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'Traffic barrier won't stop air pollution' say fuming families in Columbia Road flower market

PUBLISHED: 15:09 07 November 2019 | UPDATED: 09:55 12 November 2019

Angry neighbours lining the spot where the council wants a traffic barrier in Columbia Road which they say would divide the community. Picture: Nick Fiveash

Angry neighbours lining the spot where the council wants a traffic barrier in Columbia Road which they say would divide the community. Picture: Nick Fiveash

Nick Fiveash

Plans to stop 4,000 vehicles a day using Old Bethnal Green Road have upset families who fear putting in a traffic barrier by the famous Columbia Road flower market will split the community.

Mayor John Biggs turned up in Columbia Road with kids on bikes hoping residents would give his barrier the green light to stop through traffic. Picture: Kois MiahMayor John Biggs turned up in Columbia Road with kids on bikes hoping residents would give his barrier the green light to stop through traffic. Picture: Kois Miah

Car-owners in the area say they would be forced to make long detours if they're the wrong side just to reach Hackney Road 400 yards away.

"This plan has caused the people of Columbia Road great stress," protester Nick Fiveash told the East London Advertiser.

"A barrier at the junction with Barnet Grove divides the community into a north-south divide.

"We understand a need to deal with cleaner air, but those of us on the south side would have to make a two-mile detour to Cambridge Heath just to reach Queensbridge Road, adding fuel pollution and increasing main road traffic which defeats the object of cutting emissions in our streets."

What Tower Hamlets Council wants to do with Columbia Road. Picture: LBTHWhat Tower Hamlets Council wants to do with Columbia Road. Picture: LBTH

His neighbours have begun a petition and are holding a meeting on Monday evening at the Royal Oak pub. They also worry about access for emergency services only able to get to the area from Bethnal Green Road from the south or Hackney Road from the north.

But it is not just car owners railing against the barrier. Some objectors like Sara Dixon from Wellington Row, who doesn't drive, argue that it won't prevent pollution drifting in from main roads nearby which would become more congested as a result.

She fears it will cause "massive disruption" to her life because her housing estate would be separated from the rest of the community.

"Invisible particles float everywhere," Sara points out. "This barrier is just moving the pollution slightly to the left and right of the schools, not eradicating it."

She suggests: "We need more plants and trees to clean the air around us. The council should be thinking of real solutions, no pushing problems elsewhere into traffic jams in surrounding neighbourhoods."

The proposed scheme is part of Tower Hamlets Council's "Liverble Streets" programme being rolled out across the East End.

Public consultations are being held on Saturday from 10am to 12 noon at its Professional Development centre in Bethnal Green Road and again on November 14 in the early evening, 5-7pm, to explain the scheme and "make tweaks" where possible for a final design. It is also arranging meetings with schools, businesses and tenant and resident groups.

The idea of restricting through traffic follows tests showing pollution around schools exceeding recommended EU limits.

More than half the traffic in Old Bethnal Green Road is just cutting through to avoid the main roads, the town hall points out. The traffic-free scheme would deter drivers are from other parts of London rather than local car-owners, the council's planning department believes.

The barrier would put that traffic back onto Bethnal Green Road and Hackney Road, leaving the area to pedestrians and cyclists.

But the "traffic calming" proposal isn't calming many living around the East End's famous Columbia Road flower market fearing a north-south divide.

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