Greenwich’s misleading claim of Met support for the traffic scheme was based on a routine road-rage incident
A council letter on 12 August 2020 announcing the traffic measures told residents that the Metropolitan Police Service had written to the council about traffic volumes on Crooms Hill. The council described it as “key feedback” and it was used to justify the introduction of the West Greenwich traffic measures. A similar claim can still be found on the Royal Greenwich website and formal council documents, and it has been repeated in public by a councillor. In fact, the Met opposed the scheme, in company with the other emergency services.
Freedom of Information requests to the Metropolitan Police show the only police communication about Crooms Hill was an email from an individual officer who had encountered a routine incident of a driver refusing to reverse on 25 June 2020. The officer described the incident in an email to an official or member of the council who appears to have been an acquaintance.
ln the hands of the council, this was exaggerated into the Metropolitan Police Service writing to the council about remedial action and “detailing road safety issues at the northern end of Crooms Hill, due to current levels of traffic”. None of this reflected the wording or tone of the one-off email. The email was not the official response to consultation on the scheme.
Since then the council has avoided FOI requests on the Metropolitan Police Service’s actual feedback. By the time residents received the 12 August 2020 letter, the council knew the Met had objected to its proposals in July and had commented: “Police echo what the other emergency services are saying. We do not have enough information or time to adequately consult over these modal filters.”
But the idea that the police were calling on the council to take action gained momentum within the council. Mehboob Kahn, then a councillor, told the September 2020 council meeting: “The Metropolitan Police have demanded action by the council and if the council had failed to act upon the Metropolitan Police’s advice we would have been neglecting our duty towards our residents.”
And at the most recent meeting of the Highways Committee on 24 February 2021, Khan extended the claim beyond Crooms Hill, saying: “The Metropolitan Police wrote to the council and demanded action to tackle the amount of vehicles using these residential streets at peak hours. If the council didn’t respond and act on the Metropolitan Police’s advice they would be held accountable should anyone be injured or worse.”
The emergency services are statutory consultees and as such were consulted on 8 July 2020 and given just two days to respond. Fire, ambulance and police services were fully in agreement that: ‘blocked roads create egress issues resulting in vehicles having to make multiple point turns to leave the scene’, ‘diversion routes are too long and hindered by existing restrictions’, complained that ‘all local authorities and TfL are implementing these schemes and there is no coordinated engagement or process for emergency services to feedback or object’*. All condemned modal filters and requested ANPR be used instead.
The accident rate in the ‘Hills and Vales’ was negligible prior to the scheme’s introduction.
Although bound to consult with the emergency services, local authorities do not have to follow the advice given. Following legal challenges by residents, and negotiation with services, many London local authorities have removed modal filters (road blocks only open to bikes), which are the chief danger.
Formal complaints that the references to the police in the council’s 12 August 2020 letter to residents were false and misleading have been referred to the Local Government Ombudsman, who investigates maladministration.
Local councils might also find themselves liable for compensation, having left obstructive modal filters in place despite warnings about the risks.
* From the South London Ambulance Service response on 8 July 2020, joined by the Fire Service and Metropolitan Police.
The Council's 12 August 2020 letter and map of the area can be seen here