Have Lewisham’s Road Closures Made Our Streets a Predators’ Paradise?

There has been much debate of late about the safety of women when walking the streets of London. The following article is written by a resident of Lewisham and gives her views on the subject and the impact of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods:

Over the course of my 40 years spent living on Burnt Ash Hill, I have walked home from the train station or the bus stop after a night out many, many times.   Advice to women who are walking home alone recommends that they should try to stick to well lit, busy streets.  In this regard, I count myself lucky to live where I do because there is always traffic.  This may well give a false sense of security because not every driver will stop if they see an incident happening in the street but there is always the hope that the approach of a car will deter or at least disturb a potential attacker and may lead to someone intervening to prevent something bad happening.  But what is it like to walk at night on the roads that have been closed by Lewisham Council on the pretext of the Covid pandemic?  Their justification is that it will improve the ability to socially distance.   But does it really make the streets safer?

To answer that question, I decided to walk along two streets that have been closed.   Admittedly, when I left home at 6.45pm it was not completely dark, but it was close enough as I didn’t want to be out much later.  Walking down Burnt Ash Hill it was reassuringly busy and crossing over the South Circular and down to the shops where the lights from the shop fronts allowed me to make out the colour of the jacket worn by the man in front of me allowed me a measure of confidence.   This changed when I turned left into Holme Lacey Road.  At the road closed sign, I turned into Dallinger Road.   The further I walked along this road the quieter it became as the traffic noise decreased almost to nothing.   From the start of this road to the end just one car passed me and the family travelling in it parked up and went into their house.   Further along, a woman was collecting her child from the minder.  She got into her car but had to turn around in the road so would not be driving past me.   Just one cyclist rode by.  I emerged and turned right onto Manor Lane and then right onto Holme Lacey Road.  By now, the light had faded, and it was fully dark.  No vehicles passed me there.  I was happy to get back to the bright lights of Burnt Ash Road. 

When I was doing the walk, catching the virus was the last thing on my mind.  I was more concerned with getting out of the closed roads in one piece.  I would not want to do this walk, alone, after catching the last train home. 

Of course, the flip side of living on Burnt Ash Hill is that when lockdown finishes these road closures will once again lead to queues of traffic outside my front door for three to four hours a day.  It is not the virus that will kill me now that I have had the jab.  It is the toxic air that is created by the traffic jams.  In the meantime, potential predators seem to have been given a helping hand for which I am sure they are extremely grateful.

Christine Warwicker

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A Better Deal for Bus Users, Or Is It?

Transport Minister Grant Shapps has announced “A better deal for bus users”. He claims “fill a double-decker with motorists and it’s possible to remove 75 cars from the road”. That is clearly not true on most roads because it does not take into account the density of such traffic. Very few roads see nose to tail bus traffic that would maximise the volume of people carried. Most bus lanes actually carry less people than they would if they were left to carry all traffic because the frequency of buses is low.

Bus traffic has been falling across the UK for some years – for example passenger numbers were down by over 6% in 2018/19. See Reference 1 below. The only part of the country where bus journeys have been rising (until the recent decline caused by the Covid epidemic) is London which accounts for over 50% of all bus journeys. London buses are massively subsidised and congestion on other public transport services such as the underground and on the roads has encouraged usage. The use of concessionary fares such as the Freedom Pass in London has also promoted use at the expense of rising local taxes to pay for them.

Why do people in the rest of the country choose to own and drive cars when a bus would be cheaper? Because buses are not door-to-door services and you have to fit in with their schedules rather than pick your own travel times. Also anyone who uses buses will have experienced the problem of standing in the cold and rain for the next bus only to find it never turns up because it’s been cancelled.

How does Grant Shapps aim to make buses more attractive? By developing a National Bus Strategy and giving hand-outs to bus operators (or “grant funding” as it is euphemistically called).

He also intends to ensure that buses are given priority in new road schemes (i.e. more bus lanes). The Government will be providing taxpayers money to fund such schemes.  

The Government will also provide more funding to assist the purchase of all-electric or hybrid buses so as to improve air quality. This is a positive move as diesel buses are still a major contributor to air pollution, particularly in London and other major cities. While cars have got much cleaner in recent years, buses have not with too many old diesels still in use.

A summary of what is proposed is as follows:

  • National Bus Strategy focussed on passenger priorities.
  • review of £250 million bus service operators grant to ensure it supports the environment and improved passenger journeys.
  • over £20 million investment in bus priority measures in the West Midlands.
  • all new road investments receiving government funding to explicitly address bus priority measures to improve bus journey times and reliability.
  • refreshing the government’s guidance to local authorities to provide up to date advice on prioritising those vehicles which can carry the most people.
  • investing up to £50 million to deliver Britain’s first all-electric bus town or city.
  • improving information for bus passengers through new digital services and at bus stops.
  • challenging industry to deliver a campaign to attract people to buses
  • incentivising multi-operator ticketing with lower fares.
  • trialling new ‘superbus’ network approach to deliver low fare, high frequency services and funding 4-year pilot of a lower fare network in Cornwall.
  • ambition for all buses to accept contactless payment for passenger convenience.
  • £30 million extra bus funding to be paid direct to local authorities to enable them to improve current bus services or restore lost services.
  • £20 million to support demand responsive services in rural and suburban areas.

But it’s worth pointing out that the level of investment and subsidies is still quite trivial in comparison with that spent on rail services (for example £106 billion on building HS2 alone).

Grant Shapps announcement looks like a canard to win political support in some areas rather than something that will have a real impact. Bus users will continue to be the poor relations of other public transport users, and this writer does not see it encouraging people to get out of their cars and onto buses.

Spending money on bus priority measures rather than improving the road network for all vehicle users is simply a mistake. In summary this looks like another misconceived policy from Grant Shapps’ Department rather like the recent encouragement of LTNs.

Roger Lawson

Reference 1. Bus journey statistics: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/bus-statistics

Reference 1. Shapps’ Announcement: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-better-deal-for-bus-users

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Why LTNs are Failing, and Deserve to Do So

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) are still spreading over London but opposition to them is growing. Some have even been removed or substantially reduced already due to local opposition. It’s worth reviewing why they have failed or generated such opposition, and why they are even being installed in the first place.

The support for LTNs comes from a desire to reduce traffic, particularly on residential streets. This is promoted by their supporters as a way to reduce air pollution and to tackle climate change. A number of London councils have declared “climate emergencies” which they say justifies an attack on the use of vehicles, particularly internal combustion driven ones. But this has extended to halting the use of all vehicles which it is argued will  reduce traffic accidents, enable children to play in the streets and encourage people to walk and cycle, thereby making us healthier and live longer.

Even those who own vehicles (about 50% of London households own a car) would like to see less traffic as high traffic levels cause congestion and hence extended journey times. Many residents who own cars want to drive via the shortest and least congested routes possible but don’t want folks from adjacent neighbourhoods driving down their street.

There are undoubtedly good arguments for encouraging healthy life styles not just for your personal benefit but because it reduces the cost of the NHS which we all pay for out of taxes. However the introduction of LTNs as a solution to excessive traffic has followed the law of unintended consequences. Firstly they tend to simply redistribute traffic from minor roads onto surrounding major roads. Those roads become more congested and as the traffic is slow moving or stationary, it creates more air pollution for residents of those roads not less.

LTNs do not reduce the demand for travel. They might encourage the use of walking or cycling by the healthy and young cohort of the population but there is very little evidence of a significant change in the habits of existing car drivers. In other words, the claimed “modal shift” generated by “modal filters” and such like is frequently a mirage. The traffic does not “evaporate” as claimed but gets redistributed or delayed as circuitous routes are taken. The elderly and disabled are particularly disadvantaged as they may be unable to walk or cycle far, if at all. But their needs are frequently ignored by council planners who tend to be young and unsympathetic – indeed the Equalities Act which protects minorities is often not properly considered.

Of course it does depend to some extent on how well designed is an LTN. It has been long standing practice to close some minor roads to avoid excessive traffic which should be on major roads. At least that is the theory but in London even major roads are commonly roads on which people live in apartments, i.e. they are residential roads also.

Other roads such as major shopping “high streets” have been pedestrianised to the advantage of shoppers and retailers. This writer certainly has no objection to such measures which remove traffic to other roads as long as the needs of the disabled are taken into account.

Although overall vehicle ownership and traffic volumes have actually not been rising in London in the last few years, the closure of roads, the addition of cycle and bus lanes, and other measures such as removal of gyratories, more traffic lights with reduced timings and more pedestrian crossings have resulted in more congestion. The growth of ride hailing apps such as Uber have also contributed to more congestion in some parts of the capital.

The population of London has been rising rapidly, encouraged by Mayors of all political complexions. This has put more pressure on transport and on housing provision. Even public transport has become heavily congested while buses are delayed and become less attractive to use by the traffic congestion. The rise of deliveries of internet orders by LGVs has also increased markedly leading to higher use of minor roads which has also been supported by the use of Satnavs.

What can actually be done that would really reduce traffic in London and cut air pollution? Here are some more realistic ideas:

  • Reducing air pollution by obstructing traffic (a typical focus of LTNs) simply does not work. The solution is to produce vehicles that generate less pollution. In fact this is well on the way to being achieved by Government regulation and taxation, and by improved diesel/petrol engines.
  • Reducing the population of London would relieve the problem of traffic congestion, public transport congestion and housing insufficiency. Why does no politician advocate it?
  • Investing in expanding and improving the road network would also help while putting in LTNs does the opposite.

Note that none of those measures will actually do anything about climate change, whether you believe in man-made global warming or not. The contribution of road transport to CO2 emissions globally is only 18% and is falling while emissions from aircraft and shipping is rising. Meanwhile other sources such as home/office heating, industrial processes and construction are very big contributors. These emissions do of course directly relate to population levels so that’s another reason for reducing the population.

But global emissions are dominated by the big and populous countries such as the USA, China, India and Russia. The UK only contributes about 1%. So when local councillors such as Councillor Scott in Croydon suggest we are all doomed unless we cut vehicle use, he needs to go tell it to Joe Biden et al. 

The UK is already focussed on achieving net-zero carbon emissions and is well ahead of other countries in that objective. But whether it is economically practical to achieve that, or wise to even aim for it, has yet to be confirmed. But it is certainly the case that putting in LTNs in local boroughs will have absolutely no impact on the outcome.

Regrettably many local councillors seem to think they got elected to save the world rather than sticking to their job of listening to their local electorate and improving their borough by practical steps. Even central Government politicians have fallen into this trap, hence the encouragement with funding from Grant Shapps, Transport Minister, for LTNs.

In the meantime all LTNs are doing is creating enormous inconvenience for many of London’s residents to no purpose. It’s like a religion where supporters of LTNs claim benefits which are unproven but they think all you need to do is believe in them and the world will be a better place. No it will not be.

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Streetspace Plan for Bishopsgate Overturned in High Court

There has been an important judgement in the High Court after a Judicial Review was launched by taxi drivers. They challenged the blocking of Bishopsgate in the City of London (the A10) to taxi drivers by the use of a “bus gate”. Mrs Justice Lang declared the Traffic Order used was unlawful.

This is the press release issued by the High Court on the judgement:

– The Streetspace for London Plan and associated Guidance failed to recognise the distinct status of taxis as an important form of accessible public transport,

– The Streetspace Plan, associated Guidance and A10 Bishopsgate Traffic Order breached licensed taxi drivers1 legitimate expectation to be allowed to use bus lanes to ply for hire effectively across London,

– There was a failure to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty under the 2010 Equality Act and account for needs of passengers with protected characteristics,

– The Mayor and TfL took advantage of the pandemic to push through ‘‘radical changes”’.

– The “‘decisions were not a rational response to the issues which arose as a result of the COVID.

<END>

The Court has now ordered that the Streetspace Plan, Interim Guidance to Boroughs and the A10 Bishopsgate Traffic Order be quashed following the judgement. Justice Lang called the measures an “ill-considered response” to the pandemic including radical changes and it was clear that “the Mayor and TfL intended these schemes would become permanent, once the temporary orders expired”.

Comment: The Streetspace Plan was used by TfL to introduce numerous road closures including Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) and such measures as cycle lanes without prior public consultation across many parts of London. It was very clear that this had nothing to do with the pandemic at all but was simply being used to bring in such measures quickly and without consultation.

Although this judgement specifically relates to the challenge by taxi drivers it could have wider implications as similar legal challenges are being mounted for several LTNs (a hearing is taking place on the 2nd of February in the High Court on those). The failure to properly recognise the needs of the disadvantaged under the Equality Act is particularly significant, and the failure to give due regard to the network management duty imposed by section 16 of the 2004 Traffic Management Act. It seems likely that Mayor Khan will appeal this judgement, using taxpayers’ money to do so of course.

It’s worth saying that the last time I walked down Bishopsgate before the pandemic hit on a hot summer day, the level of air pollution was such as to noticeably affect my lungs. But the main cause was clearly the long queue of almost stationary diesel buses on the road. To ban all vehicles except buses was totally irrational. Bishopsgate is a very important route for traffic to access parts of the City now that Bank junction has been closed.

The judicial review was submitted on behalf of the UNITED TRADE ACTION GROUP LIMITED and the LICENSED TAXI DRIVERS ASSOCIATION LIMITED, and their solicitors were Chiltern Law.

Chiltern Law Comments: https://www.chilternlaw.com/tfl-every-journey-matters-unless-you-are-a-taxi/

Full legal judgement: https://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/format.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2021/72.html&query=(UTAG)+AND+(LTDA)

Roger Lawson

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Ella Kissi-Debrah Inquest and the South Circular

The Coroner on the reopened inquest into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah has delivered a verdict that says air pollution “made a material contribution” to her death. This decision has been long awaited, and indeed campaigned for, by those opposed to air pollution, particularly from vehicles.

Was the verdict surprising? I suggest not because it is well known that high air pollution can trigger and exacerbate asthma attacks, particularly in those sensitive to such events.

Ella Kissi-Debrah lived about 30 metres from the South Circular (A205) in Lewisham. This is a road that is often congested and is one of the few roads around the south of London and hence is used by many HGVs, buses and numerous other vehicles. Air pollution is obviously very high as a result along the road and no doubt nearby. The coroner’s verdict that air pollution contributed to the child’s death is not unreasonable. But Ella Kissi-Debrah seems to have had a long history of health problems that compounded her difficulties. Using this death as grounds for generalisations on the effects of air pollution on the population would not be wise.

This is a road that has not been fit for purpose for at least 50 years. This writer has been avoiding it for that length of time ever since I have lived in South-East London. There has been an abject failure by bodies such as TfL and the boroughs through which the road runs (including Lewisham) to improve the road and tackle the congestion which is a prime cause of the high air pollution.

Whether air pollution generally in London is a major threat to public health at its current levels is another matter altogether, however much campaigners on this issue promote the coroner’s verdict. With vehicles getting cleaner, while air pollution from other sources has been rising in London, simplistic analysis would be wrong. People have actually been living longer in general but it still makes sense to tackle the worse air pollution hot-spots.

Unfortunately Lewisham Council have actually made matters worse on the South Circular by closing roads under the banner of “Low Traffic Neighbourhoods”. This has diverted traffic from side roads onto the main roads including the South Circular, making it even more clogged up for most of the day. Ms Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, Ella’s mother, has complained about these actions and was quoted in the Times as saying “lots and lots of people live in these roads that are already gridlocked. And lots of children that live in these areas have respiratory issues. Is it morally right to add more traffic to those roads? We have to ask that question”.

In conclusion, as someone who has suffered from asthma in the past, let me say that cleaning up the worst locations on London’s roads for air pollution should be a high priority. Asthma is very unpleasant even in mild forms, and although treatments have improved in recent years, deaths from asthma can exceed 1,000 in a year in the UK.

There are several ways to reduce air pollution in high locations but certainly one of them is to ensure that roads have adequate capacity for the demand imposed on them.

Postscript: The Coroner’s verdict was widely misreported, including the BBC saying that air pollution was “the cause of her death” on TV News, implying it was the sole cause. The Coroner actually said that he intended to record “air pollution exposure” as a third cause of death in addition to acute respiratory failure and severe asthma. But he did criticise the authorities for failing to take action on excessive air pollution. Sadiq Khan made his usual political point by blaming his predecessor for lack of action on air pollution, but one might just as well blame Ken Livingstone and the Government before the GLA was formed because the problems on the South Circular go back many years.

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Petrol and Diesel Cars Face Extinction

After being preceded by numerous leaks, the Government has finally announced that it is bringing forward the date when sales of new petrol and diesel powered cars are banned to 2030 (see Reference 1 for details). The only exception is that sales of hybrid vehicles will be permitted until 2035. In practice such vehicles will go the same way as the dinosaurs, facing extinction in a few years’ time.

That will not stop such vehicles already purchased from being used after those dates but they may be discouraged in other ways of course (such as by the ULEZ in London).

This is what Allistair Heath (who described himself as “a convert” to electric cars) said in the Daily Telegraph: “The green agenda has triumphed, in the sense that cultural, political, educational and corporate elites, in the US, UK and every European country, are all in favour of decarbonisation. Opponents have been routed, with almost no chance of a way back”. He’s definitely right in that regard. There has been no cost/benefit analysis of these proposals or rational justification given. It’s all about cutting air pollution and saving the planet regardless of the negative consequences of these moves.

To start with the Government is spending £1.8 billion to support the charging infrastructure and other measures required by electrification of all vehicles. That will come out of your taxes. This is far from a trivial matter. In London and other major UK cities one big problem is that many households do not have off-street parking so there will need to be kerbside charging points installed in many streets.

The car industry, one of the major UK exporters, will have to adapt to only producing electric vehicles and much faster than they expected. They may be able to cope with that but will it damage their export capability? Nobody seems to have looked at that issue. The Government says it will create 40,000 extra jobs by 2030, particularly in our manufacturing heartlands of the North East and across the Midlands, but that seems to be very unlikely to be the case. These will not be new jobs surely, just replacing existing ones.

This is what Lord Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, had to say about the new “Green revolution”: “If the Government were trying to damage the economy, they couldn’t be doing it better. Moreover, the job creation mantra is economically illiterate. A programme to erect statues of Boris in every town and village in the land would also ‘create jobs’ but that doesn’t make it a sensible thing to do.”

Does the public demand cuts in air pollution? It was interesting to read some of the response to our recent survey of Lewisham residents where 13% said they suffered from medical conditions as a result of air pollution in their local street. Some of them might be suffering from more pollution because of the closed roads in Lewisham though and it’s worth pointing out that the majority of air pollution in the borough comes from other sources than transport (see Reference 2). In reality diesel and petrol cars contribute only 12% and 6% respectively of all emissions in London and they are falling rapidly. See Reference 3.

But a survey by London Councils reported that “The vast majority of Londoners (82%) are concerned about climate change with half of concerned respondents going further saying they are very concerned (40%). Over half of respondents (52%) feel their day-to-day life in London had been impacted by climate change”. Many years of scaremongering over climate change has clearly brainwashed the general public into believing it’s a major threat to their life. The metropolitan elites who can afford to buy electric vehicles (which currently cost a lot more than diesel/petrol ones) can salve their consciences by buying electric vehicles despite the fact that they will have minimal impact on overall levels of air pollution while UK emissions from all sources contribute only 1% to global CO2 emissions and hence cannot have any significant impact.

Will the public accept the ban on the sale of new diesel/electric vehicles and cope with it? Based on public opinion, they are likely to accept it and in reality, with a few exceptions they should be able to cope.

By 2035, electric vehicles are likely to be cheaper and also have longer range, and older vehicles will still be able to be used. If charging points are much more common as they should be in a few years, that will lessen the problems. But there are two problem areas:

Those vehicle owners with no off-street parking might find charging their vehicles problematic. And those who wish to own motorhomes or tow caravans will find electric vehicles have very short ranges.

In summary, the Government’s announcement will impose major costs on people, and on the economy while having little real impact in reality on air pollution or global warming. However, the encouragement of electric vehicles does make sense in some ways but that is already being done by taxation, by subsidies and by measures such as zero emission streets in problem areas in London.

Putting a sharp deadline on sales of some vehicles, particularly hybrid ones in 2035, just seems somewhat irrational when the dangers of air pollution have been grossly exaggerated and there will be significant problems in making the change for some people. More attention needs to be paid to other sources of air pollution and one of the major factors that has caused increases in that is the growth of the population, an issue few politicians seem to want to tackle. Air pollution directly relates to population numbers and density and London is a good example of the negative consequences of allowing unlimited population growth.

Reference 1: DfT Announcement: https://tinyurl.com/y2l4xhcw

Reference 2: Air pollution in Lewisham: https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2020/03/04/air-pollution-in-lewisham/

Reference 3: ABD Publication: Air Quality and Vehicles: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/Air-Quality-and-Vehicles-The-Truth.pdf  

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More School Streets, Streetspace Consultation, MPs on TV and Travel Statistics

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, is promoting the installation of even more “School Streets” where roads are closed during rush hours to cut pollution. Such closures are typically enforced by cameras, providing another source of revenue to local councils.

Already 430 have been funded with 300 now installed. By 2019 there were actually very few schools remaining where there were illegal levels of pollution. Were these reductions down to the implementation of school streets? Probably not because air pollution blows around and it’s more likely that general improvements in vehicle technology and the ULEZ scheme made the biggest impacts. 

The ABD certainly supports the encouragement of drivers on the school run to use other transport modes (such as children walking to school) but closing roads actually prejudices other road users who have legitimate reasons to be on the roads. Some roads where there are good alternative routes might be closed without too much prejudice but in other cases they are unreasonable. They have been introduced in boroughs such as Lewisham without proper consultation with local residents.

See Reference 1 below for details.

Streetspace Consultation

Numerous “Streetspace” schemes are being installed across London in boroughs such as Bromley, Camden, City of London,  Croydon, Greenwich, Hackney, Haringey, Hounslow, Islington, Kensington & Chelsea, Lambeth, Lewisham, Merton, Richmond, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth and Westminster. They typically involve reallocating road space as the name suggests, with road closures, and more cycle lanes being common aspects.

Transport for London (TfL) have now launched a public consultation on these schemes that anyone can respond to. See https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/general/streetspace-for-london/consultation/

PLEASE RESPOND.

MPs Debate Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

On the 12th November ITV ran a programme called the “Late Debate” which included Janet Daby (M.P. for Lewisham East) and David Simmonds (M.P. for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner). They covered the controversy over Low Traffic Neighbourhoods but did not take a strong position against them unfortunately despite the many complaints they have generated. They both ducked the problems they create to a large extent. But you may want to watch it to see what your M.P. is saying if you live in those constituencies. See Reference 2 below.

Cycling Revolution Not Happening and the Impact on TfL

The Department for Transport (DfT) have published some statistics on travel mode usage since the Covid-19 epidemic hit – see Reference 3 below.

It shows there was a significant increase in April this year and during the summer months, but has now fallen back to more normal lower levels.

It also shows how transport on the Underground and Buses in London was decimated in the early stages of the epidemic and remains at very low levels. Hence the financial difficulties of TfL.

But the Government is about to throw another £175 million at active travel schemes (i.e. more for cycling). The only caveat is that local councils will have to do more consultation or they may lose future funding.

Reference 1: Mayor’s Statement on School Streets: https://tinyurl.com/y3eu5ck4

Reference 2: ITV London Debate:  https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=421993052295871  

Reference 3: DfT Travel Statistics: https://tinyurl.com/yd9xoqss

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The LTN, Air Pollution and Climate Emergency in Lewisham

The justification for the Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) scheme in Lewisham was spelled out by Mayor Damien Egan in his webinar on the 22ndOctober (see https://tinyurl.com/LTNResidentsMeeting to watch a recording).

He said that the reasons the LTN was proposed was to a) Improve Air Quality; b) Making streets safer by reducing car journeys; and c) Making it easier to walk and cycle. He also said “road traffic is the number one cause of toxic air and toxic air kills”. Unfortunately he is wrong in several respects.

Toxic air is usually judged to be based on the level of particulates (dust) in the air and the level of nitrous oxides (NOX), although there is some debate as to whether NOX (mainly NO2) is actually damaging to health. Particulates, namely PM 2.5, are the major concern and to quote from the report in Reference 1 below “Road transport accounts for around a quarter of PM2.5 in London, with a large proportion also coming from construction, wood burning and commercial cooking”.

The ABD covered the issue of the contribution of vehicles to air quality in a report we published two years ago – see Reference 2. The Conclusion in that report said this:

“In conclusion, let it be clear that the ABD is supportive of improving air quality in the UK, particularly in urban areas and on particular roads where transport is a major generator of emissions. But there is no public health crisis and measures to improve air quality should be both reasonable and moderate. According to a recent report from Defra, since 1970 NOx emissions have fallen by 72% and Particulates (PM2.5) by 79%. The hysteria about air pollution is wrongly being used to generate tax revenues to local government (e.g. the ULEZ in London and similar proposals for other UK cities) without any justification in terms of cost/benefits. The likely improvement in air quality that will result will be unlikely to be noticed by residents because it will simply be too small and it will have no significant long-term impact on health”.

Even if you consider NOX to be of concern as a lot of it does come from transport, in practice LTNs mainly affect car users while the majority of NOX comes from buses and commercial vehicles – only 33% comes from petrol or diesel cars – see Reference 3 for the data from 2013 and it’s probably considerably less now.

Does “toxic air” kill, as the Mayor said? In reality it is very unlikely that the level of air pollution in Lewisham kills anyone at all. If you live on one of the worst streets for air pollution such as on the “A” roads where there is heavy traffic (particularly HGVs and buses), it is possible that life expectancy might be shortened by a few days. But you are likely to experience more exposure to particulates from domestic cooking and heating than from road transport. The exposure of smokers is also many times worse. Your life expectancy is most dependent on your lifestyle, domestic and work environments, not on background air pollution.

The Mayor also suggested that the streets would be safer if car journeys were reduced but diverting the journeys to main roads as the LTN is doing is not going to help. The accidents will move also to roads where higher speeds may be present. There is no evidence that overall road casualties will reduce by such an approach. In practice LTNs do not reduce car journeys significantly if a wider area is considered – they just divert journeys to longer routes.

As regards the comment that the LTN will make it easier to walk and cycle, there is no obvious problem in using either of those modes in the LTN and reducing traffic will not assist.     

Another justification given in the webinar for the LTN was by CEO Kim Wright who said it supported the Climate Emergency Strategic Action Plan adopted by the Borough – see Reference 4. Many Lewisham Councillors clearly believe they are helping to save the world from global warming by cutting CO2 emissions. Without getting into a debate on the science of global warming, you can see how futile that is in terms of actions possible by the London Borough of Lewisham by considering this data:

Lewisham emitted 805,000 tonnes of CO2 in 2017/2018 which is 0.2% of UK emissions of 354 million tonnes in 2019. The UK proportion of world emissions is about 1%, so Lewisham’s contribution to world emissions is 0.2% of 1%, i.e. 0.002%. The UK is taking vigorous actions to reduce overall emissions while countries such as China (28% of world emissions) are still building hundreds of coal-fired power plants. Any actions by Lewisham will have negligible impact on emissions in the UK let alone the world, and actions to tackle excessive CO2 emissions should be taken at a national level where it can be most effective.

In fact LTNs are unlikely to have any impact on CO2 emissions for another reason. Over 50% of CO2 emissions arise in housing – mainly domestic heating, and only 14.7% arise from cars.

In summary the main reason for the introduction of LTNs in Lewisham given by the Mayor of Lewisham simply do not stand up to scrutiny. The dogma about the need to reduce vehicles on our roads is not only unjustifiable on any cost/benefit analysis, it is simply unjustifiable full stop.

This virtue signalling by Lewisham councillors is imposing enormous inconvenience and costs on Lewisham residents that cannot be justified. Journey times have increased enormously, while air pollution on roads that already had high levels has clearly worsened.

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods do not solve anything and are based on irrational opposition to the use of vehicles which the world has come to rely on.

Roger Lawson

Reference 1: Air Pollution Monitoring Data in London: https://tinyurl.com/y57nucz9

Reference 2: Air Quality and Vehicles: The Truth: https://tinyurl.com/yx9bk9kg

Reference 3: Lewisham Air Quality Action Plan (2016-2021): https://tinyurl.com/y2n684bz

Reference 4; Lewisham Climate Emergency Strategic Action Plan: https://tinyurl.com/y34bwcnj

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Extremism in Southwark

The London Borough of Southwark held a cabinet committee meeting last night (20/10/2020). One of the items on the agenda (Item 8) for discussion was petitions that have been submitted about the road closures in Dulwich. There were two petitions considered – the first one which collected 2,475 signatures asked for the immediate removal of the road closures while the second one which supported the closures received 29 signatures. One would have thought that was a pretty conclusive view of public opinion in Dulwich.

Councillor Catherine Rose who is responsible for “Leisure, Environment and Roads” spoke in support of the closures. Her speech was full of platitudes about the need to tackle climate change and reduce air pollution.

The problem that the closures of roads such as Burbage will prevent east-west travel in Dulwich and divert traffic onto the South Circular is being ignored. Businesses in Dulwich village are clearly being adversely affected. It seems unlikely that the closures will be removed soon, if ever.

Item 22 on the agenda was consideration of a report on Air Quality and the recommendations therein. These include:

A – The roll-out of a School Streets programme (i.e. timed road closures near schools).

B – To “drive down” total private vehicle usage by 2030 so that only a few electric vehicles remain.

C – To lobby for expansion of the ULEZ not just to the South Circular but wider – as far as the M25.

D – To increase the cost of car parking, and reduce parking provision by 50%.

E – To implement Low Traffic Neighbourhoods borough wide.

F – To lobby for the introduction of road user charging by the GLA.

These measures, if adopted, will mean the death of the use of motor vehicles in Southwark. Southwark is of course a large borough which stretches from central London to Dulwich in the south. Some parts are much better covered by public transport than others. The needs of those who rely on motor vehicles, or the preferences of those who live in the wealthier parts of the borough are simply being ignored. Those people too old to cycle or walk far are advised to leave the borough, sooner or later.

It is in summary a good example of the extremism that is now pervading the councils of some London boroughs.

You can watch the Cabinet Meeting on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/user/southwarkcouncil

Or read the agenda and supporting documents here: http://moderngov.southwark.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=302&MId=6663

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Does Closing Roads Reduce Air Pollution and Improve Health?

The Alliance of British Drivers has long argued that there is way too much scaremongering about the impact on people’s health of air pollution. We published a paper two years ago (see Reference 1 below) that in summary said that we believe it is not a major health crisis but simply a major health scare fed to a gullible public by a few politicians and by journalists wanting a story. We also criticised the relative contribution of vehicles to existing air pollution. Most air pollution arises from home and office heating, building and industrial activities and from home activities such as cooking and smoking.

Is there actually a public health crisis? The simple answer is NO. The evidence does not support such claims. In reality air quality has been steadily improving and will continue to do so from technical improvements to heating and vehicles. Meanwhile life expectancy has been increasing. There is no public health crisis!

The Covid-19 epidemic has given a great opportunity to see the likely impact of removing cars and other vehicles from the roads as businesses closed down and home working spread like wildfire.

The Daily Mail (see Reference 2) has reported on a study by Stirling University with the headlines: “Decline in vehicle use in lockdown had no impact on reducing toxic particle emissions and suggests traffic is ‘not a key contributor to air pollution” and “It found no significant fall in harmful toxic particulate matter – known as PM2.5” based on roadside measurements. That was despite a 65% fall in traffic.

Particulates are more dangerous than NOX and as people spent more time at home, they may have increased their exposure to them. But it is clear that removing vehicles from the roads does not cut particulate emissions.  Although NO2 levels fell, which mainly come from transport, the Mail article suggests that might cut attributable deaths but in reality there is no certainty about the impact of NOX emissions on life expectancy and it may be a totally spurious claim.

The ABD also recently debunked the alleged claim linking asthma to NOX emissions. There are a number of possible causes for asthma and very poor air conditions (worse than generally experienced) can trigger or exacerbate attacks, but one has to be very careful about a specific linkage – see Reference 3.

Life expectancy data tells us that there is no air pollution health crisis – see another article published by the ABD in Reference 4. But London boroughs such as Lewisham argue we have to remove vehicles from our streets as a matter of urgency – see Reference 5 for Lewisham air quality data.

A lot of published data on air quality and sources of air pollution are out of date as road transport has rapidly changed as vehicles are replaced. Less than 50% of air pollution in London now comes from vehicles and stopping private cars will have minimal impact as most vehicle emissions come from buses and goods vehicles.

Another problem is that much of London’s air pollution blows in from outside the metropolis. According to London Councils (see the report in Reference 6), 75% of particulates actually originate from elsewhere.

In summary, closing roads to reduce vehicles in London generally, and in boroughs such as Lewisham specifically, based on a claimed need to reduce vehicle emission makes no sense at the present time. The recent epidemic impact when vehicles were much reduced shows that there was nil or minimal impact on air quality so it would be a pointless exercise.

In reality the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods introduced in boroughs such as Lewisham has diverted traffic onto main roads and created more traffic congestion. It also means longer routes have to be driven and traffic piles up on residential roads (see photo of Horncastle Road above). Overall air quality has surely been made worse as is clear from residents’ comments on the impact. These “experiments” to cut traffic should be abandoned now!

Reference 1: Air Quality and Vehicles – The Truth: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/Air-Quality-and-Vehicles-The-Truth.pdf

Reference 2: Daily Mail article: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/money/cars/article-8710499/Decline-vehicle-journeys-lockdown-did-NOT-reduce-emissions-toxic-particles.html

Reference 3: Epidemiological Fallacy on Asthma and Nitrogen Dioxide: https://www.abd.org.uk/press-release-scare-pollution-the-latest-epidemiological-fallacy-on-asthma-and-nitrogen-dioxide/

Reference 4: Life expectancy data: https://www.abd.org.uk/life-expectancy-data-no-air-pollution-health-crisis/

Refence 5: Lewisham air quality data:  https://lewisham.gov.uk/myservices/environment/air-pollution/read-our-air-quality-action-plan-and-other-reports

Reference 6: London Council’s Report “Demystifying Air Pollution in London”: https://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/node/33224

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