A group of Hackney’s Jewish school leaders have called on new transport chief Cllr Mete Coban to rethink a planned School Streets initiative along Dunsmure Road.
The council’s plans for the schemes in the north of the borough sparked debate last year, with businesses in the area speaking out against closing roads for an hour at peak times outside Sir Thomas Abney and Holmleigh Schools, while the two schools themselves subsequently expressed their firm support for the changes.
Now leaders from nine Jewish schools have said that they are “greatly troubled” by the proposal in a letter to Cllr Coban.
The letter outlines their opposition to the School Street on the basis that it could displace traffic and raise air pollution for students being educated on Amhurst Park.
It reads: “We wholeheartedly support the council’s mission to improve air quality and child safety in Hackney and we would very much like to play our part in this to safeguard the health of our pupils and their families.
“This is why we have adopted a number of initiatives aimed at improving air quality in Hackney. This includes a campaign to actively encourage our pupils to walk, cycle or scoot to school. Pupils are keen to participate in this and anyone walking through Amhurst Park at the beginning and end of the school day will see thousands of children walking to school.”
It adds: “We do not, however, believe that the School Streets road closures proposal on Fairholt Road and Dunsmure Road will lead to less polluted streets in Hackney.
“Whilst closing Fairholt Road and Dunsmure Road at the beginning and end of the school day will benefit the few hundred children whose two schools are located there, it will create extra pollution for over 4,000 children attending the nine schools on Amhurst Park as the traffic will simply be diverted to our children.”
The letter has been signed by the headteachers of Talmud Torah London, Vishnitz Girl’s School, Beis Yaakov Girls School, Yesodey Hatorah School, Beis Rochel D’Satmar School, Talmud Torah Torah Veyirah D’Satmar, Bnos Zion of Bobov Girls School, Bnois Jerusalem Girls School, and the chair of governors of Beis Aharon School.
It includes a list of suggestions for an “alternative solution”, such as metal barrier gates with grass hedging, more trees, zig zag lines to discourage idling, one-way street systems with humps and bike racks outside schools.
Hackney Council said it welcomed the suggestions but argued that a combination of all of them is necessary to address the challenges of air pollution.
The Town Hall said that it already has tree-planting programmes that would deliver outside the schools as well as green-screening and bike-lending schemes, and that it would be happy to look at requests for additional zigzag markings.
On metal barrier gates, the council said that blocking roads with barrier gates “could achieve similar outcomes” to School Streets but would prevent residents from accessing roads during all hours of operation.
The borough concluded that it would be “happy to engage the group” on specific locations for cycle parking outside and within schools, and on putting in one-way streets where they would be unlikely to increase speeds and traffic volumes.
Cllr Mete Coban said: “School Streets encourage children to walk and cycle to school and reduce pollution at the school gates. At our trial School Streets, this has led to a 51 per cent increase in cycling and a 30 per cent increase in walking to school, and a 74 per cent reduction in tailpipe emissions.
“The Mayor and I have had extensive discussions with the local community about School Streets, and as a result, school transport providers in the area will be able to apply for an exemption from restrictions.
“The restrictions are only in place for an hour at opening and closing times so we would expect any traffic displacement to be minimal.
“We have an ambitious plan to make School Streets available for every school in the borough, and I would welcome the opportunity to work with the signatories of this letter to help rebuild a greener Hackney.”