The Labour group at the Town Hall, already riven with fault lines on a number of contentious issues, is facing another split, this time over road closures in Upper Norwood that have been introduced today under coronavirus emergency powers.
The latest chasm between the party line and what people really think was exposed last week by councillor Pat Ryan, who broke the usual omerta required of the Labour group on all matters of public policy when he criticised the road closures saying that the area will be “decimated” (yes, he misused that word), and claiming, “Crystal Palace will lose its identity and character.”
Ryan is a Labour councillor for Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood ward and the longest-serving councillor at the Town Hall.
Ryan’s greatest claim to fame recently came when he got caught during a full meeting of the council in the Town Hall chamber while watching a Palace football match on an iPad.
He also has something of a track record for defending the rights of car drivers to pollute the atmosphere and clog the roads with their vehicles: when a Quietway, a reduced traffic route intended to eliminate rat-running, was trialled on Norbury Avenue five years ago, it was Ryan who stepped in and got the experiment pulled long before it had run its course.
Ryan’s intervention this time, though noisy, may not be quite so immediately damaging to the traffic management experiment, something which is being done under covid-19 legislation in a concerted effort to discourage car use for anything but the most essential of journeys.
A Katharine Street source said, “Coronavirus has presented us with an opportunity to change people’s habits for the better, to create safer, less-polluted and calmer streets. We have declared a climate emergency – Pat voted for it a year ago. But it is important that we actually do something about it, and reducing car usage is an important step in that direction.”
It is not an argument that Ryan and the car drivers of Upper Norwood are too impressed with, even if, after many years of neglect and delay, Croydon is using some funding from the Mayor of London to play catch-up in the provision of safer cycling and walking infrastructure.
The new schemes introduced today under the Streetspace scheme bring the borough’s total so far to 16.
Most will be reviewed and assessed in the autumn, although quite how that assessment will take place is hard to understand when you consider that the council has gone into these trials with no traffic volume data available for the affected roads from before the pandemic lockdown.
Some road closures were introduced on side streets around South Norwood – on Lancaster Road, Warminster Road and Woodvale Avenue – at the beginning of the lockdown. The response from those living on those roads have mostly be favourable, those stuck in the slowed traffic on the main roads, as they have taken on the vehicles which would usually use rat runs, have been less complimentary.
In West Croydon, car parking spaces have been removed to be replaced with a safer cycle lane, where bike riders are separated from motor vehicles by “wands” – the closest Croydon has ever come to having a “cycle superhighway” of the sort that have been commonplace in other parts of the capital for a decade or more.
The road closures introduced today all affect side roads that link the major roads at Church Road and Auckland Road:
- Sylvan Hill: closure around halfway along Sylvan Hill. Local access will be maintained via both Church Road and Auckland Road ends of Sylvan Hill.
- Stambourne Way: closure at the junction of Stambourne Way and Auckland Road. Local access will be maintained via the Church Road end of Stambourne Way.
- Fox Hill: closure at the junction between Fox Hill and Braybrooke Gardens. Local access will maintained via the Church Road end of Fox Hill.
According to the council’s official press release: “The measures will involve temporarily turning the streets into cul-de-sacs for through vehicles with signs on alternative routes available.”
The public announcement about the closures was only made late on Thursday, barely 72 hours before the No Entry signs went up. The council failed to consult their colleagues at Bromley Council – which is responsible for traffic management on its borough’s roads nearby.
“I support the objectives behind this, but can’t see how this won’t badly affect some Bromley residents, drivers or not!” was the comment tweeted by Angela Wilkins, the leader of the opposition Labour group on Bromley Council, in reaction to Croydon’s proposals.
Stuart King, Croydon’s cabinet member responsible for the measures, sees it differently. “In lockdown, we saw a dramatic drop in traffic and pollution levels across Croydon, and these low-traffic schemes are about seizing the initiative to make our residential streets safer and more attractive to walkers, cyclists and residents alike.
“We have come up with these temporary measures because they make more of our roads attractive spaces for people to walk and cycle in, give everyone a safer and healthier local environment and they continue to allow traffic to get from A to B.”
King promises a sort of retrospective consultation. “If these latest schemes prove successful, we will consult the public to ask if they should become permanent.”
The council was still making amendments to its road closure plans as late as July 30, when a letter was rushed out to residents advising of adjustments to where and how some of the roads affected would be blocked off.
It may just be that less-than-adequate planning and modelling of traffic flows have actually been undertaken before plonking the planters at the end of some streets.
Even members of local cycling groups, describing the measures as “a massive step forward”, have also described the way they have been designed and implemented as “a blunt instrument” and suggested that, “Any permanent version may need a little more nuance.”
Certainly, there has been a hostile reaction to some of the closures in South Norwood.
A petition has already raised 300 signatures in opposition to those closures, while some motorists have taken more direct action, actively removing the planters that are supposed to block access to Albert Road.
In Crystal Palace, more than 750 have signed a petition in opposition, while the local Chamber of Commerce has come out fiercely against the closures, predicting gridlock for the area. Others have criticised the proposals by saying that, “These schemes disadvantage the most voiceless and most vulnerable.
“White, fit, able-bodied middle-class men are leading these initiatives. They do not listen to the concerns of others, sadly.”
In the case of Ryan, he said that he is “… terribly concerned about the Triangle”, meaning the seemingly permanently car-congested area at the top of Anerley Hill, where cars using the A214 slowly work their way around some fashionable independent shops, bars, pubs and restaurants.
According to Councillor Ryan, “It is fighting for survival because of covid-19. This will be the final straw. It will stop people coming to the Palace to do their shopping, to socialise.”
The next six to eight weeks may demonstrate if pro-car Ryan is right. Or wrong.
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