The council’s traffic management committee meeting tonight has provoked a row between Labour politicians, some of whom have been associating with questionable characters in their opposition to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.
PAUL LUSHION, our environment correspondent, reports
The intervention of MPs and a current Labour councillor in concerted efforts to scupper Croydon’s Labour-run council’s efforts to reduce car use and implement Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in Upper Norwood and South Norwood has caused an internal party row.
The council’s Traffic Management Advisory Committee meets tonight to deliberate on proposals which include replacing planters with a system of CCTV cameras on some Crystal Palace streets, with one member of that committee having already given written assurances to opponents of the LTN.
Pat Ryan is the veteran ward councillor for Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood, and one with a track record of appeasing the motoring lobby. He is expected to attend tonight’s virtual meeting as a member of the TMAC.
Last night, writing on MP Steve Reed OBE’s private WhatsApp group, he told admirers, “There is no political leadership in Croydon. God how we need that just now.”
And referring to tonight’s traffic committee, Ryan added, “Have no worries, I won’t lose my cool, that’s a promise. The good people of [Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood] have supported me for 28 years. I have listened to them and respect their views.”
It is probably kindest to describe Ryan’s position on the LTN as… confused.
He had previously signed a petition in favour of the Auckland Road bus gate, an integral part of the LTN. But he then joined the Open Our Roads protest against it. On the council consultation web page, Ryan advised people to vote against the scheme.
Open Our Roads’ Facebook page has published comments which appear to be supportive of vandalism of LTN equipment, such as the Christmas Day cover-up of the bus gate camera, designed to allow local traffic in but keep rat runners out.
Councillor Ryan “liked” this attack on his own council’s policy and public property. In other comments, it appears that he has convinced himself that LTNs are a plot by the Conservatives to remove Labour from power at the London elections in May.
Reed, the Progress MP for Croydon North, and Ellie Reeves, MP for the neighbouring Lewisham West and Penge constituency, published near-identical letters yesterday calling on the council’s traffic committee to scrap the LTN and to adopt the wishes of anti-LTNers expressed in a local consultation, which some have described as having “been turned into a national referendum”.
At some point during the course of yesterday evening, Muhammad Ali, the Broad Green councillor who will chair tonight’s traffic committee, quit Reed’s WhatsApp group.
And while Reed and Ryan chirp merrily to their supporters about their opposition to the LTN, they may yet come to regret their association with some of the anti-LTNers, who as well as dedicated motoring lobbyists also include a jailbird, some who express racist views, others who try to encourage violence, plus one sex pest and other self-declared law-breakers.
Open Our Roads purports to be “a grassroots campaign of concerned citizens” whose values include community cohesion and accountable governance.
Their Facebook group rules include “no hate speech” and states “degrading comments about things such as race (or) religion… will not be tolerated”. That’s the theory, anyway. The practice has proved to be somewhat different.
As reported by Inside Croydon last November, Open Our Roads’ crowdfunding for a scheme to make lawyers rich (also known as a “Judicial Review”) swiftly drew support (and the offer of hundreds of pounds) from the Alliance of Bad Drivers’ Roger Lawson, a resident of a cul-de-sac in leafy Kent, nine miles away from Crystal Palace.
Following our report, Lawson’s name and details of his donation were removed from Open Our Roads’ crowdfunding page; the organisers realising too late the toxicity of any association with ABD. Open Our Roads have claimed that Lawson’s donation has never been drawn down, although since the group does not publish any formal accounts – as might be expected of even the most modest of residents’ associations – we only have their word for that.
And while Open Our Roads have sought to distance themselves from the ABD quicker than a motorist breaking the speed limit down a rat run, Lawson’s colleagues have maintained a close interest in the campaign to remove the LTN from Crystal Palace.
As recently as last weekend, the ABD, an organisation which regularly praises the “initiatives” of Nigel Farage, published their own Trumpian “fake news” on their London website with a scare story making the claim that Croydon Council’s proposals to use ANPR – automatic number plate recognition cameras – are a money-making scheme, linked to the council having gone bust.
“A number of road closures enforced by ANPR cameras from which they will no doubt generate considerable revenue… They are desperate to raise income it seems,” the ABD trumped, falsely: money generated from parking fees and fines, or ANPR cameras, is strictly ring-fenced by law and may only be used by local authorities for transport-related works. Something which you might expect a bunch of motoring lobbyists would know.
This week’s ABD website report also makes mention of Open Our Roads, and helpfully provides links through to the Open Our Roads’ crowdfunding page. The same one which Roger Lawson’s name and donation were carefully removed from two months ago…
Open Our Roads may have tried to cover their tracks as far as ABD is concerned, but elsewhere they, Reed and Ryan appear not too fussy about who they associate with, provided they are anti-LTN.
Step forward Alasdair Stewart, the former chair of the Croydon Conservative Federation. Despite apparently being a law-abiding Tory, on Facebook Stewart applauded the vandalism of the bus gate camera more than half a dozen times.
He commented that the person who reported this criminal damage was “probably a loony left, Greta fanatic, crazy cyclist who believes XR are our saviours”.
Stewart’s Twitter feed is littered with his contempt for environmental concerns, but what is surprising is he hasn’t cottoned on that his party is now led by a “crazy cyclist” who thinks nothing of riding his bicycle across London during a covid-19 lockdown. Nor that funding for LTNs across the country has come from the Conservative government’s transport minister, Grant Shapps.
Another contributor to the Open Our Roads social media is Graham Axford.
In 2010, Axford stood for election to Croydon Council in Upper Norwood ward on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. In 2013, he was sentenced to 16 weeks in jail for three counts of benefit fraud paid to him by… Croydon Council.
More recently, Axford has suggested to the Open Our Roads group that another way to attach an adornment to the bus gate camera would be by… hanging Tony Newman from it. While the discredited former leader of the council carries heavy responsibility for the council going bust, it is only on the Open Our Roads Facebook page where calls from ex-cons for Newman to suffer capital punishment are apparently tolerated.
Someone else among the Open Our Roads social media contributors who hints strongly at sabotage is Dom Kelly.
In 2018, Kelly was thrown out of the Musicians’ Union after complaints of sexual harassment, bullying and threatening behaviour. As far as the MU are concerned, he is persona non-grata until 2028.
The LTN’s cameras – which do generate fines of £60 for drivers who break the rules and drive through the bus gate – are a particular target for calls for vandalism, including from someone called Paul Ostrowski.
While it is not a common name, it is though probably not unique, yet by an odd coincidence there is a “Paul Ostrowski” who works as a housing officer at Bromley Council. Bromley, of course, have been vocal opponents of the LTN in Croydon, and are pursuing legal action against Croydon on the matter.
And while no officials at Open Our Roads ever bothered censuring or moderating such blatant calls for damaging public property, nor have they done anything to uphold their Facebook rules on racism.
Nobody took Lewisham resident Peter Thurgood to task for posting his hatred of Sadiq Khan (who he described as a “terrorist” and said, “Should be imprisoned”). Instead, at least four people on the Open Our Roads page showed that they share his vile views.
The toxic environment fostered by the Open Our Roads Facebook group has spilled out of cyberspace. Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood residents who support the LTN report that the swamp of hate has translated into verbal abuse in the street. At the weekend, after a previous Inside Croydon report on the LTN, one Open Our Roads supporters commented on their Facebook page, “Anyone got any address that we can visit?”
The official report to tonight’s meeting recommends extending the experiment by another 18 months, something which has got “road blocks” Reed and “decimated” Ryan in something of a lather. These experienced politicians appear to have set out to have a local consultation treated as if it is a referendum.
The council report notes “75 per cent of households/addresses within the Temporary LTN were not sufficiently motivated by the introduction of the Temporary LTN to respond, suggesting they did not have a particular view on the temporary scheme or its future.” Put simply, the majority of people living in the LTN aren’t bothered.
Many of those that are bothered live even further away from Crystal Palace than Chislehurst’s Roger Lawson. Responses to Open Our Roads petitions came in from well beyond the borough boundary. Even from outside London. Places like Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
And it was not just their petition that Open Our Roads actively lobbied for responses from far and wide. As the organisation’s founder, Eliska Finlay, admitted publicly this week, Open Our Roads posted the consultation code on social media and “also delivered leaflets with the consultation link and QR and the 0000 link to residents in and around the area” (our italics).
The decision tonight will be an early test for new cabinet member Muhammad Ali’s political will and nerve. The ANPR scheme, under which LTN residents, buses and emergency vehicles would be exempt from any penalty notices for driving along the affected streets, is an accommodating compromise.
We shall see tonight whether the likes of Pat Ryan is open to such compromise.
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