Local residents plead for an end to discord as minority pro-LTN backlash puts council officers under pressure
LTN supporters living inside the former traffic management scheme area have staged demonstrations and disrupted the work of hard-pressed councillors and officials. Their behaviour threatens to hold up essential work in a Council already experiencing heavy commitments and staff shortages.
Claims that a majority of local residents supported the scheme are misplaced and misleading. A 70% consultation response in favour of the scheme only represents views within Hills and Vales, home to the main beneficiaries of the scheme. But the figure has been widely touted in the press and social media as a majority of all local residents.
Objectors have pressed for the decision to be governed only by residents in the protected area. In Tweets, Matthew Pennycook MP asked for transparency in future decision making, but was clearly influenced by calls for greater weight to be given to the beneficiaries in the small and affluent protected area.
In other social media posts, others uphold the actions of Cllr Sarah Merill in taking a lead in listening to all voices in the debate, and proposing a wider more thorough analysis of traffic issues in the borough.
How the consultation became more inclusive
The second consultation, which closed on 18 February, was publicised to a defined 'consultation' area including East Greenwich, Greenwich Town Centre, Blackheath Hill, Greenwich South Street and the Ashburnham Triangle, in addition to "Hills and Vales". Open to anyone with net access, contributions also came from key workers travelling into the area, and included former residents living in distant parts of London and elsewhere.
Consultation users had to log their post-codes to enable analysis according to locality. A majority of residents living in Hills and Vales, which has benefitted from the closures, were in favour, while large majorities against the scheme were registered for those living in neighbouring parts of the consultation area, including boundary roads. The '70% majority' located within Hills and Vales has been widely touted in social media as representing all local residents.
No experimental scheme for East Greenwich
The Council announced on 20 January that no experimental LTN would be trialled in East Greenwich. The decision follows last summer's overwhelming public rejection of proposals in the Westcombe Park area. The Council planned to place a road barrier along the route of the Greenwich to Woolwich railway line, preventing all vehicles from crossing, except for buses and emergency services.
All plans for experimental LTNs across the north of the borough have now been dropped.
Scrapping the West Greenwich scheme could open the way for the Council’s more recent promise of a broader, fairer borough transport strategy.
Royal Hill experienced 18 months of 'boundary road' traffic during which people shopping and going to work and to school on foot have been threatened by heavy traffic, including large goods vehicles. Statistics showed additional traffic in the afternoons here and on Blissett Street.
The scheme was one of the causes of life-threatening additional pollution and congestion on boundary roads such as Blackheath Hill. (see: Tenants and their children living on boundary roads take the strain on this page.)
It held up emergency vehicles and essential journeys over a wide area and put pedestrians at greater risk of accidents. From Creek Road to Westcombe Hill, the West Greenwich barriers cause delays, pollution and extra mileage - harming livelihoods and people dependent on car travel.
Greenwich Council did not consult on the scheme prior to installation and failed to heed the warnings and objections of the emergency services.
The West Greenwich traffic management scheme scrapped due to traffic displacement and lack of local support
Final decision by Greenwich Council points to significant social concerns
A final decision on 25 February by the Royal Borough of Greenwich to allow the experimental traffic scheme to expire, was the result of "significant levels of concern about the scheme" and the opposition, during two consultations, of a majority of respondents. 53% of local residents opposed the scheme in the Greener Safer Greenwich consultation, and 5,000 online petitioners opposed the scheme from its inception in August 2020.
A Streetspace consultation opened in 2020, without open access, indicated high levels of concern about the lack of permeability of the area. This portal did not ask for views on the future of the scheme, even though Council officers were later asked to guess, from responses, whether respondents were 'for' or 'against' the scheme (producing a variety of confusing results).
Following a modification of the scheme in August 2021 the Council posted a 'Greener Safer Greenwich' open access consultation, attracting more than 2,000 contributions. This survey was self-selecting, and asked whether the scheme should be scrapped, leading to a majority of responses against the scheme.
The decision was one of a series of cancellations of projected experimental 'low traffic neighbourhood' schemes across the north of the borough after traffic experts found that the build-up of displaced traffic would cause congestion and additional mileage over a wide area.
The Council's earlier decision not to go ahead with the East Greenwich scheme meant that if the West Greenwich 'LTN' continued, traffic displacement would continue into East Greenwich, Woolwich Rd Trafalgar Road and beyond.
The Cabinet Member for Environment, Sustainability & Transport, Cllr Sarah Merrill also took the decision on the basis of statutory criteria in the governing legislation, as well as local opinion and petitioning.
A GGTF petition from 422 residents living on 'boundary' roads (Blackheath Hill, Greenwich South Street and Trafalgar Road) called on the Council to acknowledge that the consultation itself "does not directly address major problems, including hardship arbitrarily inflicted on residents who depend on vehicles: blue badge holders; those with urgent or long-term conditions needing care and support from key workers, relatives and friends; people with disabilities; those who rely on public transport or trade vehicles; parents of small children; and school pupils."
Last August's experimental ‘modifications’ to the West Greenwich Scheme failed to make any difference to congestion on boundary roads and in East Greenwich.
Cllr Merrill has indicated that the way is open for a review of borough transport strategy.
Since it was installed in August 2020, the Scheme has increased the daily vehicle tally of 28,000 on Blackheath Hill, causing life-threatening additional congestion and pollution. Scrapping the scheme will help reduce the nightmare of overloaded boundary roads. Government traffic figures show that while pandemic traffic reduced vehicle numbers everywhere, there was no change on Blackheath Hill and heavy goods vehicles increased by 17 per cent.
New public disclosures reveal that the emergency services made strenuous efforts to prevent the use of modal filters in West Greenwich from July 2020, and that instances of critical delays to ambulances called to the area are resulting from the road blocks. See our link below to the full disclosure.
Efforts by services to head off the deadly risks posed by the ‘hard’ barriers that make the scheme were ignored until the recent appointment of new Transportation Cabinet Member, Sarah Merrill. Cllr Merrill has immediately put in hand the adjustment of three road blocks, which will be replaced by ANPR cameras, at Crooms Hill, Hyde Vale and Winforton Street, allowing for emergency vehicle access only.
The move comes after a year of protest, not only from services, but also many residents and people working in the area, that the West Greenwich scheme, brought in last summer without consultation, causes severe congestion that not only delays vital individual journeys, but also prevents the emergency services from doing their job.
We reveal the new disclosure, which includes correspondence on proposed schemes for East Greenwich and Woolwich, all of which were condemned by services. Evidence of critical and life-threatening delays is growing, together with pressure to withdraw the scheme entirely. See what the emergency services say.
Councillors now accept that successive closures in neighbouring areas, together with the loss of road space to the cycle superhighway, compounds congestion and is having a disastrous impact on borough residents and emergency services forced on to overcrowded main routes. A councillor has privately described the situation as the “perfect storm”. And Cllr Merrill has pledged to listen to residents to make specific changes in the short and medium term. In the long term she hopes to create a borough transport strategy in consultation with residents.
Consultations in July 2020, before the installation of the West Greenwich Scheme on 20 August 2020, received firm and detailed rejections of the modal filters in favour of ANPR (camera) control. The ambulance service also warned that the Council risked prosecution. On 9 July 2020 the London Ambulance Service stated: “It is not acceptable to delay the ambulances reaching addresses or 999 calls within a restricted traffic area as any delay could result in death or permanent injury to a patient. HM Coroner has issued Prevent Future Death notices regarding these issues previously, so any scheme must easily allow emergency vehicle access at all times during the operation.” This warning was endorsed by both the Metropolitan Police and London Fire Brigade. The letter referred to the Council’s liability for criminal proceedings under the Emergency Workers (Obstruction) Act 2006.
Greenwich also misled the public on the response of the Metropolitan Police Service, which has been consistently opposed to the scheme. Greenwich continues to claim on its website that the Met supports the scheme, when there were no official representations by the Service to this effect, only objections. GGTF has already reported on earlier disclosures and highlighted wrongful claims that the Met backed the scheme. (Scroll down to “Greenwich’s misleading claim of Met support for the traffic scheme was based on a routine road-rage incident”.)
The scheme was originally introduced under a Road Traffic Regulation Act s14(1) , a new measure enabling national pandemic protection for school pupils and shoppers, none of which was ever provided.
When this order was switched to an Experimental Traffic Order (ETO) commencing in September 2020, statutory consultees should have been approached again. This did not happen, and Council members seem to have been left in the dark about the July consultation and told that emergency services had no substantial objections to the ETO. Councillors and staff at Greenwich have been unresponsive to representations and complaints about risks that have confronted the community for almost a year, including 1,400 signatories to a West Greenwich online petition that was initially ignored by the Council.
The new disclosures include data from 20 July 2020 onwards providing hard evidence on the high call-out rate for ambulances in Greenwich town centre, the impact of neighbouring ‘LTNs’ in East Greenwich and Woolwich, and the implications not only for reaching patients, but also, turning in the tight cul de sacs created by the scheme, long diversions, and potential delays in taking critically injured and ill patients to hospital.
In September 2020, for instance, a call to a ‘category 1’ (immediately life threatening) patient in King George Street was forced to take a ‘long diversion’ due to the closures on Point Hill, Winforton Street and Hyde Vale, resulting in a 5-6 minute delay.
The ambulance service, commenting on the new East Greenwich ‘LTN’, stated that existing road closures “are causing multiple delays for emergency services accessing patients and emergency calls”. The letter asks Greenwich to “please be aware that residents in one London borough are alleging that a patient has died as a result of ambulance vehicles have to redirect around physical barriers” and notes that one London borough had removed all their schemes. “Can I suggest their reasoning is investigated before any further implementation is carried out in Greenwich?” the writer asks.
This request was repeated on 29 October 2020 in relation to plans for an additional modal filter to close Dabin Crescent: just two metres wide, this tiny service road provided an escape to Greenwich South Street for residents in Maidenstone Hill area. GGTF drew attention to the fact that two-way access on this narrow road meant that cars inevitably mounted the one-metre pavement to pass. Council correspondence stated that the road was used as a ‘rat run’ for A2 traffic, without mentioning that much of the increased traffic was coming from the newly gated community including not only Maidenstone Hill, but also Winforton Street, Dutton Street and Trinity Grove. To read more [Link to] Health and social inequality
By the time the Dabin Crescent closure was due for consideration in October, Services pointed out that the pan-London group of TfL, emergency services and the boroughs, had decided that “the use of planters and lockable bollards should be limited”. The Dabin Crescent closure nevertheless went ahead in November, forcing more local traffic bound for Greenwich South Street on to Blackheath Hill. The cut-through was unacceptable, but nevertheless, one of the no-win scenarios set up by the scheme. Alternatives were never properly explored.
Although the correspondence from Greenwich officials constantly states that ‘monitoring’ would be conducted, it has been privately admitted that virtually nothing happened before or after the introduction of the ‘Hills and Vales’ scheme, and that monitoring of any kind has yet to be set up.
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
Greenwich is distorting the law to avoid accounting to local people for the West Greenwich Traffic Management Scheme. Stakeholders registering statutory Formal Objections to the scheme under the Road Traffic Regulation Act have been sent a pro forma letter stating the Objections will be dealt with under the Council’s ‘corporate complaints procedure’ instead.
Formal Objections are intended to address the legal basis of the Experimental Traffic Orders (ETOs). The law requires they should be made public and dealt with transparently as part of the statutory decision-making process.
Substituting a long-winded, private and inappropriate ‘complaint’ process avoids the transparency that the Act demands. The Council intends to make a permanent decision before stage one responses to 'complaints' are likely to be received. It would allow the Council to escape from explaining why the scheme is not in accordance with the statutory powers the Council used to impose it on the area.
Formal Objections are being swept under the carpet to hide the lack of consultation on the scheme, as well as a secretive switch of statutory purposes within days of installing the roadblocks. Switching from an order designed to garner government money for Covid protections to an ‘Experimental Traffic Order’ captured cash for the Council and could make it easier to impose the changes longterm.
The West Greenwich Traffic Management Scheme had no mandate from residents, who voted against erecting roadblocks to the area in December 2019.
On 12 August 2020, the Council obtained an Order to bring in the scheme under section 14(1) of the Act, part of the Government’s special legislation to: ‘accommodate measures as part of the Council’s response to the public health considerations in connection to the COVID-19 pandemic’ and ‘promote active travel to support the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic’ in response to a transport ‘emergency’. A letter to Residents on the same day, 12 August 2020, gave this explanation, while claiming untruthfully that the Metropolitan Police supported the scheme, and that residents had rejected ANPR in favour of roadblocks (modal filters).
The scheme was installed on 20 August 2020. But days later, on 26 August, Greenwich obtained an ‘Experimental Traffic Order’ (ETO), effectively dumping the obligation to provide COVID measures and introducing a new timetable for permanent implementation that was not made public. The key ‘Statement of Reasons’ for the ETO were:
1 - ‘for avoiding danger to persons or other traffic using the road or any other road or for preventing the likelihood of any such danger arising,’ and
2 - ‘to facilitate the passage on the road or any other roads of any class of traffic’.
Residents were not told the changed objectives of the scheme, which differ radically from those in the original 12 August letter and Section 14(1) Order. Objections include that:
- the scheme is not an ‘experiment’. Pandemic traffic patterns and the chaos of building the new cycle superhighway did not allow it to be tested in normal conditions,
- the scheme increases, rather than reduces, traffic ‘danger’,
- residents were not consulted or told about the changed purposes.
Previously the protected area had a negligible accident history. Since 20 August there have been collisions on Royal Hill, dangerous turning movements close to the roadblocks, while ambulance and fire crews have told residents that they have been delayed in reaching accidents and emergencies.
The scheme increases danger on Blackheath Hill, to which most local traffic has been diverted. This road already had the worst accident record in the Borough, and the Greenwich South Street/Blackheath Hill junction has no pedestrian phase, creating serious risks at this busy, congested junction.
For those who found out about the ETO and made Formal Objections to the Council about its shortcomings, now is the time to reject the cul-de-sac of a ‘stage one complaint’. For a suggested response, please go to the Act Now page.
Greenwich has never held a consultation on the West Greenwich Scheme. But six other schemes are included in a Greener Greenwich online consultation that discloses responses publicly. The schemes being made available for open consultation include the neighbouring East Greenwich (‘Maze Hill and Westcombe Area’) LTN, which was proposed because of the displacement of West Greenwich traffic to the area. Reaction to the East Greenwich Scheme was overwhelmingly negative. The East Greenwich Scheme includes ANPR that would allow emergency vehicles through, unlike the West Greenwich Scheme.
Council Highways Committee prejudices final decision on the West Greenwich Traffic Management Scheme
A specially convened council Highways Committee on Wednesday 24 February decided to recommend the ‘permanent adoption’ of the West Greenwich Scheme, even though no decision is due until the completion of formal consultation and monitoring. The Committee also appeared to confirm that all public consultation will cease on 3 March (see below on how to respond on time).
The Highways Committee, chaired by Cllr Bill Freeman, agreed that the Council’s Executive should adopt the scheme ‘permanently’, in defiance of the meeting’s stated objectives. Most councillors speaking had no knowledge of the area, or the scheme, and judged it on the basis of believing that it is a ‘low traffic neighbourhood’ or LTN. Greenwich no longer claims this is the case, describing it as a ‘traffic reduction trial’. Traffic is displaced to the A2 on Blackheath Hill and Royal Hill by a dividing barrier along Royal Hill and Blissett Street.
The special meeting was set up to consider the treatment of independent public online petitions about the scheme. But the Committee overlooked a West Greenwich Petition started by local resident David Patrick that has attracted more than 1,300 signatures opposing the scheme. No one was invited to address the Committee on behalf of this substantial number of signatories. Added to this is a major petition originated by East Greenwich residents affected by displaced traffic, with 3,100 signatories who also oppose the scheme. A total in the low hundreds in other petitions were in favour of maintaining the road blocks. Representatives for these petitions, as well as the East Greenwich petition, were invited to address the Committee.
The Officers’ report stated that the public consultation period closes on 3 March, but that further data needed to be considered including traffic volumes, and figures for road safety, air quality and collisions. They also include a ‘review and analysis of public comments and petitions’, further equality impact assessments and ‘feedback’ from the emergency services. Freedom of information responses have disclosed that all three statutory services - the fire brigade, ambulance service and the Metropolitan Police - opposed the modal filter-only scheme on safety grounds last July before installation. This was ignored by the Council.
Despite assurances that monitoring took place before and after the introduction of the scheme, nothing has been made publicly available. Critics argue that pandemic conditions make it impossible to test the impact of a permanent scheme at present and that the scheme should be dismantled for this, and safety, reasons.
Committee members have prejudiced the outcome of the decision-making process by recommending permanent adoption. The meeting is available to view at: https://youtu.be/P4qj_n4oWqY
The High Court quashed Transport for London’s Streetspace scheme in January, describing the scheme as ‘extreme’. In a decision on 20 January 2021, Mrs Justice Lang found that, in relation to the banning of taxi drivers on parts of major roads, Streetspace ‘went beyond what was reasonably required to meet the temporary challenges created by the pandemic. It was possible to widen pavements to allow for social distancing, and to allocate more road space to cater for an increase in the number of cyclists, without seeking to ‘transform’ part of central London into predominantly car-free zones. The stated justification for restrictions on vehicle access, namely, that after lockdown there would be a major increase in pedestrians and cyclists and excessive traffic with risks to safety and public, was not evidence-based.’
The judgment states that use of the pandemic as a justification for restricting taxi access to bus lanes would not appreciably reduce traffic volume because ‘taxis would divert’ via other routes. There was no ‘overriding public interest which justified the frustration of the taxi drivers’ legitimate expectation’.
The quashing of the scheme is not taking immediate effect because TfL has obtained a ‘stay’ while it attempts to persuade the Court of Appeal to hear an appeal.
The Streetspace scheme, introduced last summer, aimed to frustrate car traffic all over London. It led not only to bans on some taxi routes but also to a scramble by local authorities to introduce ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ in a bid to obtain cash from the government’s pandemic emergency travel fund. The schemes did not use LTN protocols and guidance or consult residents.
There are many legal challenges to local authority Streetspace LTNs in the pipeline. Most schemes are similar to what was introduced in West Greenwich last August. Residents have objected to schemes that indiscriminately block essential journeys, and overburden inner city ‘main’ roads similar to the A2 at Blackheath residential streets that were never planned or built to take the loads now imposed.
Local councils, such as Greenwich, covertly used traffic law to close the streets. The rules make it difficult to overturn such changes. Go to Act Now to find out how to make a Formal Objection to the Scheme, or to make a formal complaint that can later be investigated by The Local Government Ombudsman.
Time will be up on 3 March for making Formal Objections to the West Greenwich Traffic Scheme. The Scheme was introduced under a new temporary traffic order, so that Greenwich qualified for the first tranche of the Emergency Active Travel Fund. The government chose to introduce this new form of temporary order because of the temporary nature of the pandemic.
But Greenwich rapidly changed the legal authority for the scheme to an Emergency Traffic Order (or ETO, normally used to cement permanent changes). The ETO came into force on 3 September. We have very little time to register the Objections. To make a Formal Objection, see our sample on our Take Action page.
As well as creating a smokescreen of obscure regulatory moves, the Council has failed to obey the law on information that must be made public.
The Council has failed to make the full ETO orders and formal ‘reasons’ for them, as well as Formal Objections, publicly available.
The Council also stated in a Freedom of Information Act request made last August, (FOI 42679) that: “The Council commissioned a number of surveys before measures were introduced in the West Greenwich (Hills and Vales) and Westcombe areas. Post implementation surveys have also been carried out on the same roads to capture the impact of modal filters. Once these results have been analysed, a summary of the report can be made available on request.” The Council should disclose this monitoring, which has never been made public.
West ward Labour Councillors have told the local branch Labour Party that “a six month review” of the West Greenwich scheme will begin in March, followed by “a decision on its future” - a process “likely to take six to eight weeks”. Local Councillors are said to have “approved” the changes before implementation last summer.
No community engagement for thousands of local residents, as the Council's failed scheme was resurrected with emergency pandemic money
The council ignored funding guidance and its own promises of consultation. And most residents responding to last year’s online survey rejected the council’s plans. Now, locked into a single option, debate on the alternatives has been stifled. Alan Pike examines the background story of raised hopes and broken promises.
Claims that the traffic measures followed engagement with the public show the council knew it should have consulted all residents. But it did not. The claims have become no more balanced since the scheme was introduced. In a written answer at the 23 September 2020 council meeting, the cabinet member for transport referred to 855 responses to an on-line survey in late 2019 as an example of 'extensive engagement with local residents' – without revealing that most of the 855 rejected the council’s plans.
Many residents and groups will have written to the council or discussed local traffic issues with councillors during the 2-3 years build-up to the measures. That’s fine, but it is not an alternative to the council formally engaging with the entire community. This is the background story of raised hopes and broken promises, hopefully made a little more accessible by leafing through the paper trail.
First, a word about words. ‘Consultation’ and ‘engagement’ have more precise meanings in the public sector than in everyday life. In recent comments about Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, the Department for Transport has used ‘consultation’ as shorthand for the various ways local authorities involve the public and we do the same here.
'An important element of Liveable Neighbourhoods projects will be local engagement and involving communities in the development and delivery of proposals that affect their areas from an early stage.'
Transport for London (TfL) Liveable Neighbourhoods guidance for the scheme launch, 2017.
The council planned to use TfL Liveable Neighbourhoods funding to finance the West Greenwich traffic measures. Engaging with communities was a distinctive theme of Liveable Neighbourhoods. TfL’s guidance spoke repeatedly of the need to ensure early and continuing involvement. Greenwich council did not do so.
'We have found that these proposals have not been widely communicated to the local residents and thus not many residents are aware.' Anonymous, Autumn 2018.
They certainly weren’t aware. Most residents had no idea the council was even thinking about traffic measures until they received an anonymous letter through their doors in autumn 2018. By then, the council had already drawn-up fully-developed proposals and was intending to implement them.
'It is important that all residents within the affected areas have an opportunity to express their views. This opportunity will be provided at the next stage of engagement which will be run online ... . Any decision to implement traffic management measures within the Hills and Vales will be made after this wider engagement ... . At that time it will be made clear to residents that a decision will be based on the outcome of this process.'
Council communication note, 10 October 2018
The council’s proposals were unveiled to a tiny 'engagement event' of 40 residents in James Wolfe school on 19 September 2018. This communication note followed local uproar as people got to hear about the council’s plans. The note said 'no decision was made at, or based on, the engagement event' and undertook that any future decision on whether to implement measures would follow the gathering of all residents’ views. It sounded fine. But things didn’t work out that way.
Have your say. It’s important that all residents within the affected areas have an opportunity to give their views before we decide on a final plan. … We need you to get involved and have your say, so we get as much information as possible to guide us.'
Royal Borough of Greenwich, autumn 2018
This undertaking was given on the council’s website. The council said it needed 'the detailed knowledge of local residents and businesses to help shape our plans'. Listening to the public before making decisions would have been in line with spirit of the Liveable Neighbourhoods guidance.
'We have made some important changes to the way we will engage with the community. Be inclusive – you know your area better than we could and there is a huge amount of local knowledge that we want to understand before designing a project'.
Royal Borough of Greenwich, early 2019.
The council outlined this seemingly welcome improvement to community consultation when launching a public engagement on the Greenwich town centre part of the Liveable Neighbourhoods project. Hills & Vales was an element of the same scheme and the council said engagement on the residential areas would follow in spring, 2019.
'Transparency – we want to have an open conversation with you about what you need and want from this project. For this to be possible it is important that we are as transparent as possible and try to overcome the mistrust that has stemmed from poor experiences with the Royal Borough of Greenwich or other local authorities in the past'
Royal Borough of Greenwich, early 2019.
The council’s announcement of its changes to community engagement ended with this heartrending declaration. It really looked as if a significant corner had been turned. But it hadn’t.
'Your answers will inform our decision on which measures to implement on an experimental basis.' Royal Borough of Greenwich, November 2019.
This was the death knell for all that stuff about transparency and overcoming mistrust. The public engagement on the residential areas promised for spring 2019 never took place.
There was silence from the council until November, 2019, when it launched an on-line public engagement survey on its Options 1 and 2. The survey material did not offer the choice of leaving things unchanged, but made it clear that the council had already decided that there was going to be a scheme.
What became of the assurance in the October 2018 communication note that any decision to implement traffic measures would depend on the outcome of a wider engagement with all residents? Why had the council neglected its undertaking to draw on local knowledge before designing a project? What about the Liveable Neighbourhoods guidance saying early and ongoing community engagement was a “crucial factor”? The council has never answered such questions.
“The survey was not a referendum on the options, it was undertaken to shape a trial option.” Royal Borough of Greenwich letter to residents, 12 August 2020.
This letter announced that the barriers were going up on Royal Hill the following week. Only now could net-accessible people learn the results of the previous year’s engagement survey on Options 1 and 2. Although the letter did not say so, a majority of people responding to the survey – both local residents and others from wider afield – were either very or quite negative about both options. The council’s Option 1 was rated ‘very negative’ by 44.1 per cent of those living in the Hills & Vales, compared with 29.2 per cent rating in ‘very positive’. Option 2 was rated ‘very negative’ by 43 per cent with only 5.4 per cent finding it ‘very positive’.
'A requirement of the Liveable Neighbourhoods assessment process will be to demonstrate community and local political engagement throughout the development process and support for measures before they are implemented.'
Transport for London Liveable Neighbourhoods guidance.
In normal circumstances, the council could have been challenged had it tried using TfL money to introduce the measures. The guidance required the council to show the scheme had public support. Options 1 and 2 had failed that test, and the council produced no evidence to suggest people felt more positively about the new variant. But by the time the scheme was introduced in August, Liveable Neighbourhoods had been suspended because of financial pressures and the council used Department for Transport emergency funding for Covid-19-related traffic measures instead.
Because of pressures for quick action as the first lockdown ended, these schemes did not need prior consultation. But, unlike many of the other councils that hurriedly produced schemes, Greenwich knew it was introducing what it described as an “amended” version of something residents had already rejected. Ironically, the Department for Transport is now insisting that all future requests for similar funding will require councils to show evidence of proper consultation before schemes are rolled out.
The council is currently conducting a consultation on its scheme, as is required by law, in view of the road closures. Road closures to the north of the area were not mentioned in the November, 2019, public engagement survey. The current scheme is obviously not the council’s preferred solution, otherwise it would have been an option in the 2019 survey. Yet it has locked itself and the community into a narrow consultation on this single, undiscussed scheme. Alternative ideas, which could have generated fresh thinking if the promised public engagement had ever materialised, remain unconsidered.
Greenwich incompetence exposed by Council Leader’s responses to East Greenwich protests on unacceptable traffic displacement
A full meeting of Greenwich Council on 25 November was petitioned by all three Blackheath-Westcombe councillors for action on the West Greenwich Traffic Management scheme, including dismantling the scheme for the duration of the pandemic.
Taking questions from Cllrs Leo Fletcher, Mariam Lolavar and Geoffrey Brighty, Councillor Danny Thorpe, Council Leader, admitted that Blackheath Hill and Maze Hill had seen a rise of 17 per cent in traffic since the scheme’s installation, but insisted the real cause was a rise in pandemic traffic in the ‘region’.
Residents in Maze Hill, Vanbrugh Hill and the Westcombe area have protested since August that the West Greenwich scheme has caused unacceptable gridlock because of displacement of traffic that formerly travelled between Park Avenue, Crooms Hill, Hyde Vale and Point Hill, to access Trafalgar Road and Blackheath. Continual queues on Maze Hill and the surrounding area have resulted in a 3000-signatory petition to Greenwich Council to put an end to the scheme.
The scheme, originally modelled on ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’, did not take account of official guidance to ensure robust main roads would take displaced traffic. It has also caused severe problems of displacement west of the park, overloading Blackheath Hill, already a pollution and accident black spot.
The Council’s response indicates that Greenwich and TfL have failed to monitor traffic flows and pollution that are vital to evaluating the controversial scheme.