Protest march to call on council to ‘press pause’ on road closures – as counter-campaign emerges

CleanAir4Schools campaigners promote the PressPause march.
Photograph: CA4S

Parents, children and traders will take part in a PressPause march to Clissold Park tomorrow to put pressure on the council to postpone its road closure plans in Stoke Newington.

Families from four local schools will join Church Street business owners in two walks from Grasmere and William Patten primaries before meeting at the park for a 4pm rally.

The event is being organised by CleanAir4Schools, which is asking the Town Hall to wait until anti-pollution measures have brought air quality in the area to a low enough level for the closures to be implemented without pushing it close to, and in some cases over, legal limits on nearby roads.

It comes as a campaign group made up of residents on the roads at the centre of the proposals has emerged to demand the council pushes ahead with the closures.

Cabinet members are set to decide on Monday whether to reconsult on the council’s preferred scheme, which would see Nevill Road permanently closed between Osterley Road and Walford Road, Clonbrock Road at its junction with Nevill Road, and Allen Road at its junction with Nevill Road.

The council says this would remove rat-running traffic on Walford Road, Brighton Road and Nevill Road.

Nicola Sinclair, a Grasmere parent who is taking part in the march, said: “We share the council’s goal of reducing rat-running and persuading people to stop driving.

“But in this case the harm to schoolchildren of closing these roads now will be disproportionate to the benefits they bring for a few back streets, so we are asking the council to press pause – at least until the Ultra-Low Emission Zone rolls out to Stoke Newington in 2021, when pollution levels at schools should drop.”

Grasmere families protested earlier this month following the long-awaited release of the Town Hall’s updated air quality analysis, which shows the closures would lead to a 37 per cent increase in traffic on Grasmere’s side of Albion Road – tipping nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels at the school boundary over the annual legal limit.

Lou Power, who lives on Albion Road and runs a clothes business on Church Street, said: “The council’s report admits that homes in much of Stoke Newington Church Street, the southern portion of Albion Road and Crossway are likely to become illegally polluted if this scheme goes ahead.

“Children like my daughter who live and go to school on Albion Road, will be exposed to toxic air 24/7 for most of their young lives and Hackney Council’s plan to knowingly make that worse is abhorrent.”

The council says it will mitigate against increases in pollution caused by the plans with measures such as green screens and School Streets schemes, but CA4S says this will take years and risks children’s health in the meantime.

Kids Sleep Safe campaigners say they ‘can’t wait any longer’ for the closures.
Photograph: Anna Williams

Meanwhile, a new campaign called Kids Sleep Safe (KSS), set up by a group of parents and residents on Walford and Brighton Roads, has demanded “no more pauses” to the closures.

They say children and babies living on the rat-runs will continue to be exposed to dangerously high levels of toxic fumes as they sleep at night.

A previous road closure scheme for the Wordsworth Road area, jointly approved by the council and Transport for London in 2016, has led to a huge increase in traffic on Walford and Brighton Roads.

KSS says 5,670 cars, vans and taxis now use Walford and Brighton as cut-throughs each day, an “unsustainable” amount that “regularly leads to violent scenes” between drivers.

Anna Williams, a former Hackney teacher with two young children, thinks the arguments around schools is too simplistic.

She said: “Children may be affected by pollution in the short periods they go in and out of the school gate, but hundreds of babies and young children are breathing dangerous levels of pollution while they sleep.

“No parent can sit back and let that happen.”

KSS points out that it agrees with parents at William Patten and Grasmere schools that pollution levels on main roads need to be tackled, but says it should “never be at the expense of children faced with continuous exposure to serious health risks”.

Fellow campaigner Jonny Fort said: “For two years residents have been promised action from Hackney Council. There can be no more pauses, no more endless consultations. Local parents can’t wait any longer.”

Another resident, Leo Fletcher-Smith, says that despite the recent formulation of KSS, complaints from people living on the affected roads moved the council to launch the Walford Road consultation back in 2017.

He thinks it would be unfair to label the current row as one group of parents and children versus the council, and describes the CA4S campaign as “at best well-meaning but misguided, and at worst hypocritical”.

Instead, he says it is “children and parents versus children and parents”, with the council “stuck in the middle”.

He believes comparing the number of people who would be affected by the plans with the number of people living on the rat-runs ignores the “materiality” of the impacts.

He said: “The closures will have an impact on a lot of people in a small way, but without them, residents here are dealing with a big impact, and it’s happening now.”

He also questioned what it would say about the “treatment and suppression of minorities” if the plans are halted, asking: “Is it just majority rule now?”

KSS is set to make a deputation at the cabinet meeting on Monday. It has been sponsored and supported by Cllr Susan Fajana-Thomas.

A spokesperson for CA4S said: “While we sympathise with residents in and around Walford Road, and understand it must be frustrating to have seen traffic on their streets increase by 25-70 per cent following the Wordsworth Road closures, the pollution levels there are nowhere near the legal limits.

“On Albion Road, Church Street and Crossways on the other hand, pollution levels already exceed the legal limit, and thousands of children – many more than live on these back streets – sleep there too.”

They added: “If these closures go ahead, the council will be displacing traffic from streets which aren’t illegally polluted past streets which are already illegally polluted. 

“Research by Queen Mary University London for Unicef found that even though children spend more time at home, 60 per cent of their exposure to harmful pollution happens while they’re at school or on their way to school. 

“Knowing this, tackling poor air quality at harmfully-polluted schools should be the priority and we certainly shouldn’t do anything to make it worse.”



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