Tower Hamlets Council is charting a new course in its approach to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) by announcing the removal of most LTN road closures. This decision underscores a commitment to find less polarizing methods for achieving cleaner air in the borough.
A substantial £6 million investment is earmarked for initiatives aimed at improving air quality. These measures include expanding infrastructure to enhance public spaces, fostering walking and cycling, and a significant boost in tree planting. Crucially, the council is engaging with residents to devise schemes that garner widespread support.
LTN road closures, known as Liveable Streets, have been a contentious topic not just in Tower Hamlets but throughout London. They have frequently created divisions among residents, with the latest consultation revealing a split of 41.7% in favor of removal and 57.3% in favor of retaining them.
Even emergency and council services have found themselves at odds over these closures, with the London Ambulance Service opposing hard physical closures.
At a council meeting today (Wednesday 20th September), Mayor Lutfur Rahman made the decision to lift restrictions in Columbia Road, Arnold Circus, and Old Bethnal Green, while retaining the closure on Canrobert Street. The decision to maintain the bus gate restriction in Wapping was also upheld, thanks to strong support in a previous consultation.
Accessible walking routes and pedestrian spaces will remain, along with the 33 School Streets that temporarily close roads during school drop-off and pick-up times.
Mayor Lutfur Rahman expressed his perspective on the matter: “LTNs have been one of London’s most contentious issues, causing divisions among boroughs, communities, and political parties. The repercussions have been particularly felt in Tower Hamlets due to our dense urban environment.”
“While LTNs improve air quality locally, they divert traffic to surrounding arterial roads, often inhabited by less affluent residents. They also present challenges for families trying to navigate the most densely populated area in the country.”
Rahman emphasized his commitment to finding more harmonious solutions: “I believe division is not the answer. We must seek better ways to enhance air quality that can unite our residents and businesses.”
The borough’s most polluting roads, the A11 and A12, are under the purview of Transport for London (TfL). Tower Hamlets Council is urging TfL to take more decisive action to reduce the pollution emanating from these roads.
Liveable Streets, initially introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, aimed to reduce traffic levels in the borough. While it achieved some success in this regard, feedback indicated adverse consequences, including difficulties for residents who rely on vehicles for essential services.
Moreover, emergency vehicle access and local bus services were impacted, and traffic was redirected to nearby roads. The council is now working on a timeline for the removal of these road closures, marking a shift toward a more inclusive approach to improving air quality.