At the Public Inquiry, BRAG objected formally to the trial scheme being made permanent

The Public Inquiry on the future of the Torrington Place/Tavistock Place experimental one-way system began on Tuesday 10th October 2017 and took place at Camden Town Hall on Judd Street.  It was open to the public and ran until 2nd November. On the last day all parties (for and against) were able to make a final Summing Up statement.

 

All documents relating to the Inquiry can be viewed or downloaded at: www.camden.gov.uk/tavistockpublicinquiry 

BRAG (Bloomsbury Residents’ Action Group), in association with the Bloomsbury Association, was just one of many local residents groups and individuals who made submissions to the Inspector at the Inquiry, objecting to the trial being made permanent.

 

There was shock at some of the revelations that emerged during the cross-examination of Council officers.

Although Camden Council heralded the trial as a success, on closer inspection of the facts, it can be seen that the trial failed to achieve its key objectives of increased cycling numbers, improved safety and improved air quality.

 

The Council’s consultation document on the trial, published in autumn 2016, stated: ‘There have been significant increases in cycling east-west along the route in the morning and afternoon rush hours (up to 52%)’. Under questioning during the Inquiry, the Council officer had to concede that this increase of 52% was unsubstantiated and she could only say there had been “no decrease”.

 

Although this same consultation document implied safety had improved, by stating that cyclists ‘felt safer’, Camden’s documentation for the Inquiry admitted, ‘…there has been an increase in the number of collisions involving cyclists.’ In fact the increase in accidents is from 7 to 11. This was justified by Camden reporting the ‘marked increase of cycle trips (up to 52% during peak hours)’ - which we now know to be unfounded.

 

There was a lot of dispute about Camden’s arithmetic during the Inquiry, and right up to the last minute, figures produced by officers as ‘evidence’ had to be corrected.

 

The Council also claimed that air quality had improved since the trial. Which was not surprising, as it had removed one lane of traffic and selectively measured air quality on the Tavistock-Torrington corridor. However, the Inquiry forced Camden to admit, for instance, ‘there have been some increases in pollution along Endsleigh Gardens.’ It became clear that local streets that had to absorb the displaced traffic had indeed become more polluted. Something local residents have been complaining about for the past two years.

 

The Public Inquiry concluded with a summing up from all parties, none of whom had changed their position, though Camden's exaggerations, inaccuracies and poor arithmetic has been exposed during the four weeks of interrogation.

 

Key findings were that the Council did not provide evidence that numbers of cyclists had increased, or that the trial route was safer for cyclists, or that air quality in the area was improved. In short, the trial failed on all its main objectives.  



In due course the independent Inspector, Martin Elliott, will deliver his report to Camden Council. We have been assured that this will be made public.

BRAG objected to the trial being made permanent on the grounds it has failed to meet its objectives on safety and pollution; and because it has caused serious adverse effects – especially for older and disabled people, for hospital patients and staff, for local businesses and for the emergency services.

 

And because the Council is not listening to local people.

More detail on BRAG's case is set out below.  Our formal Statement of Case as presented to the Independent Inspector can be found here.

SUMMARY OF BRAG’S CASE AGAINST THE TAVISTOCK TRIAL SCHEME

 

Our case against the east-bound one-way system, supported by extensive evidence and many local witness statements, is, in brief:

 

Most importantly, the trial has not met its objectives with regard to safety and pollution. There is no evidence that the trial has improved safety for cyclists, or pedestrians, or that air quality has improved. In fact, the traffic displaced from Tavistock Place has caused significant and frequent congestion in the surrounding streets, making them much more dangerous for cyclists.

 

In addition, the trial has created multiple adverse impacts, which the Council seems determined to ignore. These adverse effects, witnessed and recorded by local residents include:

  • Greatly increased pollution in surrounding residential streets, caused by the traffic congestion.  One resident writes:  ‘The pollution is now horrendous. Not only the smell.  One can also taste the fumes’. Another told us: ’My partner’s children have difficulty breathing since this started and the noise is unbearable’. 

  • Delays for emergency vehicles. Tavistock Place and Judd Street are both part of the network of key routes for emergency vehicles, which are now either blocked or impeded – (and residents, beware – the Council is thinking of making things even worse by further road blocks in Judd Street and Hunter Street).  A local resident told us:  ‘I have personally experienced being stuck in a traffic jam on Euston Road whilst in an ambulance. A journey that should have taken five minutes at most, took nearly 20 minutes, because nobody could go anywhere. I ended up in ICU because of this delay.’  This area has been a terrorist target (the bombings of 7/7) and it has several major hospitals and railway stations. The problems for police, fire and ambulance vehicles and the risk to security caused by the gridlock, have been raised with the Council on many occasions but it seems that the Council does not consider this important. We have told them it is extremely important for the people who live here.

  • Longer vehicle journeys, because cars and delivery lorries now have to take very round-about routes to get to their destinations. This increases pollution and the risk of accidents.

  • Delayed patient and health care staff journeys between hospital sites. Every day, staff and sometimes seriously ill patients have to travel between the various medical sites in our area. East-west journeys which used to take 20 minutes now take 50 minutes.

  • Mobility and access made more difficult and costly for frail, older and disabled people.  One resident, who needs taxis to get around, told us: ‘Since the Trial started, a taxi ride that used to cost £10 can now cost £40; a ride that used to cost £15 can now be £45.’  Some residents dependent on taxis or dial-a-ride cannot now be picked up or dropped off at their front doors.

  • The sustainability of the community threatened by making the practicalities for local businesses more difficult and stressful. A local resident who has to transport goods for her business told us the one way system had added two hours a day to her car journeys. Others tell us it is deterring customers and delaying deliveries.

 

The Council’s case relies heavily on the so-called ‘support’ for the one-way system.  Yes, thousands of people responded to the Council online consultation but the vast majority (86% !) of respondents did not even live in the borough of Camden, let alone the affected area around Tavistock Place.  Responses to BRAG’s petition show clearly that more local people are against the scheme than for it, but the Council refuses to give greater weight to local residents than to outside online responders who may have never even been here.

 

BRAG and others have put forward alternative plans – including two-way traffic and two separate cycle lanes; or changing the one-way to west-bound  The Council has dismissed these but the Inquiry is an opportunity for alternatives to be looked at again.

 

This is especially necessary when the Council’s system of consultation was so seriously flawed. Consultation forms were poorly distributed – and in many ways the whole consultation process has seemed like a sham: Council documents, and tweets from the councillor who drove this scheme, Phil Jones, strongly suggest that the Council has always intended to keep the one-way system, whatever the outcome of the consultation, and regardless of the evidence.

 

We in BRAG have great hopes that the Public Inquiry, led by an Independent Inspector, will look objectively at the evidence, and will take account of the serious and multiple adverse impacts on local people of this ill-considered scheme.

 

The Inspector’s decision is not binding on the Council.  But we must hope that, if the Public Inquiry decides against the experimental east-bound one-way system, the Council will respect that decision.  Otherwise the vast amount of money that Council has opted to spend on this Inquiry (originally estimated at £100,000, but the Council is not saying what the latest estimates are) will have been a shameful waste of our money.

Powerful lobbyists must be heard with caution

Camden Council's consultation questionnaire garnered support from 'outsiders'

 

Local residents were angered and disappointed by the way Camden Council  reported results from its public consultation, undertaken in autumn 2016 in relation to the locally unpopular Tavistock Experimental Traffic Order.

 

The Council defends its flawed process of consultation by saying that over 15,000 responses to the questionnaire were received - indicating 'a high level of public awareness'.

 

But where different types of road-user might have different wishes or needs, it is vital to ensure that consultations are not ‘captured’ by special interest groups, or London’s transport policy will be badly distorted as a result. This is exactly what happened in this case. Camden Cyclists and the London Cycling Campaign were involved in pre-trial discussions with Camden on the trial scheme, and they lobbied hard during the consultation period.

 

The result is that the consultation’s responses are not remotely representative of the groups whose views it was intended to seek. Published TFL figures (1) show that of all London Journey Stages only 2% are made by cycling (with 45% made by public transport; 31% by private transport; and 21% by walking).

 

By contrast, the consultation’s published results show that 71% of the 15,040 respondents were cyclists (Officer's report to the Cabinet meeting, 22 January 2017, responses to the consultation’s Question 2).

The results of the consultation on the Tavistock Place trial show that 84% of the respondents were cyclists 'passing through', but only 2% of London's total population are cyclists. This surely invalidates the consultation's findings as sufficient justification for the trial scheme.

It seems that the determination to appease one lobby group has resulted in a stretch of road in central London becoming a cycle racetrack at certain times of the day - where speeds of over 30 mph are boasted by zealous cyclists! (2) 

At other times it is empty of all modes of transport, including bicycles, while neighbouring roads are clogged with traffic.

Many local residents are cyclists too. We want safe cycling. We simply want reasonable journey parity for all users of the Torrington / Tavistock Place corridor.

Why would the Council, with the trial strongly supported by Phil Jones, Camden's former Cabinet member for Regeneration, Transport and Planning, undertake to impose such a controversial scheme? 

 

We don't know, but local feeling is that the Torrington / Tavistock ETO was a crude attempt to create a pressure valve for traffic escaping from the the equally questionable 'West End Project' which Councillor Jones also promoted aggressively.

The University of London is one of the most powerful lobbyists in Bloomsbury. This esteemed institution is also a big business. It owns land independently of the Colleges and, since the 1920s, has acquired and developed progressively a considerable Estate in Bloomsbury, north of the British Museum.  As the UoL admits, "The proposed Traffic Order has a big impact on the university's land and is of great Interest to the University." (3) It is in full support of the trial scheme becoming permanent. 

 

The University has publicly stated the Torrington / Tavistock scheme will be beneficial to staff, students, residents of its estate, and guests and visitors using the estate.  The university is a business, as well as an educational institution. The fact it preoccupied with its own endeavours is understandable. A campus masterplan has been developed. It now refers to its estate as 'the Bloomsbury Precinct'.

 

But permanent residents of Bloomsbury, unless they live on the university estate, are not included in this orbit.

So who represents residents interests?

Fortunately there are several groups who recognise that Bloomsbury is a place where people live, work run small businesses and believe that the quality of life depends upon the sustainability of our local community.  

 

Unfortunately, in the hustle and bustle of a city like ours, public attention can be dominated by large institutions such as the University of London, as well as major corporations, outside interests and ambitious politicians. It's a heady mix where residents tend to fall out of focus.

 

BRAG speaks for all Bloomsbury residents and those who live south of the Euston Road who feel their voice is not being heard. Working with and for residents, BRAG has held public meetings, lobbied the Council and sought views without bias or motive except for endorsement of the incontrovertible fact that 'Residents Matter'. 

(1) https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/publications-and-reports/travel-in-london-report   

See report 9 - 2016

(2) https://www.strava.com/segments/4230690  

(3) University of London Statement of Case  (Downloadable from Camden Council) 

https://www.camden.gov.uk/ccm/content/transport-and-streets/transport-strategies/torrington-place-to-tavistock-place-public-inquiry/

How it started  (Events: 2016)

Presentation to Council  (February 2017)

Statement of Case to Public Inquiry (October 2017)