Greenwich Conservatives to demand referendums on low-traffic neighbourhoods

Planters on Maidenstone Hill
West Greenwich has had a low-traffic neighbourhood in place since August

Conservative councillors have demanded that referendums should be held before low-traffic neighbourhood schemes are introduced in Greenwich, and are calling for the extension of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone to the South Circular Road in October to be scrapped.

A motion to be put before next Wednesday’s council meeting calls for plans for LTNs to be halted and put to votes in the areas concerned and neighbouring communities “which will see traffic forced towards them”.

“Any further scheme would only be implemented where a clear majority of local residents and businesses voted in favour of measures,” the motion states.

Labour councillors will vote the motion down, but the call comes as the mayoral election campaign gets under way, with the Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey running on an anti-LTN platform.

Low-traffic neighbourhoods seek to stop through traffic in residential roads with either planters or automatic numberplate recognition cameras. They aim to combat a 58 per cent increase in traffic on London’s minor roads over ten years – a period when traffic on A-roads has stayed static. They are being funded with money from the Conservative government, and are endorsed by both the prime minister and the transport secretary.

Supporters say the schemes make it easier for people within the zones to walk and cycle in their neighbourhoods, while those from outside either give up or head elsewhere – a phenomenon known as “traffic evaporation”. Opponents say the traffic simply clogs up neighbouring streets instead.

A survey of Londoners carried out earlier this month showed that 47 per cent of people support the idea, with just 16 per cent opposed and 28 per cent having no view.

However, their introduction has led to anxiety and hostility, with Lewisham Council partially rolling back a scheme introduced last summer in Lee Green after it was followed by increased traffic on streets.

Westcombe Hill
Cameras would be placed on Westcombe Hill to restrict traffic flows

Greenwich introduced two schemes late last summer – partly dropping one in Plumstead after a few weeks but keeping a scheme in Greenwich which saw through traffic blocked from streets west of Greenwich Park to stop drivers abandoning the A2. Residents had complained the rat-runners were using narrow streets like Point Hill and even the unpaved Westgrove Lane to avoid heavy traffic on the A2.

The Hills & Vales scheme, which was consulted on in 2019, was followed by persistent queues in streets east of Greenwich Park. Now the council is planning to block through traffic in those streets, including Maze Hill and Westcombe Hill, which has led to anxiety in neighbouring Charlton that traffic will simply divert to local streets there which are already blighted by rat-runners.

Another, smaller, scheme is planned for streets around Horn Park Lane in Lee, while two cycling schemes also include LTN-style measures to block through traffic on the Page Estate in Eltham, and Kidbrooke Gardens and Old Dover Road in Blackheath.

A final proposal in Woolwich is branded a “low-traffic neighbourhood” but only contains a proposal to turn part of Sandy Hill Road into a one-way street.

While these schemes are being consulted on, residents are not given a simple yes/no question as to whether they want the proposals to take place. Furthermore, residents have been unable to quiz senior councillors as public questions have been banned during the pandemic, with council meetings being held virtually.

Local Tories are already campaigning against the Eltham scheme, while the campaigns against the Westcombe Park and Maze Hill scheme are worrying Labour councillors, all of whom will be up for re-election next May.

The motion calls on the council to “look at ways of encouraging alternative modes of transport within the borough such as extending Santander Cycles, and work with neighbouring boroughs and the GLA to assess the levels of non-commercial commuter traffic from outside the borough”.

Maze Hill jam
The Hills and Vales scheme has been blamed for morning jams on Maze Hill

Greenwich Conservative leader Nigel Fletcher said: “”Rolling out these new traffic measures without adequate consultation is a recipe for traffic chaos, and the council has been caught out by the predictable backlash from residents. Labour needs to listen to local people.”

“We all want to see safer streets and cleaner air, and have indeed proposed our own ideas for such schemes, including measures to promote cycling. But they must have the clear support of local people in the areas affected.

“Getting it wrong will spark public anger and make it harder to proceed with genuinely sensible measures. Labour’s mishandling of the issue serves no-one, and it’s time for them to rethink their whole approach.”

When it was pointed out that the schemes are funded by the Conservative government, Fletcher told 853: “The government has reminded all councils that schemes should be properly consulted on prior to implementation as a condition of funding. Greenwich has completely mishandled the consultation, and needs to ensure there is genuine public support for these schemes.”

Last week the council issued a statement which appeared to admit that its consultation process was flawed, saying that staff had been asked to “begin developing plans for deeper engagement at a local level, looking at methods such as citizens juries to ensure that the views heard are representative of all residents”.

The Tories are also calling for the scrapping of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone extension, saying the £200m cost of implementing the ULEZ extension should be spend on “targeted and tangible clean air initiatives with proven results across London, rather than hitting our most vulnerable and elderly residents who cannot afford to replace their vehicle as well as struggling tradespeople who have seen their income suffer during the pandemic”.

Drivers of the most polluting cars will be charged £12.50 to enter an area bounded by the North and South Circular roads from 25 October. The scheme already operates in central London and has been credited with a steep drop in nitrogen dioxide pollution, with 90 per cent of cars now complying with ULEZ standards.

Next Wednesday’s meeting will also see a Labour motion calling for a pay rise for nurses above the 1 per cent offered by the government, and a Tory motion calling on the council to do more to promote services to combat loneliness, while councillors will also be asked to freeze their allowances for the second year running.

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