Covid -19 and Active Travel – an Update

Since our earlier post more guidance has been issued by various authorities and the process is continuing. Details can be found on our Discussion Group .

This post updates and sumarises our meetings with Councillor Asser in anticipation of further discussion at our monthly meeting on Monday (1 June)

On 27 May there was a meeting of Manor Park residents with Councillors Dawood and Patel, Councillor Asser, and Newham Officers to discuss active travel. A significant proportion of participants were our members. The next day Councillor Asser, supported at officer level by Richard Wadey, met 9 of us. We should record our gratitude for the time and effort all these have given to meeting with us.

Throughout this process we have collated and shared all the suggestions that have come to us for active travel improvements and also provided a list of “quick wins”.

Newham faces problems in avoiding a return to the “old normal” …

It was clear that Councillor Asser and his team of officers had been working and thinking very hard and had been in discussion with neighbouring boroughs and outside experts. They have been very transparent. He outlined the challenges he faced: (a) money, (b) a determination on his part that to ensure that schemes could actually be put in place on the ground, (c) a desire that temporary schemes should become permanent, (d) avoiding criminal removal of temporary schemes as has been experienced with one of the school street pilots, (e) resources, (he did mention that some furloughed TfL staff had been called upon), and (f) the fact that Newham was starting from behind other, more progressive authorities.

The Council was concentrating at present on pavement widening, cycle paths, School Steets and resurrecting plans for low traffic neighbourhoods hit by withdrawal of old funding sources by TfL.

Councillor Asser explained his approach of seeking to address the entrenched motor car lobby in Newham by speaking to residents and businesses direct.

On funding:

  • The Council has or is on the point of applying for £2m from a TfL emergency pot;
  • It is monitoring the allocation of the Government’s announced £250m of which £25m has been allocatedto London;
  • It is actively pursing an emerging extra (as yet indeterminate) sum from the Government for road closures and School Streets;
  • The Council is spending £1m from its existing capital fund. Further decisions would have to be made to “rebalance” money allocated to “Keep Newham Moving” under the old regime.

In practical terms:

  • A Cabinet meeting will take place on 11 June for decisions to be made (including on the parking permit scheme consulted upon prior to the current crisis):
  • Experimental Traffic orders are being prepared, in conjunction with Waltham Forest to implement the joint Low Traffic Neighbourhood previously at the planning stage and on which early consultation had taken place;
  • Discussions had been initiated with TfL on converting bus lanes on main corridors to 24 hr operation and Councillor Asser agreed that these discussions ought ot include the question of rephasing lights;
  • Next week a portal should go live for the public to record their suggestions for schemes;
  • Applications for funding are being made and prepared – which involves specific schemes.

We for our part stressed the following:

  • Ugenct action is vital given that lives are at stake. The Mayor has rightly and eloquently publicised the particular problems that Newham faces. It would be damaging if the Council is not seen to be doing everything it can to directly address those problems.
  • Extra resources should be pulled in if needed; we offered practical help.
  • The Council needed to avoid extreme risk aversion in the face of the motor car lobby that could not be entirely overcome. Elsewhere where measures have been put in place they have proved popular.
  • There were a host of minor measures that would help active travel, many of which we have raised and which fall outside the main schemes being currently worked on. These should be followed up, especially when put on the portal, as this would not only improve the conditions for active travel but increase public engagement if suggestions are seen to be acted upon.
… but Newham also has opportunities to benefit from active travel.

Our plea for urgency has since been reinforced as it emerged that Government funding will be withdrawn if schemes are not meaningful and not completed in less than 10 weeks. Over 1 month will have passed between the Government’s original guidelines envisaging action within weeks and and the crucial Cabinet meeting. In the meantime other Councils have made significantly more progress.

Keep well and keep cycling,