A majority of residents living in an East London borough want road closures and traffic-calming measures to stay and not be reversed by the mayor, a public consultation has found. Earlier this year Tower Hamlets residents and businesses took part in a council survey which asked them whether they wanted the Liveable Streets schemes in Bethnal Green and Brick Lane to remain or for roads to open up again.
Despite a majority of residents wanting the traffic calming measures to stay, Tower Hamlets mayor, Lutfur Rahman and his cabinet is expected to decide on the fate of the schemes at a meeting next Wednesday (September 20). Cabinet papers which have been published ahead of next week’s meeting shows 58 per cent of local residents living in Bethnal Green are in support of keeping the traffic calming measures, while 41 per cent would like to see them removed.
Meanwhile 59 per cent of Brick Lane residents who took part in the public consultation would like to see the closures stay, with a 41 per cent turnout wanting to see them removed. The Liveable Streets scheme, which limits road access for cars and other vehicles, was implemented under the council when it was run by Labour in August 2021.
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Mr Rahman of the Aspire party, which won the local election in May of last year, previously said the Liveable Streets scheme was “botched” by Labour and pledged that he would reverse the programme as part of his party’s manifesto. Emergency services such as the London Ambulance Service (LAS) and the London Fire Brigade (LFB) have also found the road closures difficult because they cannot get to an address as quickly and easily.
Although the LFB has been given a special access key which allows firefighters to remove temporary bollards to get to an emergency, the same can’t be said for the LAS. For Bethnal Green road closures, the council’s public consultation notes “there have been multiple incidents across the area where closures have hindered ambulance service and fire brigade access”.
However, campaigners battling to save the Liveable Streets scheme have argued it has made areas safer for pedestrians and has improved “the look and feel” of local neighbourhoods. Met Police officers have also seen a reduction in anti-social behaviour in some parts of the borough where Liveable Streets has been implemented.
Their findings were published in the council’s recent report: “The reduction in [anti-social behaviour] in the Arnold Circus area [Bethnal Green] is noticeable and evidence from low traffic neighbourhoods elsewhere that have been allowed to ‘mature’ is that they show a marked reduction in road traffic collisions due to the fewer motor vehicles travelling through the area.”
Transport for London [TfL] has praised road closures in Bethnal Green as it has “successfully reduced traffic levels and prioritised safety for walking and cycling” although there has been some issues for buses. TfL went on to say: “We note the positive impact of the restrictions on both local crime and anti-social behaviour, creating a more pleasant environment for local residents, particularly women and girls.”
Matthew Quin who is leading the council’s programme for Healthy Environments said of the various road closures which have been established in Tower Hamlets, evidence suggests there has been an improvement to air quality. Residents and businesses have praised the scheme for “cleaner, quieter streets” and areas being more “pleasant” to walk around. However some people have said they have been “seriously affected” by delayed ambulances while a shop owner on Brick Lane said they have lost customers.
One business owner in the area said: “Getting deliveries customer coming with the cars is so difficult at weekends, especially for people coming from distance, people are worried to calm down so we are losing customers on Brick Lane.”
Though another Brick Lane business has had a different experience: “My business is largely unaffected by the closures, but the area has more shoppers and people visiting local businesses and I am now considering applying for a market stall on Brick Lane to expand my business. I am unlikely to do this if the road closures are reversed.”
Meanwhile over in Bethnal Green, businesses are mostly in support of the road closures staying. One business said: “The whole area has been transformed for the better, which has encouraged more of our staff to both walk and cycle to work, and also to make more use of local facilities that are more easily accessed and are now in a more pleasant environment.”
Another business owner said: “It is a much more pleasant environment for clients to interact, and to meet with us in the business. The area is now a thriving hub of all kinds of people, not just lots of trucks and vans driving through, destroying the local community spirit.”
The decision ultimately hangs in the balance of cabinet members, who will choose from three options; either reverse the schemes, retain the schemes or partly keep the schemes but with some adjustments.
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