Bow residents will get another chance to have their say on £3 million eco-friendly street changes, after doubts were raised over a consultation showing 70% of residents supported the scheme.
Tower Hamlets councillors approved the suite of changes – including bus gates, wider footpaths, school streets and the closure of Roman Road Market to vehicles at peak hours – at a meeting on Wednesday night. But its design details will be opened to further public input in a ‘town hall’ meeting due to concerns not enough voices were heard.
Mayor John Biggs said: “It is not designed to stop things going ahead but it is recognising that there is concern and anxieties being expressed about how this might operate.”
Conservative councillor Peter Golds told the meeting the consultation was flawed and lacked diversity. “How on earth have we only reached 4% of the Bangladeshi community in the area? … The Bangladeshi community represents something like 20% of the population of those wards.”
Bow councillors Rachel Blake and Asma Begum said they had directly contacted residents, schools, mosques and churches to get a broad range of opinion. They did not find that more BAME people were against the plans. Councillor Dan Tomlinson noted the survey got 2,100 responses, one of the highest rates ever in Tower Hamlets.
Blake said she wants the council to take a unifying approach: “This discussion can be uncomfortable because of a perceived division… but we need to make sure that all these voices are heard.”
The council has not yet set a date for the proposed town hall meeting.
Last week, ELL reported on changes being made to the Lewisham Low Traffic Neighbourhood scheme after it caused anger among residents over traffic disruption. Although the Bow plans predate those introduced in Lewisham and other boroughs this year, they have inspired similar strong opinions.
Carolyn Clark, 67, told ELL she and other campaigners were not invited to speak at the council meeting. All five residents who did speak, including a doctor specialising in air pollution, were in favour of the proposals.
Clark said: “The whole consultation thing is a complete fiasco. It’s not been very accessible. The questions have been very pointed… There’s been no concessions made to people with disabilities or local businesses… It’s anti-car for the sake of being anti-car and pro bike.”
61% of respondents to the survey reported that they cycle, three times the proportion in the borough as a whole. But the Liveable Streets report does record several changes made to the scheme as a result of the consultation, including access to Roman Road for blue badge holders.
The proposal has also won praise from many residents for its efforts to ease traffic, improve walking routes and make access to local schools safer.
David Field, 35, told ELL he worries about how fumes and traffic in the area affect his young daughter. “We have to think very carefully about how people use the roads,” he said. “It’s not about people just getting on their bikes and that whole image. It’s about changing your lifestyle so that people can enjoy their neighbourhood more.”
But Iain Marshall of the Better Streets for Tower Hamlets campaign told ELL the “the vast silent majority” of Bow residents will not have strong views for or against the scheme. He added: “We understand that gentrification is a concern in the area, but the Liveable Streets scheme is not about that, it is aimed at improving people’s quality of life… Of those who campaigned favour of the proposals, the majority drive a car, some don’t cycle at all… It brought together public health doctors, charity workers, grandparents, school governors and neighbours.”