt Clare, a Conservative councillor for Eltham South, supported the scheme. He said: “I’ve never seen so many emails in support of a scheme. I know some people feel trapped in their roads but there are also lots and lots of stories, some of them very moving, about kids who can walk in the street and before they were threatened by people who were just trying to shave two minutes off their journey who don’t live in our borough, don’t pay council tax here to maintain our roads and don’t shop in our shops. They are the cause.
“We have to have a massive clampdown on people who are using Greenwich as London’s drive, when it should be London’s garden.”
Smith said the scheme was needed because “there are just too many cars”. He added points raised about traffic on Blackheath Hill were “a particular concern” but hoped the ULEZ scheme would reduce traffic overall.
Thamesmead Moorings councillor Peter Brooks said it was “a worthy scheme to go through”.
“Of course, once you shut one road off, you will need to shut more off – like with controlled parking zones. We know that with experience, but we need to start somewhere, and this seems to me teh right and proper place to start.”
Committee chair Bill Freeman, who represents Eltham West, said: “These are not popular with a lot of people and the one over the border in Lewisham was an absolute disaster, and has had to be opened up one-way to alleviate the problems it’s caused. But I take them as they come and this one is different, this is historic Greenwich and these roads were not built for the amount of traffic that’s coming off Blackheath.
“Not all low-traffic neighbourhoods are successes, but I think this one has been.”
From next month Greenwich council officers will review the Hills and Vales low-traffic neighbourhood, and then will recommend to its cabinet whether or not to keep the scheme.
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