Upper Norwood’s street battle could be settled this week

After a rushed consultation, the council’s Traffic Management Advisory Committee meets next week to discuss two of the borough’s Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. Our environment correspondent PAUL LUSHION reports on the gathering storm

Reducing traffic on the streets has stirred controversy for the past six months

When Councillor Muhammad Ali was promoted to the council cabinet in October, he inherited one of the most hotly contested policies introduced in Croydon.

On Tuesday, he will chair a virtual committee meeting which will determine the future of the borough’s controversial Low Traffic Neighbourhood schemes which in the last six months have seen the council threatened with a High Court Judicial Review and propelled into a border dispute with neighbours Bromley.

A handful of road closures were implemented in the Crystal Palace area and around South Norwood in the middle of last year, in part in response to the need for greater social distancing during the first coronavirus lockdown. The measures have been paid for from grant funding from the Conservative government, and have the enthusiastic support on the board of Transport for London from Andrew Gilligan, the transport adviser to Boris Johnson.

The road closures are a deliberate attempt to discourage the use of motor vehicles for shorter journeys, and therefore reduce air pollution. They also block off residential streets from the bane of many neighbourhoods, rat-runners.

But a small band of vocal protesters in Upper Norwood have objected long and hard.

Open Our Roads, whose leaders like to present it as an organisation run by locals in Upper Norwood, mounted an increasingly desperate-looking campaign before Christmas, encouraging as many as possible to take part in the council consultation on the fate of two of the borough’s Low Traffic Neighbourhoods – irrespective of whether they live in the area or regularly use the roads affected.

Eliska Finlay: the driving force behind Open Our Roads and its crowdfunding campaigns

Open Our Roads used social media to distribute the access codes for the council’s online consultation. “What was supposed to be a local consultation has been turned into a national referendum,” one frustrated Crystal Palace resident told Inside Croydon.

Among those backing Open Our Roads in Upper Norwood is Roger Lawson, the Chislehurst-based campaign manager for the Association of Bad Drivers who also holds Trumpian-style views on the climate emergency and Black Lives Matter, as well as someone called Duncan Buchanan, whose role as policy director of the Road Haulage Association should give the game away over what his agenda might be.

And while LTNs are the Labour-controlled council’s own policy, Open Our Roads has also drawn public shows of support from a Labour ward councillor, the veteran Pat Ryan. Ryan has a track record of blocking road-calming and pollution-reducing measures in the past. He is also a member of the Traffic Management Advisory Committee, and so will have an influence over any decision reached this week.

At the head of the Open Our Roads group is Upper Norwood resident, Eliska Finlay.

Whether under pressure from the group’s backers and string-pullers, Finlay’s line hardened considerably over recent weeks. In the summer, when the first car-blocking planters went in on streets off Church Road, she was simply arguing for better resident access.

More recently, she has been calling for a free-for-all for speeding motorists.

Pat Ryan: Labour councillor has backed Open Our Roads

As well as petitions and encouraging non-locals to take part in a local consultation, South Africa-born Finlay has also launched a legal challenge against the LTN, controversially raising money for the case through a crowdfunder which initially boosted donations by 25 per cent through the Gift Aid tax break – even though Open Our Roads is not a registered charity, as is legally required for such a benefit.

And although Finlay often has much to say for herself and Open Our Roads on social media, she suddenly became unusually reticent when questioned by Inside Croydon about how the donations were being banked and accounted for. Finlay’s own hostel business went bankrupt last year (“It’s been a devastating eight months for me and my family,” she said), and while she claimed that the legal fund was being administered by a solicitor and accountant, she refused to identify by name who these colleagues might be.

Nor did she provide any answers when asked what arrangements had been made by Open Our Roads to refund the Gift Aid which she claimed had been taken by mistake.

Open Our Roads collected money “by mistake” through Gift Aid – even though they are not a charity. The money has not been paid back

Today, the crowdfund page is still showing that £165 has been collected through Gift Aid.

The fund-raising appears to have stalled well short of the £20,000 target, the minimum required to pay for a Judicial Review. Finlay has remained tight-lipped, too, about how she might refund donations if the legal case fails to go ahead.

Residents who support the LTN, many of whom have had their own streets cleared of the blight of rat runners, say that they have seen through Finlay and the OOR campaign. “Their real agenda is that they want the back streets of Crystal Palace to go back to being over-run by speeding drivers dodging round busy junctions,” one said.

“But they know that they can’t be too bare-faced in arguing that.

“So they cast around for all manner of other apparently more respectable points, displaying new-found zeal for such issues as congestion and air pollution on main roads, or emergency service response times. Their problem is that research on similar schemes in Waltham Forest and elsewhere show these concerns are actually bogus.”

The resident asked Inside Croydon not to identify them because they, their family and home had been the target of abuse since the LTN campaigning began.

Similar abuse has been directed at the street furniture which implements the LTNs, too.

Covering up the CCTV camera on Auckland Road meant that some drivers evaded fines for a day or so

Wooden planters at the end of streets in Upper Norwood and South Norwood have been vandalised repeatedly. A CCTV camera which polices a bus gate on Auckland Road has more than once had its lens covered over so that it cannot complete its task of monitoring car drivers who illegally use the bus gate. By last month, the council was replacing the wooden planters with more permanent, and less easily damaged, concrete and steel.

It is not known who have carried out these acts of wanton and criminal vandalism, though it is a reasonable assumption that they have not been done by anyone who supports the LTN.

The matter goes to the council’s Traffic Management Advisory Committee, postponed from last week to this Tuesday, January 12, when it will supposedly be informed by the results of the consultation and with an official report recommending an 18-month trial using more cameras, ANPR, or Automatic Number Plate Recognition, which would allow registered residents to use their home streets, but would fine drivers caught using the roads as rat runs.

Ahead of the meeting, Open Our Roads has also produced its own “briefing document” for councillors, too. Inside Croydon has obtained a copy. It is a litany of half-truths and blatant contradictions.

Open Our Roads claim that the LTN streets “were quiet and without significant traffic”.

In the very next sentence they say that the impact of diverting that insignificant traffic “has been catastrophic to the surrounding neighbourhoods”. It is the essential contradiction which has exposed their arguments as flawed.

A few pages on, they say “the net effect of the closures has been to push an estimated daily 6,000 [to] 10,000 additional vehicles on to the main A roads in Crystal Palace.”

It is not certain, but these may be made-up statistics. As estimates go, this is a pretty broad range, but if true, it surely undermines their previous claim that the LTN streets “were quiet and without significant traffic”. Which are we to believe?

Fortunately, there is some hard data from a council traffic monitor which shows that in 2019, Auckland Road was carrying more than 10,000 vehicles a day, a greater volume of traffic than on the nearby main road Central Hill. This was more than three times traffic levels on Auckland Road in 2013, thought to be because of the growing use of satnavs, which divert traffic off main roads.

Open Our Roads also appear to be in complete denial of any benefits of the scheme. Instead, they make a claim that “we have seen no evidence, in the months that Auckland Road has been closed, of any significant increase in cycling”, even though surveys conducted last year show that OOR claim also to be untrue.

Vandalism of LTN planters in South Norwood forced the council to install more permanent fixtures

A frequently-used trope used by high-traffic campaigners is that areas served by LTNs are privileged, affluent, white enclaves, from which traffic and pollution are displaced to poorer areas where a higher percentage of black and minority ethnic residents. This claim has been convincingly debunked in an academic paper published two months ago by University of Westminster Professor Rachel Aldred.

Ultimately, the document is nothing more than a thinly-veiled piece of lobbying on behalf of motoring interests and their supporters, people such as Lawson and Buchanan. At one point, it actually says that it is “very sensible” that drivers previously used the narrow, parked-up Southern Avenue and Lancaster Road to dodge the traffic lights in the middle of South Norwood.

What do Open Our Roads, or the Association of Bad Drivers, think should be done about air pollution, traffic danger and an obesogenic approach to street management which stops children walking and cycling, certainly independently? In a 10-page document going on about how the council has got it all wrong, the single solution that they offer is… the council should carry out a traffic survey.

OOR might need to reconsider what their acronym stands for: Open Our Rat-Runs.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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15 Responses to Upper Norwood’s street battle could be settled this week

  1. Dave Tomlinson (ex Traffic Manager for Croydon) says:

    It would be interesting to know under which powers Croydon Council have closed these roads and wether or not the closures have been implemented in consultation with TfL as the impact of displaced traffic on their Strategic Road Network is likely to be significant. It will also be interested to know if the Traffic Regulation Orders are for permanent or experimental closures. Interesting indeed. Once again though, the name Steve Iles springs to mind as he is the director who has responsibility.

    • It’s all in the report Dave, available from the council website..

      The “powers” are the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and the Traffic Management Act 2004. Account has also been take of duties under the Equality Act 2010.

      The report includes assessments undertaken by consultants on behalf of the Council and by TfL, into “traffic related effects potentially arising from the Temporary LTN. The findings of neither assessment suggest that any potential effects are of such magnitude or significance that an Experimental LTN should not be pursued”. Which I think means it’s no big deal and the LTN should go ahead,

      The recommendations include Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders for up to 18 months.

      The report’s lead officers are Shifa Mustafa, Executive Director, Place and Steve Iles, Director, Public Realm.

      • Ian Keirans says:

        I would like to see all the findings especially regarding the duties under the Equality Act 2010. I would also like to see what evaluation of impact were for surrounding areas of Broad Green and how the actuality meets those assumptions now and after Lockdown. It would also be useful to understand how the impact of the fiasco of Croydon finance and the measures now being looked at will impact on those reports and Croydon councils ability to perform duties on not just this but all areas including enforcement. I will look at the report but think and FOI is more appropriate so that as much information is available not just the published report.

    • Ian Ross says:

      I’d never heard of Steve Iles until I spotted him as the signatory of a letter declining my appeal of yet another rip-off fine for using a “pedestrianised” road (Haling) which has no warning prior to actually entering it.

      • A road has traffic restrictions, which if broken incurs an automatic fine for the driver of a vehicle. The road you refer to, Ian, is a cul de sac with two large schools. It has been a school street for more than a year, and is clearly signposted at the entrance. If you were really surprised to be fined for breaking the restriction, that’s surely no one’s fault by your own.

  2. Lewis White says:

    I had assumed that traffic mangement schemes and road closure schemes are researched in advance for some years via on-road cables and traffic counter boxes, certainly on the “rat runs” and maybe on the adjacent roads, and subject to public consultation.

    Was this scheme at Upper Norwood rushed in, without much consultation, or much research, on a shaky basis of freeing up streets from through traffic to somehow create more space in the Covid era for walkers and cyclists? Fine, unless there is a knock-on effect on residents of other streets where the diverted traffic ends up.

    Rushed projects tend to not be thought through properly.

    With the 20 mph limit, I would suggest that enforcement is needed to catch flagrant non-observers, but traffic speeds seem to have dropped in my neck of the woods as a result. Options such as making roads one way, or not allowing access before a certain time, are available in some cases, but admitedly camera projects are expensive. Speed humps, kerbs and bollards relatively cheap, but even so, streets can be very long, and redesigning networks of streets to really calm traffic is not cheap .

    Maybe road rationing is needed. Payment by miles travelled?
    All so difficult to manage, let alone the political objections.

    My real hope is in electric vehicles, plus the 20 mph limit, plus a partial shift from office to home working. The main need is for public transport so good that car drivers will cange from car commute to bus tram or train.

    A few years ago, Inside Coydon had a series of stories about “rat running” in the link roads from the Upper to the Lower Addiscombe Road. What ever happened there?

    • Anthony Miller says:

      “I had assumed that traffic mangement schemes and road closure schemes are researched in advance”

      I assumed they’re an ideological scheme to get us to walk and cycle. I think that road obstructions are better than the cameras. How do the ANPR cameras distinguish between people cutting through and people who have genuine business on the street like visiting friends and relatives or making deliveries? The planters are silly. What’s wrong with a bollard?

  3. Ian Kierans says:

    The truth is that LTN does reduce traffic from those areas. It does allow the residents to use the roads for walking cycling etc.And it does raise quite a lot of revenue when introduced with little advance notice or warning. Introduced properly they can be a benefit to lives in urban and suburban areas.
    However Croydon has not introduced them properly nor effectively. In many of these they do not appear to have practiced due diligance or done impact assessments and it smacks of revenue increasing.
    Noting the benefits to the LTN, has anyone looked at the impact on surrounding side roads? Broad Green has this LTN and it must be nice for the residents of Derby road and parsons mead (though I have not noticed increased pedestrian traffic it is winter and with the way cars still drive down the road (faster now it has less traffic)) I do not blame them. The people visiting the Hong Kong Takeaway and lining up on the kerbs blocking pavements etc on Handcroft road and the bottom of Elmwood have become parking lots for uber and takeaway drivers. (No masks or social distancing here and lethal for pedestrians and cyclists trying to navigate) However on the other side of Broad Greens London road it has become a nightmare as has St James Gridlock on Green and the right/left Battle of Wellington. Not to mention Sumner Parking lot. Has anyone looked at the fumes from all those vehicles polluting as they stand still? The zebra croosing outside the new school is the most ignored crossing I have seen second only to the red light running at the Junction. Trust me the air ”Quality” is non existant. Has anyone looked at the indirect costs? We are now 1 :20 with Covid the highest in England

    With travelling to Croydon a Nightmare, many have abandoned their vehicles on the side streets outside the LTN and now walk down the side roads and main road no social distancing few masks of FFP quality no gloves and no public wash basins or hand gel.
    Broad green did not need the LTN and yes it was busy. What it needed was good traffic management good urban design good investment and effective enforcement policing and resources especially after the riots. What it got was incompetence a disaster of narrowed London road where two buses cannot get past each other with parked delivery vehicles mexican stand off’s on the side roads, end to end traffic from 06.30 – 10 pm many days outside of lockdown zero pollution enforcement outside of hours. The Traffic Management from Broad Green is a joke. Sat Navs direct people down Lodge and elmwood road the older ones down Nova road and Wellington road only to find they can only turn left at the end of Elmwood (many ignore this causing chaos) as many ignore the no right turn into Wellington road. Stick a gate there and on lodge road it would make that area safer for the children. Sadly the parents would no longer be able to park on the pavements blocking emergency vehicles from getting by to Mayday.
    Mr Ali. has inherited the Portfolio perhaps due to his experience working for TfL or working alongside Mr Collins. With promotion comes hard tasks and Mr Ali has his community at heart.
    But it would be useful to investigate and evaluate all the pros and cons of the schemes and for them to be implemented effectively with minimal impact on surrounding Neighborhoods and residents. It would be useful for this to be done by those not having bias or vested interest other than the Public good, But mostly for our Councillors it would be extremely useful for them to consider ALL residents and consult in good time.

  4. Ian Kierans says:

    Lewis, I like your ruminations though the validity of the blanket 20 mph limit is flawed, Correctly identifying roads as residential and imposing a 20mph or lower is a need but other roads required to move high volumes of vehicles require currently higher limits to prevent increased pollution which has been shown to increase significantly. tThe rat running in Addiscome is the same, the only difference is the roads are so pot holed now from poor maintenance that you dice with axle damage using it.

  5. Mark Ryan says:

    As a resident who red lives very close to a number of these blocks in South Norwood the impact has been drastic and welcomed by all I’ve spoken too.

    The rat run drivers of the Albert Road were generally a danger to residents and each other as they bombed around the streets with reckless abandon.

    The planters were a welcome addition to and it’s a shame the more permanent measures have had to be taken, but the vandalism caused an eye sore so was needed.

    I for one hope they stay and brick planters replace the temporary wooden ones

  6. Eugene Jonas says:

    The fact is that Croydon Council only held a consultation because they were forced to do so by the large number of emails they received in complaint of their draconian attitude and after more than 600 people showed up at a protest. The truth is that none of the local residents (and I am one) want the LTN in this area. It just pushes traffic elsewhere and increases pollution on the main arterial roads. Oh, and by the way I am a cyclist too – I own two bicycles that I cycle as often as I can – but the roads in this area are now too dangerous for my taste.

    • Hahahha…
      “The truth is that none of the local residents (and I am one) want the LTN in this area.”
      Which is clearly untrue.
      The LTN does not “increase pollution” anywhere. Cars do that. And people need to use motor vehicles less. Being deterred from driving down residential streets is one way of changing the public’s habits.
      You make the point yourself: “the roads in the area are too dangerous”.

      Well done!

    • Andy Moynihan says:

      I’m a local resident and I support this LTN and hope more are introduced.

  7. Ian Ross says:

    Potholes save the need for speed bumps and other “traffic calming” measures. Another win-win!

  8. Liliane Pillay says:

    Well, the roads have been reopened now and it’s is back to hell on earth. On Fox Hill, we have such an increase of traffic roaring up the hill at ridiculous speeds at all hours of the day. Not everyone has returned to work yet and I dread to think what it will be like when they do.

    The planters went one snowing morning, without notice, pretty much in the same way they were installed. And my heart sunk. We had 6 months of relative and welcome peace.

    So what is the result of the consultation? How did the committee vote? Are we back to the awful “way we were”, or are we going to have some thought through solution that will make the RESIDENTS of the areas concerned satisfied that their views have been taken into consideration?
    Has a compromise been found?

    I’m sure a lot of us would like to know.

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