Green Councillor Nathalie reacts to Mayor Rahman’s plans to remove low traffic infrastructure

Residents and campaigners in Tower Hamlets stand ready to oppose Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s ideological tirade against LTNs.

Removing Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) was a prominent part of recently-elected Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s manifesto. Despite his victory in May, it is becoming clear that the Mayor may have overestimated how important this policy was in his victory. 

There has been a significant backlash from residents and campaigners to the Mayor’s rushed plans to remove popular low-traffic policies that were installed following extensive local consultation with the aim of reducing pollution, rat-running and congestion from motor vehicles.

At Wednesday evening’s cabinet meeting, Mayor, Luftur Rahman, announced a delay to the decision to remove the scant low- traffic infrastructure in the borough. This is a victory for campaigners across Tower Hamlets who have organised a petition – with over 3000 signatures, including from people who voted for him – calling for the Mayor to ‘stop and think again’.

The announcement of this delay also indicates that Mr Rahman is listening to advice from Transport for London (TfL). Recent letters from London’s transport body were scathing in its attack on the hasty and cursory nature of the consultations to remove the infrastructure which was partially funded by TfL.

LTNs seem to have become one of the flash-points of our time, and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets is a perfect setting for the debates. This is one of the UK’s most diverse, most densely populated areas in the country. Host to some of the richest and some of the poorest people in the country; this borough council has a responsibility to ensure its policies give everyone the fairest chance at life.

Nathalie responds to the Mayor

Tower Hamlets’ Green Councillor for Bow West, Nathalie Bienfait, has been an integral part of the campaigns to retain the infrastructure, and has the following responses to the arguments the Mayor made during the cabinet meeting.

At the meeting, Mayor Rahman first claimed that LTNs have pushed traffic to boundary roads where poorer residents are more likely to live. The truth is that this is an assertion with no basis in evidence. The equalities impact assessments carried out by the previous Labour administration did not go into this kind of granular detail. Such assessments are essential for making the right choices about which roads are designated as boundary roads. Making such claims without evidence is irresponsible.

Second, he pointed out that many residents in the borough rely on income from driving taxis or mini-cabs. This is not disputed, however LTNs do not stop cars from being driven. After an initial adjustment period – during which those taking short journeys are discouraged from driving – congestion and journey times return to normal and leave roads freer for those who genuinely need cars to get around.

The livelihoods of Tower Hamlets residents couldn’t be more important – but there should not be a conflict between well-designed LTNs and everyone thriving as they deserve to. In fact, the claim that the very poorest of the borough own cars insults logic, because clearly the high cost barrier to owning a car prevents the poorest from doing so. Instead, there is significant research to show that the very poorest and most vulnerable residents rely on buses to get around. If the Mayor was genuine in his commitment to the poorest, he should consider paying for Tower Hamlets’ residents’ bus fares.

Third, he claimed that the administration is committed to fighting climate change which is great to hear. But we are yet to see the detailed plans to cut carbon emissions which are necessary to offset the impact that reopening roads would have or even the wider climate impacts of our inner-city borough. It is too easy for the Mayor to make vague assertions as he did on Wednesday about becoming a net zero borough “as soon as possible”.

Fourth, he pointed out that the barriers to reducing car use must be understood. We know that many residents of Tower Hamlets who rely on cars do so because walking, wheeling and cycling are not accessible to them. We have an imperative to combine any negative action (like resident-only filters), with positive actions, like improving access to public transport, improving walking routes and supporting organisations working in the field, for example Cycle Sisters who empower Muslim women to cycle.

Intersectionality and LTNs

The Mayor might like to dismiss LTNs as the dream of the white and middle classes, but bear with me while I point out some of the many intersectional benefits of reducing the dominance of the car on our roads.

Everyone’s physical health will benefit: Tower Hamlets has some of the highest childhood asthma diagnoses rates in the country. It is no coincidence that we have consistently higher than safe levels of pollution in large swathes of the borough. The most harmful PM2.5 particles are generated by car tyres on roads rather than exhausts, meaning electric car use should also be limited. Also, by creating an atmosphere where people feel comfortable to walk, wheel and cycle around, being more active will become easier for many.

Road safety and mental health will improve: data from across London suggests that BAME Londoners are almost twice as likely as white Londoners to be injured on the roads as a car occupant, and have the highest risk of being a pedestrian casualty. Tackling the dominance of cars on our roads must be a key part of redressing this shocking disparity. Further, there is plenty of research that shows that reducing noise pollution and traffic volumes through residential areas benefits mental health and helps communities come together.

A clear majority of households do not own a car: the Mayor is not standing up for all his residents when defending the dominance of the private car on our roads. Just 37% of households own a car in Tower Hamlets, some of the lowest car ownership rates in the country. He has a prime opportunity to redress the balance of our streets towards people-centred policies rather than vehicle-centred ones.

We stand to defend the measures already in place

The delay in a decision is welcome, but campaigners and residents are aware that the Mayor could still remove the measures which are already in place. So we are organising ourselves ready to defend our streets and continue making the arguments for LTNs. 

I’ve been blown away by the fantastic campaigns being run across the borough to make the Mayor think again. As well as the petition, the Mayor has been threatened with a judicial review of the consultations; multiple campaign groups have sprung up to organise protests, door-knocking and other grass-roots campaigning.

Campaigners will be out in force when the Mayor and Councillors are due to debate the topic at a full council meeting on 5th October.


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