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BEECH STREET TUNNEL CLOSURE UK’s First Zero Emission Street... and for Golden Lane?

You will be aware from the Evening Standard articles on 16 and 17 December and local television news that Beech Street tunnel will become the UK’s first zero emission street (ZES), with an 18 month trial starting in March.

What you may not be aware of, since there has been no consultation, are the consequences for us residents of Golden Lane Estate and adjacent residential areas.

What is the project?

Only emission free vehicles will be allowed through the tunnel. There will be a few exceptions, and the 153 bus is already electric. There will be APNR cameras at each end and fines for drivers whose vehicles are not emission free.

Golden Lane and Bridgewater Street will become 'no through roads' with bollards, so vehicles which usually use that route to the tunnel will have to turn/ U turn and return up Golden Lane.

Islington will shortly be announcing their plans for Fortune Street. If it remains open, I suspect it may become a rat run in this scenario.

What are the consequences?

The key ones...

Higher pollution levels on Golden Lane and Goswell Road  - up to 10% worse at the Golden Lane/Old Street junction.

Higher noise levels on Golden Lane and Goswell Road - no figures available.

More traffic and, in the case of Golden Lane, U turning traffic, increasing the risk of accidents. 

What are the benefits?

Better air quality in the tunnel, but as the traffic will remain two way there is no scope for widening pavements or cycleways. 

The results

Pedestrians and cyclists, who can choose another route, get cleaner air.

Residents who have to use the surrounding streets get more pollution, noise and more chance of an accident.

 

I asked two questions at the Court of Common Council on Thursday 16 January.

 

“Whilst the Chairman of the Planning and Transportation Committee has been given notice of my question, the residents of Golden Lane Estate and adjacent areas have not been given notice of the project for making Beech Street tunnel the first zero emission street in London.

The first they knew about it was when they read about it in the Evening Standard just before Christmas. They still have no information and neither do I other than what I have now found in reports.

So that I can inform them, would the Chairman please state the project’s objectives and its benefits, what options were considered and who the Corporation considers to be the stakeholders”

 ​ 

The Planning Chair’s answer contained the following statements:

 

  • “I would however like to make a sincere apology,..... the press announcement may have caused confusion and worry ……The engagement plan with businesses and residents including those in Golden Lane area was planned to be undertaken in the New Yearwith the scheme approved in public committee … followed up by a press release. This resulted in residents reading about the scheme in the press. This is clearly not acceptable”;
  • “Now we have certainty about the start date of the scheme, we will be communicating the project to our local communities and businesses and to local members”;
  • "The objective is to bring about a significant improvement of air quality to the thousands of people cycling and using the street- To bring Beech Street and the entrance to Richard Cloudesley School and Prior Weston Primary School within the limits set out by the European and world health organisation”;
  • “Like Bank Junction, this is an experimental traffic order”;
  • “Consultation will coincide with the first 6 months of the restriction”;
  • “We consider everyone who uses Beech Street, or lives and works nearby, to be stakeholders”;
  • “Before the restrictions come into force ….an information campaign will take place”;
  • “I must emphasise that this is an experimental scheme, and will be adapted immediately if necessary based on the results of the consultation and monitoring”.

 

Although the Planning Chair admits that the announcement of the project was mishandled, and apologises for it, he does not take the obvious step of postponing the start of the project to undertake a consultation. Instead, in the next sentence, he declares that the project will start as planned.

 

The use of the word “confusion” in relation to residents is unfortunate. The same word was used by the Standards Chair in relation to 1,100 residents who signed a petition in April 2019 expressing no confidence in the City Corporation’s standards regime. In neither case is the use of the word correct. Residents are not confused about what the City Corporation does; they have been given no information, and are ignored and forgotten.  And they have every reason for “worry”.

 

The Planning Chair says the Corporation will now be communicating the project to the stakeholders through an "information campaign". That sounds like propaganda, not consultation. I have found that they are proposing drop ins, the usual way to divide and conquer. I will be asking for public meetings where all residents can hear the questions asked and the answers given. They can also hear the facts about the scheme from the project leader.

 

The Planning Chair’s comparison with Bank Junction is misleading. After a number of accidents, the Bank Junction scheme was devised to make the junction safer for cyclists and pedestrians. Its closure at busy times on weekdays except to pedestrians, cyclists and buses displaces other traffic, and thus pollution, to the surrounding streets in a business area where people typically don’t live. The closure of Beech Street 24 hours a day, 7 days a week except to pedestrians, cyclists and mainly electric vehicles displaces other traffic, and thus pollution, to the surrounding streets in a large residential area.

 

Regarding the schools mentioned in the Planning Chair’s answer, I am a governor of Richard Cloudesley School, and care about the well being of children in that school and the other schools in our area. But the entrance to Richard Cloudesley School is not inside, or just outside, Beech Street Tunnel, as someone without local knowledge might assume from the answer. It is some way up Golden Lane. City of London Primary Academy Islington, a school presently under construction and not mentioned by the Planning Chair, is much further up Golden Lane, where pollution levels are predicted to be higher than at present. Prior Weston Primary School is on Whitecross Street and again some distance from the tunnel. While the implementation of this project will prevent some pollution drifting from the tunnel towards the entrance to Richard Cloudesley School, all three schools will suffer from increased traffic outside their entrances, and thus direct pollution and reduced road safety. U turning vehicles outside Richard Cloudesley School will be a particular hazard.

 

The objective of the Beech Street project to bring about a significant improvement of air quality won’t overall be achieved. All that will happen is that pollution will be displaced from one street, which pedestrians and cyclists can choose not to use, to streets in an area where people live and have no choice but to suffer from it.  The project will overall cause the same pollution to have a worse effect.

 

I had the opportunity to ask a supplementary question, which I took.

 

I thank the Chairman for his reply.

However the only benefit from this project is cleaner air in Beech Street tunnel for the cyclists and pedestrians who pass through it for just a few minutes. That small benefit comes at the price of the residents of Golden Lane and adjacent areas suffering up to 8% more pollution, on a 24/7 basis, as a result of the displaced traffic, together with increased noise and reduced road safety. Cyclists and pedestrians don’t have to use the tunnel; they could go another way. The residents, my constituents, will have no choice but to suffer increased pollution as a result of this project.

Our Environment Committee Chair is quoted in the Evening Standard as saying: "Nobody should have to breathe in dirty air, and we will continue to take bold and ambitious steps to ensure that the health of Londoners is protected”. So why is the Corporation undertaking an expensive trial of a project that will result in hundreds of its own residents suffering a material increase in pollution 24 hours a day 7 days a week? This project won’t eliminate pollution; it will just displace it to areas where it will have a worse effect.

This seems to be yet another vanity project that will enable the City to boast of creating the first zero emission street in the country, with no thought for its own residents, or for common sense.

Will the Chairman and the responsible sub-committee reconsider a project that will breach the City’s own policy on clean air and tarnish its reputation?

 

The Planning Chair’s answer contained the following statements:

 

  • “The wider effects of this experiment, if it works… will be an opportunity to learn how to introduce zero emission streets throughout the City”;
  • “I emphasise that this scheme is experimental”.

 

A project that will overall cause the same pollution to have a worse effect is not a good precedent for rolling out similar projects across the City. Beech Street is probably the worst place to start because of its proximity to a large residential area.

Regarding the project being “experimental”, why is the City Corporation experimenting with the health of its residents? It is difficult to imagine this happening in any other local authority. But in any other local authority, 100% of the councillors are elected by residents, as opposed to only around 20% in the City.

 

We are all in favour of improving air quality, and I will support any scheme which improves it for our residents, but I will not support a scheme that compromises our health and our safety for the benefit of transient users of the tunnel who can choose not to use it.

 

I am meeting the Director of Transport and Public Realm on Thursday, 23 January, and will be pressing the residents case.  

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