I had a nice chat with @BorderPaul a couple of days ago about his concerns and hopefully, provided some context to this School Street scheme and other similar schemes in the borough.
I thought it might be useful to relay my points here.
Essentially, the Mayor of London has his Transport Strategy which, as many of you know, has a key pillar embracing a shift to more sustainable transport in the city. Sadiq Khan wants fewer people driving and more people walking, cycling and using public transport. Transport for London provides London Councils with funding to implement the Mayor’s Transport Strategy and we deliver a ‘Local Implementation Plan’ (LIP) showing how we will help deliver the strategy.
It is our LIP funding that funds our School Streets programme, our Healthy Neighbourhood programmes (sometimes known as LTNs, though Healthy Neighbourhoods were meant to be more expansive than just planters + cameras) and our cycle hangers, among other stuff…
TFL is self-funding and when coronavirus hit and people stopped using public transport - KABOOM! - TFL’s funding was destroyed and our LIP funding was pulled.
The Government and the Department for Transport share similar goals to the London Mayor when it comes to encouraging sustainable transport. It is broadly accepted that we need to get people out of old polluting cars into greener vehicles and get more people walking and cycling. With public transport not being safe during the height of Covid-19, there was an understandable fear that everyone would jump in their cars to move around (take their kids to school etc)… causing chaos and gridlock. The Gov needed to act.
The Government changed the law in late Spring 2020, allowing for the expansion of Emergency Traffic Orders (usually these are reserved for things like emergency road repairs etc) to cover social distancing and active travel measures. They also supplied local authorities with emergency funding to install these measures, but this funding was time-sensitive. Essentially, councils had to use it, or lose it. Due to the limited nature of the funding it meant, for example, the Lewisham and Lee Green Healthy Neighbourhood needed to be scaled back and also implemented very very quickly.
Under Emergency Traffic Orders, schemes can be put in place for up to 18 months, without consultation. Using these orders was the only way we could’ve implemented stuff like the pavement widening on Dartmouth Road that quickly.
This autumn, our Emergency Traffic Orders will be coming to an end. To keep our schemes in place, we will need to move them to Experimental Traffic Orders (this is how such schemes would have normally been put in place, I think). If an Experimental Traffic Order is put in place, there is a statutory period of 6 months where objections must be considered and a consultation takes place. After 18 months, a decision must be made on whether the scheme remains permanent.
Officers are acutely aware that some schemes are controversial and aware that some others have been quietly popular. However, I have urged them to ensure each scheme has a decent consultation. I know that adds additional pressure on an already extremely stretched transport team, but it is vitally important that views are encouraged on all schemes no matter how much noise there has been on them until now.
The move to Experimental Traffic Orders for Eliot Bank School Street and Kelvin Grove School Street should be happening this autumn and therefore consultation will be opening up later this year and at the start of next year.
I hope this message puts the last 18 months into context. Although I am a big proponent of active travel schemes and many of my council colleagues are too, this wasn’t councillors or councils plotting under the guise of Covid. We were essentially implementing Government policy, but it was a policy we grabbed with both hands because we knew this funding/legislation changes opened up an opportunity for us to encourage and imbed the growth in sustainable transport that we saw at the very start of the pandemic.
Implementing LIP funding for schemes is a much slower and more formalised process. But this emergency funding was 1. All we had (because we knew TFL wouldn’t recover quickly) and 2. It needed to be used quickly, on the Government’s orders.
Personally, I share many people’s frustrations with how some of this money was spent. I and Sophie torpedoed a potential scheme in Honor Oak which we felt was incredibly ill-thought through. But I also appreciate the immense pressure and strain that our transport team has been under over the past 18 months.
The long-term future of the Lewisham and Lee Green LTN is still up in the air but I hope it stays and is built upon. But I do believe many of School Streets have been very popular and I expect most of them to remain. I think our transport team (many of whom have now left) can be very proud of the work they’ve achieved and the legacy they’ve left behind.
I would also like to thanks residents in Forest Hill for their patience with these schemes. Consultations on them will be commencing soon.
Thorpewood Avenue School Street was a particularly complicated scheme. Unfortunately, we could not close off the entire street because funding could not stretch to three cameras (1 on both ends of TA, and 1 on Derby Hill) and the cost of officer time in processing and distributing permits for that many households across TA, Derby Hill Crescent and Radlet Avenue.
As many of you know, I think the scheme, on paper, works out well. The one-way system is likely to cut through traffic past Eliot Bank school and Holy Trinity school by roughly a half. However, I and Sophie are pushing very hard on the fact that we want traffic monitoring and air quality monitoring outside both schools. We want a final decision on the scheme to be based on feedback from local residents, the schools and on quantifiable evidence as well.
TFL’s finances remain in a dire state. While the Government share many of the transport goals that Sadiq Khan does and a healthy and productive London funds the rest of the nation - the Government is using Covid-19 as an opportunity to punish a powerful Labour Mayor. I think the Government’s treatment of TFL during this pandemic has been a complete disgrace. If there is not a long-term sustainable funding settlement for TFL agreed between the Mayor and the Government. we can say goodbye to any major improvements to London’s transport infrastructure from neighbourhood bike hangers to the Bakerloo line.