A leading environmental campaigner whose daughter’s death may have been linked to air pollution said the surge in traffic by her home following a new LTN is “like a slap in the face”.  

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah’s daughter Ella died in 2013 when she was just nine years old after suffering three years of seizures from severe asthma attacks.   

The mum-of-three successfully campaigned for a new inquest into her death – the High Court granted one last year after new evidence came to light. It is due to be held later this year.  

The Lee Green LTN (low traffic neighbourhood), which was implemented at the end of June, aims to reduce rat-running, improve air quality, and encourage greener modes of transport. 

It was already planned under Lewisham Council’s healthy neighbourhood programme, but is now covered by emergency transport measures in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The scheme involves 13 modal filters, physical and camera-enforced barriers that cut off roads to through-traffic. 

It has created much more space for cycling and walking, but left some streets safer than others as traffic is displaced to neighbouring areas.   

The changes have had many different reactions, positive and negative, while the majority of people are supportive of improving air quality and creating safer streets.  

See more: Lee Green LTN needed to tackle air pollution, say backers

Some residents outside the LTN have seen a significant increase in traffic in their streets since June, and whether it will decrease remains to be seen – the scheme has not been fully rolled out, with cameras yet to be installed.  

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Hither Green Lane

Ms Kissi-Debrah, who lives in Hither Green, an area experiencing a spike in traffic, said the scheme is “insane” and an example of “environmental racism”.  

“I find it unacceptable to push traffic from the other side of Hither Green to add to the traffic on the South Circular.  

“The South Circular is never going to move so people on this side are always going to have the traffic from [it]. 

“Hither Green Lane (HGL) has now turned into a replica of the South Circular, and that’s putting it mildly.  

“Whatever they have to do to stop Hither Green Lane being gridlocked, they have to do it,” she said.  

Residents in HGL, as well as other streets, have been reporting heavy traffic as early as 1.30pm that continues into the evening.  

“What I’m most annoyed about is councillors’ patronising responses, as if people on this side are stupid. For example ‘you need to give it time’. I need to give it time? 

“Not only did they not consult us when they closed off roads, where did they think the traffic was going to go?” she said. 

Ms Kissi-Debrah said “what is unforgivable” is that we are in the midst of a pandemic.  

“The numbers from the BAME community on this side are more than on the other side. The other side is more affluent. 

“It’s environmental racism,” she said. 

The term refers to racial discrimination in environmental policy making, where some groups are affected more negatively than others.  

“I don’t blame people for wanting quieter roads, but they need to understand that they do not have the South Circular in the midst of their neighbourhood.  

“People live on these main roads, and it’s the poorer people who live on them.  

“Gloating that your children can now go out and play or cycle does not help things. 

“Does that mean my children do not deserve to do that? These are questions people need to ask themselves. 

“It is as if now that the traffic is not in their neighbourhood, they are not concerned where the traffic was.  

“Because when I campaign, I don’t just campaign for my children, I campaign for all children. But some are more equal than others it appears,” she said.  

The hope for reducing the traffic build up is that drivers will get frustrated and choose another route.  

But people are concerned it will not have eased by the time school starts up again. 

“By September this will be a disaster zone. I see this as a slap in the face from the local council after all my hard work of campaigning over the last six years. 

“I am always going to see this as a matter of life and death. 

“I also wouldn’t be happier if they pushed traffic from the South Circular elsewhere because it’s other people’s children who that will affect […] their children mean as much to them as mine mean to me.  

“We’re not against low traffic neighbourhoods, what we’re against is areas where the traffic isn’t as bad pushing their traffic onto this side,” she said.  

If Ella was still alive, she would soon be opening her GCSE results. 

“The timing, you couldn’t even make this up, [along with] the response from those that implemented it and are now trying to defend it.  

“You have to think about Ultra-Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) to reduce the traffic – I don’t see all the car schemes that have been put in place. 

“You can’t just block off roads and give no other alternatives,” she said.  

We are monitoring this area for changes in air quality and we do expect with a reduction in overall traffic that there will be further improvements in air quality for all,

Cllr Sophie McGeevor, cabinet member for environment and transport, said that a car-based recovery in the wake of the pandemic “would be a disaster”.  

“I have huge respect for Rosamund as an air quality campaigner, and her feelings and opinions are highly valued by myself and the council as an organisation.   

“We share the same aims, to reduce traffic and improve air quality. 

“Everyone has been clear that a car-based recovery to Covid-19 in London would be a disaster, leading to increased congestion and declining air quality.  

“With 60 per cent of all car journeys being less than 2.5 miles in London there is a huge opportunity to reduce the number of car journeys on all of our roads.  

“The measures we have put in place during Covid-19 are there to support people who want to or have no other option to walk or cycle, and are intended to support traffic reduction on all roads including in Hither Green. 

“Air quality has significantly improved in Lewisham and on the south circular in recent years and we expect it to improve even further when the Ultra-Low Emission Zone is extended.  

“We are monitoring this area for changes in air quality and we do expect with a reduction in overall traffic that there will be further improvements in air quality for all,” Cllr McGeevor said.