Funding withdrawn after Redbridge Quiet Streets trial “prematurely removed”

Redbridge Council should not have scrapped the low-traffic Quiet Streets scheme due to a “culture war provoked by right-wingers”, argues a local cycling campaigner.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has “halted all funding” to councils, such as Redbridge, that “prematurely removed” low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) – until it can be sure of their “commitment to active travel”.

The council’s Quiet Streets trial began in mid-September, using funding from the DfT, but it was scrapped a month later after opposition from residents and Conversative councillors.

On October 15, council leader Jas Athwal announced the trials were being ended “as a direct result” of residents’ “frustration”, adding that deadlines to use the funding set by the government had made it impossible to consult.

He said: “Residents expected and deserved a thorough consultation prior to installing the schemes, which was not possible due to time restrictions placed on the council.”

However, current chair of the Redbridge Cycling Campaign, Kris Sangani, argued the council “knew [about the deadline] when they applied” for funding and had made a “big mistake” giving in to opposition.

He said: “There were teething problems but those can be fixed, you should not just throw in the towel.

“Main roads have got a lot worse in Redbridge… [and] the only solution is to encourage more people to walk and cycle.

“The council needs to work with local environmental groups such as ourselves to ensure these schemes are a success… rather than cancel them based on a culture war being provoked by right-wingers.”

He added that the loss of future funding from the DfT “could amount to millions of pounds” and “could impact the council’s finances considerably”.

Opposition to Quiet Streets reached fever pitch in Barkingside last year, with more than 4,000 residents signing a petition against it – while a similar petition against the Cranbrook West trial attracted less than 1,000 signatures.

The debate was at its most heated after Conservative councillor Ruth Clark suggested the scheme could be responsible for the death of an elderly couple hit by a lorry on Cranbrook Road.

Cllr Clark referred to a “backlog of traffic” on the main road, caused by the scheme, which prompted Ilford North MP Wes Streeting to suggest she had “lost a sense of basic decency”.

An inquest in June revealed the driver had been unable to see the couple, George and Beryl Smout of Ilford, as they crossed just in front of his lorry while the lights were still green.

Sangani added: “There were lots of lies and mistruths spoken about low-traffic neighbourhoods. One of the lies was that emission levels would be higher in roads surrounding the scheme.

“Where there have been LTNs in place for a number of years, not only has that not happened but emissions have dropped in the surrounding areas as well.”

He referenced a 2018 study on Waltham Forest’s Mini Holland conducted by King’s College, which found exposure to air pollution for those walking or cycling in the borough dropped between 15 and 25 per cent in the seven years after the scheme was introduced.

In a letter sent to all council leaders on July 30, the government’s Minister of State for Transport Chris Heaton-Harris explained the decision to remove funding from councils that had ended or watered down their low-traffic schemes.

The letter reads: “I understand not every scheme is perfect and a minority will not stand the test of time, but if these schemes are not given that time to make a difference, then taxpayers’ monies have been wasted.

“Schemes need time to be allowed to bed in; must be tested against more normal traffic conditions; and must be in place long enough for their benefits and disbenefits to be properly evaluated and understood.

“Schemes must not be removed prematurely, or without proper evidence and too soon to collect proper evidence about their effects.”

Last week, Redbridge Council met with Transport for London (TfL) to discuss the DfT’s decision and the future of active travel in the borough.

Following the meeting, a council spokesperson said it was “actively involved in positive dialogue” with TfL and expects “to be in a position to confirm [its] funding in the near future”.

They added: “We really look forward to working with TfL to continue to improve our local environment and make Redbridge a cleaner, greener place to live.

“It’s really important we have the time to collaborate with local people to design schemes that benefit our environment and work for our communities.”

A TfL spokesperson also stated it was in “ongoing discussions” with the council but said it was “focusing available funding” on boroughs with LTN schemes in place or under construction.

They said: “As a result, more funding has so far been allocated to those boroughs who are progressing this type of project.

“We have written to other boroughs where we need further discussions around specifics of their funding and are in ongoing discussions with Redbridge Council.”

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter