No traffic bans outside Essex schools due to lack of ‘political will’

Essex has not gone straight to complete closure of schools streets at dropping off and picking up times ‘largely because of political will’, the county council has heard.

Essex Climate Action Committee – the body that is recommending how Essex can meet its carbon commitments – has recommended a goal of introducing 25 school streets by the end of the year and 20 per year thereafter.

Essex County Council is developing 10 school streets– including Sawyers Hall Lane in Brentwood, but hopes to develop more in the upcoming budget. None, however, involve the entire closure of the street to traffic.

Cars from Grove House special needs school and St Helen’s Catholic Junior School still use Sawyers Hall Lane during dropping off and picking up times.

Tracey Vickers, head of sustainable transport at Essex County Council speaking at a place services and economic growth meeting on November 17 said Essex’s approach has differed from that of the ‘Hackney model’ which goes straight to closure and enforcement.

She said: “We haven’t gone straight to closure and enforcement because of largely political will and actually there’s a lot to be said for starting perhaps lightly but bringing people with you.

“Nobody wants these things mandated on them. It challenges the need to have flexibility. we understand this so it’s about winning hearts and minds.”

A school street is an area transformed into a pedestrian and cycling zone outside of a school. They operate from Monday to Friday during the school term only at set times for drop-off and pick-up. Roads remain open to pedestrians, cyclists and those who are exempt from the closure.

She added: “Essex has adopted a slightly different approach to school streets than some other authorities in the UK. Hackney has gone direct to closure and enforcement.We felt it was a more sensitive and pragmatic way to proceed within Essex to take a slightly softer approach at least initially.

“So we are concentrating on traffic management and behaviour change to start with – top down bottom up – and then we may progress to closures where there is local and political support.”

Although a total closure has not been a recommendation of the commission the benefit of a school street includes create a safer environment around schools for children and the community.

Jean Quinn, a former teacher and school campaigner from Colchester said: “I’m just so disappointed that you’ve decided not to do that because these other measurements are very lukewarm and I appreciate that there’s funding problems.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter