Council Leader gives go-ahead for road closures

Judd Street on 7 September 2016 - vehicles can access local streets if necessary, people can walk, businesses can get deliveries

A travesty of local democracy?

 

On 10 March 2016 a large number of very angry local people, both residents and businesses, protested at a meeting in Camden’s offices against the proposal to cut off Judd Street, top and bottom, by closing the junction with Euston Road, and doing the same at Lansdowne Terrace.

 

Two years later, on Wednesday 27th June 2018, an even larger group of local people turned up at Committee Room 4 in Camden Town Hall, where the Leader of Camden Council was holding a meeting in public to decide whether these two schemes should go ahead. It was standing room only. Public outcry was quashed and questions to the Leader and Officers not permitted.

 

We were told that Georgia Gould was making the decision on behalf of Adam Harrison, cabinet member for the Environment. As a Bloomsbury Councillor, probably aware of the strong local feeling against these proposals, it was probably easier to pass the buck to someone else than be pilloried at the Town Hall.

 

There were nine deputations, two representing walking and cycling campaign groups, one from RMT, representing the taxi drivers who provide such a valuable service to those without a car. The other speakers were ordinary local residents and business owners, who explained clearly how the proposals would affect their daily lives.

 

The elderly and disabled will be hit hardest, journeys in and out of the area will take longer and be much more expensive. Local businesses are already having difficulties getting deliveries on time, as the surrounding major roads (to which all traffic is being directed on principle) are often at a standstill. Anyone who needs a car for their job will find their working lives even more frustrating.

 

Charles Scully, the landlord of the Lord John Russell in Marchmont Street, gave an impassioned speech, describing what will actually happen when lorries have to make a circuitous journey from Euston Road to his pub through the narrow historic streets of Duke’s Road, Burton Place and Cartwright Gardens. And no, beer doesn’t get delivered on a bike.

He also pointed out that large delivery lorries may well find Duke's Road too small, and so deliveries could be sent in two smaller lorries, rather than one large one, thereby increasing the number of vehicles in the area.

The Lord John Russell pub, RNIB headquarters, small local businesses - all contribute to a vibrant community

This is a part of inner London where people have lived harmoniously for decades, we care about each other’s well-being, we patronise the local shops, know the owners, and come together to support each other in times of need. The turnout at the Town Hall on Wednesday evening demonstrated this sense of community, which is in danger of being eroded by this shortsighted approach by Camden Council, desperate to be seen by the Mayor of London to be doing something about the high levels of pollution in the WC1N postcode area - and having the money from TFL to do so. £1,924.000.00 million has been allocated – with acknowledgement that the cost may rise when detailed designs are worked out. And where does this money come from? TFL’s Central London Cycle Grid Programme.  

 

So, who is it destined to benefit? The cycling lobby of course, of which Camden Cyclists is the local campaign group, who receive a grant from Camden Council and have quarterly meetings with Camden Council officers to pursue their aims. http://camdencyclists.org.uk/category/minutes/meetings-with-camden/

 

The cycle superhighway CS6 ends on Judd Street, just south of Euston Road. The Euston Road crossing and new Midland Road infrastructure will now be the last link in a high-quality route from Kentish Town to Elephant and Castle. That’s great news for cyclists commuting through the area, but what about the people who live here?

 

Camden simply ignores the legitimate concerns of residents and businesses, repeats the mantra about “promoting modal shift” and does what it wants to in the first place: closes certain roads to motor traffic.  Most people in this area walk or cycle anyway, do not own cars, use public transport and fully support the aspirations of sustainability and healthy streets. 

 

It is not an easy problem to solve, but it needs proper thought and consideration of ALL issues., not an inadequate report relating to two-year old consultation results and insufficient data to guarantee that movement patterns in the future will not create greater chaos and frustration.

There’s a persistent and unproven argument that removing vehicles improves air quality. But the pollution doesn't go away, it just moves somewhere else. And the more you slow traffic down, the more pollution levels increase. 

 

By closing off the top end of Judd Street and the south end of Lansdowne Terrace, traffic will be displaced on to London’s strategic network of roads, i.e. Gray's Inn Road, Kings Cross Road, Euston Road, Southampton Row and Woburn Place.

Russell Square is already high on the list of polluted places within Bloomsbury according to Clean Space’s twelve month ‘Map London’ campaign.

 

To live an ordinary life requires freedom of movement and reasonable air quality over a wide area. It is unrealistic to want to restrict a journey to certain streets where traffic has been deliberately removed. This applies to visitors to London as well as to permanent residents. It applies to pedestrians and cyclists too. We all need to get around the city by whichever mode of transport is most appropriate at the time.

North end of Judd Street: student accommodation; Camden Town Hall & Queen Alexander Mansions;    

Duke's Road - in the future, the only entry into the area from the Euston Road

Despite the vociferous local objections, both road closure schemes were given the go-ahead by the Leader of Camden Council. To those of us present at the meeting, it was clearly a stitch up, the decision seemed to have been made before any of us walked in to the room. The fact that local people turned out in large numbers to express their horror at the proposals was irrelevant. Only one conclusion can be drawn from Georgia Gould’s response - residents don’t matter.

 

No Bloomsbury or Kings Cross Councillor bothered to attend, despite the serious concerns of the residents whom they represent.

 

So, cyclists will now be able to ride safely from Elephant and Castle to Kentish Town. Pedestrians will have a proper crossing over the Euston Road to the west of the junction with Midland Road. The quirky island of grass and trees at the end of Hunter Street will be replaced by hard landscaping. This island was perhaps out of character for a Georgian square, but to many residents it provided a vista of green and was part of its local charm.

 

The Council has given an undertaking that a liaison / working group will be set up with representatives from Camden, TFL and local people, and the two schemes for Judd Street and Brunswick Square will be monitored and reviewed in a year’s time.

 

But this will be far too early to know the impact on our local streets from the other major infrastructure interventions in the area. The changes to Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street (the West End Project) will not be finished. The redevelopment of Euston Station for HS2 will not even have started. What is happening to the plans for the Kings Cross gyratory? What about the impact of major development projects in the local area? Guilford Street will be inundated with construction traffic when further phases of GOSH's demolition and rebuilding programme commence. What happens when the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine starts its own redevelopment along Tavistock Place?

 

We also suggest it is ill-advised to depend on Transport Planning Officers' projections about air quality improvement, as the recent Public Inquiry, instigated by Camden Council and overseen by an independent Inspector, has found their projections, along with a reduction in traffic and increase in cycle numbers, to be unreliable. We know from the Inspector's report, that despite removing one lane of traffic along the Tavistock Place corridor, pollution was NOT shown to have reduced across the area.

The Public Inquiry found that the Tavistock-Torrington one way system had brought about zero modal shift and transport habits, Cycling did not increase at all during the trial. Officers' claim that cycling had increased by up to 52% was totally discredited by the Inquiry. There is no evidence that closing roads in this area makes people cycle or reduces vehicle use.

 

The final decision on the Tavistock-Torrington Place scheme will not be made until 5 September 2018. Whether Camden’s cabinet will accept the Inspector’s recommendation to make the route westbound remains to be seen.

 

To implement all these permanent schemes NOW will destroy Camden’s flexibility to deal with changes coming from new technology, other policies, longer term consequences. 

The Council is being brought into disrepute by a failure of democracy.  In such a vacuum suspicions are rife.  Is it to appropriate the roadway for LendLease to use for materials storage for its £40m renovation of the Town Hall?  Is it because the Mayor has just decided to throw a lot of money at it as a status project?  Is it because powerful external lobby groups such as developers, cyclists or London University want to take over the space?  How do these schemes relate to the still-unresolved and expensive fiasco of the Tavistock Place road changes?

In our view, the decision made on 27 June 2018 to close the top and bottom end of Judd Street to motor traffic was premature and unwise.  It was discriminatory to the elderly and disabled, and showed a blatant disregard for residents and businesses who know their streets, pay taxes and deserve respect for their local knowledge and experience. To overrule their concerns with a sham display of democracy was very shocking.