Just a few weeks ago my little cluster of streets in Enfield found itself on the front line of London’s Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) battleground. Now, the final barrier of the Bowes Primary Area scheme is in place, blocking all vehicle access to 13 streets except via the North Circular urban motorway.
As elsewhere, this LTN is a rush job, with £100,000 of national government funds designed to promote “active travel” and counter the threat of gridlock as people return to their cars – in our particular case, those seeking to avoid a regularly congested bottleneck corner of the North Circular by cutting through one of our streets.
Under the terms of the experimental traffic order implementing the scheme, consultation takes place only after the plans are in place. Everyone can have their say, the council promises, with options open to amend or even abandon it altogether.
But the opposition LTNs are engendering is not abating. A reported 300 people gathered by one of out new barriers on Saturday, buoyed by the news that Wandsworth’s LTNs have been formally “paused” by the council there.
“It’s a sad day for democracy,” said local resident Roland Hewes (pictured). “The Covid funding has allowed this to be implemented with no consultation, and we are now basically a cul-de-sac off the North Circular road. It’s a dangerous road, a very over-congested road, and it’s now the only way in to our neighbourhood.”
Hewes, one of founders of the Bounds and Bowes Voice group set up in opposition to the current council scheme, argues for a plan “supported by the majority of the community”. He brought his bike to the protest. “I cycle a lot with my family,” he said. “I’m not some sort of petrolhead as we’ve been labelled.
“The notion that we can all get on our bikes is wrong. The roads here are not set up for cycling. You can’t just tell people what’s good for them. And people rely on access. We need to work together for an area-wide solution.”
The protest also saw the first cracks in Enfield’s resolve, with ward councillors Yasemin Brett and Achilleas Georgiou, while supporting low traffic neighbourhoods “in principle”, pledging to raise residents’ concerns at a meeting tonight of the council’s ruling Labour group.
“I don’t support the scheme in its current form,” said Brett, adding that the plan had prompted more engagement from residents than she had known in some 20 years as a local councillor. The implementation of the scheme had been “regrettable”, said Georgiou. “It needs proper consultation”.
The Bowes LTN is also under fire from the council’s former deputy leader Daniel Anderson, now part of a four-strong “Community First” breakaway group of ex-Labour councillors. Anderson previously oversaw the council’s controversial “mini-Holland” walking and cycling-friendly road programme.
Neighbouring Haringey Council has also warned that the Enfield scheme risks displacing traffic into Haringey roads, underlining the complexities of addressing traffic issues in an area with TfL roads, bus routes and competing priorities that straddles borough boundaries.
Haringey is now considering its own scheme. “We fully understand why Enfield has chosen to undertake this piece of work; however we are clear that their ambitions cannot be achieved to the detriment of our residents and road network,” Haringey’s cabinet member for neighbourhoods Seema Chandwani says in a letter to residents.
And social media keeps buzzing, with the scheme’s champion, Enfield deputy leader Ian Barnes turning to YouTube to make his case and urging residents to put their views forward during the consultation period.
“It’s not fair that the residential streets of Bowes should be a pressure valve for the increasing number of vehicles on the North Circular,” he says.
For Barnes, behaviour change – for “rat-runners” cutting through the area but also for residents – is at the heart of the scheme, as part of the council’s wider commitment to tackle road safety, pollution, climate change and childhood obesity.
“We want to persuade residents to leave the car at home and feel the health benefits of walking or cycling,” he says. “We firmly believe that the Bowes low traffic neighbourhood scheme will create behaviour change and ultimately reduce vehicle numbers in the area.”
Critics have already countered with their own take on Barnes’ film, while the active travel campaign group Better Streets Enfield continues to ask residents to support the plan “even if you don’t love it”, warning that funding could be lost and further improvements delayed if it is aborted.
Meanwhile, another group, Bounds and Bowes Together, has entered the social media arena to address “increasingly polarised” positions. “We’re sad to see our community split like this and we want to bring people back together,” they say. “Let’s get a road plan that works for everyone.” The big question is, can that happen?
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