Green road schemes ripped up by council in landmark decision following residents' complaints
A London council will become the first in the country to permanently remove all of its green roads schemes after a formal review, which revealed the extent of their unpopularity. Three cycle lanes and four low-traffic neighbourhoods in Harrow, north London, are to be ripped up later this month following the review and a full consultation with residents. A total of 7,392 responses to six of its seven different schemes were recorded by Harrow Council’s traffic and road safety advisory panel, with its recommendations expected to be enforced later this month.
Ninety-three per cent of residents and workers affected by the Honeypot Lane cycle path in Queensbury called for it to be removed. A further 83 per cent of respondents disapproved of the Sheepcote Road scheme, while 87 per cent called for the Uxbridge Road cycle lane to go. Low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) in Headstone South, Francis Road and Vaughan Road were subject to disapproval ratings that ranged from 65 to 80 per cent.
The Honeypot Lane cycle path in Queensbury, HarrowCredit: Paul Grover for The Telegraph
The report also highlighted increased congestion, higher levels of pollution and delays to emergency service vehicles as a consequence of the LTNs and cycle lanes.
“The engagement and consultation over the experimental six-month period have highlighted that a majority do not agree with the design of the cycle lanes and have clearly indicated that they are not working for all users,” the report concluded. “The schemes were funded on the condition that we only used the Transport for London design criteria, which wasn’t Harrow specific and therefore didn’t account for any local conditions.” Tory London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey, who has pledged to rip up unwanted cycle lanes within 100 days if elected, said that all green transport initiatives in the capital must be subject to a review process.
“I’m not surprised that Harrow Council launched this consultation and I’m glad they’ve given residents the chance to have their say,” he said. “Low-traffic neighbourhoods were introduced at the behest of Sadiq Khan without any consultation. And too often they make traffic and pollution worse – the very problems they were supposed to fix.”
Harrow is the first council to completely scrap its schemes after a formal review period, lasting for six months, and a complete internal consultation with residents over the same time frame. Last September, Wandsworth Council suspended its LTNs after four weeks – in the first month of a review, and while consultation with residents was ongoing – due to “high-level” objections from councillors amid the number of complaints the authority had already received. Paul Osborn, leader of Harrow Council’s Conservative opposition, said the lanes saw low levels of traffic and contributed to divisions in communities.
“It’s incredibly clear that the majority of people are against these schemes, and it’s been clear from the beginning,” Cllr Osborn said. “Even when the evidence became overwhelming that residents were against it, they still didn’t listen. While LTNs create some streets where they don’t have much traffic, all they do is push the traffic onto other roads.
“This was an attempt at an inner London solution in an outer London borough. There are issues that need fixing, but this just wasn’t the way of doing it.”
Stephen Greek, another Conservative councillor in the borough, said he was “overwhelmed” by residents contacting him to complain about the initiative. “Most of the people who are against these cycle lanes are not against cycling or against all cycle lanes,” he said.
“They just cannot even fathom how such a poorly-designed scheme came about. They just wanted to see something well-designed, well thought through, and with a consultation.” While the final decision will rest with Harrow Council’s cabinet, it is widely expected members will support the removal of the LTNs and cycle lanes in a meeting on April 29.
Harrow Council was contacted for comment.
Green revolution turned laughing stock
As Harrow Council introduced three cycle lanes to coincide with the first easing of lockdown last summer, there was hope of a quiet low-traffic revolution in the north London borough. But the reality of the routes, which were funded with GBP683,000 of taxpayer cash as part of Grant Shapps’s GBP2billion green roads scheme, was to prove very different. It was not long before the first doubts emerged.
In September, The Telegraph first reported how an ambulance had been forced to drive the wrong way down a main road to escape a traffic jam on Honeypot Lane, as residents’ committees heard the first tentative concerns about potential consequences for local businesses. Undeterred, councillors would go on to introduce four low-traffic neighbourhoods in October, this time as part of the ‘Streetspace’ active travel policy championed by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. By November, the cracks in the cycle paths had truly started to show, as The Telegraph revealed just six cyclists graced Honeypot Lane in as many hours.
It was a stark contrast to the 2,400 cars, 515 vans, and 206 other vehicles that passed by in the same timeframe. Concerns also extended to emergency service access. On the same morning, an ambulance was forced to slow down and switch lanes in order to avoid contact with traffic cones.
Cycle lobby members had argued that Honeypot Lane – dubbed a ‘ghost cycle lane’ by Harrow Council’s Conservative opposition – was an exception to the rule.
But the opposite soon proved true, as official figures showed it was generally busier than lanes on Sheepcote Road and Uxbridge Road. And by the end of 2020, Harrow’s idealistic policies became yet another flashpoint in an unlikely culture war. Vitriol spilled across from bad-tempered meetings, where participants called each other “self-serving” and “stupid”, as social media activists cherry-picked data to support their arguments online.
Janet Mote, a Conservative councillor, was among those to note the mental health impact on the community. “These schemes are having a detrimental effect on residents – distress, anxiety, and anger,” Ms Mote told one meeting. Feedback from the emergency services also affected public perception. The low-traffic neighbourhoods had impacted on police response times, the Metropolitan Police said, while London Fire Service singled out Honeypot Lane as a barrier to vehicles.
But perhaps more than anything, Harrow’s cycle lanes had become underused to the point they were a laughing stock. As one fire chief wrote: “It’s a running joke that we never see cyclists, and when one is seen it’s like an event…” In the first decision of its kind, the council’s road safety committee has now voted to remove every single cycle lane and LTN in Harrow, with no view to reinstating them.
While the active travel scheme has sparked national division, the consensus in this borough has proven overwhelming.
With residents opposing the continuation of cycle lanes by as much as 93 per cent, councillors and communities alike will doubtless share a sigh of relief that Harrow’s green streets experiment is at an end.
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