CROYDON COMMENTARY: With children struggling to maintain good mental health in the pandemic, and while the lockdown is seeing declining physical activity levels among some youngsters, AMY FOSTER calls on the council leader to provide real support for one of her cabinet members
According to a recent survey, 80 per cent of young people say that the pandemic has made their mental health worse.
Efforts to support good mental health are needed more than ever.
Through my experience both professionally in education and with charities such as Living Streets, I hear repeatedly how crucial physical activity is for children’s mental and physical health. Reading Peter Walker’s new book on sedentary living The Miracle Pill highlighted again how low many children’s physical activity levels are (fewer than 20 percnt are active every day, according to the NHS), particularly for those from the least affluent households.
And covid-19 has done nothing to reverse the downward trend in physical activity, Sport England say that nearly one-third of children are “inactive” due to the lockdown, further entrenching pre-existing inequalities around exercise.
How, then, to capitalise on the fact that many people now view being active as a core part to maintaining their health and wellbeing?
Our parks and green spaces have been busier than ever. Transport for London reports a significant rise in the numbers of people walking and cycling to their local high streets in outer London, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find solutions. Indeed, the answer is right there.
Providing safe walking and cycling routes and making our green spaces accessible would make these new-found healthy habits significantly easier to maintain. Indeed, this is precisely what central government and TfL have been advocating with money awarded to local authorities willing to reallocate road space.
Until very recently, it seemed Croydon Council was one such council, committed to improving health and well-being through the local environment. Yet last month’s decision to remove the Low Traffic Neighbourhood trial in Crystal Palace seems to show this resolve wavering.
Looking across the capital, schemes are facing similar criticisms around how they have been implemented and how they are being consulted on. These changes are contentious and indeed stressful for many.
Yet what is remarkable is seeing which council leaders have stepped up to defend changes in their borough and who is willing to present such measures as part of a wider commitment to good public health.
In Enfield, deputy leader Ian Barnes used a recent full council meeting to explain how his borough is “committed to tackling climate change and creating a healthier planet for children who are growing up in the borough.”
Julian Bell, the leader of Ealing Council, expressed his admiration for colleagues in Waltham Forest and their “brilliant” work getting more people to cycle.
Over in Hackney, Jon Burke, the former lead on transport, and Mayor Philip Glanville worked in unison to build Hackney’s vision of a greener, healthier borough.
Yet there has been no such public statement from Croydon’s new council leader, Hamida Ali.
Croydon’s new cabinet member for sustainability, Muhammad Ali, has made his commitment to tackling the climate emergency explicit, with a clear focus on reducing transport emissions. But given the ferocity of the battle, it seems clear that unambiguous support from the council leader is now necessary.
I want to hear unqualified support from Hamida Ali for a suite of measures designed to reduce motor traffic volumes on our streets, together with a timescale for delivery.
I want to hear her describe people-friendly street spaces, with low traffic speeds and volumes, where people can run, walk and play safely and where healthy travel choices are not just encouraged but enabled.
Community is hard to build and our communities need space to thrive.
Above all, our communities now need leadership from Hamida Ali if we are to see a people-led, and not car-led, recovery from this crisis.
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If the Covid pandemic does not bankrupt UK plc (or national fragmentation into nations do the same), it would be great to see a national, systematic improvement of the nation’s towns and their streets to make them greener and safer.
I fear it will never happen, due to the conflict between the public who need to park their cars on and off road.
Whilst it is a huge topic, far too big to cover in a single page, but I would like to highlight one fact that is increasingly affecting–reducing– the green-ness of our streets.
Street tree planting has a long pedigree in the World’s civilisations, probaly being a feature of Ancient China and Babylon, to mention but two.
Street trees were planted in the many new streets in Victorian South London suburbs as they grew outwards to meet each other, and fill up the space between the middle and the South Circular road, and then, in many new suburban streets, often on grass verges, in the hugely expanding mid and outer suburbia of the inter-war era.
In our own time, from the 1970’s onwards, car ownership has mushroomed. Streets are now lined on both sides with cars if the streets are wide enough.
“Off road parking” has become more and more popular, leading to the loss of front garden trees, planting and grass to the wall to wall “paved frontage” (I can’t bring myself to call them gardens) .
Not only does this pave the world,and stop rainwater percoloating in to replenish the aquifer, but the need to have “vehicle crossovers” across the footway can expose existing street trees to damage impact as cars and vans drive on and off the former gardens, and expose their roots to dmage by the construction.
In some streets in Coulsdon, my own area, we now have continuous paved frontages on 3 or more adjacent houses. In may cases, vacant tree pits (places where rees were removed for some reason, such as death or damage) have been paved over to build a continuous vehicle crossover, whiuch stops a ne wtree being planted. Even more common is the sight of sad, bashed-up trees, left stranded by the kerb, on a tiny island of space between kerb and footway, between two paved front gardens.
Once, trees got bashed only the side facing the street, mainly by car doors. They were protected by the road kerb against impact damage except if a vehicle turned round in the street, and the bumper bashed the tree trunk.
Now, the poor trees are bashed from the sides, as cars and vans parked in the ex front garden move in and out, as well as the road side. Grass verges , if they exist , are no longer respected. Cars and vans get bigge, needing more space.
Money for tree planting was once part of the highways budget, but such budgets are now cut and cut. There are thousands of vacant tree pits, tarmacked over. ome can be picked out as they have brick edgings . The rest just look the same as any patched bit of tarmac.
If we want to preserve our street trees, we need to control the off street parking , and spend waht used to be spent in the 1970’s on replacing the missing trees.
Without the action to protect trees and potential tree planting locations, we are going to lose the remaining green streets, and stymie the chance of greening the majority of currently treeless streets.
Oh–I forgot one important other factor. Street trees have to be planted at the kerb side, for obvious reasons, to keep the footway free for pedestrans. The kerbside zone is the zone where telephone cables were installed in the 1930’s -50’s, especially since telephone poles were taken down, and where Cable TV was installed in the 1980’s. Yes, Cable TV, and telecoms, have stymied our chances of greening most unplanted streets. You cannot dig planting pits and plant trees on top of cables . It is unsafe.
And it can only get worse, with more cabling for electric cars.
Trees need space — space for a soil-filled tree pit in the ground, by the kerb
Trees need planning– and funding.
Without street trees, we will have a greyer, hotter, dustier future , not a greener one.
Hi Lewis there is also the little issue for homeowners and Councils of Insurance claims and costs for root damage. We know that not all trees cause damage and many can be safely planted in many streets, but insurers do not ask what species of tree is close to your house.
Not all Poles were taken down. I have one close that has 38 wires (soon to be 45) coming from it. This is in addition to Telewest and Virgin cables( we have 4 holes soon to be 5 just by our house).
Hi Ian, hope you don’t mind my responding on the points you have raised. Firstly, selection of trees to fit the site.
As a former landscape architect I have been involved in designing tree planting schemes for streets, choosing the trees myself, or in conjunction with others. Every site is different, but there are key similarities. The proximity of buildings, particularly low rise buildings with shallow foundations–is probably the most important.
We all need daylight, and most streets are of terraced or semi-detached houses built fairly close to the street, with short front gardens.
In such locations, trees that are “tailored” to sit well in the space available, –compact, upright in shape– are physically the right trees for such spaces, and will achieve desirable “greening” without restricting the light to the front windows.
In London, we have a legacy of older street trees , notably London Plane and Lime, which were the only trees capable of thriving in spite of the smogs of the Victorian era, up to the1960’s . Most trees could not survive such pollution.
Traditionally, as is still done in France, these trees were “pollarded” or hard-pruned back to the main stem, or main branches every year or two, so that have a rounded shape, or lollipop. To my eye, the fresh green foliage that grows back is beautifully green and healthy -looking. But the tree never gets too big for the site.
In the 1970’s and 80’s , two things happened. Some influentual and well-meaning people and organisations, said “don’t butcher that tree” , and councils were happy to listen, as it would –seemingly–save them money .
Trees were left to grow. Limes, and particularly, planes can grow and grow and grow and…..
Sadly, then two other things happened. On London’s clay soils (and there are lots of areas with clay that expands when it gets wet, and shrinks when it is dry) , councils found that they were facing more and more insurance claims for alleged damage to adjacent houses. Many such claims were justified, but many were not, as movement can happen without trees being the cause. Poor construction, and new buildings built near trees, but without adequate foundations, are a fact.
The other thing was light restriction, with mature trees that were allowed to grow bigger for a decade or two, with minimal pruning, becoming very large, and blocking light to homes.
The response of London boroughs has genertally been to thin out the growth, remove lower branches, and reduce the size –even re-adopting the old fashioned pollarding regimes. This lets more light in–and reduces water uptake (and stops clay soils drying out) by the tree roots, as the smaller, less dense tree needs less water than it did when it was large.
When I look at my street, which has street trees, and other local streets where the pavemnts have no trees, I am very glad that mine has trees, But the trees present are in general trees which are not huge, nor dense.
The selection of the right tree for the site is the key task of the urban tree planter.
Whilst you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and there are several who “love trees, but not outside my house”, in my view there are quite a number of suitable trees, which will grow to maturity with minimal pruning, low expense, and giving us all pleasing greenery, and fresher air, without causing any problems for residents or their buildings.
By the way, a few years back, some estate agents reported that houses in streets with trees sell for more money than the equivalent in a treeless street !
There are fundamental issues with LTNs, not least the failure to consult properly and meaningfully.
For LTNs to have an impact overall means that we should consider the following
1. Not to displace traffic to other residential areas but to have a plan for where that excess goes and manage the how it goes.
2. Effective road design, signage and notices
3. Effective road maintenance and management along with reducing the need – so Initiatives like safe public transport (policed)- the return of safe school transport and to stop cutting traffic enforcement resources all would assist. As would, more park and ride schemes for visitors – and reasonable Car Park pricing, more residents only and Disabled Bays so parking again in your own few streets is again possible. There are lots of other options also.
4. Stop developing in highly populated wards that is known to not have the road or parking capacity to accommodate the level of traffic for a while (this is also an issue for all services in those areas).
5. Stop HGVs (inc going to Sutton via Croydon) except at really quiet times so as not to clog up narrow roads and create tailbacks etc.
5. As a Council start thinking holistically and in the residents interests – That TfL has made money available is great, but do the math, ensure there are comprehensive assessments, including EQIAs and reviews and in putting into effect measures ensure that they actually have a reasonable chance of making a difference.
Having witnessed TfL Commissioner Mr Byford in action over the years (LUL Southern etc,) I have no doubt he and TfL have done their homework and will know full well the benefits (with risks and disbenefits) of everything TfL does. LTNs tick many of TfLs boxes, but only the careful and informed implementation of them in Croydon will meet our residents and children’s needs.
We should all remember that representing our needs is our Councillors first and foremost duty!
So if (like Parsons mead) you wish to restrict through traffic from the London Road It should consider how best to do this. Transposing traffic to a smaller area and ”kettling” it leads to increases in pollution and gridlock – not to mention the resultant anti social behaviour.
Thiere is not a straight move of traffic but a huge increase of pollution particulate matter, from traffic stationary for ever longer periods.
Stand on St James road Junctions with Wellington Road, Lodge road, Nova Road, etc, It is like lockdown does not exist with bumper to bumper traffic not to mention the despair and eventual hospitalisation of those with breathing issues now suffering horrendous levels of pollution from traffic displaced.
I do not see many children benefiting from the Parsons Mead LTN. What I see is the children going to both Infants and Primary Schools on Lodge Road via St James road and Elmwood road not just affected by increased pollution, but the immediate dangers from cars on pavements, emergency vehicles severely delayed getting to Hospital at school run times, pedestrians taking their lives in their hands crossing at a zebra crossing that drivers regularly just drive over in the race to beat the red light at the London Road Junction and coming from London Road racing with no time to stop when people step onto the crossing. And the increased illegal parking on those same roads – respectfully can anyone show where the real benefits are here?