Hackney Green Party has entered into the often-divisive debate over a set of road closures in Stoke Newington to call for a wider set of proposals than those being looked at by the Town Hall.
The council last week ended its consultation on whether to close a number of roads in the Walford Road area, aimed at tackling aggressive driving and promoting walking and cycling in the area.
The Greens are now calling for the scheme to go further, with suggestions for a Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) zone bounded by Green Lanes, Lordship Park, Manor Road and Stoke Newington High Street, as well as filtering for private vehicles to stop Stoke Newington Church Street and Albion Road being used as through routes.
Hackney Green Party said: “Hackney Green Party supports these road closures, as filtering side roads is a proven tactic to promote public health and improve the local street environment.
“This scheme does not go far enough. We understand the concerns of local campaigners about the levels of air pollution at schools and nurseries in the area.
“Whatever the outcome of this consultation, it’s clear that we must all work together now to expedite the above measures to improve air quality and reduce road danger.
“It’s unfortunate that this consultation has ended up pitting groups of residents against one another, instead of promoting collaboration. We all want to trust the air that we breathe in London; we must work together to achieve it.”
The Greens argue that a “comprehensive” LTN would end rat-running on Dynevor Road, and have also said that they “would like to see proposals” for so-called mini-Holland interventions for Albion Road, Stoke Newington Church and High Streets, Crossway and Matthias Road.
When quizzed on his opinion at the end of last week on the Greens’ intervention, Town Hall transport boss Jon Burke said he is “up for doing what works” and suggested they formally submit their plans as part of the consultation.
Burke added: “For the right initiatives, I’m willing to go and find the money. My test here is, how do you reduce traffic movement and improve road safety in those areas?
“There’s an established method of doing so – that’s the one that’s been proposed, and also in recognition of the fact that there is a degree of displacement onto main roads, which is where cars belong. They do not belong on residential streets, they belong on main roads.
“If a different set of proposals came through that sought to expand the scheme, deepen it, broaden it, and I thought that was going to have an even more profound impact on road safety and provide those improved and increased incidental consequences of air quality improvement, then of course that’s something I’d want to have a look at with officers.
“The other thing I’d say is that we shouldn’t pretend to ourselves that schemes don’t produce externalities. How you manage those externalities in the short to medium term is very important. Were we to produce a larger scheme that displaced traffic into Islington, I’m sure [Green Islington councillor and London Assembly member] Caroline Russell would have a few things to say about that as well.”
The Green proposals were met with criticism from campaign group CleanAir4Schools (CA4S), who have long opposed the closures for their potential impact on air quality on a number of schools predicted by an independent report commissioned by the Town Hall.
A CleanAir4Schools spokesperson said: “While we agree with the Green Party’s considerable criticism of the scheme, we are disappointed that they haven’t taken a braver stance.
“By supporting Hackney’s proposals, the Greens are supporting taking traffic away from side streets with much lower pollution and displacing it to illegally polluted roads and increasing people’s risk of severe health impacts.
“Filtering can be an effective way of reducing traffic but it’s not one-size-fits-all; every scheme must be considered in context with mitigation implemented first to protect residents on busy roads.
“In the Walford Road scheme residents on Crossway, Church St, Albion Rd and the High St are very much an afterthought and they stand to suffer greatly in the years it will take for the council to implement mitigation measures.
“We would have loved to see the Greens demanding a scheme that benefits the whole community – rather than support a weak scheme that benefits a few while risking the health of over 3,500 children and many more thousands of residents.”
Not all sides of the debate have dismissed the Greens’ submission, with those in the community who want the closures to proceed as quickly as possible seeing them as a logical endpoint of a rolling sequence of projects to reduce car use in the borough.
Walford Road resident and Kids Sleep Safe campaigner Ian Hardwick said: “I thought [the Greens’ proposals] were very positive. I think it’s the kind of thing that we would wholeheartedly support.
“We wanted to push the council to do more rather than less – that’s why we weren’t happy with them not going ahead with the proposed changes.
“This takes in a few of the other streets as well. Closing off Dynevor Road is a no-brainer really, and something we’ve mentioned to the council already. I think it’s very good.
“We’ve always positioned the Walford Road changes as being part of something wider.
“The council’s never been able to do everything in one go, but the more they can do wider and substantially the better as far as we’re concerned.”
CA4S has warned in the past that the imposition of the scheme could see St Mary’s and Grasmere school breach the legal limit of an annual mean of 40 μg/m3 of nitrogen dioxode (NO2).
However, Burke has argued that the independent report by Cambridge Environmental Research Consultants does not take into account a number of measures to protect the area from the closures’ impact since he took up the brief in July, including pledging green screens at both schools and changing bin collection times, amongst other measures.
The transport boss has accepted that while the climate emergency demanded a need to move quickly with such schemes, the Town Hall is learning “in real time” over how road closure plans like those at Walford Road could be approached in the future.
It is understood that one of the lessons learned from how this scheme in particular is being rolled out is that the air quality impact of closures should have been assessed once mitigating measures such as green screens and school streets have first been put in place.
Burke added: “If you were to ask us if we’re absolutely happy with how this process has gone, clearly we’d never want to be in a situation where we’re seen to be at loggerheads with a group of people who in many respects share our views, concerns and values about air quality.
“I don’t think that’s a good situation to be in. That’s why I think undertaking those works in advance can potentially address some if not all of those issues.”
Ultimately the decision will not be made by the borough’s politicians, with the final call having been devolved to council officers, the Town Hall saying this is due to a lower level of “professional detachment from the decision-making process” on the part of councillors.