Greenwich council’s cabinet member for transport snapped at a local resident asking questions about the Hills & Vales low-traffic neighbourhood in west Greenwich, complaining that most of her working time was being taken up by the issue.
Sarah Merrill told a resident that the controversy around a small set of streets west of Greenwich Park was stopping the council addressing other traffic problems elsewhere in the borough.
Streets around Hyde Vale, Royal Hill and Crooms Hill were closed to through traffic last summer in an attempt to combat long-held problems with rat-running and antisocial behaviour from drivers using those roads to avoid the A2.
In August, drivers were allowed to use Hyde Vale and the narrow Royal Hill during the morning rush hour following concerns about increased traffic – and antisocial behaviour from drivers – in streets east of the park.
Merrill’s predecessor Sizwe James, who stepped down in the spring, had been enthusiastic about introducing low-traffic neighbourhoods, while the council’s own highways committee had deemed the scheme a success and recommended it continue.
But the council’s Labour leadership began to get cold feet after Conservative campaigning on the issue in the south of the borough, where car ownership is higher.
Local residents in the Hills & Vales area are unhappy that a new consultation on the scheme covers a far wider area than those held in the past and fear that the scheme will be scrapped altogether to appease voters in other parts of the borough.
A series of written questions from local residents about the impact of the scheme and the methodology behind the consultation were stonewalled by Merrill, who simply directed them to the consultation itself.
One resident, Matthew King, who had followed the council’s Covid protocols to attend the first full in-person council meeting for 18 months, used a follow-up question to query the data used in changing the Hills & Vales scheme, calling Merrill’s lack of answer a “non-response”.
Merrill said: “The reason there is a non-response is that this council and its officers are so inundated with criticism and questions upon questions and everything we say being criticised that we can’t move forward and address the traffic problems that pervade the borough as a whole.
“There are roads in Eltham, there are roads in Plumstead, there are roads in Thamesmead that need addressing and all our time – 90 per cent of my time as a cabinet member since the end of May has been taken up with this west Greenwich LTN and most of the officer time. So it really has been given complete due consideration.
“And no, there is a consultation out at the moment and you can feed into that. Any response will come as a response to that consultation.”
The only public question that was answered – which was submitted by Malcolm Reid, a Conservative Party activist – revealed that the council had £38,870 in penalty charge notices from drivers passing through the cameras on Crooms Hill, after issuing 1,353 warning notices in the first two weeks and 1,876 charges after that.
However, Merrill did answer a question from a councillor on the issue, telling Aidan Smith, who represents Greenwich West for Labour, in a written reply that the consultation area had been extended as there was “significant interest in [the low-traffic neighbourhood’s] effect on surrounding areas”.
“With this knowledge, it was right to contact people over a wider area directly,” she added. “We will continue to consider respondents’ locations in our use of the data and ensure the differences between datasets are appropriately considered.”
Asked by Conservative councillor Charlie Davis about the Greenwich’s response to Lewisham’s consultation on the low-traffic neighbourhood in Lee, which includes streets on the boundary between the two boroughs, Merrill, who seemed to be caught unawares by the question, said: “Our response was that we don’t want traffic displaced by their LTN in Greenwich, and that remains our stance on that.”
In August, 853 revealed that Greenwich Council had not analysed data from consultations into plans for other traffic schemes in the borough, despite them having concluded in March. Merrill said in another written response that she expected to have a report own the consultations in November.
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