Holmleigh Primary School. Image: Google.

We read with genuine concern the description of the forthcoming School Streets initiative along Dunsmure Road in a letter reported in your article on 22 January 2021. As leaders of the two school communities and the 700 children most directly affected by the initiative, we feel obliged to respond.

To be clear: we wholeheartedly support the introduction of School Streets.

We are sympathetic to the concerns of local businesses. However, contrary to Cllr Simche Steinberger’s contention, the initiative is being and has been consulted on by Hackney Council. It is also self-evident to anyone who lives in or visits the area that the overwhelming majority of customers to the Dunsmure Road parade of shops are local and arrive on foot.

This is borne out by the fact that there is actually rarely any available parking on Dunsmure Road or the surrounding streets, and most cars are simply passing through without stopping (save for when they are stuck in traffic). In fact, we think it will bring positive benefits to shoppers and shops alike – recent research suggests a growth of footfall for retail by up to 30 per cent when pedestrians and cyclists are prioritised.

But the arguments raised in the article fail to take into account the whole point of the School Streets project: to lessen traffic so that children can get to school safely without contending with heavy traffic and damaging fumes. The current situation is not sustainable. Holmleigh Primary School has 240 children and Sir Thomas Abney has 360 children, the majority of whom walk or cycle to school. Children approaching the schools at entrances on Dunsmure/Fairholt Road or Holmleigh Road are faced daily with heavy traffic and notably
poor air quality.

And the resulting danger is real: in recent years it has left one Sir Thomas Abney School pupil lying in a hospital bed for two days after being knocked down, and another suffering a broken leg in a separate incident.

And so the assertion in the article that traffic flows “quite freely” in the area could simply not be further from the truth. Both roads are meant to be two-way but there is only enough space for one-way traffic because of parking on both sides, which results in long traffic jams with unsafe speeding and reversing as cars try to navigate their way through. Regular double-parking along Dunsmure Road and illegal parking on Dunsmure Road bridge – both of which are located between our two schools – cause a further slowdown of traffic and a danger to our children getting to and from school.

It is a problem that has been raised and discussed by our schools with the Council and local councillors over a number of years. Holmleigh School, for example, has never had a safe crossing at either entrance on Holmleigh or Dunsmure Roads, nor has it had a crossing guard in attendance for a number of years.

Air pollution is now known to be a major contributor to diseases of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, and children are especially vulnerable. Only last month, a nine-year-old girl who died following an asthma attack in south London became the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death.

The Mayor of London, the Department for Transport and the Conservative government are all working to tackle this, and Hackney Council has also committed to creating a greener borough following their declaration of a Climate Emergency in 2019, with School Streets one of a number of initiatives.

The Holmleigh and Sir Thomas Abney school communities have worked with local residents and councillors to seek recognition on this issue for many years, including delivering in person a petition to Hackney Council in 2018. And after years of inaction, local residents and parents have even taken to Twitter – posting photos and videos of the chaos and traffic – in an effort to attract the attention of decision-makers.

We therefore welcome the intervention by the Council to implement the scheme that will have such a positive effect on the local community. Of course it can only be the start of addressing the broader – and serious – issues of traffic and parking in the area, but creating an environment that allows all local children to get to school without negotiating traffic and chronic air pollution for two hours in the day is a clear signal of intent by the Council that we fully support.

Signatories:

Kevin Ward (Head Teacher, Holmleigh School)

Geraldine Fitzmaurice (Executive Head Teacher, Sir Thomas Abney School)

Lynn Willis (Head of School, Sir Thomas Abney School)

David Stranger-Jones (Chair of Governors, Holmleigh School)

Sophie Persson (Deputy Chair of Governors, Holmleigh School)

Lisa Neidich (Co-Chair of Governors, Sir Thomas Abney School)

Leonie Allister (Co-Chair of Governors, Sir Thomas Abney School)

Jo Macleod (Vice-Chair of Governors, Sir Thomas Abney School)

Jenni Allen (Treasurer, Friends of Holmleigh PTA)

Sophia Grene (Secretary, Friends of Holmleigh PTA)

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