A group of Dunsmure Road business owners are speaking out against plans to close roads outside Sir Thomas Abney and Holmleigh schools by the council for an hour at opening and closing times.
The proposals are part of the council’s wider School Streets initiative to improve air quality for school students by discouraging traffic, but in an open letter to Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville business owners warned that they are “in essence imposing a two-hour closure on our shops every single working day”.
Conservative Cllr Simche Steinberger has also criticised the council, joining residents in arguing that the plans will only succeed in displacing traffic to other roads which also play host to schools and see children walking down them.
The letter reads: “Our businesses are strategically located on Dunsmure/Fairholt Road which serves as one of three main thoroughfares for our area, serving local residents living between Lordship Road and Stamford Hill and beyond.
“Many of our customers are people who pass our shops on the way to and from work, or on their way to taking their children to school in the morning and afternoon. Some of these are elderly and disabled people who don’t have the option of walking.
“Please appreciate that closing these roads spells disaster for us as business owners and some of us will simply not survive such a scheme. The morning and afternoon hours are peak times for business, as this is the time residents are heading to and from work, school runs and religious prayers.
“As local family-run businesses we don’t have the option of relocating. Many of us are already suffering irreparable damage from the lockdown closures and this scheme will push some of us completely over the edge.”
The letter went on to add that business owners in the area “fail to comprehend” how school streets would improve air quality and create a safer environment for children, arguing that traffic would be redirected to Amhurst Park, which has a number of schools, and called for a “proper prior consultation” to engage with themselves and local residents “in a meaningful way”.
The Town Hall, following a successful £350,000 bid from Transport for London’s Streetspace programme in June, aims to roll out bans on motor traffic outside schools at opening and closing times at almost every primary school in Hackney.
There are 42 of the schemes currently in place in Hackney, with the council sharing data that the first four put in place showed traffic reducing by an average of 68 per cent, the number of children cycling to school increasing by 51 per cent, and vehicle emissions outside schools down by 74 per cent as a result.
Dunsmure Road’s Getter’s Fruit Shop said: “These school street road closures mean that customers and deliveries will simply not visit us during what have always been our two busiest trading hours of the day.
“If customers cannot come at a time that is convenient to them, they will not come at all. When local governments should be doing everything they can to support small, local businesses, it’s unbelievable that they are restricting our ability to trade in this way.”
Yidel Hoffman, who is transport coordinator for the Satmar Schools van service in the area, revealed that for years he had been campaigning for zigzags, crossing guards, a one-way system with speed cushions and safer crossings outside schools, but said that the council had “repeatedly refused to listen to any of our suggestions”.
He added: “It cannot be right that the council can impose these closures without any meaningful consultation with those who will be directly affected. Local schools, businesses and residents all want the opportunity to set out their concerns about this scheme and have a constructive dialogue with the council.
“We have an acute understanding of the issue and only ask that the council gives us a chance to express our views and suggest some alternative solutions. We want to work with the council – not against them.”
The Town Hall is working on plans and detailed designs for 10 new School Streets at Sir Thomas Abney, Holmleigh, Springfield Community, Woodberry Down Community, Jubilee and Simon Marks Jewish Primary Schools.
Cllr Steinberger, a vocal opponent of the council’s traffic-calming measures during the pandemic, has complained that the recent launch of a school street outside Harrington Hill Primary School towards the end of last year in his area took him by surprise.
The Conservative councillor said: “There’s no logic in this scheme. Whoever is running these schemes, and I believe it is politically led rather than officers. All of a sudden the Tories are becoming the Greens. I’ve got to scream, ‘Stop polluting our roads’, because that is what they are doing.
“If you close up three artery roads in Dunsmure, Fairholt and Holmleigh, you are polluting all the other roads and making the driving so much more pollution.
“People are not going to stop driving just because you close the roads. Whatever they touch, they mess up. If you look at roads that have not been touched by the council, it flows quite nicely.
“These same children at Sir Thomas Abney are going to be walking into areas with heavier pollution because of this. They are being put in bigger danger than before. You’re taking away the cars from Fairholt, but these children when they come out are not on helicopters – they have to use these same roads which are having traffic diverted onto them.
“I’ve been a councillor now coming up for 15 years. [The scheme for Harrington Hill] was the first time in my life that I was not consulted about it. They are rushing things through with zero consultation. Perhaps Labour councillors are treated differently, I don’t know.”
Responding to the open letter, Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville said: “We’re continuing work on proposals to create new School Streets at Sir Thomas Abney and Holmleigh schools, which would see the roads outside these schools closed for an hour at opening and closing times, supporting children to walk and cycle to school.
“Nearly 90 per cent of children in Hackney walk, cycle or take public transport to school, and we need to do everything we can to protect them from poor air quality and road danger.
“While we believe School Streets have a minimal impact on surrounding roads, we want to protect children walking and cycling to school and limit the disruption to businesses and local residents. This is why they are limited to an hour in the morning and afternoon and why we’re undertaking further work to understand the impacts of these proposals.
“I understand the wider concerns of businesses in the area. I have received their letter and will reply in due course. However, doing nothing is not an option as we need to do more to reduce car dominance in the area. We had a positive meeting with wider community leaders this week and will be taking on board what they told us.”
You can have your say on Hackney’s School Streets programme here