Why the traffic jams?
The Tavistock-Torrington Place experimental scheme was introduced, without prior public consultation in November 2015, in order to change directional traffic flow along a key thoroughfare in WC1. It has resulted in increased congestion, pollution and inconvenience to many people, especially those whose homes are in close proximity to the eastern end of the corridor. It has caused considerable anger and distress to many permanent residents of three Camden wards that have been affected by the change: Kings Cross, Bloomsbury and Holborn & Covent Garden.
We now know that the trial scheme was put in place as a direct result of the West End Project, which was granted approval at Camden’s Cabinet meeting, held on Wednesday 21st January 2015.
Members of the Cabinet present were:
Councillors Sarah Hayward (Chair), Theo Blackwell, Patricia Callaghan,
Julian Fulbrook, Abdul Hai, Angela Mason, Phil Jones, Sally Gimson and
Jonathan Simpson. (Councillor Georgia Gould was absent.)
Bloomsbury Councillors Sabrina Frances, Adam Harrison, and Rishi Madlani were also present; also Claire-Louise Leyland, Leader of the Conservative Group on Camden Council.
It was agreed by the Leader of the Council that further decision making for this project should be delegated to the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Transport and Planning, Councillor Phil Jones, whose support for cycling and segregated cycle ways is well known. (This decision to allow Cllr Jones to be the sole decider was later reversed, following pressure from BRAG and others.)
BRAG supports road planning which facilitates safe cycling; but what is at issue here is not the cycle lanes (which are given as the ostensible reason for the trial) but the one-way traffic system on Tavistock-Torrington Place. This route can physically accommodate two lanes of traffic and two cycle lanes. But the Council decided this corridor should be one way for other reasons - namely, the West End Project.
For details on the West End Project, see:
The West End Project: who was consulted? [Quote from Camden’s website]
“In order to develop the West End Project proposals for consultation, officers worked with local residents’ groups and businesses, Transport for London, Crossrail, Camden Cycling Campaign, Inmidtown and the Fitzrovia Partnership Business Improvement Districts, London First and the City of Westminster.”
The residents groups referred to included Gordon Mansions RA, Bedford Court Mansions RA, Ridgmount Gardens RA, Bloomsbury Association, Charlotte Street Association, Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association, Covent Garden Community Association and Seven Dials Trust.
As a result of objections received from some of these residents’ groups, the Cabinet approved “undertaking a trial to reduce through traffic on Torrington Place, including to alleviate traffic on the section west of Gower Street. The trial would consider converting Torrington Place and Tavistock Place (from Gower Street to Judd Street) to one-way eastbound and providing space for cycling.”
The West End Project: Who was NOT consulted?
Residents and other stakeholders who live at the eastern end of the Torrington - Tavistock Place corridor, in streets destined to take the displaced traffic. This was clearly indicated in the TfL modeling report that was provided in June 2015, prior to the imposition of the Experimental Traffic Order.
Consultation on the West End Project did not extend to residents or businesses east of Gordon Square.
Very few residents and businesses who live in close proximity to Tavistock Place received any information on the street’s impending westbound closure on November 9th 2015 and have suffered the impact ever since.
A flawed consultation process
A year later Camden undertook a statutory consultation process (12th September and 21st October 2016) in order to decide whether the trial scheme would be made permanent or not.
The consultation area map included the residents that had already been consulted on for the West End Project (Gordon Mansions, etc) – whose objections were mitigated by the trial scheme - and excluded the densely populated residential streets east of Judd Street.
The distribution of consultation documents was very poor. Unaddressed envelopes were delivered to blocks of flats and left in the foyer as junk mail. Houses of multiple occupation often received only one envelope per property. No attempt was made to send letters to specific names on the electoral register. This was despite an explicit assurance from Council officers that the consultation documents would be sent to all Council Tax payers.
The posters advertising the consultation were initially only attached to lamp posts along the corridor itself, a destination for commuting cyclists. It took residents to alert the Council to the fact that there was an absence of posters in the affected residential streets.
Consultation on the Tavistock / Torrington Place scheme had a strongly biased yes/no option: make it permanent, or go back to what it was like before. No other alternatives were suggested and there was no specific request for alternative ideas.
The imagery was also manipulative: a gloomy day for the old scheme, a sunny day for the new scheme.
There was a dependence on Camden Council’s own website for dates of drop in meetings and detailed information.
The process left far too many residents unaware of what was going on.
There is a strong indication that Camden Council would like to make the trial scheme permanent and simply needed sufficient numbers of people to support the proposal.
One indicator lies in the planning application made by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for redevelopment of their premises on Tavistock Place. The officer’s report to the Development Control Committee in 2015 includes the following paragraph:
13.22 (page 29) regarding Pedestrian, Cycling and Environmental Improvements
“One such scheme is the Tavistock and Torrington Place Scheme, which is currently trialled and is due to finish towards the end of next year. Once this trial period is finished the Council will be looking to fit permanent infrastructure to facilitate the scheme going forward.”
The scheme promoted improved cycling access for mostly non-resident commuters, regardless of the adverse impact on those who live here.
The data gathered during the trial measured air quality improvement on the corridor alone, not on the streets that have had to take the displaced traffic. This was in spite of residents asking the Council over many months to measure air quality on the streets where there was increased congestion
The Tavistock/Torrington Place traffic scheme: who is it for?
Is it for students who live elsewhere but attend the University at the heart of the Tavistock-Torrington corridor?
Is it for the employees and staff who live elsewhere but commute to work in Bloomsbury?
Is it for the businesses and institutions in the area, to provide benefits for their workforce?
Is it for tourists who are passing through the area?
Is if for those who champion the West End Project and the Knowledge Quarter?
What about Residents & Other Stakeholders?
We know from Camden’s website that the Tavistock - Torrington traffic scheme was developed with input from TfL, UCL, the University of London, and cycling and walking campaigners.
But NOT residents.
In Camden the hierarchy of influence regarding 'getting around' is Pedestrians first, then Cyclists, then Public Transport and finally Vehicles (irrelevant of individual mobility issues). The Council's planning framework nevertheless requires consultation with the community. The community includes residents; all residents are pedestrians, so following Camden's own policy, they should be putting RESIDENTS at the top of the list!
We need to keep reminding Camden Council that WE MATTER!
We consider that this ill-conceived ‘trial’ traffic arrangement must be replaced by a scheme that equitably considers the needs of ALL residents.
What you can do
Camden Officers are currently analysing all the Comments that were made by everyone who took part in the consultation process in September-October 2016.
We have been told by the Leader of the Council, that the names of those who signed the BRAG petition, objecting to the trial remaining permanent, will be cross-checked with names of respondents who signed the consultation form. In this way we hope that the official figures will include all objectors to the scheme.
We do not know when the Officers will produce their report, or at which Cabinet meeting the final decision will be made. Information about Cabinet meetings and Agendas is published on the Council’s website.
We would encourage you to write to the Cabinet Members (listed above) who will be making the final decision on the Tavistock-Torrington Place scheme.
Remind them that in January 2015 they made a decision to remove westbound traffic from Tavistock Place but that this was based on a consultation process which did not include thousands of residents who live in close proximity to the corridor and would be affected by the change.
There was evidence from TfL’s modelling report (June 2015) that certain residential streets, (such as Judd Street, Hunter Street and Endsleigh Street) would have to take the displaced traffic. Yet this was ignored. Did they think the residents who lived there didn't matter?
Remind Camden Councillors that the consultation process was flawed and that you are the voters..