A London borough mayor committed to “reopening the roads” ripped out a popular traffic-calming measure after receiving only six complaints.
Lutfur Rahman, who was re-elected as mayor of Tower Hamlets on a pro-motorist platform, axed a low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) enforcement camera that deterred drivers from using a residential street in Bow as a short-cut.
A freedom of information request submitted by residents who supported the Antill Road “liveable street” scheme has revealed that the council had received only six objections to the camera – and none from the emergency services or local businesses.
It is the latest twist in a growing row over concerns that Mr Rahman, who sensationally regained power in May after being barred from office for breaches of election law, will axe all traffic-calming measures introduced by his Labour predecessor, John Biggs.
This is despite Tower Hamlets having the third lowest car ownership in London, with 71 per cent of residents not owning a car.
The camera allowed residents, emergency vehicles and holders of disabled “blue badges” to use the road but penalised other drivers, including those who sought to use it as a shortcut to avoid Mile End Road or the A12 as they headed into central London.
The camera was removed by the council in July, less than four months after being introduced. Residents were not consulted. The council said the camera had been removed following feedback from residents.
But 100 held a protest on the day of its removal, 713 signed a petition to the council, and Transport for London objected – and threatened to axe future funding.
One resident, Robin Brayne, said the camera had temporarily “transformed” the one-way road, reducing pollution and making it safe for children to cycle. This was because sat-nav systems used by drivers no longer indicated it as a through route.
Mr Brayne said: “The lack of transparency and adherence to local government norms, and the apparent desire to turn the clocks back on active travel measures, just when everyone else is ramping up, is worrying for so many of us.”
TfL has warned that if Mr Rahman axes a separate traffic-calming scheme on Old Bethnal Green Road, this will force it to abandon plans to install bus priority measures on Hackney Road.
Campaigners are due to lobby the mayor at a full council meeting next Wednesday, October 5, after more than 2,000 people, led by primary school headteacher Simon Ramsay, petitioned the council to save “safer streets” schemes.
— Ross Lydall (@RossLydall) September 28, 2022
Mr Rahman told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that further time was needed to consider “thousands” of responses to a consultation on reopening the roads.
But he added: “These closures have impacted thousands of working people in Tower Hamlets.
“They have pushed huge amounts of traffic onto roads, often in the poorest parts of the borough, and are simply moving congestion and pollution on to the most vulnerable residents.”
Mr Ramsay, headteacher of Oaklands School on Old Bethnal Green Road, said Mr Rahman, in his statement, had repeated “unproven claims” about the impacts of the new street layouts.
He said: “It’s frustrating that he didn’t share the results of the recent consultation either, six weeks after it finished.
“Our petition, signed by over 3,000 locals, asked him to take the time to listen. He says that he will, and we hope this means he will truly take all views on board.
“If he were to listen, he would hear from many people right across the community whose lives are made better by the new streets. He would hear, as our own painstaking research shows, that air quality is now better across all of Tower Hamlets than it was in 2019 and that the changes haven’t had a significant impact on traffic on boundary roads.
“We were glad to hear the mayor talk about his commitment to net zero emissions and to working with the community to encourage people to move away from car use towards public transport and active travel. We strongly support these aims, but we’re baffled that he thinks they could be compatible with removing the street improvements that help people to walk and cycle.”
Mr Rahman was previously forced to step down after an election court found him guilty of corrupt and illegal practices, and he was banned from running for office for five years.
But he faced no criminal prosecution and won the mayorship in a shock victory earlier this year.
In a statement issued to the Evening Standard on Monday, Mr Rahman, said the council was analysing the data gathered from the summer consultation on whether to scrap the traffic-calming schemes.
He said: “Although plans to remove the LTN schemes from parts of Tower Hamlets won a resounding democratic mandate at May’s local elections, I am keen to ensure residents’ views are heard from across the spectrum - particularly after some voiced concern that they didn’t feel properly heard when the LTNs were first introduced.
“The closure of Antill Road was one of the concerns residents kept raising with me and, as Antill Road was an experimental traffic order, we agreed to remove the closure but monitor it over the next few months. We welcome any comments by residents, who can get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
“I remain entirely committed to tackling climate change and reducing pollution levels through a range of inclusive green measures outlined in my manifesto.”