Campaigners gathered outside a Tower Hamlets council meeting last Wednesday to protest the removal of low traffic neighbourhoods [LTNs] and planning policies in Spitalfields.
Groups were there to protest Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman’s manifesto commitments to reverse the LTNs he called “botched, liveable streets, road closures scheme”.
Residents have been heavily divided on the issue since many London boroughs introduced LTNs in 2020, following funding from the Department of Transport in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dozens of people stood outside Mulberry Place Town Hall with banners and chanted: “Safer streets and cleaner air, listen to us mr mayor”.
The mayor did not directly address the campaigners outside.
The intention of LTNs was to close roads to cars to encourage residents to walk and cycle more and to clear congestion in residential areas.
The polarising issue has caused a drastic divide of opinions in areas impacted. Activists from groups like Hackney Together argue that congestion is simply diverted to main roads, affecting council house residents and schools.
In August, Tower Hamlets council reviewed the Liveable Streets programme following substantial backlash since its launch in 2020 and reported incidents of emergency services being hindered by road closures.
The result of the public response to surveys on the issue was the lifting of closures on Teesdale Street at the junction with Old Bethnal Green, Canrobert Street, Punderson’s Gardens and Clarkson Street in the Bethnal Green area.
Save our Safer Streets campaigners from the Hackney and Tower Hamlets boroughs had launched a petition gaining 3,094 signatures to stop the plans to scrap the new street layouts. But Tower Hamllets mayor Lutfur Rahman has so far refused to back down in his constituency and has declared a plan of action for all the affected areas.
Bethnal Green resident and campaigner for Save our Safer Streets Rob Andari said: “We’re here to express our objection to the mayor’s plans to tear out the public improvements”.
“Community life has prospered… there are four schools on the road so there’s less traffic danger for students”.
During the meeting, local teacher Simon Ramsay, along with residents Jane and Shaheena, brought the save our safer streets petition to the council.
Jane asked the mayor not to reverse the Liveable Streets scheme and “waste council funds by turning back the clocks”.
In response to the petition the mayor said: “As an administration which listens… I will not be removing the restrictions from Wapping”. He did not address LTNs in other areas of Tower Hamlets.
At the meeting on October 5, the council were also due to decide whether to adopt the Spitalfields Neighbourhood Plan, which drew in other campaigners.
The plan would implement stricter planning policies in the area and hand more power to residents to decide which developments could go ahead in Spitalfields.
Those in favour of the plan hope for the protection of the area as a residential space, with an interest in enhancing green spaces and reducing anti-social behaviour. But those against the plan argue that it would divide the diverse community by creating unnecessary borders and only benefit some groups.
Guja Kaan, chair of the Banglatown business association, said: “We don’t agree with the plan. Brick Lane, Banglatown, has been a diverse, equal community since I was born”.
The protestors urged the mayor to reject the neighbourhood plan. Kaan said: “We do not wish to see any diversion between the rich and the poor”.
Protestors held signs reading: “No division based on social class” and “no to racist Spitalfields Neighbourhood Plan”.
During the meeting, councillor Kabir Ahmed announced the motion had been rejected. “The Spitalfields Neighbourhood plan will not be supported by the Aspire group,” he said.
If you are a resident of Tower Hamlets and would like to contribute your comments about LTNs in your area you can email firstname.lastname@example.org