Residents took to the streets to express their concerns about whether the Mayor’s decision to remove Low Traffic Neighbourhoods is democratic and what the environmental and health impact will be on young people.
The Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Aspire’s Lutfur Rahman, announced last night that he will remove Low Traffic Neighbourhood schemes (LTNs) in the borough.
Rahman said: ‘I must now make a decision as Mayor, and I have decided that division is not the answer. We need to find better solutions to improve air quality that can unite our residents and businesses.’
The Liveable Streets programme, introduced in 2019 by the Labour administration, aimed to improve the look and feel of public spaces in neighbourhoods across the borough and make it easier, safer and more convenient to get around by foot, bike and public transport.
The Council at the time said: ‘We want to reduce people making ‘rat runs’ and shortcuts through residential streets to encourage more sustainable journeys and to improve air quality and road safety.’
This news comes after two public consultations received over 4,300 responses, offering Option 1, to ‘remove the Liveable Streets closures and implement a series of area-wide improvements to the public realm to encourage active travel’ and Option 2 to ‘retain the current scheme.’
The majority of residents were in favour of Option 2 to keep the scheme with 57.3 per cent of residents voting in favour of LTNs, compared to 41.7 per cent who wanted them taken out.
However, the cabinet meeting on Monday 18th September introduced a third option which was not included in the public consultations.
The council said: “Option 3 is an amended version of Option 1 that seeks to address concerns raised by key internal and external stakeholders and the public consultation.”
The cabinet made a final decision to remove LTNs in the area after a cabinet meeting in Tower Hamlets Town Hall in Whitechapel on Wednesday 20th September.
Many expected the Mayor to opt for the unconsulted option 3, the last-minute addition that offered a compromise between options 1 and 2, as a way to bridge the divisions in the borough.
Lutfar Rahman ran his 2022 election for Mayor on his eight-point manifesto where point one was to ‘reopen our roads’.
He said in a statement after moving to remove LTNs: ‘While LTNs improve air quality in their immediate vicinity, they push traffic down surrounding arterial roads, typically lived on by less affluent residents. They are also a barrier for families to get around in what is the most densely populated place in the country.’ However, this has not been evidenced by any data.
‘The result is division. Although I pledged to remove these schemes, I wanted to consult to get a better understanding of the impacts. We have seen people on both sides try to skew the results of our consultation. Ultimately, I am interested in the views of Tower Hamlets residents in the affected areas.’
The group called One Tower Hamlets is in favour of the scheme and argues people should be able to move around in their own areas, but the opposing group, Save Our Safer Streets, campaigns to retain the Liveable Streets scheme.
The previous administration under Labour introduced the scheme, and their current leader, Cllr Sirajul Islam said: ‘The decision taken by Mayor Lutfur Rahman to entirely remove Liveable Streets measures this evening has demonstrated that he is not interested in uniting our borough.
‘He promised to be a listening Mayor, and yet, he has completely disregarded the opinions of thousands of our residents and business owners who engaged in good faith with the consultation process he launched.’
Islam added that ‘[Lutfahr Rahman]’s arrogance will ultimately only further corrupt the social fabric of our borough.’
Member of Save Our Safer Streets, Rebecca Unverzgat said: ‘People should be concerned because of the question of democracy, local people have been asked three times now and we said we want LTNs, Rahman is just working off hearsay as hardly any residents in Tower Hamlets actually own cars anyway.’
Kevin Spear, a local resident said: ‘For me this is a green issue, I’m at the other end of my life, this is about the children of Bethnal Green. Hundreds of school children use Bethnal Green Road every day, it’s them we should be concerned about.’’
Option 3 will affect Old Bethnal Green Road, Columbia Road, and Arnold Circus.
Rahman added: ‘We will retain some of the universally beneficial features such as accessible walking routes and pedestrian spaces, along with all 33 School Streets timed closures. We will invest £6m in new measures to make our roads safer and enhance our public spaces.’
‘I pledge to work with our residents and businesses on new schemes that bring more people together to achieve cleaner air.’