Mystery surrounds where a campaign is getting its money from, after campaigners erased from their online crowdfunder all traces of a financial pledge from the leader of the Alliance of Bad Drivers.
JEREMY CLACKSON, transport correspondent, reports
A campaign group based in Crystal Palace has chosen Fireworks Night to stick a rocket under Croydon Council.
But the threat of a Judicial Review over Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in Upper Norwood and South Norwood might yet turn out to be a damp squib – as a campaign leader has claimed to Inside Croydon that the legal action is unfunded.
The Open Our Roads campaign, which on Sunday staged a demonstration with a few hundred people along the pavements on Church Road in protest against Croydon’s Low Traffic Neighbourhood schemes, has now filed High Court legal papers for a Judicial Review against the council.
Bromley, the Tory-controlled neighbouring borough, is listed as “an interested party” to the Judicial Review.
The move comes even though Croydon Council is tomorrow beginning a promised public consultation into the LTN.
With £250million provided for the schemes by central government, under Transport for London’s Streetspace initiative low traffic neighbourhoods have been introduced across the capital, using planters and traffic filters to discourage motor vehicles from using side streets and residential roads, and to encourage more people to walk or cycle shorter journeys.
With traffic volumes reduced during the first covid-19 lockdown, Croydon set up LTNs first in South Norwood and later in Upper Norwood to provide more space for social distancing and to follow through on environmental policies which aim to reduce the use of private vehicles.
As elsewhere in London, Croydon’s schemes have had a mixed reception, with some petitions being raised opposing the measures. The online petitions claimed more than 6,000 signatures, including many from outside the immediate area. Croydon Council says that it has received feedback from 550 individuals opposed to the schemes.
The changes to the roads system in the Crystal Palace area brought immediate threats of legal action from Bromley.
The level of opposition has now escalated rapidly.
In a press release issued at lunchtime on behalf of Open Our Roads announcing the legal action, it was claimed, “Residents of Croydon Council and Bromley Council have had to face unacceptable levels of congestion and pollution as displaced traffic from the closed roads have been forced on to main roads already at saturation point.
“These main roads are home to schools, shops, businesses, medical services and places of worship. The congestion and pollution have had negative impacts on residents’ health and well-being, as well as businesses’ and traders’ ability to operate and economically thrive.”
On social media, Open Our Roads claims that it “is a grassroots campaign of concerned citizens working to ensure the residents, traders and visitors of Crystal Palace, Upper Norwood and South Norwood have fair and equal access to all public highways in the area. We stand for inclusive design, community cohesion and accountable governance.”
Their press announcement today named businesswoman Eliska Finlay as the applicant for the Judicial Review, “on behalf of thousands of petitioners in Croydon and Bromley”.
The application was submitted to the High Court on Monday and validated yesterday, with copies sent to Bromley and Croydon councils today.
Finlay said: “We believe Croydon Council acted unlawfully with the decision to close our roads in Crystal Palace, Upper Norwood and South Norwood.
“Amongst other failings, Croydon Council did not undertake the necessary impact assessments, nor did they consult key stakeholder groups such as residents, businesses and people with protected characteristics before implementing the LTN. Croydon also deliberately diverted traffic on to roads in the neighbouring borough of Bromley.
“The supporters of Open Our Roads have written hundreds of emails to the council to voice their opposition to these schemes. But the council has not listened.
“We felt we had no other choice but to seek legal justice for the residents of Croydon and Bromley who have been negatively impacted by Croydon Council’s woeful mismanagement of the traffic network and its neglect of its legal duties as a local traffic authority.
“We hope that Croydon Council will do the right thing: remove all restrictions on our roads and then conduct a full and robust traffic survey, undertake pollution monitoring, and work towards a network-wide traffic management plan that takes into account all road users and businesses.”
Judicial Reviews are the back-stop legal option when a public body is seen by those it is supposed to serve to have failed in its duties.
But they don’t come cheap: £15,000 to £18,000 in fees even before the appellant steps foot in court.
Open Our Roads has had a crowdfunder online since the middle of October, but so far that has raised only £1,230.
Mysteriously, a pledge of £200 towards the Open Our Roads campaign from Roger Lawson, the driving force behind motorist lobby group the Alliance of Bad Drivers, has been erased from the list of potential donors since Inside Croydon highlighted the Chislehurst resident’s keen interest in the roads around Crystal Palace.
Inside Croydon asked Finlay why the Lawson pledge, far and away the biggest that her campaign had received, had been removed. She refused to give an answer: “We don’t comment on individual pledges.” So another dead-end in Crystal Palace.
There remains plenty more evidence that Lawson, and other groups, such as road hauliers, have been playing an active role in launching petitions or supporting moves to remove the traffic filters from residential streets. Lawson is on record as threatening to take legal action on behalf of the ABD against traffic reduction measures elsewhere.
Certainly, Finlay is not funding the legal action herself.
She is a director of a company, No Curfew Ltd, which according to Companies House records went into voluntary liquidation in September this year with liabilities totalling £1.1million.
Today, she told Inside Croydon that the Judicial Review “is currently unfunded”.
Whoever it is behind the campaign and legal action, it could just be that one important factor in the traffic delays in the area has already been removed, and it has nothing to do with LTNs or planters.
On March 21, when a driver was taken unwell, their car crashed into a shop front on Church Road, a key route to the shops, bars and restaurants of the Crystal Palace Triangle. What followed was a lengthy dispute between insurance companies over liabilities, and all the time scaffolding was in place at the site of the collision, propping up the badly damaged building, and encroaching across the road and causing a traffic choke point.
After seven months, the scaffolding was removed at the weekend, and traffic began to flow more freely again.
Whether a High Court legal action is successful in removing other obstructions on other streets may take some time to resolve, too. The High Court judge assigned the Open Our Roads Judicial Review is liable to delay until after the council has conducted its consultation.
Inside Croydon sought comment from Croydon Council on the legal challenge, but has received no response by the time of publication.
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