School Streets work – so why have Sutton removed them?

In Carshalton, the local council has removed a traffic-calming scheme outside a primary school, so that they can hold a consultation about… re-introducing it. Local parent VERITY THOMSON takes up the story

Parents, residents and volunteers working on the School Streets schemes in Sutton were dismayed at the council’s decision to revoke them. Sutton is now the only London borough not to have any School Streets.

Sylvia Gauthereau, from the School Streets Initiative, says, “It’s very disappointing to see Sutton council backtrack on their School Streets and take away this valuable facility from schools against their will, especially when we have so much evidence now that they achieve the intended aims with protecting children and their family from pollution and road danger.”

School street schemes have been implemented across London since 2017.  Other boroughs, including Croydon, have recognised the importance of the schemes in helping to keep everyone safe during the pandemic, and re-instated them when children went back to school last month.

Jemima Hartshorn (red coat) of Mums for Lungs meeting Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

As well as providing additional road space for pedestrians to help with social distancing around the school gates at drop-off and collection times, the long-term benefits of improved air quality and encouraging active travel for children are well understood.

A letter signed by a number of health professionals supported the street space schemes for many health reasons.

Jemima Hartshorn, the founder of Mums for Lungs, says, “This is a very disappointing decision, especially for the children involved. Recent research by the Mayor, Transport for London, Bloomberg and the FIA Foundation showed really clearly that the children’s exposure to air pollution is significantly reduced with a School Street implemented.

“Considering we know how much harm air pollution causes, from asthma to cancer, and likely even enhanced frequency and severity of covid-19, we really urge all Sutton Council to implement School Streets across the borough at all schools possible.”

Initially, 15 School Streets were introduced in Sutton between June and September 2020 as part of Street Space for London, an emergency response to the pandemic. The schemes restricted traffic around schools for about an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon at school run times.

Some may not have worked so well, but 11 of the schemes had received overall positive feedback, although Sutton Council has yet to publish consultation results in full.

Where positive feedback can be evidenced for School Street schemes, and with the individual school’s and local community’s support, I believe these schemes should never have been taken away.

At the moment, parents and children are having to use the road space when they are dropping off or collecting from school to be able to socially distance. But with the roads also open to vehicles, I am worried there could be an accident. With hundreds of people converging in a limited area at these times, there is a risk that they are not able to socially distance properly without using the road space.

I contacted the ward councillors for my children’s school about my concerns and invited them to come to see the situation. One councillor did attend but said the decision to revoke the scheme could not be reversed. The matter was also raised with the chair of the environment and sustainable transport committee ahead of its public meeting on March 18, but councillors chose not to raise my concerns at this public forum.

The decision to revoke all schemes was made by councillors on February 15 in light of a High Court ruling about one particular scheme in Bishopsgate, where the consultation exercise that took place before the scheme was introduced was found to be unlawful. TfL is appealing against that judgement. Sutton’s schemes remained lawful.

The criticism of the Bishopsgate scheme was that taxi drivers and disabled people had not been considered fairly. I am in full support of a thorough and meaningful consultation and agree that the needs of disabled people and taxi drivers should be considered.

Sutton Council initiated new informal consultations for 11 school street schemes last month and is suggesting the use of ANPR – automatic number plate recognition – cameras, which is different to how many of the schemes had been operating. Their current timetable is to reintroduce schemes in the autumn term, perhaps not until November.

School Streets are a great idea that put the health of our children first, and they were really useful to help with social distancing whilst we try to keep everyone safe and well during this pandemic.

The scheme at All Saints, Carshalton, was popular with the school, parents and residents. The school would like the scheme back as soon as possible.

There were definitely some improvements required and that is what I was hoping to see during the remainder of the trial, before making the scheme permanent. Where schools have made it clear that they want the schemes back in operation, I would like to see the trials re-instated from Monday April 19, after the Easter holidays. This will follow the further relaxation of covid rules, where we are likely to see more traffic movements, thereby making it even more important to have the schemes in place for the safety of our children and to help with the covid recovery in Sutton.

  • Verity Thomson is a parent and volunteer for the School Streets scheme at All Saints Primary school in Carshalton

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