For Brick Lane https://talk.towerhamlets.gov.uk/lsbricklane – Deadline Sunday 19 February
For Weavers and Old Bethnal Green Road https://talk.towerhamlets.gov.uk/LSBethnalGreen – Deadline Sunday 12 February
Since returning Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s Aspire party won control of the Tower Hamlets Council in the May 2022 council elections, they have already bulldozed a School Street play area in the dead of the night and attempted to remove millions of pounds of infrastructure to enable safer walking and cycling.
In summer 2022 they ran a huge consultation looking to:
Old Bethnal Green Road pedestrian & cycle zone
Brick Lane without through-traffic
Wapping bus gate giving buses priority
Columbia Road liveable neighbourhoods
This consultation closed in August 2022, but the council didn’t release the results until January 2023 – five months after they originally promised, and now alongside a new consultation asking all the same things again!
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In 2020, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods were introduced in parts of Bethnal Green, Weaver’s Ward, and the Brick Lane area as part of the council’s Liveable Streets schemes. Some people are desperate for the Mayor to NOT destroy these schemes. Local residents have been out on the streets to save them – for example at Roman Road, and at a borough-wide cycle demonstration.
In the first consultation, around 70% of respondents supported keeping the new walking and cycling schemes across all the developments.
People responded from across London, with responses centring on Tower Hamlets and the neighbouring boroughs of Hackney, Waltham Forest, Islington and Lambeth.
Looking at responses from just people living in the borough of Tower Hamlets, respondents are generally evenly split between supporting and opposing the schemes – with a small majority supporting the schemes in most instances.
To see the full results visit: https://talk.towerhamlets.gov.uk/LSBethnalGreen and download ‘First stage consultation results’ documents from the RHS of the page. (Is it just us, or are these deliberately hard to find?)
Some quotes from individuals and organisations responding to the first consultation:
Sample response from individual residents
“The livable streets initiative [sic], and in particular the closure of the roads around Arnold Circus, has made our life much more enjoyable in the neighborhood. We live on Camlet street and not having cars doing fast run in the middle of the night is a life changer. We strongly support the rehabilitation of Arnold Circus and want to see the work, aligned with the local community, continue, so that the square can become a cornerstone of the neighborhood.”
Metropolitan Police response
“For Arnold Circus there were 11 Anti-Social Behaviour and 5 drugs calls in the past 6 months compared with 36 for Anti-Social Behaviour and 6 for drugs in the 6 months pre-implementation which is quite a significant drop and in-line with the response from the Safer Neighbourhood Team responsible for this area:
“I consider the road management measures that were brought in to have had a positive effect. I am surprised there is consideration to remove them… the MPS is concerned with the plans to remove these measures both in terms of a potential increase in crime, specifically Anti-Social Behaviour related, and also increasing road danger.”
Local NHS Trust response
“The Tower Hamlets “Liveable Streets” programme was welcomed by NHS partners… We are concerned by the proposals to reverse elements of the Bethnal Green, Bow, Wapping, and Brick Lane schemes.”
The Aspire Party took control of Tower Hamlets Council from Labour in May, with Mayor Rahman unseating previous Mayor John Biggs.
Rahman’s eight-point plan for the borough included removing all Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. He said in an ITV interview immediately after election: “Our roads have been closed, blocked up…. we’re going to consult and reopen our roads.”
However, while such statements are clearly worrying for action on active travel and climate in Tower Hamlets, it is unlikely Rahman’s re-election was primarily about active travel.
Rahman was originally removed from office and banned from holding office for five years in 2014. This was because he, along with his agents, was found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices. May 2022 was the first local election following his ban and he has clearly remained popular despite the verdict against him, capitalising on widespread anger with the local Labour Party over a variety of issues. In the borough, while there is a clear frustration in some quarters about Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, Rahman’s return is primarily down to his base still supporting him.
On top of that, previous Labour Mayor Biggs had already weakened, removed and ‘paused’ a series of active travel schemes in Tower Hamlets. He sent a clear message to the electorate that not only was he rattled by the potential of an Aspire by-election win, but also weak on active travel in general. In other words, a vote for Labour/Biggs was no more a vote for active travel in these circumstances than a vote for Aspire/Rahman was specifically against.
Tower Hamlets is the second most densely populated local authority in the UK, second only to neighbouring Islington. It has a rich public transport network of buses, tubes, the DLR, the Overground and trains. There is no reason that the private car should dominate here.
Tower Hamlets is also a London borough where 71% of households already do not have a car and over 80% of travel is already by walking, cycling or public transport [Healthy Streets Scorecard 2021].
Mayor Rahman says he wants to do better on the Climate Emergency. His election manifesto pledges that “My administration will tackle climate change — the biggest threat to the world we know — as a matter of urgency.”
Bringing back rat-running just doesn’t add up.
The Tower Hamlets Council is doing as much as they can to bring back traffic to the borough.
In particular they’ve targeted the borough’s School Streets, which are under Experimental Traffic Orders and so don’t need consultation to be removed.
They tested the waters with Chisenhale Primary School. Chisenhale’s School Street meant there were two hours – one in the morning and one at pick-up time – where the road was closed to cars, to enable families to walk to collect their children in safety. It also had a “green corridor” of planters and wooden barriers immediately outside the school gates to give children somewhere to meet their families and leave the school safely. The parents at the school had crowdfunded nearly £10,000 to install the space.
Children protested at barricades to keep the space for weeks. But diggers came in the middle of the night. Now it’s all been ripped out.
All 26 remaining School Streets in the borough are now also under threat.
Diggers at Chisenhale initially blocked by children
Protest placards from primary school children
The Tower Hamlets Council was originally also trying to remove a ‘bus gate’ scheme in Wapping. This prevented ratrun traffic using Wapping to dodge The Highway (the A1203) by installing a filter which allows buses through, but not private motor vehicles, at certain times of day. This bus gate helped bus journey times (and walking and cycling).
When plans to remove the scheme were revealed, TfL, the Mayor and his Walking & Cycling Commissioner got involved, pointing out that the scheme had been fully funded by Transport for London. Removing the scheme would likely have been both politically and financially tough for the Aspire administration. The bus gate in Wapping is safe for now. Phew.
But everything else is under threat – so scroll back up if you live in Tower Hamlets and hit the links now!
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