‘We hate being dictated to on how we live our lives’ mayor is told over his Bethnal Green street closures
- Credit: Mike Brooke
The former head of Amnesty International UK who now chairs the residents’ body covering the controversial Bethnal Green traffic closure proposals has made a scathing public attack on the local authority’s “Liveable Streets” programme.
Linda Wilkinson has sent an open letter to the mayor of Tower Hamlets and all 46 council members “to explain why thousands of people are objecting to the road closure schemes”.
It follows protests about traffic barriers around Columbia Road and Arnold Circus which are being pushed ahead and the latest batch of road closure plans around Roman Road in Bow.
“The assumption is that we spend our days on very short car journeys which could be walked or cycled,” she says.
“Hence, we have to be stopped ‘for our own good’, being dictated to about how we live our lives assuming that we’re all lazy ne’er-do-wells — that’s something many find offensive.”
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The chair of the Jesus Hospital Estate residents’ association who has launched the ‘Bethnal Green Streets For All’ campaign has fired her warning shot at the mayor who only last Monday told the council’s scrutiny committee that he was “no Joe Stalin” when warning of council tax rises after Covid.
“It is a classic spread-sheet design driven so obviously by the cycle lobby,” she tells him. “But not everybody else is taken into account.”
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The consultations that ended on July 29 are flawed, Linda has told the East London Advertiser after the residents organisation carried out its own door-to-door survey. Many householders had been confused and “taken in” by council promises of clean air without understanding the impact of closing off road after road.
“The objective is to ‘stop rat runs’ and reduce traffic past schools which is laudable,” Linda adds. “But this goal never stacked up.
“Some councillors seem to have forgotten they are there to represent residents, all residents, not themselves or the tranche they like.”
The scheme proposes 18 one-way systems and 14 road closures in a neighbourhood with three care homes, two blocks of flats for the vulnerable and a school for disabled children who all rely on special transport. Carers also rely on cars because they’re paid on each visit without travel time who she says will be out of pocket.
Mayor John Biggs claims that’s what most people want. He told the Advertiser: “The majority support our proposals and we’ll see how they go. I’m not insensitive to both sides of the argument and am not trying to stop people going about their lives.”
But those who cannot walk or cycle will find a two-minute drive to their GP or five-minutes to the Royal London Hospital taking 20-45 minutes on congested roads, councillors are being told.
Linda’s open letter argues: “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where the pinch points are. This is an old and labyrinthine area with narrow streets and sharp turns.
“We already have traffic pretty well controlled with a few road closures, ‘narrowings’ and one-way streets sufficient to our needs.”
TfL’s Ultra Low Emission zone expands next year to Tower Hamlets which Linda believes should see emissions plummet, “so one feels the job is pretty much done on that score”.
The letter to councillors challenges Skew Bridge in Old Ford Road over the Hertford Union canal being closed off to traffic, which had formed a natural bypass to Roman Road that the council also wants to pedestrianise. Its closure since March supposedly for “social distancing” when the Covid emergency began has merely thrown that traffic back onto Roman Road and is now being considered ready to be withdrawn.
“Obviously Skew Bridge should be reopened,” Linda’s letter urges. “The ridiculousness makes us wonder whether you think about this at all.
“I ask our representatives to take off your rose-coloured glasses and make decisions in this Covid era for our shops to survive — not clobber them to extinction.”
One of her targeted councillors, Mile End’s Puru Miah, has also written to the mayor asking for a freeze on the street closure programme after being inundated with emails and text messages from voters about the scheme he fears is dividing the community.
He says: “It’s seen as ‘car versus bike’, but it’s more about social divide and inequality, the thin edge to ‘social cleansing’ toward gentrification.
“Many families rely on the car for income, like ‘cabbing’ or courier work. So cycling or public transport isn’t an option.”
He makes a point about “social cleansing” claiming: “The ‘Liveable Streets’ programme seems to be a subsidy towards landlords and property developers because land prices and rents go up, so poor people are being pushed out.”
Linda Wilkinson, meanwhile, suggests setting up neighbourhood panels and a residents’ scrutiny committee at the town hall which would be “easier than having thousands of us on the streets protesting”.