The Town Hall last night passed its emergency transport plan, designed to create a new network of low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) across the borough through the reallocation of road space away from the private car.
Presenting the plan to be voted on by other leading councillors in the borough, transport chief Cllr Jon Burke explained that the plan is necessary for crises of the past, present and future: the past crisis in air quality and road safety, the present pandemic, and the future impacts of the climate emergency.
The plans have seen an increasingly heated and sometimes toxic tone of debate across the borough, with Burke himself revealing last week a threat to his life and that of his family over the plans – a threat which is now under investigation by the police – and a spate of vandalisations to traffic infrastructure costing the borough thousands of pounds to repair.
Burke said: “Amongst some of the opponents of LTNs, I have received correspondence from people stating that they absolutely agree with the objectives we are trying to achieve, but not necessarily with all of the methods we are employing. We will continue to listen, learn and if necessary make changes as we did in the case of Hoxton West.
“It is clear that we face grave crises relating to the operation of the motor vehicle in Hackney and beyond. I would say to people: if not now, then when? And if not this, then what? Something needs to be done, and it’s not the opponents of LTNs who have to stand in full council when the parents of children who live on polluted roads come to us and say, ‘The buck stops with you. What are you going to improve air quality and road safety’?
“It would be a derogation of our duty as councillors to have spent the last four years having done nothing, then to come back to the people of Hackney in 2022 and say, ‘This was too hard. There was too much opposition from minority and business interest groups to the changes that we know are necessary.’
“I don’t believe that is good enough for the people of Hackney. This administration has the will and desire to make the changes that are necessary to bring about positive change in the borough.”
In the same meeting, Burke committed to meeting directly with local volunteer group Children with Voices (CWV) following warnings of the impact of the traffic measures on their work of making food deliveries to Hackney hostels and vulnerable residents, many of whom under severe financial stress due to the pandemic.
Victoria ward resident and CWV volunteer Chris Watson, who declared himself a driver, walker and cyclist, said that since the introduction of the road closure schemes his work has become “increasingly difficult and stressful”, with his group unable to avoid using cars for longer distance pick-ups.
Watson said: “I’m sure you’re all aware of the congestion, gridlock and idling engines polluting the air that are being experienced daily on the roads of Hackney – Graham Road, Mare Street, Well Street – as a result of the emergency transport plan.
“Putting that aside, what I want to bring to the attention of the cabinet is the impact that the overall emergency transport strategy and the experimental traffic orders (ETOs) are having to Hackney communities, and how it threatens the ability to deliver vital services to vulnerable residents during the resurgence of the pandemic.
“We have reached the point where volunteers are no longer willing to risk parking tickets as they stop to climb stairs to deliver much-needed food parcels, and fines for unwittingly straying into restricted areas, taking turns into roads that seem to become more restricted by the week.
“Hackney needs the voluntary sector to support the council’s strategies, and we need to work together if the predicted increase in deprivation as new increases in Covid instances hit the population. My ask of you is to help us to help you, and reinstate the exemption list so that we can do our job without the fear and stress of having to finance our voluntary activities out of our diminishing and ever-emptying pockets.”
According to Watson, he successfully appealed a parking ticket handed out as he made a food delivery, but was confused to learn in a letter from Hackney’s parking service that while his volunteer key worker vehicle should have been registered on an exemption list, the same letter declared the exemption scheme now ended.
According to the council, if volunteers are demonstrably unloading their vehicles for delivery, parking wardens would not issue a ticket, though Burke invited Watson to speak to the head of the relevant service in the council for discussions to “iron out” the problems brought up by CWV.
Burke added: “Hackney was the first local authority in the country to deliver an exemption list for key workers, long before the government encouraged us to do so.
“Notwithstanding that, that did lead to a significant increase in the number of cars driving into the borough, and over time, as the government has de-prioritised some of those keyworker roles, we have sought to roll back those exemptions, though some still remain at the moment for clinicians and others.
“Clearly we are averse to the idea of a very large number of exemptions going to people who may for a small proportion of their time volunteer, but then use those exemptions for the purposes of parking wherever they wish within controlled parking zones. Clearly that would be a suboptimal outcome.
“Nevertheless there may be a solution to this issue, and I want to offer Mr Watson the opportunity for conversation to make any further headway.”
The voting in of the plan was welcomed by health lead Cllr Chris Kennedy, with Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville pointing out that the changes had been requested by all acute hospital trusts in London, including the Homerton Hospital, in order to try to secure better and more sustainable transport for their workers.
The recent changes to road layouts have been undertaken under experimental traffic orders (ETOs) in the capital, which are time-limited, 18-month measures with consultation carried out concurrently to their roll-out.
Burke said: “Whatever one feels about LTNs and the interventions we are undertaking, it is an undeniable fact that Hackney was afflicted with major problems associated with the operation of motor vehicles long before we took the radical action we intend to take to address these problems.
“Far from being high-handed and undemocratic, the delivery of LTNs and this plan is completely consistent with the manifesto upon which we were elected and the full council approved transport strategy.
“We are also, alongside the delivery of the ETOs under which our LTNs are being delivered operating a consultation to allow people to feed in their views and experiences of how our LTNs work.”
Mayor Glanville added: “We are all multi-modal transport users. We are not anti any particular mode of transport for the sake of it. But we recognise that we put people, communities, our children and young people and our most vulnerable road users first.
“We are listening, and really keen to hear the feedback from residents, businesses and road users on how to adjust these schemes over time.”
You can have your say on the transport plans here.