Chisenhale Road School Streets © Social Street C.I.C

Mayor Rahman removes Chisenhale School Streets today ‘without consultation’

A scheme to close the roads around Chisenhale Primary School during drop off and pick up is to be removed today by Mayor Rahman

A London-wide scheme introduced to stop cars from driving along the roads around Chisenhale Primary School at peak drop-off and collection times is to be removed today.

The scheme, called School Streets and introduced by the former Labour administration, has been in place at Chisenhale Primary School since April 2021 as an experimental traffic order (ETO). 

Chisenhale’s ETO saw the implementation of timed road restrictions, monitored by cameras. The road restrictions were in place on Chisenhale, Ellesmere, Kenilworth, Vivian, and Zealand roads. The cameras were in operation for one hour in the morning, during drop-off times, and one hour, during collection times. 

An ETO must be in operation for at least 6 months but must not exceed 18 months. The effects are monitored and assessed before the Council decides whether or not to make permanent changes brought in by the ETO.

When the deadline was coming up for Chisenhale’s ETO, Tower Hamlets’ Public Realm team, which oversees public development in the borough, recommended to Mayor Rahman that the School Streets scheme stay. Mayor Rahman told them to allow the ETO to lapse, meaning the streets around the school will revert to how they were before.

Chisenhale Primary School’s headteacher, Gemma Anidi, said: ‘We are very disappointed by the Mayor’s decision. The removal of School Streets puts children’s lives at risk, and will discourage the many who walk and cycle to school from doing so. I worry deeply now about the safety of children travelling to and from school.’

Some parents have reacted with anger to the news. Local parent Sophie Timson whose two children, Nell and Pearl, attend Chisenhale, said: ‘Making this change that prioritises cars and vans over kids’ safety is a backward step. First, there’s the climate crisis but also it’s the principle of young kids’ lungs and their safety.’ 

The decision to remove the scheme caught the attention of the national press; The Evening Standard and Time Out reported on the news and it was featured on BBC London. Television and radio presenter and journalist Jeremy Vine responded to Green Party Councillor for Bow West Nathalie Bienfait’s tweet voicing her disappointment at the scheme’s removal with a shaking head gif. The news even made it across the pond, with American podcast show ‘The War on Cars’ tweeting about Chisenhale’s Street Scheme to its 64,000 followers.

Bienfait said that School Streets are ‘so important for children’ in terms of safety to and from school and for their health, that she never thought ‘the Mayor would have ever dreamed of just completely removing them’. Bienfait added that it is ‘a shameful and irresponsible act’. 

She pointed out that in Mayor Rahman’s manifesto he stated he would ‘rip up road closures’ but she said that most people understood that to mean Livable Streets, and not School Streets which is separate from Liveable Streets

Mayor Rahman was elected as Mayor of Tower Hamlets in May 2022, with his Aspire Party winning the most council seats in the borough. His manifesto stated he would ‘Reopen our roads, and abolish the failed Liveable Streets scheme’ if he were elected.

Bienfait said: ‘School Streets are a camera-enforced permit scheme that is specifically geared to protect children. This is absolutely not something that should be at the mercy of someone’s manifesto.’ 

Bienfait’s fellow councillor, Asma Begum for the Labour Party, said she is ‘appalled’ at the removal however, she said, ‘I’ve worked in opposition for Rahman before and this doesn’t surprise me in any way, shape or form.’ 

Begum said Mayor Rahman should have consulted key stakeholders, including Chisenhale Primary School’s senior leadership team and its PTA, but that Mayor Rahman ‘is not interested’ in their views.

Both councillors were given two working days’ notice of the Mayor’s decision to take out the scheme after the Public Realm team sent out an email on Thursday. The email was not sent to the school and Anidi was informed by the councillors. Anidi emailed parents on the scheme’s removal on Friday. Reacting to the news, protests have been organised over the half-term week by parents, pupils and concerned residents.

A consultation on the School Streets scheme was conducted by council officers with local residents in February 2022, under the former Labour administration. The results of this consultation have not been made public. While there is no legal requirement to publish the results, parents and councillors have asked Mayor Rahman and the Public Realm team to publish the results. 

We contacted Mayor Rahman and asked him for an interview. His office responded with a comment from the Mayor: ‘The Chisenhale Primary School Street was established through an Experimental Traffic Order (ETO), which introduced road closures for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. The ETO has now lapsed, and I have decided – in keeping with my manifesto promise to re-open our roads – that the road closures will not be made permanent.

However, I take the safety of our children extremely seriously, and have therefore asked officers of the Council to examine alternatives to the ETO, including (though not limited to) the possibility of introducing zebra crossings in the immediate vicinity of the school, as well as increasing the number of traffic wardens, yellow lines, ‘do not stop’ signages, and traffic management personnel – such as lollipop ladies and men – outside of the school. I will update residents as soon as these options have been properly assessed by officers.’

School Streets is not to be confused with the Chisenhale Play Space, which is a separate scheme. It was introduced in spring 2021 after parents, pupils and teachers, with some funding from the then Labour-led council administration, raised £10,000 created to give children greater space to socially distance during playtime. The Play Space involved the closure of a stretch of Chisenhale Road.

Parents and pupils are concerned with removal of the Play Space, which they helped to fund, but it is the removal of the School Streets scheme that raises further questions for all other schools in the borough. Supported by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, School Streets was implemented at 20 schools across the borough by spring 2022, with plans to roll it out to a further 30 schools under the former Labour administration. With the new Aspire administration’s commitment to ‘reopen roads’, the question on many parents lips is, will Mayor Rahman also remove the temporary restriction on motorised traffic at school drop-off and pick-up times from other schools in the borough?

A petition was been launched by Labour councillors on Monday, requesting that the Mayor keep Chisenhale’s School Streets.

Parents and children protesting outside Chisenhale Primary School against the removal of School Streets scheme, Bow, East London
Parents and pupils of Chisenhale Primary School have been organising protests over the October half-term against the reversal of School Streets and the removal of the Chisenhale Play Space.

If you read this article, then read our piece on the impact of rising energy bills in our schools this autumn.

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