Some people are taking to the streets in Upper Norwood today to protest against the traffic-calming Low Traffic Neighbourhood initiative.
But as an investigation by environment correspondent PAUL LUSHION has discovered, their campaign is supported and funded by motoring lobbyists and opportunistic Tory careerists
The battle for hearts and minds (and votes) is stepping up over the Low Traffic Neighbourhood in and around the Croydon streets bordered by the A215 South Norwood Hill, A212 Church Road, A214 Anerley Road and the railway line between Norwood Junction and Anerley.
Introduced in the summer through funding from the Conservative government and Transport for London, the aim of the LTN was to cut out dangerous rat-running traffic and provide safer, quieter streets to encourage and enable people of all ages to walk and cycle through it.
The scheme, brought in during the first lockdown at haste because of the very tight funding timescales, drew on the positive experience of what was effectively a trial run, created by the closure of some streets due to road works for gas main repairs.
The launch didn’t get off to a great start, due to Croydon Council not getting their communications people on the case, and by then using signs on the periphery that declared “Road Closed”. This was an own goal that could have been avoided simply by using the Highway Code symbol that prohibits motor vehicles.
For the people inside the traffic-calmed zone, it’s been a boon. Children are walking and cycling to school with their parents. Drug dealers can no longer drive along Auckland Road to do their deals. Speedophiles no longer plague the area. The camera-enforced bus gate keeps out most drivers, and makes money for the council in fines from those who ignore the warning signs.
However, while closing streets for repairs is generally accepted without question, doing it to benefit people and the planet is enough to give some drivers road rage. Howls of hysterical anguish have followed, whipped up by extremists who do not, and have never, lived in the area.
There’s evidence that lobbyists from motoring groups have been funding the anti-LTN campaign, and have been using social media to stir up local anxieties.
In August, Bromley’s Tory council leader, Colin Smith (who lives in leafy Hayes), threatened to take legal action against Croydon Council. Pleas for him to bring in a complementary LTN across the borough border that is the A214 fell on deaf ears. Bromley under Smith, it is worth remembering, is also one of the few London boroughs that refused to provide free school meals for its children during half-term.
Then, last month, Croydon’s Tories woke up and opportunistically decided to jump on someone else’s anti-council bandwagon.
Their recently promoted shadow cabinet member for transport and environment, Gareth “Blubber” Streeter (a resident of Selsdon), fired off a few ineffectual tweets to show he does something to justify the extra £7,019 a year he is receiving now on top of his regular council allowances of £11,691 (all very handy for someone who has recently left his long-time job).
That Streeter doesn’t grasp what the responsibilities in his shiny new job would normally be cause for concern. But for some, getting your party political lies across counts more than facts and rational decision-making.
Come this month, and arch-political careerist Mario Creatura, a councillor for faraway Coulsdon, along with Scott Roche (who represents Shirley South) embarked on their latest data-scraping exercise, leafleting Upper Norwood with pamphlets using a colour-scheme that looked suspiciously like marketing from Morrisons.
Despite being funded by the Tory government, and part of a environmentally friendly manifesto policy to reduce traffic volumes that Creatura had stood on just a few months earlier, the LTNs were now protrayed as “Labour’s road closures”.
This is a new version of a tried and tested tactic, which in the past involved not including such offensive words as “Conservative” on their election leaflets.
As usual, the Creatura scam involves giving your name, address, email address and permission to be spammed so that they can try to persuade you to vote for the candidate of their choice. They’ve even got an online version, on behalf of the pisspoor Tory Mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey.
That part of the campaign didn’t get off to a great start when someone spotted that the terrible image used by the Tories to show chronic congestion was not in Croydon, but taken from Cape Town, more than 5,000 miles away in South Africa.
As we enter November, we are about to witness the launch of the Open Our Roads website and a surge in anti-LTN activity, thanks to crowdfunding from, among others, Roger Lawson, of the notorious Alliance of Bad Drivers.
Lawson lives in Chislehurst. When the first petitions against the Croydon LTNs appeared, it was notable that early supporters were based in… Chislehurst.
Lawson has chipped in £200 towards the anti-LTN campaign, which sounds generous until you realise he’s a millionaire who has made serious money from private investment over the years.
Why someone who lives in a cul-de-sac on the border of London and Kent and has two cars in his two-car garage would want to drive one of them through the back streets of Croydon is anyone’s guess.
Roger has some questionable political views.
On his Trumpian personal blog, he proclaims, “This country is suffering from a bout of mania about imagined wrongs – to black people, to those of different sexual inclinations, to those of every other kind of minority. This is going to be damaging to the economy unless some control is re-established by the forces of law and order soon.”
He stops short of adding the catchy slogan “Make Chislehurst Great Again”, but you get the drift.
Things have taken a turn for the worst of late, with Twitter battles involving personal attacks and abuse from the anti-LTN brigade, and now repeated criminal damage.
Councillor Stuart King, just appointed as Croydon Council’s deputy leader, previously had responsibility at the Town Hall for environment and transport announced the opening of a consultation exercise that could see the scheme scrapped, changed or kept as is. He walks a dangerous tightrope.
Caving in to the antis would give Croydon Tories another victory over the Labour-controlled Town Hall that has been in utter turmoil for the past six months. The council’s conduct over the LTNs could be an important test of their declared commitment to battling the climate emergency, and their ability to withstand political pressure from the local opposition.
The official justification, from the government, from TfL and from the council, for the LTNs is that they are trying to get motorists off the side streets and on to the major roads, where traffic belongs, part of a longer-term process to encourage us all to use the environmentally damaging cars less.
Official government transport figures show that across London, the amount of traffic using backstreets as rat runs has soared over the last decade. As things stand, the miles driven on “C” and unclassified roads will shortly eclipse the mileage on the capital’s A-roads.
Croydon, it is well-known, came late to the safer roads, better cycling infrastructure party compared with other parts of the capital. Some suggest that, in putting down wands along the busy London Road to make the cycling there just a tad less life-threatening than it had been previously, is at least 20 years late. But with the funding from the government and TfL, it was at last made possible during the summer.
Likewise, LTNs are something which are intended to change our habits, to get us used to behaving in a different manner. When similar schemes were introduced in the Netherlands in the 1970s, it was done in the face of huge and often hostile opposition. They were patient, persisted, and now are regarded as having a paragon of street safety.
On London’s LTNs, some London boroughs, like Waltham Forest, Brent and Hounslow, have been courageous enough to press on with what is right for people and the planet. Will Croydon crumble and instead head at full speed for Carmageddon?
Certainly, that’s been the experience of people in Tooting, where Wandsworth Council (Conservative-controlled) removed its LTNs, and the rat-running and congestion returned. That “victory” for the car lobby has been followed by an all-out attack on long-established cycle lanes, including the astonishing claim that these “prevent safe cycling”. Seriously.
In Croydon, ahead of today’s protest in Upper Norwood against the traffic reduction measures, there’s been more vandalism on our streets, with LTN planters attacked and destroyed.
It all means that the stakes couldn’t be higher for Croydon Council and its “Climate Emergency” declaration, announced by Tony Newman (yes, him) in July last year.
If car use-reduction measures are withdrawn at the first flush of opposition to changing our way of life for a less polluting future, then we will know for sure that what was said back then was only so much hot air.
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