Business owners inside a low traffic neighbourhood believe it will be the “final nail in the coffin” for them after Covid-19.  

Lewisham Council implemented the Lee Green Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) in late June, where physical barriers were placed in streets to stop motor vehicles coming through. Four camera-enforced filters were added on August 7. 

LTNs aim to reduce car usage, with many being introduced across London under emergency measures to help social distancing and encourage more active travel in the wake of the pandemic.  

But the majority of business owners inside the LTN told the local democracy service last week (August 20) that the road closures had caused a significant downturn. 

Dry cleaners, cafes, newsagents, and barbers reported customer losses of up to 80 per cent – many predicted they will be forced to close if nothing changes. 

A few said they hadn’t noticed a big drop, but said most of their customers used to come by foot before the closures. 

Areas outside the LTN have experienced spikes in traffic, which businesses say will stop people coming as journey times have increased. 

They said that though Covid-19 has had an effect, there was a significant drop following the traffic calming measures specifically.

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Rains Pharmacy, Staplehurst Rd

Rains Pharmacy by Hither Green Station, by the LTN border, said half their customers live outside the LTN and they are having significant issues delivering medicine to elderly, shielding customers who “are in dire need of it”.  

On the day of a crash in the area, they said they were unable to deliver any medicine because of the resulting traffic. They have experienced an estimated 50 per cent drop in business. 

Across the road in Mem’s Barbers, concerns are the same. A worker said they have seen a huge drop in business, while a customer described the journey to get there as a “nightmare”, a word repeated by numerous people throughout the day.  

The owner of the Blue Marlin Fish Bar said the same.  

Atilla praised locals for their support throughout the pandemic but said deliveries were difficult with journeys significantly lengthened.  

He said they were using Just Eat, which has helped, but he was very concerned about the future of the business.  

“The council has created an open prison,” he said.  

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Blue Marlin Fish Bar

Hither Green Cafe’s owner said the previously “buzzy” square by the station is now “ghostly” in the morning after the road closures.  

He said the cafe was doing ok after help from the Government and “local people […] who really and truly supported us”.  

But he said the businesses there “will fail” unless the council opens up the roads or puts money into making the space more attractive to spend time in.  

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Businesses by Hither Green Station are concerned about their future after the road closures led to a downturn

Businesses on Burnt Ash Hill said along with the drop in customers, they are concerned about air pollution because traffic has spiked since the LTN launched. 

Take-away restaurants reported delivery times of over an hour and a huge influx of complaints as a result.  

Businesses in Manor Lane seem to be particularly affected, with a dry cleaner reporting an 80 per cent drop in customers, while a cafe owner said he makes about £50 a day now, compared to hundreds before the closures.

“Lewisham Council might as well come and pick up the keys to this place,” he said. 

H Dervis was brought up above Hair Deco in Manor Lane, a family business for the past 55 years.  

He said he has seen a lot of changes over the past five decades, but was “appalled and disgusted” by the new measures.  

“All these businesses have invested thousands of pounds […] I’ve invested 35 years of my life. We come back after Covid on high-anxiety alert, and then you block off all the roads. 

“That six-month trial is enough to put [us all] under,” he said.  

He also said he didn’t want people outside the LTN to suffer poorer air quality, while “privileged” people inside benefitted.  

Mr Dervis’s staff have had their journey times to work increased because of traffic outside the LTN, even in public transport. 

He suggested cobblestone roads instead of the closures, which “would add character and slow cars down”, but the council said that was not allowed under TfL’s rules.  

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Manor Lane businesses

Most businesses agreed car usage “must go down”, but said a different solution is needed or a lot of them will fail. 

The council said it “continues to listen carefully to feedback from residents and business owners”, but businesses said they felt ignored and like their experiences “didn’t matter”.  

Mark, who owns Clodhoppers Shoe Repairs in Burnt Ash Hill, said the changes were “ridiculous”. 

“Covid hasn’t helped but, quite honestly, this could be the final nail in the coffin. People are avoiding the area, it’s just a nonsense.” 

He said he understood it “might be nice” for some residents but pollution in some roads has increased “fourfold”. 

“[The council] just does what it wants to do. They never seem to listen. If it is permanent, business is going to drop by at least 30 per cent and that is a matter of failure and survival, especially in this economic climate. 

“It seems like they don’t give a damn about the shopkeepers, and shopkeepers contribute to the borough. 

“The people from Lee and Hither Green have given me a living for 39 years and I think a lot of them.  

“The majority of people who live [here] are really lovely, nice decent people,” he said. 

A council spokesperson said they “know that supporting local businesses is critical in our economic recovery”. 

“We have been providing support particularly to those who are trading in areas where we have implemented temporary Covid-19 transport measures.  

“This has included creating more space for pedestrians on high streets and improving safety for pedestrians and cyclists on streets with modal filters. 

“A study found that people walking, cycling and using public transport spend 40 per cent more in their local shops each month than car drivers do, and that high street walking, cycling and public realm improvements can increase retail sales by up to 30 per cent,” she said. 

She added that the council installed more signs to warn drivers about barriers and is “working with Satnav providers” to stop them directing drivers down closed routes.