‘We’re going backwards’: Greenwich councillors call for proper transport strategy

Our Lady of Grace School, Charlton
The borough needed school streets to prevent scenes like this, Gardner said

Greenwich councillors have said their town hall needs to have a proper transport strategy in place – with one saying the borough is “going backwards” after losing its only low-traffic neighbourhood.

The transport scrutiny committee recommended that Greenwich become a 20mph borough, set out detailed plans to boost walking and cycling and focus on creating “healthy streets”.

They also voted to note their regret at the scrapping of the Hills & Vales low-traffic neighbourhood, which was removed last week despite a council-commissioned report saying that increases in local traffic were down to a number of factors rather than solely the curbs on drivers using side streets west of Greenwich Park as a cut-through.

Former deputy leader David Gardner said that it was the policy of London mayor Sadiq Khan to ensure that streets “should be there for residents to enjoy, safe, as green as possible and somewhere to encourage our economy”.

Victoria Way
Fenced in on Victoria Way, Charlton: Gardner said many of the borough’s streets were hostile to pedestrians and cyclists

A team of councillors visited streets in Hackney and Waltham Forest, boroughs which have pushed through schemes to limit private car use in side streets and promote walking and cycling.

“We thought there was a big hole, in our policy framework, which is that there isn’t a transport strategy,” Gardner said at the meeting last Monday.

“When we went to Hackney in particular, it was their transport structure that drove their healthy streets [programme], which has been significantly in advance of ours.”

  • Read the full report
  • Last month this website reported that just 11 per cent of Greenwich’s streets had been made safer for walking and cycling – a figure that will now be lower following the removal of the low-traffic neighbourhood in west Greenwich last week.

    “We’re sort of midway in London,” Gardner said. “We’re not a basket case. There are good points and there are bad in terms of our progress on healthy streets.”

    Google images show how West Avenue in Walthamstow – a similar bridge to Victoria Way above – was transformed by Waltham Forest Council

    Gardner added: “We need to supplement that transport strategy with a refreshed walking and cycling strategy, to really try and make it safe and attractive for people.

    “There are many roads in the borough where people don’t feel safe, or are quite hostile,and that there needs to be strong and consistent political leadership.

    “This is what Hackney and Waltham Forest have said very much is that they’ve had that political leadership, consistent leadership of, of really going at something and, and building the support and the consensus.”

    Gardner added that policies had been hampered by frequent changes to cabinet members and a high turnover in council officers.

    Aidan Smith, a Greenwich West councillor who represents the area covered by the low-traffic neighbourhood, said: “It’s a shame that we’re going backwards from when the report was written really, but there we are.”

    “I’d agree with you 100 per cent,” said the committee’s chair, outgoing Charlton councillor Gary Parker.

    Greenwich’s cabinet member for transport, Sarah Merrill, has previously said she wants to develop a “holistic” transport strategy, but even with Labour expected to win May’s council election, whether she stays in post will be down to whoever is elected council leader.

    The report also calls for more “school streets” – usually where roads are closed to vehicles at pick-up and drop-off times – and a borough-wide 20mph zone. While many residential streets have 20mph limits, most other inner London boroughs now apply them to main roads too, including neighbouring Lewisham and even Conservative-run Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea.

    Gardner said a universal policy would mean “there is no doubt” about the lower limit, which is credited elsewhere with a small lowering of traffic speeds.

    The council’s leadership is not obliged to take any notice of the scrutiny committee, with one member of the public complaining later on about the mixed messages coming from the council after the scrapping of the low-traffic neighbourhood.

    But scrutiny panels are an arena in which councillors are – at least in theory – able to speak freely and without risk from Labour party sanctions. However, Gardner has been targeted in the past for his candour. When he was deputy leader of the council he was demoted to the powerless role of cabinet member for public realm by leader Danny Thorpe, a former primary school teacher.

    Verdant Lane, Catford
    Greenwich should follow Lewisham in becoming a 20mph borough, councillors said

    Shooters Hill councillor Clare Burke-McDonald praised the report and also voiced her regret at the council’s failure to develop a coherent strategy on low-traffic neighbourhoods.

    “I think that shows a real significant lack of both action in having failed to implement them in the first place and an ambition in having failed to grow and develop these schemes in that year compared to the rest of London,” she said.

    Abbey Wood councillor Ann-Marie Cousins backed a proposal to monitor how council staff travel to work, but added: “​​Obviously those that can bicycle can ride a bicycle. I’ve made it clear. I’m not riding a bicycle, but I’m happy to get off an extra stop or something.”

    After a suggestion from Charlie Davis, the Conservative councillor for Eltham North, the panel also voted to recommend the expansion of the London cycle hire scheme to the borough.

    The report also recommended enshrining healthy streets in decisions made when approving new developments, and turning the council’s highways committee – which largely deals with petitions from residents on parking and road safety – into a “streets committee” to help encourage walking and cycling.

    The full meeting can be watched on the Greenwich Council YouTube page.

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