BLOOMSBURY RESIDENTS’ ACTION GROUP (BRAG)  STATEMENT OF CASE 

1. BACKGROUND

 

1.1  The creation of the Torrington Place-Tavistock Place trial

In November 2015 Camden Council set up a trial traffic system on Tavistock Place and Torrington Place, by means of an Experimental Traffic Order. The aim of the experiment was to: 

a)  provide ‘a safer and more attractive cycling route, which improves conditions for existing cyclists, while also encouraging new cyclists’  

b) reduce ‘traffic on the route, improve air quality and provide a safer environment for the large numbers of pedestrians and cyclists in the area’  

c) trial ‘wider cycle lanes’ 

d) make ‘streets that are easier to cross’ 

 

(Source: Camden Council document on Torrington-Tavistock Trial, November 2015)

 

1.2  Some confusion of purpose 

Although the above aims were stated when the scheme was announced, it should be noted that the original purpose appeared to be to mitigate the effects of the West End Project, as set out in Cabinet papers for January 2015. 

 

 1.3  Absence of prior local consultation 

                 Local residents had not been consulted at all. 

However, a handful of powerful groups with sectional self-interests, who stood to gain from the change, were consulted; namely, TfL, Camden Cycling Campaign, London Cycling Campaign, Living Streets, University College London and the University of London.  Some local people received information sheets a few days before the trial works began but huge numbers of local residents knew nothing about it, and so there was a sense of shock to find out one morning that a major route was being blocked off and the surrounding streets were suddenly congested and polluted. 

1.4  Congestion and pollution caused by the trial totally unprecedented

It is important to state that before November 2015, there was not a traffic problem in this area. The congestion and pollution caused by the displaced traffic from the one-way system is totally unprecedented.  At the time of writing this Statement of Case, the congestion is much reduced because it is school holidays.  However there have been times when stop-start traffic has backed up solidly for 10 hours a day and for several days a week.  Proof of evidence (1).

 

1.5  Detrimental to quality of life

The trial has made the quality of life worse for local people in multiple ways, and this is what BRAG’s submission will aim to demonstrate.  It is imperative that the Inquiry does not solely focus on the Torrington-Tavistock corridor but includes within its scope the impact on streets that lead off from this now-blocked strategic through-route, which previously allowed passage from Gray’s Inn Road to Tottenham Court Road.

 

1.6   Establishment of Bloomsbury Residents’ Action Group (BRAG)

In response to the lack of Council-led consultation, and aware of an immediate local sense of anger and concern about the social and environmental adverse impacts of this trial, a group of neighbours set up Bloomsbury Residents’ Action Group, in order to give residents a voice.

 

1.7    Local consultation organised by BRAG

a) As BRAG gathered support they found out that hundreds of other people felt the same way. They realised the tentacle effects of this scheme were being felt far and wide – from Gray’s Inn Road to Fitzrovia. BRAG’s inaugural meeting was on 26th May 2016 and since then hundreds of local people have signed up with BRAG as supporters, writing a comment on the website, sending emails expressing personal concerns about the trial, signing the Petition or attending a Community Planning Day. 

 

b) BRAG has been in contact with numerous local organisations: RNIB, UCH, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, the Bedford Estate, the Bloomsbury Association, Marchmont Association, many hotels including the Tavistock, Royal National and Imperial, as well as the Gower Street hotels group, Camden Cyclists, the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association and many residents associations. They have responded to concerns from local people, had many letters published in Camden New Journal and had meetings with Council officers and Council members and with the local MP, Sir Keir Starmer.

c) BRAG organised a petition which ran between July and December 2016, and which declared:

 

The Tavistock-Torrington Trial, London WC1, (Experimental Traffic Order, commencing November 2015) has: 

 i)   Created additional traffic congestion and pollution

 ii)  Made surrounding streets more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians 

 iii) Severely restricted access for emergency vehicles, in this area of high terrorist risk   

 

The Tavistock-Torrington trial (Experimental Traffic Order) is a failure and I call for this Trial now to be abandoned.  

 

d) BRAG’s petition was signed by a total of 1083 people. In marked contrast to the Council’s official consultation of autumn 2016, which was dominated (86%) by non-residents (see below), this petition focused on local views.  831 signatures were from people who live in the London Borough of Camden, of which 91% (760) were residents of the affected area, that is, from Kings Cross, Bloomsbury & Holborn & Covent Garden wards - plus five signatures from Fitzrovia. 

 

e) BRAG presented the petition to Councillor Sarah Hayward, then Leader of Camden Council, on 20th December 2016. It was understood from that meeting that Cllr Hayward would ask officers to cross-check petitioners’ names with those who had completed the Council’s official consultation survey, to ensure that the numbers of objectors to the trial was accurately reflected in the resulting data. It can be seen from the response and petition data that this exercise would demonstrate that more local people were against, than for, the trial.  However, BRAG was informed in February that it was after all impossible for officers to cross match names.   

 

f) Clearly this is not impossible but, rather, a task which would take some modest time and resources.  But it is evidently a task which the Council, which is spending tens, and possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds (efforts to ascertain the amount from councillors have not so far been successful) to fight against residents, is not prepared to do. A reasonable estimate might be that it would take an administrative worker up to two days.  This in the context of the vast sums of council tax revenues being spent to support the Council’s case, does appear to lead to the conclusion that the Council is prepared to spend public money on publishing only one-sided data, which supports its case, and is not prepared to allow the public and the Independent Inspector to see the full picture.  Suppressing, or refusing to acknowledge information, would seem to be inconsistent with the Council’s barrister’s statement at the Pre-Inquiry Meeting that ‘There is nothing to be gained by holding things back.  Everything should be on the table.’  

 

g) 116 people either commented on BRAG’s website’s ‘Have your say’ section or joined as subscribers. 

 

h) 75 people attended BRAG’s public meeting on 4th October 2016. At this meeting views for and against the trial were shared and at the end of the meeting, following the presentation of BRAG’s alternative plan, there was overwhelming support for the motion calling for the Council to consider BRAG’s alternative plan, with two-way traffic and two cycle lanes, as an alternative scheme for the Tavistock/Torrington corridor. The vote was: 41 for the motion; 3 against.

 

i). 70 local people – both residents and people from local businesses - participated in BRAG’s Community Planning Day on 8th September 2016. Local people were invited to raise issues of concern, and to discuss solutions and future ideas about the neighbourhood. Concerns about traffic were raised as a major part of the discussions along with solutions for traffic problems. 

 

1.8  Council consultation

 

a) BRAG had assumed that that the main thrust of this Inquiry would not be the consultation process.  However, the Council’s Statement of Case relies on the validity of the consultation response as part of its support for making the trial permanent.  It is therefore important to see this trial in the context of a very flawed consultation process; and this has added to the sense of confusion and distrust locally.  Had there been a period of genuine consultation prior to the trial, the outcome might have been very different. The unsatisfactory nature of the consultation process is set out in Proof of Evidence 2.

 

b) In the autumn of 2016, Camden Council carried out its flawed consultation, and hailed its outcome as a success for the trial road layout, on the grounds that 79% of their respondents were in favour of the trial. However, the vast majority of those who responded (86%) not only did not live in the affected area, but did not even live in the wider borough of Camden. The Council consultation identified, out of those 15,000 respondents, only 564 local (WC1) residents were in support of the trial.  Seeing this figure of 564 local people in favour, in the context of the BRAG petition findings of 760 local people opposed to the trial, it can be seen that there is no local mandate to keep the trial scheme.

 

c) The status of the 86% non-Camden supporters of the scheme now becomes a major question in this Inquiry, fuelled by the Council’s continuing to promote the consultation outcome as a triumph, coupled with its insistence on secrecy. The location of these 86% is shrouded in mystery, in a way which starts to look like obfuscation. The Council is relying strongly on these responders as evidence of legitimate support for their scheme, and yet is refusing to divulge information about them. Of course there is no expectation that personal details should be published.  However, the Public Inquiry needs to know where these people come from, in order to assess the relevance and validity of their participation. It is reasonable to argue that responders who live in other, and maybe distant, parts of the country should not be influencing how our local streets are laid out; they may not know the area; they may never have been here; and they do not have to live with the resulting detriment to quality of life. The ongoing refusal by the Council to co-operate with local people by sharing this information leads necessarily to suspicions that many of the responders live far away.  Camden Cyclists, who have been strongly supportive of the Council’s scheme, and who receive funding from the Council, ran an online campaign to gather support for the trial.   

 

d) However, the Council has refused, despite requests made by local people and by a Councillor in Cabinet (22nd February 2017), to take account of local residents and voters who signed the petition, or to give greater weight to the views of residents in the borough, and especially residents affected by the trial.  It is not known how many of the 86% non-resident responders had seen Tavistock Place, or how well informed they were about the trial or its impact. 54% of respondents claimed no connection with the borough other than ‘passing through’.  

 

e) In an attempt to identify precisely where the supporters of the trial scheme live, a local resident has made repeated attempts to ask Camden Council for this information.  In the absence of co-operation, the resident has had to resort to the Freedom of Information Act in order to access this information which is non-confidential, publicly-funded data, and which could be key information for the Public Inquiry. This matter is now being formally investigated by the Information Commissioner. This is set out fully in Proofs of Evidence 3.

 

f) The Council told the local residents who sought this information that the cost of providing this data would be in the region of £9,975, but when the resident asked what would happen if he raised the money, his request was still rejected.  The Council barrister at the Pre-Inquiry meeting said that supplying data from consultation response would be ‘impractical’. However, considering this from a practical viewpoint, it is the case that the Council could input the first part of postcodes into a GIS (geographical information system) which would provide a map of the geographical location of respondents without any need to redact personal data or comments; it is recognised of course that no personal data must be shared.  There would indeed be an administrative task involved. If it took 10 seconds to enter each part post code, then the task would take 41 hours of administrative time; or possibly less if suitable software were applied. But even supposing it did cost £9,975 to provide this data for the benefit of all concerned with the Public Inquiry, and in the interests of fair and true evidence being presented, this amount would be small fry compared with the amount being spent on the Council’s expenditure in consultants and legal advice.  In this context, ‘impractical’ appears to mean that the information might not support the continuation of the trial and so not be in the Council’s own interests, regardless of whether it would be in the interests of openness, fairness and truth.  Again, it does not appear to be congruent with the Council barrister’s stated principle stated at the Pre-Inquiry Meeting, ‘There is nothing to be gained by holding things back.  Everything should be on the table.’       

 

g) BRAG believes the views of those affected should be given more weight than the views of those people who are not affected, and who may never have even been to the affected area, but the Council rejected this view in Cabinet on 22nd February 2017. The Council has refused to take account of this local petition.  Dismissing the implications of the petition, Councillor Phil Jones, who was the lead councillor on this scheme (but resigned from the Cabinet immediately before the Public Inquiry), said in Cabinet that comparing the 564 local residents for, with the 760 local residents against the trial, would be like ‘comparing apples and pears’.  In fact it is not ‘comparing apples and pears’, but comparing the numbers of local people who are for and against the trial, which appears to be something the Council has difficulty acknowledging.