Like an angry wasp, my local Whatsapp group buzzed into life. Our little cluster of streets just south of the North Circular Road were suddenly on the front line of the low traffic neighbourhood battleground.
We weren’t given much warning of plans to close off our roads brought forward by Enfield Council with cash from the government’s emergency active travel fund. In fact barely the seven days required for the Experimental Traffic Order which will implement the scheme.
On Friday this week, bollards and planters will block vehicle access for 13 streets, except via the A406 urban motorway – no options by car except “joining the masses on the North Circular”, as one neighbour said.
It’s a rush job, apparently to meet the strict requirements of the funding – £100,000 from an initial £5 million made available in London to promote “active travel” and counter the gridlock threat of a “car-led” recovery by reallocating road space for cycling and walking and, in this case, tackling rat-runs.
But that means minimal notice, no prior consultation, and an increasingly vigorous response from local people; leaflets and posters, at least two petitions underway, and social media humming.
Schemes like this provoke strong feelings: On one side, these are “Draconian” measures…foisted on residents who have only just found out about them and feel “democratically disenfranchised”; on another, residents facing only marginally longer journeys place “more emphasis on drivers’ convenience than on healthy streets”. And less repeatable exchanges as well.
As I walked past the existing width restriction gate – it keeps larger vehicles out but not the rat-runners swerving a bottleneck North Circular junction to save themselves a few minutes – posters opposing the scheme, proclaiming “Don’t Fence Me In”, were being ripped down by one local. Another buttonholed me threatening loudly to withhold her council tax if the plan went ahead.
The scheme was signed off by Enfield’s deputy leader Ian Barnes, elected to the council in 2018. He’s mentioned on a poster too, which proclaims the area the “Ian Barnes Community Lockdown Zone”.
Barnes hoped on Facebook that “after the initial bedding in and transition period residents will take a liking to the scheme”. But there’s mounting concern, particularly because consultation will only happen after the scheme is implemented, and because it could be in for up to 18 months before final decisions are made.
And some sense of increasing polarisation – despite what I perceive, I hope not naively, as a general feeling that the rat-running should be tackled somehow. But perhaps not quite in the way the council proposes.
It’s not a new issue round here after all. But the familiar complexities of London’s streetscape – borough boundaries, TfL roads, bus routes, competing priorities – have always militated against easy solutions.
A letter from Barnes reminds residents that a majority highlighted concerns about the volume of through traffic and traffic speeds when asked last Autumn. But that survey did not mention possible road closures or “filters”, and attracted responses from just seven per cent of the 3,634 households contacted.
And plans canvassed by active travel campaign group Better Streets Enfield proposed different measures; centrally-placed road closures – “better practice”, they say – to allow partial access either side of the area, rather than North Circular access only.
A new right turn onto the North Circular has also been a key part of previous thinking, but doesn’t feature in the current plan.
Now, questions are being asked. How will the plan improve congestion around the primary school, which could well have more traffic going past its doors? Won’t access via the A406 only risk the area becoming less attractive rather than more? What other options were considered? What does Haringey say? TfL? And what evidence informed the bid for funding?
Better Streets Enfield concedes that the announcement “came as a bombshell to a lot of residents”, that “not everyone wants to drive in and out of the area via the North Circular”, and that “some car journeys will become much longer as a result”.
The group nevertheless asks us to support the plan “even if you don’t love it”. Improvements will be suggested, it says, but for now, it’s “this imperfect scheme or nothing”.
There will be opportunities to amend the scheme “if required”, Barnes confirms. But many residents are saying why not pause, listen, and get a better scheme from the start.
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