In his latest exclusive column for this website, ANDREW FISHER says that Croydon has capitulated to the Tories and a local MP over its traffic-reduction measures
“Think globally, act locally” was one of the first slogans used by Friends of the Earth when they were established 50 years ago. It still has resonance today.
Greta Thunberg dismissed COP26 as a “greenwash festival”. My slightly longer, but no less damning, review can be read via the i paper.
Climate change can only be arrested by concerted global action, but that fact should not obscure the very real local benefits that can accrue from acting locally.
To see the real need for local action now, check out the Air Quality Index, which provides real-time measures of the pollution in our borough. When I checked in earlier this week, I was advised that “PM2.5 concentration in Croydon air is currently 3.6 times above the WHO annual air quality guideline value”.
PM2.5 is the measure of particulate matter that the government says is “closely associated with adverse health effects”. Road traffic emissions are a major contributor.
Poor air quality kills, with 40,000 deaths in the UK every year linked to poor air quality, according to the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health. A study by Kings College found that there were 9,500 premature deaths in London as a result of air pollution “due to two key pollutants, fine particulates known as PM2.5s and the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide”.
Last year, in a landmark ruling, the coroner named air pollution as a contributing factor in the death of south London schoolgirl Ella Kissi-Debrah, who lived close to the South Circular road.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, responded to the coroner’s decision, saying “Toxic air pollution is a public health crisis, especially for our children, and the inquest underlined yet again the importance of pushing ahead with bold policies such as expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone.”
Last month, the ULEZ was expanded out to the North Circular and South Circular roads, although it doesn’t reach our borough.
In Croydon, there has been wailing and gnashing of teeth from car drivers at the modest Low Traffic Neighbourhood schemes, or LTNS, which were brought in during the first lockdown last year.
The schemes have been implemented by local authorities under the government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund.
The Conservative transport minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, has stated in his guidance to councils that, “schemes need time to be allowed to bed in… must be tested against more normal traffic conditions… and must be in place long enough for their benefits and disbenefits to be properly evaluated and understood”.
Precious little of that evidence-based policy-making was on display from Croydon Conservatives, who opportunistically launched various petitions to ‘”Remove the Trial Low Traffic Neighbourhoods” and “Stop Labour’s road closures”, while neglecting to mention that the closures were backed by a Conservative government.
Lining up in opposition alongside the Croydon Tories is the shadow minister for local government – and Croydon North MP – Steve Reed, who last week wrote to Councillor Muhammad Ali, the council cabinet member for Sustainable Croydon, telling him that residents opposed the schemes.
As well as managing to spell the councillor’s name two different ways, Reed also seems geographically challenged, locating Albert Road – in the Croydon Central constituency of Sarah Jones – in Croydon North.
Most illogically of all, Reed wrote, “nearly everyone wants inappropriate traffic reduced in the area where they live”, while claiming, “there are other ways to achieve this that are less restrictive”. Reed failed to specify what these measures might be.
Councillor Ali should have done what’s best for the environment, and put Reed’s letter straight in the recycling.
But no, the council has now decided to all but scrap the LTNs in Croydon – coming up instead with experimental Croydon Healthy Neighbourhoods, or CHNs.
The road-blocking planters which appeared on some roads last year will be replaced by some red paint on the road and CCTV cameras which will fine anyone (with some exceptions) who doesn’t live in the neighbourhood but who enters the CHN zone.
The CCTV cameras and new signage will be more unsightly clutter on our pavements, while motorists will undoubtedly complain that a traffic reducing measure (LTNs) has been replaced with a revenue-raising plan (CHNs).
This goes against (Conservative) government guidance which states, “the assumption should be that [LTNs] will be retained unless there is substantial evidence to the contrary”.
In fact, the government’s Gear Change document on encouraging more walking and cycling calls for “far more LTNs”.
Government data shows that overall, LTNs have meant “significant reductions in traffic, and significant increases in cycling and walking”. It also calls for professional polling of residents, not self-selecting surveys of the type cited by MP Reed in his letter to Councillor Ali.
Having read through the 29-page paper presented to Croydon Council’s Traffic Management Advisory Committee, no such evidence has been presented.
Such arguments that were put forward would stretch the credibility of the word “flimsy”:
“The term ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhood’ does not convey the ultimate objective of removing extraneous traffic from local access streets … Hence the move from the term ‘LTNs’ to ‘Croydon Healthy Neighbourhoods’”.
This is not a rebranding, but a dilution. It’s not leadership, but capitulation. The paper passed by Croydon’s Traffic Management Advisory Committee was very much in the spirit of the COP26 climate summit with which it coincided.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has shown some leadership on investing to reduce car use in our city. Let’s hope whoever becomes Croydon Mayor in May next year shows at least the same leadership to improve local air quality, make our streets safer, and keep us all healthier.
South Norwood resident Andrew Fisher (right) has worked as a trades union official, researcher and writer, and served as Director of Policy of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn from 2015 to 2019. He is the author of The Failed Experiment – and how to build an economy that works
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