Freedom of Information request reveals Liveable Streets reversal was based on six individual objections, amid residents’ growing frustration at a lack of communication from Tower Hamlets Council.
Local people are increasingly concerned about the growing number of unanswered Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and the Council’s lack of public engagement over the reversal of Liveable Streets schemes across the borough.
Residents on Antill Road are growing frustrated: in July 2022 the traffic filter on Antill Road was removed after having been in place for fewer than five months.
Tower Hamlets Council website states that the decision to reopen Antill Road from 18 July 2022 was made ‘following a review and feedback from residents,’ but this was the one scheme reversal for which no formal consultations were held.
An FOI request (published below) obtained this week by a group of Antill Road residents revealed that six individuals submitted an objection to the traffic filter on the junction of Antill Road and Selwyn Road which led to its removal.
The FOI showed that no objections were made by local businesses, the emergency services, or residents with limited mobility and that the council holds no evidence of the impacts (positive or negative) of the scheme on residents who have limited mobility.
There are no air quality monitors on Antill Road, but the two nearest nitrogen dioxide monitors on St Stephen’s Road / Tredegar Road and Ford Close / Roman Road, show that air quality has improved slightly from 2019 to 2022, with annual average levels of nitrogen dioxide decreasing from 38.66 to 30.73 and 34 to 28.78 respectively.
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides public access to information held by public authorities including government departments, local authorities, the NHS, state schools and police forces.
Under the act, authorities must respond after 20 working days. They may claim a reasonable extension, and an extension beyond an additional 20 working days should be exceptional.
In the Tower Hamlets cabinet meeting on Wednesday 28 September, Mayor Lutfur Rahman announced a delay in the decision to remove low-traffic infrastructure in the borough.
He stated: ‘Thousands of residents have responded to our public opinion surveys concerning the removal of the road restrictions. And we are currently going through these submissions with the due care and diligence that is required.’
A local resident of Antill Road said: ‘Following the removal of the Antill Road traffic filter, we organised a petition signed by 713 people that was formally submitted to the Council on 27 July. We also organised a peaceful protest which was attended by 100+ people.
‘We are extremely disappointed that the Council removed the filter based solely on six objections and are struggling to get any further information or understand next steps.’
They added: ‘Our follow up emails to find out more information were ignored.’
The council replied to the petition on 27 September, two months after it was submitted, saying that the removal of the traffic filter would involve a six month consultation period considering whether to make the changes permanent, but gave no details of how information would be collected.
Antill Road resident, Robin Brayne said: ‘We keep asking for evidence about which roads the filter displaced traffic onto and what the impacts have been, but there is just no evidence.’
Brayne submitted a similar FOI request to the document pictured below on 22 July 2022. Despite a Council officer giving the date of 19 August as to when he should expect a reply, Brayne still has not heard back.
‘Lots of different people have asked lots of different questions of the Council and we haven’t had anything back. We’ve emailed the Mayor directly, we’ve emailed the highway people, you don’t get any information from them at all.
‘[The Council] finally published this one, which does cover most of the questions we’ve all asked, but I had to go and search and find that reply myself online, I had no notification that a similar request had been received or replied to, and we’ve waited till the end of September when they took out the filter on 18 July.
‘It feels like there’s not any route to having a grown-up conversation with the Council about it at the moment, which is a very frustrating position to be in.’
Chris Rawlins, a resident of Aberavon Road, objected to the road closure on Antill Road based on the fact that residents had to pay a £20 annual charge to maintain access to the roads.
Rawlins said: ‘People voted for Mayor Rahman partly because the reversal was one of his manifesto promises, and I do believe when parties are voted in they should follow their manifesto and try to implement it as much as possible.
‘But due process still needs to be followed and it’s unclear to me whether it’s being followed or not … it’s about ensuring that people who are taking decisions don’t just ride roughshod over the legal obligations.’
In Mayor Rahman’s manifesto, he pledged to reverse the ‘botched’ Liveable Streets road closures removing elements of the existing schemes that he says have added to congestion on main roads and limited access for emergency services and vulnerable residents.
Brayne said: ‘Yes, he did, but the Mayor also pledged to consult with affected residents and hear their viewpoints before taking any action on traffic calming measures. … We were asking for evidence of this one not working.
‘Because we had this very specific compromise measure which is not a physical roadblock but an ANPR camera one, we thought that ours could be the compromised solution that people were asking for because it does keep the road open and it does allow for emergency services.
‘We have asked for evidence, engagement, or alternative solutions, and heard nothing.’
The camera allowed residents, emergency vehicles and holders of disabled “blue badges” to use the road but penalised other drivers, including those who sought to use it as a shortcut to avoid Mile End Road or the A12, as they headed into central London.
Other residents across the borough have also expressed frustration at the long wait to receive FOI responses from the Council.
One local resident of Selwyn Road, submitted an FOI request to the council about the removal of the Antill Road traffic filter on 5 July 2022. He was told by the council that he would receive a response by 2 August 2022 but has still not heard back.
Save Our Safer Streets campaign group in Bethnal Green sent an open letter to Mayor Rahman on 17 July co-signed by 677 local residents that went unanswered.
A spokesperson for the group said: ‘Some people received [FOI] responses after more than two months, and others were told that their FOIs were refused under a statutory exemption meant to apply to information that is intended to be published in the future. The Council didn’t indicate when it might do this.’
In his announcement to the cabinet on Wednesday, Mayor Rahman said that he would provide an update on the remaining restrictions ‘in due course,’ but did not share the results of the Reopening our Roads consultations held in Brick Lane, Bethnal Green, and Wapping and Weavers in August.
Simon Ramsay, headteacher of Oaklands School on Old Bethnal Green Road who is leading the campaign, welcomed Mayor Rahman’s commitment to ‘grasp all the issues affecting our residents on both sides of the debate’.
However, he said: ‘We are disappointed to hear him repeat many unproven claims about the impacts of the new street layouts. It’s frustrating that he didn’t share the results of the recent consultation either, six weeks after it finished.
‘Our petition, signed by over 3,000 locals, asked him to take the time to listen. He says that he will, and we hope this means he will truly take all views on board.’
The petition will be debated at the next Tower Hamlets Council meeting on Wednesday 5 October.
The public meeting starts at 7pm and will be held at The Council Chamber, 1st Floor, Town Hall, Mulberry Place, 5 Clove Crescent, London, E14 2BG.
Roman Road LDN reached out to Tower Hamlets Council and received no reply.
If you liked this article, read the previous piece in our series: Liveable Streets: The case for reversal.
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