Air Quality in Lewisham

One of the big topical issues in London is air quality, particularly as there is an allegation that the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) that have been introduced have made air pollution worse.

One of the justifications for introducing LTNs including road closures in boroughs such as Lewisham was the need to improve air quality. However it is alleged that the diversion of traffic onto main roads has actually made matters worse in some locations.

Lewisham has now published a Draft Air Quality Action Plan which is now open to public consultation (see link below). It gives some more data on the air pollution issue and what the council plans to do on this subject in 2022-2027. It’s well worth reading and commenting on by Lewisham residents and is probably typical of many other London boroughs.

Some comments before you respond to the consultation: This report and the associated consultation contain a mass of data and a few recommendations, but the information is hardly presented in a clear way. It is hardly the kind of document that an uninformed general member of the public will find digestible. I will try to pick out some of the salient points.

Firstly is there an air quality problem in Lewisham that is affecting the health of the general population? That’s opposed to those such as Ella Kissi-Debrah who was the subject of a recent inquest (i.e. the particularly vulnerable or suffering from other medical conditions), or children.

The report says: “An assessment of air quality in Lewisham has shown a decreasing trend in the levels of two pollutants, nitrogen dioxide (NO²)) and particulate matter (PM) in recent years. However more needs to be done to meet the guidelines set out by the World Health Organisation”. The report repeatedly refers to WHO guidelines which are not the legal limits set by EU and UK regulations (see link below). The WHO limits are much lower and are not necessarily those justifiable by scientific data on health impacts.

The report emphasises the health effects of exposure to nitrous oxides (NO2) despite the fact that there is no clear consensus on the long-term impacts of NO2 – see the latest COMEAP report from the Government Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (see link below). However it does say that “On average, annual mean NO2 concentrations at both roadside and urban background monitoring locations have decreased between 2014 and 2020 by an average of 42% and 37% respectively”. You can see the trend in NO2 emissions in Lewisham in the chart above.

Particulates (PM2.5 and PM10, particularly the former) are probably more of concern although here again Lewisham is within UK legal limits where the air quality is measured. Similarly here also the trend has been falling. It is difficult to see from the report that air quality is a substantial problem in Lewisham so far as health impacts are concerned. The data is not there to show that.

The air quality has clearly been improving in the last few years, but this is not obviously down to any actions by the local council but from changes to the vehicle fleet, central government regulations, improved heating systems, etc.

However the Council has clearly taken up the public clamour by attempts to reduce car use, making walking and cycling the preferred choice of travel, reducing children’s exposure by such measures as School Streets, and of course the LTNs.

Page 3 of the council’s report attempts to provide further justification by mixing up air quality and the council’s response to the alleged “climate emergency” as if improving NO2 or PM will have any impact on climate, when the latter is allegedly more related to CO2 emissions. There is no such link.

The council is adopting targets to reduce PM2.5 despite the fact that much of those pollutants come from outside the borough – indeed outside of London, even outside of the UK altogether, over which the council has no control.

The council’s proposals for action include an expansion in monitoring activities (more diffusion tubes to monitor NO2 and new PM2.5 monitors) and raising public awareness by more social media activity. They also propose:

  1. Reducing pollution in and around schools and extending school audits to other schools in polluted areas.
  2. Enforcing the Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) Low Emission Zone.
  3. Promoting and enforcing Smoke Control Zones.
  4. Promoting and delivering energy efficiency retrofitting projects in workplaces and homes.
  5. Installing Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) infrastructure.  
  6. Improving walking and cycling infrastructure
  7. Regular Car Free days/temporary road closures in high footfall areas.
  8. Reducing emissions from Council fleets.

Some of these measures may be beneficial but how much so is unclear.

In summary this report from Lewisham Council is a typical one. Policies are proposed with no clear cost/benefit justification and no obvious measures of success. Just as with the Lee Green LTN, there is no clear outcome that will indicate whether the scheme is a success and justify the expenditure on implementation.

Neither will it satisfy Lewisham residents who are being affected by worse air pollution because there are no specific actions proposed to tackle their complaints (for example air pollution near the South Circular).

Even the proposed actions are unspecific and the on-line consultation form asks wishy-washy questions rather than specific ones. Do Lewisham residents, or their visitors, actually support “car-free” days for example?

But residents should certainly respond to the consultation.

UK and EU Air Quality Limits: https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/air-pollution/uk-eu-limits

COMEAP https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/committee-on-the-medical-effects-of-air-pollutants-comeap

Air Quality and Vehicles: FFDF Report: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/Air-Quality-and-Vehicles-The-Truth.pdf

Lewisham Air Quality Consultation: https://lewisham.gov.uk/airqualityconsultation

Roger Lawson

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Lewisham Cancels School Streets with No Schools Idea

Lewisham Council has been introducing “School Streets” recently, i.e. timed closures around schools. This was apparently to overcome the objections to the road closures such as in the Lee Green LTN which has been causing much worse traffic congestion. As there seemed to be some public support for School Streets, the Council then decided to introduce “School Streets” into roads where there were no schools. This was probably aimed at reducing through traffic.

But they have now reconsidered. They now say: “After careful consideration, and having listened to the feedback we received, we will not go ahead with the proposals. The feedback was mixed, with some strongly in favour and some strongly opposed to the approach”.

Comment: It is good that they have back-tracked on this which was an unethical way of sneaking in road closures.

They are also promising a public consultation shortly, which they say will be widely publicised, in the Lewisham and Lee Green Low Traffic LTN. But why is it taking so long? And it’s never a very good idea to do public consultations in the middle of summer for obvious reasons.

See https://lewishamcovidresidentialstreets.commonplace.is/news/ltn-consultation-june-2021? for more details.

Roger Lawson

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LTNs Are Not Popular

The promised survey of residents that was planned to take place in December in Lewisham has been abandoned. It will now be combined with a full public consultation in March, so residents of the borough will have to put up with current road closures for many more months.

But Lewisham Council have published a lot of information recently on Commonplace about the data they have collected so far including the opinions posted on Commonplace. See https://lewishamcovidresidentialstreets.commonplace.is/proposals/lewisham-lee-green-ltn-monitoring for the voluminous data.

The chart above shows that there is clearly a large majority of residents who do not wish the LTN scheme to be made permanent. So much for the claims that LTNs are popular with residents!

Roger Lawson

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Make Lee Green and Croydon Committee Review of LTN

It has come to my attention that a leaflet has been circulated in Lewisham by an organisation (or one person) called “Make Lee Green”. It argues that Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) are a big part of the solution to make “A safer, healthier, more sustainable Lewisham”. It then quotes some very selective and misleading statistics.

For example it says “80% of journeys in London will be made by foot, bike or public transport by 2041”. That may be the Mayor of London’s objectives as published in his Mayor’s Transport Strategy a couple of year’s ago but the chance of this happening is very low. The recent trends tell us that the Mayor is nowhere near on target to achieve that. For outer London boroughs it is very unlikely to be met. For example, for the whole of London, before the pandemic hit, the figure was just over 60% but with lockdown measures continuing, the overall “active, efficient and sustainable” mode share – public transport, walking and cycling – could in fact be “the lowest seen in London since the early 2000’s, and not be back at 2019 levels until well into 2021″, the latest report concludes (see links below).

A lot of the journeys are by bus and how are buses more sustainable than cars? They are not, and bus users are not participating in active travel and neither are they necessarily “efficient” if people have to go on round about routes to reach their destinations.

Overall traffic volumes have actually been falling in London in recent years, particularly car trips, but LGV and PHV trips have increased as more people use internet shopping and more people use services such as Uber. These both tend to be trips on minor roads to access local premises and homes, but LTNs do not remove those trips.

So who is publishing and circulating these misleading Make Lee Green leaflets? There is no name and address on the leaflet and neither is there any on their associated web site, where they are even using a proxy service to conceal the identity of the web site owners. In summary the leaflets are simply a piece of distorted propaganda from someone who prefers to remain anonymous. Is it more than one person? We should be told.

OnLondon Travel Report: https://www.onlondon.co.uk/latest-travel-in-london-report-details-extent-of-covids-impact-on-capitals-transport/

Travel in London Survey: https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2019/12/27/travel-in-london-survey-how-its-being-made-more-difficult/

Croydon Committee Review of LTN

I mentioned previously the report on the LTN in the Crystal Palace and South Norwood area of Croydon. It was discussed by the Traffic Management Advisory Committee last night (12/1/2021). Ian Plowright, Head of Transport, gave a very misleading summary of the report and the new proposals to convert the LTN to an “experimental” scheme using ANPR cameras to enforce. Eliska Finlay, representing “Open our roads” gave a good speech in support of scrapping the LTN altogether (see https://webcasting.croydon.gov.uk/meetings/11439 for a recording of the meeting).

The views of committee members were 2 in support of the ANPR scheme but 3 were against. It will now depend on decisions by the Chair of the Committee and others. But there is a good chance the whole scheme will be abandoned. That is particularly bearing in mind that the funding of an ANPR scheme will require approval of funding by both TfL and the DfT which may not be forthcoming.

In summary this was an ill-conceived scheme which has had very negative consequences for residents of that part of Croydon but also in neighbouring boroughs, particularly Bromley. It should be scrapped as soon as possible.

The public survey responses were quite clear. The LTN scheme in Croydon is not wanted. No doubt Lewisham residents would say the same thing if they were asked about their LTN, as would residents in other London boroughs who have been suffering the consequences of these ill-thought out schemes.

Roger Lawson

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London Opposition to LTNs, Lewisham Council Meeting, Commonplace and Ealing Opposed to LTNs

There are now multiple campaigns all over London opposing Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). See this web page for a list of some of them (if you know of more please let me know so we can add to the list): https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/london-road-closures.htm . They show how anger is growing against the road closures which have been counterproductive in so many ways.

Lewisham Council Meeting

There was a meeting of Lewisham Council’s Overview and Business Scrutiny Panel on the 24th November. They finally got around to discussing the Report on the “Temporary measures to support safer talking and cycling in response to the Covid 19 pandemic”, i.e. the report on the Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) introduced in Lee Green and Lewisham. But it is of course a misnomer as this was a scheme planned well before the epidemic hit and it has nothing to do with the epidemic at all.

You can actually watch a recording of the meeting (see Ref. 1 below) but you would not find it particularly revealing (Item 4 is about 58 minutes in).

The Chairman and other speakers blamed the Government for the timescale imposed to implement the measures which meant there was no time for public consultation. But it is important to note that the Council did not have to take the money or implement the schemes as they have done! It was their choice to do so.

It is clear the Council hopes that the traffic will “evaporate” over time as people get used to the road closures but that is surely a vain hope (note that traffic congestion has certainly reduced in recent weeks but that is because of the lock-down restrictions recently in place with shopping, eating out and visiting friends severely restricted).

There were however some concerns expressed about the use of the Commonplace system as a consultation method, which I cover below in more detail.

Reference 1: Council Overview and Scrutiny Panel Meeting: https://councilmeetings.lewisham.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=121&MId=6060&Ver=4

Commonplace System

The Commonplace system is used by a number of Councils and other organisations as a consultation mechanism, or a “community engagement platform” as they call it. It is a commercial operation which sells its services to councils (see https://www.commonplace.is/ ) and is funded by venture capital.

One of the first London Councils to use it was Waltham Forest and Lewisham have used it more recently to cover their Lee Green LTN scheme (see https://walthamforest.commonplace.is/ and https://lewishamcovidresidentialstreets.commonplace.is/ ).

The system is not an unbiased platform in that typically it is used to promote what a Council is planning to do – and more recently that means after decisions have already been made to implement schemes.

It also has the problem that unlike a conventional public consultation only people who are internet enabled, and are even aware of the platform, can respond. This excludes a large number of people such as the elderly who are not internet connected or don’t spend much time on it. So it tends to be dominated by young activists and those active in local politics, i.e. the comments on it are unrepresentative of the wider population.

How unrepresentative is it? It’s impossible to say because little information is collected on the profile of those who add comments and not even names are shown on the published comments, i.e. people can comment anonymously which is never a good idea.

But it is very clear if you look at the comments published on Lewisham’s LTN that many comments are repetitive and the same comments are made on multiple roads. There seems to be no attempt to stop duplicate comments so the system can be exploited by organised activist groups such as cyclists.

There is no way that Lewisham Council can get a balanced view of the comments received or any statistically useful information. They can pick comments out to justify any stance they wish to take.

Wildly inaccurate comments can also be made on the platform with no “rebuttal” possible – you can only “Agree” with comments, not “Disagree” with them and you cannot comment further in response. Clearly there are many people commenting who are not directly affected, and those that are affected just give very polarised comments. The comments are not helpful in determining a sensible compromise to meet the needs of the majority.

In summary, Commonplace is a system that can be used by Councils to claim they are “listening” to residents when in reality it is not a fair and honest way to collect the views of all residents. It is not an alternative to a proper public consultation and is more designed to promote the views of scheme promoters than collect unbiased information.

DO NOT ACCEPT COMMONPLACE AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO PROPER PUBLIC CONSULTATIONS!

Surveys Give the Truth – Ealing Opposes LTNs

Surveys of residents are more likely to give an unbiased and honest view of LTN schemes. Those undertaken by the LibDems and by us in Lewisham show a very large percentage opposed to road closures. The latest such survey is one done by the Conservative Party in Ealing – see https://www.ealingconservatives.org.uk/news/LTNSurveyResults . As their headline says: “95% of people living in Ealing’s LTN zones want them removed”. The Ealing Commonplace site just shows again how the platform just provides a way for extremists of all kinds to vent their anger rather than provide constructive criticism.

Funds for Legal Action

It is clear that Councils such as Ealing and Lewisham are going to persist with schemes that are opposed by the majority of local residents. As it will be two years before local councillors come up for re-election, and they are unlikely to change their minds in the meantime, the only short-term way to stop the proliferation of road closures under the name of “Low Traffic Neighbourhoods” is to mount a legal challenge.

We believe there are good grounds for a legal challenge to these measures and have looked at the legal issues in some detail and have taken legal advice already. But we do need to raise substantial funds to launch a challenge (thanks to those who have already donated but we need many more people to do so).

PLEASE SUPPORT OUR CAMPAIGN AGAINST ROAD CLOSURES BY GOING HERE TO DONATE: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/legal-fund.htm

Press Release: Growing Opposition to Road Closures

We have issued the following press release:

Opposition to road closures, particularly in London, has been growing. Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) have proved to be anything but and have worsened traffic congestion in the City.

A number of grass-roots campaign groups have sprung into existence to oppose these measures in boroughs such as Lewisham, Lambeth, Islington, Croydon, Ealing, Waltham Forest and several others – see this web page for a list of those known to us:  https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/london-road-closures.htm

They typically have collected thousands of signatures opposing the road closures, and two of them (Croydon and Ealing) have already filed for Judicial Reviews in the High Court.

They have also run public street demonstrations despite the current Covid-19 restrictions which shows the strength of feeling against these schemes.

For example, we have been actively supporting a campaign by local residents in Lewisham where nearly 12,000 people have signed a petition asking for removal of the road closures and proper public consultation on them. The lack of public consultation using the Covid-19 as a spurious excuse has what has particularly angered residents.

You can read more about the Lewisham campaign here: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/lewisham.htm and the many irate comments we have received from residents here: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/Lewisham-Comments-Received.pdf

Campaign Director has commented: “The road closures have been justified on environmental grounds but in reality the closures have meant people have simply driven around them on main roads this emitting more air pollution and damaging the health of people who live on those roads. There has been no modal shift as few people are willing to take up cycling and they have been avoiding public transport during the epidemic. The advocates of these schemes might have had the best of intentions but they have been shown to be abject failures. The dogma that promoted these schemes is still being actively promoted with claims such that traffic will evaporate if roads are closed. But it does not.

Democracy has been thrown out of the window as local councils impose these schemes on the electorate without consultation. Some have backed down and withdrawn the closures but most boroughs are persisting while the Government and TfL support them with new “guidance” and funding. I suggest London boroughs need to listen to their electorate a lot more if they don’t wish to see a political revolution”.

<END>

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”.

We 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 we are 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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Demo Against LTN, LibDem Opinion Poll and Tranche 2 Funding

On Saturday the 3rd October there was a public demonstration against the road closures in Lewisham (photo above). This is a typical Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) scheme funded by the Government and TfL under the pretence of a response to the Covid-19 epidemic. But was originally planned as a “Healthy Neighbourhood” scheme aimed at stopping us from using vehicles, or encouraging “active travel” such as walking and cycling, depending on your point of view. It has proved to be an abject failure with traffic congestion worsening, more air pollution and massive inconvenience to residents who rely on motor transport. Even buses have been slowed down.

There were over a 100 people turned up for the demonstration according to a report received despite the fact that it was legally questionable in the current restrictions on gatherings. But some social separation was maintained and the demonstration went off peacefully. Several police vehicles turned up but the police took no action to stop the event.

Motorists and bus drivers tooted their horns in support. One contact said he did chat to 4 bus drivers who all said the same thing “things have only got worse for them since the road closures were put in place, and what the hell did it have to do with Covid and social distancing?”.

I understand that similar demonstrations may take place on subsequent Saturdays. This writer would attend but as someone with a suppressed immune system and vulnerable to Covid-19 for other reasons, I am avoiding all public meetings. No doubt other supporters were deterred from attending for similar reasons but it shows the strength of feeling about this issue. People want the road closures removed without delay.

LibDem Opinion Poll

The strong opposition is also very evident in the results of a survey of Lewisham residents undertaken by the Liberal Democrats, which has just been reported. See https://www.lewishamlibdems.org.uk/residents_unite_against_lewisham_council_s_traffic_scheme for the details. They got almost 1,000 responses, mainly from Lee Green and Hither Green. What follows is a summary.

The LibDems are usually strongly in favour of environmental measures and the survey questions were not seen as totally unbiased by many. But the answers they got were very clear.

To quote from the report: “The majority of residents felt that the scheme failed in its main objective – to tackle the climate emergency. The scheme, which closes many Lee Green roads to through traffic, has created gridlock in neighbouring streets and the increased congestion has added to air pollution, in areas where air pollution already needed to be reduced.

Residents cite many frustrations over delays, confusing signage and missed appointments but the biggest complaint is over the failure of Lewisham Councillors to engage with local residents to discuss concerns. For many residents there have been unexpected and severe consequences on their lives”; and:

“We expected those against any traffic management to be most vocal but critically this scheme is also being condemned by people who want some form of traffic reduction in the area. There is huge frustration about the appalling consultation and the lack of response from the Council and councillors. The majority of residents have concluded it is not fit for purpose.”

The LibDems recommend that the scheme be suspended.

Question 1c in the survey shows the level of opposition. The question was “Are you happy with the Council’s changes?”. The answers were 771 said NO, 159 said YES and 10 omitted a response. That is very clear cut for these kinds of surveys.

There was some support for camera systems to limit use to local residents (a totally impractical and very expensive solution in our view) but time-limited restrictions were clearly not popular.

Many respondents had contacted councillors, MPs or Council officers but 84% of those who did considered they did not receive an adequate response.

You can read many of the detailed responses in the report where it is clear that they are similar to the ones we have received – see this https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/lewisham.htm where you can obtain a file of some of them. The anger stimulated by the road changes is very apparent, with local councillors coming in for a lot of criticism for not listening.

Tranche 2 Funding

The Lewisham scheme, and many others around the country, was funded partly by Tranche 1 of the “Emergency Active Travel Funding” from central Government. Tranche 1 consisted of £45 million of which only £5 million was given to London. But TfL also received £55 million for spending on active travel measures on TfL and borough roads.

But Tranche 2 to be supplied before the end of the year consists of another £180 million of which £25 million will go to London. The second tranche is aimed at enabling “authorities to install, further, more permanent measures to cement cycling and walking habits” to quote from a letter received from the Department of Transport by one of our supporters.

It was very clear that the intention all along was that the “temporary” measures such as those installed in Lewisham would subsequently be made permanent and that is how it is going to be achieved. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

But local boroughs do not have to spend this money on damaging schemes. Councillors can reject schemes that residents oppose. They just need some common sense and some guts to do so.

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Who Is Right About Traffic in London?

Lewisham Councillor James Rathbone is a strong supporter of the newly introduced Low Traffic Neighbourhood scheme in Lee Green ward. He recently issued a Tweet which said: “People are right to be angry that there is so much congestion on their streets but it’s been a growing problem for the last decade”. He also suggested that “Without traffic reduction the number of vehicle miles will only rise”, i.e. that the alleged problem would get worse. He backed it up with some graphs without giving the source or what they actually represented.

My response was that from my experience of living and driving in London for many years, I believed he was exaggerating. I have taken the time to actually locate the relevant data and here it is:

London and Lewisham Traffic Data

Traffic volumes in London, and even more so in Lewisham, have been falling for the last 10 years. If there is any increase in traffic congestion it is the result of new traffic management measures, road narrowing, road closures, new bus lanes, imposition of cycle superhighways and other attempts to impose modal shift on drivers. In other words, poor traffic management is the cause, not increases in traffic volumes. 

I hope Mr Rathbone will apologise for misleading people.

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Does Closing Roads Reduce Air Pollution and Improve Health?

The Freedom for Drivers Foundation 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.

We have 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.

Life expectancy data tells us that there is no air pollution health crisis. 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

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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