Greenwich Council’s new cabinet member for transport says that she disagrees with Boris Johnson’s support for “cracking on” with low-traffic neighbourhoods.
Sarah Merrill spoke out after the borough’s opposition Conservative councillors announced they were holding a public meeting about the road schemes, which seek to cut rat-running in residential roads and to make it easier for people to walk and cycle.
Earlier this month residents in Greenwich borough’s only formal low-traffic neighbourhood – the Hills & Vales scheme west of Greenwich Park – reacted with anger when it emerged that Merrill planned to open one road through the area, Hyde Vale, to traffic during the morning rush hour. In particular, they fear for the impact on narrow Royal Hill, which is home to a primary school with a unit for deaf children.
Residents had petitioned the council to act because of traffic queues and antisocial behaviour from drivers seeking to avoid the A2 each morning, and a consultation on measures took place in 2019. However, an order was put in under coronavirus legislation to implement the scheme last summer, using emergency funding from the government.
The closure of the roads to through traffic in August 2020 – which followed the closure of Greenwich Park itself to passing vehicles seven months earlier – was followed by similar traffic queues and antisocial behaviour east of the park.
Opponents of low-traffic neighbourhoods say this shows that the measures merely move traffic from one place to another; supporters say the schemes need time to bed in for people to adjust their habits.
While the council had stuck behind the schemes and had planned more, it began to get cold feet in the spring after Labour suffered poor election results in the south of the borough, where car ownership is more widespread.
Merrill has blamed the queues on a “cocktail” of different measures and has previously said that residents should be prepared to compromise, and that Greenwich Park should be reopened to through traffic.
The Labour councillor told 853 that the Tories’ actions in holding the meeting were “disingenuous” as she had already revealed plans to convene a borough-wide working party to look at transport across the area.
The prime minister, who is a keen cyclist, has said he supports the schemes, but in Greenwich Conservatives have called for local referendums to take place before they are implemented, while individual councillors have called for the schemes to be scrapped. Tory mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey ran on a campaign pledge to abolish them.
She said: “The experimental traffic order scheme implemented in west Greenwich only allowed for consultation whilst the experiment was in operation.
“The scheme had to be introduced very quickly or the government’s money would no longer be available. The timeframe the government provided was very limited which meant we had to implement much quicker than we would normally do. According to the government’s scheme, we then consulted for six months. The consultation results are about to be published on our website.”
Merrill added: “The opposition knows we are putting plans in place for a borough-wide working party, with local subgroups, to look at transport across the borough. I have met with many groups over the past month to brief them about this and have said this at full council. To imply this is not what we are doing is disingenuous.
“Any decisions on these issues are difficult as these transport issues are very complicated as is demonstrated by the fact that the opposition councillors say they are opposed to low-traffic neighbourhoods on the one hand but then endorse them on the other. I have reached out to work cross-party on this.
“It is worth noting that it was Boris Johnson who said: ‘There is always opposition to these schemes but as the polls show and as I found in London the majority support them and we should crack on.’
“I take a different view as the cabinet member and have sought to engage people since my first day in this post.”
Cameras have already been installed on some of the Hills and Vales road blocks to replace the planters which have been used to close the streets to through traffic.
However, residents have been left fearing vandals will attack the cameras and signs, as has happened in other boroughs.
A Tory motion on the schemes will be discussed at Wednesday’s full council meeting.
Help 853 continue reporting on public interest issues in Greenwich and southeast London – we are the only outlet regularly producing original journalism in the borough, and we can only do it with your funding.
Please join over 100 donors who use Steady, PressPatron or Patreon to give a little towards our costs every month. The money pays the bills, a wage for the editor and pays others to write for the site.
You can also buy the editor a coffee at ko-fi.com. Thank you.