Shots have been fired, at least metaphorical ones, on the frontline of a “culture war” in South Norwood, as the latest council consultations over Low Traffic Neighbourhoods come to a close tonight.
Residents who support the traffic-reducing schemes accuse the opponents of LTNs of deliberately damaging property and of intimidating behaviour, and express concerns that what might have been a survey of the views of people living locally has been hijacked by vested interests, motoring lobbyists and others from across south London and beyond.
“There’s a real toxic and intimidating atmosphere surrounding discussion on the subject of the LTNs,” a resident in one of the areas subject to council consultations told Inside Croydon. The resident is so afraid of recriminations from the anti-LTNers that they asked for the identity to be withheld.
“Anyone expressing the mildest support for LTNs and efforts to improve road safety in South Norwood and prevent our residential roads being used as rat runs is quickly shouted down and insulted in the local Facebook forums.
“The rage around the issue has turned the Facebook page into a bit of a no-go area,” they say.
Perhaps a reflection that even the very term LTN is regarded as “toxic”, the council now calls them “Croydon Healthy Neighbourhoods”. There are two consultations on-going, one for Holmesdale Road, the other for Albert Road.
Both close tonight.
Similar surveys for Parsons Mead and Sutherland Road in Broad Green, and Dalmally Road, Elmers Road and Kemerton Road in Addiscombe, closed last month.
In most cases, wooden planters were introduced during the first covid-19 lockdown last year to encourage more social distancing, open up road spaces and put an end to rat-runners using residential streets as high-speed short-cuts.
But the seemingly rustic and benign planters have become trigger points for motorists’ anger, and have been subjected to vandalism and damage.
Now Croydon wants to remove most of the planters and replace them with CCTV cameras, which the council claims makes the roads more “porous” (by allowing immediate access to emergency vehicles and local residents).
The Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras also offer a lucrative revenue stream, with £60 minimum fines for those without a local permit who ignore the no-entry signs. The cash-strapped council reckons it might generate £5million in such fines each year.
The council says its Healthy Neighbourhoods are “set up to make local streets quieter, safer and healthier”.
Of the changes proposed, they explain that they “aim to keep these schemes’ benefits while improving access for local people”. Once approved, the introduction of ANPRs will be deemed “on an experimental basis” for 18 months.
One residents’ group, on Holmesdale Road, has had posters printed and distributed around the area, appealing for locals to take part in the survey. “Please don’t let people who don’t live here decide our road should go back to being a rat run,” the poster says.
“Since the planters were put in last summer – which was paid for by TfL with government funding – we’ve seen a massive decrease in rat-running, fewer accidents, less pollution, reduced traffic noise and more plants and flowers on our street.
“With the LTN, Holmesdale Road is much safer for pedestrians, children walking to school, cyclists, drivers… everyone in fact.”
But the residents say that more than 20 of their posters, all paid for out of their own pockets, have been torn down and destroyed, as if some people wanted to silence the locals.
Then, at the weekend, leaflets were stuffed through letterboxes from the vocal “Open Our Roads” group, which has received funding from motoring lobbyists and support from Labour councillors Pat Ryan and Clive “Thirsty” Fraser.
The OOR leaflets fail to include any name or postal address for the shadowy organisation.
According to one recipient, “The leaflet claims to speak on behalf of the entirety of South Norwood.
“‘South Norwood Says No!’, proclaims their anti-LTN propaganda. That’s quite a claim. How they know the opinion of over 16,500 South Norwood residents?”
The resident says that “the OOR propaganda leaflet is stuffed full of lies designed to scaremonger residents into opposing ANPR camera trials”.
Among the blatantly false claims is that some motorists “have been fined tens of thousands of pounds per day”. To accumulate just £10,000-worth of fines, South Norwood’s wannabe Lewis Hamiltons would have to drive past ANPR cameras more than 160 times in a 24-hour period.
“It’s plainly, obviously, bull-shit,” according to another resident equally unimpressed by the desperate lengths that the OOR leaflet goes to.
“They fail to mention that the only people who get fined at all are those without a parking permit valid for the area. And anyone who gets an ANPR ticket will have ignored the road signs – just as with any other traffic offence.
“They appear to be sympathetic to law-breakers.”
And another resident said, “Not content with flooding residents with misinformation, the anti-LTNers are silencing those of us expressing support for the LTNs.
“About 20 posters, designed to inform residents about the council consultation and explain the benefits of the LTNs, were torn down just hours after being pinned to telegraph poles and planters on Holmesdale Road.
“The irony is that one of the arguments last year when the LTNs were first created was that they were in some way ‘undemocratic’ because residents hadn’t been consulted.
“Well, where’s the respect for democracy now?
“If they are sure the whole of South Norwood is on their side, why the need to censor our material? The truth is, of course, that if Open Our Roads had to debate on the basis of facts alone, they would lose hands down.”
Those residents who have embraced the schemes aimed at reducing the public’s dependency on cars, particularly for shorter journeys, feel that they have been handicapped in their support for the schemes by their local authority’s rushed and poorly managed introduction of the measures.
In a column in a national newspaper yesterday, Rupa Huq, MP for Ealing Central, claimed that in her borough, “The botched handling of LTNs were a key factor in the overthrow of the last leader of Ealing council.” Oooerr.
Huq wrote, “These changes have divided communities and pitted borough against borough… This cack-handedness has not only killed off support for LTNs, it is harming the government’s hope of getting more people cycling. Rage at LTNs has turned residents against even logical examples of new infrastructure to help safe cycling.”
But Labour’s Huq appears to have swallowed some of the anti-LTNers falsehoods.
Writing in the Torygraph, she claimed, “Bromley sued Croydon after the latter dumped traffic on the former.”
Which is simply not true.
Bromley Council’s leader, Conservative Colin Smith, while refusing to take hundreds of thousands of pounds in Tory government funding for traffic-reducing measures in his borough, has made all sorts of claims in public, but there has never been any legal action against neighbouring authority Croydon over its LTNs in Crystal Palace.
“Colin Smith is like a whoopie cushion,” a Katharine Street source said today. “All the noise of a fart but without any product whatsoever.”
Leaving those supporting LTNs in their areas of Croydon hoping that Smith’s supporters, such as OOR, don’t leave a nasty smell once the council survey is completed.
- To read more on the council’s plans and take part in the Holmesdale Road and Albert Road surveys, click here
Read more: The real reason behind opposition to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods
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LTNs are useful interventions in improving the quality of life for residents. That is a simple fact.
The planters are an effective way of prevention and improving the public realm. The downside is Emergency access. However putting in gates that Emergency service can open or electronic gates that all emergency vehicles can open resolves that. Many areas already have these metal gates across the road and to Council estates.
Another fact is that LTNs displace problems and in many cases exacerbate traffic issues and pollution. Not because they are wrong, but that they are poorly implemented and paid for by others. The use of ANPR is insidious and can only be viewed as it is used to effectively milk motorists.
When there is clear data from independent bodies showing the pollution not just on the LTN but adjoining roads before and after the LTN went in one can state what the effect on Pollution has been. When Children are playing on the streets of the roads of the LTN between 08 – 20.00 (remember they are in school from 9 – 3 at least) then there can be said there is a benefit.
However Holmesdale is a different LTN and they do not appear to have such issues even down to Princes road but they do have parking problems daily, mainly from car sellers parking their stock on the roads.
The key to implementing LTNs is effective planning and mitigating the displacement. The second is meaningful consultation before any implementation. The third is no penalty pilots and reviews of effectiveness with clear and visible signage.
But fundamentally there should be provision (non digital) to not disadvantage disabled elderly and those not able to join effectively the digitalisation foisted on residents by this council.
None of this is rocket science and there are many public realm and road Network transport planners I know who could do this with eyes shut. But perhaps Councils and Councillors should remove restraints and other political agendas and the wish to subsidise funds via ANPR . It is not as if they are used anymore for the purpose originally agreed are they? If they still are within Croydon, perhaps the Council would like to provide that data?
So in summary there should be no problem with LTNs, and what there is has nothing to do with LTNs but everything to do with personal and political agendas and money.
Both for and against should sit down and work the solutions and benefits instead of point scoring.
Any ‘rat runs’ prevented by these LTNs simply create new, or worsen existing other rat runs elsewhere. Robbing Peter to pay Paul. Pointless, costly and stupid.