Greenwich Council asks Royal Parks to reopen Greenwich Park to through traffic

Blackheath Avenue, Greenwich Park, 28 June 2020
Greenwich Park has been closed to through traffic since March 2020

Greenwich Council has asked if Greenwich Park can be re-opened to traffic each morning to deal with persistent congestion in the area following the lifting of lockdown resources.

Sarah Merrill, the new cabinet member for transport and sustainability, said that a “cocktail” of circumstances – including the council’s own low-traffic neighbourhood in west Greenwich and measures to protect cycling – had contributed to queues, and that a borough-wide approach needed to be taken to reduce traffic.

She said she believed Royal Parks, the charity which runs the park, would refuse the request, and added that she would be looking at other measures to relieve congestion.

The park has been closed to through traffic since March 2020, and 81 per cent of respondents to a consultation earlier this year wanted to see it made permanent. The closure is now due to last until March 2022 as part of a formal trial.

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

853 revealed in February that Greenwich had objected to the closure – and last night Merrill told a council meeting that she had formally asked for traffic to be able to use the park each morning.

The park closure came a few months before streets in west Greenwich were blocked off to prevent rat-runners from using them to avoid the A2; residents in streets around Point Hill and Crooms Hill had complained of antisocial behaviour from drivers and have asked the council for closures to continue.

But traffic has increased in streets east of the park – with police eventually mounting a crackdown on dangerous driving in Vanbrugh Hill after residents resorted to posting videos on social media to get action. Similar scenes had been recorded in Crooms Hill before the closures there.

Greenwich has planned to introduce another low-traffic neighbourhood to cover roads from Maze Hill to Westcombe Hill; while parts of Woolwich Road and Trafalgar Road have been narrowed to make room for Transport for London’s Cycleway 4.

Merrill’s response appeared to concede that such measures had made traffic worse, and that opening up the park would be “the lesser of many evils”.

“I’ve asked Royal Parks, I don’t hold out any hope – so far they are indicating ‘no’ and I think they will hold to that, so I am looking at what else I might do to alleviate the pressure of the traffic in the Maze Hill and Westcombe Park area,” she had.

Merrill said she would be meeting residents in west Greenwich today to discuss the issue.

“There’s a traffic problem borough-wide,” she said when asked by Conservative leader Nigel Fletcher about the matter.

“In the Greenwich area, east and west, there’s a particular cocktail. There’s the implementation of the west Greenwich scheme, there’s the cycle lanes introduced by us – we have to protect our cyclists – and by TfL, TfL have also introduced 24-hour bus lanes in some areas. Royal Parks chose to close the park to traffic, and Boris Johnson told everyone to get in the car.

“It’s produced an untenable situation down in Greenwich, so there are two things – on a wider level I want to take a whole borough-wide approach to this, I want to set up a borough-wide working party and area working parties, and whatever we do going forward, we need buy-in from our residents.

“The only way we’re going to get traffic off our roads is if we get buy-in from our residents and they have contributed to that debate.”

Only three public questions were submitted to last night’s meeting – the first to accept questions since last autumn – and two were from west Greenwich residents looking for reassurance that the council would stick with the low-traffic measures in the Hills and Vales area, which were introduced as a trial last August and are now being reviewed.

Crooms Hill
The Hills and Vales low-traffic scheme is currently being reviewed

In a written answer to another question, Merrill also appeared to say that the traffic measures were partly to blame for problems with Greenwich’s bin collections, which have also suffered staff shortages as the third coronavirus wave builds, with one in four workers off last week.

While the traffic schemes have caused turmoil within the ruling Labour party, removing the west Greenwich scheme would also cause an outcry – earlier this year a scrutiny panel recommended the changes be made permanent after hearing testimony from local residents who said their neighbourhood had been transformed by the scheme.

Low-traffic neighbourhoods – where streets are blocked by barriers or cameras to private vehicles but kept open for pedestrians, cyclists and sometimes buses – have divided opinion across London. They have been introduced to make walking and cycling easier at a time when travelling on public transport has been difficult, and to combat a rise in traffic using the capital’s minor roads. The Hills and Vales scheme is the only one in Greenwich, but other boroughs went further and created a number of low-traffic areas.

Greenwich now finds itself in a similar position to neighbouring Lewisham Council, which created a low-traffic scheme over a large area of Hither Green and Lee Green last year, but then it rolled back many of its measures after conceding that the scheme had made traffic on neighbouring main roads worse.

Ealing Council, one of the most high-profile advocates of low-traffic neighbourhoods, withdrew a scheme in West Ealing last month after a change in the Labour council’s leadership. The west London council also announced it would be consulting residents on the future of other schemes.

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