Lewisham Council plans to keep its watered-down low traffic neighbourhood in Lee and Hither Green – but will replace the remaining planters with cameras.
A wide swathe of streets between Hither Green station and the borough border with Greenwich were blocked to motor vehicles in the summer of 2020 to encourage more walking and cycling in the area and to stop drivers from outside the area using those roads as cut-throughs.
The scheme divided opinion and was blamed for increased congestion on the South Circular. It was partially rolled back in November 2020 to allow two one-way routes through the area, but the planters remained in place in side roads close to Lee High Road and Burnt Ash Road.
Now after a consultation, Lewisham has decided to stick with the amended scheme. The planters will be replaced with cameras to allow emergency services and blue badge holders – but not taxis – to drive down those roads.
The low-traffic neighbourhood had been planned for some time before the pandemic to deal with a London-wide rise in vehicle use – in Lewisham, it had risen by a quarter in the decade to 2019 – but the scheme was actually brought in under emergency laws during the pandemic.
Lewisham’s elected mayor, Damien Egan, said that air quality monitoring, traffic counts and consultation feedback showed the amended scheme was working and had encouraged residents to walk and cycle more.
He said: “We can see that drivers are more likely to feel negatively about the LTN, while non-drivers – and half of households in Lewisham do not have access to a car – have been more positive.
“With such a split in opinion – and I’ve got friends on both sides of the argument – it is important that we go back to the evidence, the data we have available and our priorities about tackling the climate emergency, when making a decision about the future of the LTN.
“I understand some people will be disappointed by the recommendation; some people feel strongly that the LTN has gone too far, others not far enough. The data we’re seeing suggests that continuing with the LTN, alongside ongoing monitoring, is likely to support more positive changes and support our efforts to tackle climate change.”
Patrick Codd, Lewisham’s cabinet member for transport, said: ““More than 20% of people who responded to the consultation told us they have walked and cycled more since the revised LTN was introduced; it’s reduced the number of cars using the area as a short-cut and reduced the speed they travel at.
“We will continue to monitor traffic and air quality levels in and around the LTN and will use the lessons learned to improve how we engage with residents in the future. However, it’s important that we use this moment to reaffirm our commitment to becoming a greener borough.
“Back in 2019 we declared a climate emergency, and committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030. To achieve that, we have to make behaviour changes.”
More trees and electric car parking points will also be introduced. Codd added: “Schemes elsewhere have demonstrated that if walking and cycling is safer and more convenient for shorter trips, fewer people will use their cars unnecessarily. They may also decide not to make certain trips, travel at quieter times or use public transport.
“To support this, we will be adding a series of environmental measures that residents have told us they want to see, including extra bike parking, more school streets, electric car charging, more trees and improved pedestrian crossings across a wide area and not just within the LTN.”
Lewisham will formally make its decision at a cabinet meeting on 12 January.
The low-traffic neighbourhood had caused a split with Greenwich, where one road closure physically divided the two boroughs at Upwood Road.
While Greenwich later followed Lewisham in enthusiastically proposing low-traffic measures, the council’s Labour leadership got cold feet after the Conservative opposition campaigned on the issue in the south of the borough, where car ownership is higher.
Only one low-traffic neighbourhood was actually introduced – the Hills and Vales scheme in west Greenwich – which was watered down last summer to allow traffic to travel one way through it in the morning rush-hour, angering residents who had believed the council supported their calls to cut traffic in their streets. Taxis are also now allowed to pass through the area, unlike the Lewisham scheme.
Decisions on whether to keep this and bring in other planned schemes are due in the coming weeks, and senior councillors have largely declined to engage publicly with residents on the issue. Last September, Sarah Merrill, who took on the job of transport cabinet member in the summer, complained to a resident that most of her time was taken up with the west Greenwich scheme.
Greenwich had planned to introduce its own measures in its part of Lee, but these look likely to be withdrawn after Sarah Merrill, the cabinet member for transport – and the person originally due to make the decision – told a council meeting she opposed the plans. Official responsibility was later moved to council leader Danny Thorpe.
However, one new scheme could appear on the Greenwich Peninsula after a decision item entitled “Peninsula low traffic neighbourhood experimental scheme”, with no accompanying details, quietly appeared on the council’s website last month.
There are no details available about what is planned, which could be anything from a one-way street to a full series of road closures. A possible candidate could be a closure of West Parkside in Greenwich Millennium Village, which is used by drivers trying to avoid Bugsby’s Way; although it could also refer to measures take in streets off Vanbrugh Hill to curb rat-running and antisocial behaviour by drivers. However, the answer is unlikely to be revealed for some weeks yet.
Updated at 2pm on Thursday to include a reference to measures taken in Vanbrugh Hill.
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