Councils bosses were quizzed about “alarming” reports following the introduction of emergency Covid-19 transport measures in Lewisham at an overview and scrutiny business panel meeting on Tuesday night (August 18). 

Lewisham Council has brought in a host of measures across the borough aiming to aid social distancing and promote active travel in the wake of the pandemic.  

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Planters in Lee Green, which aim to cut off through traffic and make roads safer

The Lee Green low traffic neighbourhood is causing particular concern among some residents, who have seen a spike in traffic outside their homes. 

Telegraph Hill ward Councillor Luke Sorba relayed questions his constituents had raised, including how long the Temporary Traffic Orders will be in place, when the public consultation on whether they should be made permanent or not will be held, and how emergency services were consulted. 

“There’s a claim being made that some of our measures, rather than reducing traffic, are displacing it from one set of streets to another, and there’s a rather alarming suggestion being made that in one part of our borough [it’s] being displaced from the more affluent streets to the more deprived streets,” he said. 

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Residents in Hither Green Lane have reported huge spikes in traffic

Cllr Sorba also asked what is being done to measure the effect of the changes “so that we can allay those fears with some evidence and data”.  

His concerns were echoed by several other councillors.  

Kevin Sheehan, executive director for housing, regeneration and public realm, stressed that the changes are not permanent, and that the “intention is to assess these temporary measures to see how they’re working” by measuring their impact.  

“Then come back and think about what permanent measures we might put in place over the longer term with some evidence to base those decisions on,” he said. 

Mr Sheehan said emergency services were consulted and “fully involved throughout”, but it was “reasonable to say that any time you move traffic around from one set of roads to another […] there is always potential for an impact on those services”.  

He said there will be “some level of displacement” initially with any traffic reduction scheme.  

“We hope that some of that will eventually lead to reduction, but it’s inevitable that the initial phase will involve displacement until people get used to the changes and start to think about the modes of transport,” Mr Sheehan said. 

He added there was “no design” to try to move traffic from one residential area to another, “if […] anything it’s to move it onto the main highways and bigger roads”.  

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Mr Sheehan (TL) responds to concerns

Louise McBride, head of highways and transport, said although TTOs can be in place for up to 18 months, it is “not our intention” to have them in place for that long.  

She said the council will be monitoring traffic counts and air quality while the scheme is in place.  

She said the council did traffic counts in July and more will be done in September to “inform the next steps”, while air quality monitoring stations are set up around Lewisham and Lee Green.  

“We’ll be supplementing that with diffusion tubes and additional monitoring stations around that area and also other locations in the borough,” Ms McBride said.  

Cllr Peter Bernards asked where the funds raised from fines would go to allay fears it was a money-making scheme – he was told it would go back into highways.  

Cllr Juliet Campbell asked what the council was doing to encourage people to drive less “rather than just putting all the traffic reduction schemes in place”.  

“Because people just see the reduction schemes in place and find alternative ways of getting to where they’re going unless there’s something else to incentivise them to drive less,” she said.  

Mr Sheehan there are schemes in place, such as bike loan and bike support schemes, safe walking routes, while the council is “working with local schools to look at different ways that they can bring the children to school”.  

“We need to get that balance right between the carrot and the stick and to try to change people’s mentality overall […]” he said.