Planters in Greenwich borough’s only low-traffic neighbourhood are to be replaced by cameras after “alarming” feedback from emergency services, the town hall’s new cabinet member for transport has said.
Sarah Merrill said that using cameras could allow flexibility for future low-traffic neighbourhoods to only be in operation for certain times of the day, and would allow emergency services to reach their destinations.
She spoke on Thursday night to Greenwich Council’s regeneration and transport scrutiny panel to update them on the progress of low-traffic neighbourhoods, which were implemented to make it easier for people to walk and cycle and to block drivers from using cut-throughs to avoid main roads.
Her comments came a day after she said that Greenwich Council had asked Royal Parks to lift a ban on through traffic in Greenwich Park – although she said she expected the request to be refused. Councillors did not raise this in the meeting.
“The feedback that we’ve had from the emergency services has been somewhat alarming,” she said. “The routes that they’ve had to take have substantially increased their response times. That applies to all three of the emergency services but principally the London Ambulance Service – in principle they’re in favour of low-traffic neighbourhoods but they’re not in favour of hard borders like planters.
“And so we are replacing the hard borders with ANPR – automatic numberplate-recognition cameras. We’re already going through the technical process with the lamp posts and cameras and the [formal] decision will be made imminently.”
Merrill’s comments come seven months after 853 reported that ambulance chiefs had asked the council nearly a year ago to install automatic numberplate-recognition (ANPR) cameras rather than planters.
Greenwich Council has consulted on low-traffic neighbourhoods around Maze Hill and Westcombe Park, Horn Park and Lee, and a smaller scheme in Woolwich; the meeting had been set up to discuss the results of the consultation, but council officers are still going through the responses.
Asked by Conservative councillor Matt Clare about how the cameras would work, Merrill said they could be used to provide more flexible low-traffic neighbourhoods.
“Absolutely, and that is something we’re looking at – using them in specific locations, where we make them a cul-de-sac for certain hours of teh day but allow traffic through for one or two hours at peak time just to alleviate things in the short term.”
She said that counts had revealed increases in traffic on east Greenwich. “It is my intention – I have a moral obligation – to do something to alleviate that and we’re trying to work out what.”
“What I have discovered in my three and a half weeks as a cabinet member, I don’t think I should start preaching to people – that’s not going to win people over. I don’t want to start pointing the finger – it is about air quality, congestion and fighting for space on the road.
“At the moment, we’ve got all the road users arguing with each other, and there’s a lot of anger out there, and we have to try to abate it. But it’s about bringing people along with us. Al ot of people have felt outside of that conversation and I do want to bring people in.”
She said she was “all in favour of low-traffic neighbourhoods and preventing rat-runs”, but a combination of traffic measures had “created a really unhappy and angry environment”.
“I want to get beyond that and I want to start again. I’d love to introduce more low-traffic neighbourhoods, I’d love to get people out of the car, I don’t want to preach to them, I want to accept where we are. I want to move forward and really make this happen, but make it happen with buy-in.”
Ryan Bunce, the council’s transport strategy officer, said that while using cameras was new to the borough, he was looking at whether blue badge holders could be exempted from any restrictions. But he added: “Other places have done them so we’re looking at how that works, but the more exemptions you have, the more complicated, less understandable and less effective a scheme tends to be – but with blue badge holders there’s a case there.”
Merrill and Bunce outlined plans to get residents involved in working parties to decide a new strategy for transport in the borough, including cycle lanes and low-traffic neighbourhoods.
Pressed on the pressure from new developments and the strain on the Jubilee Line by Labour councillor John Fahy, Merrill responded: “We just don’t have all the answers at the moment. I can’t just magic a DLR out of the sky or a cable car to run across the borough – and I wish I could – but i do want to explore all this.
Bunce said a new public transport strategy would provide an “evidence-led” approach to get money from developers for new infrastructure.
Merrill listed a number of forthcoming developments and added: “There are even greater challenges ahead – we’ve Morden Wharf, Enderby Wharf coming up, and we’ve applications for thousands of new units. They might be car free developments, but they’re going to travel – are they all going to travel to North Greenwich?
“It’s all a huge challenge. I find it worrying, if I find it honest with you. Somehow, we need to find some answers. It’s enormous, what’s facing us.”
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