Campaigners in the Tower Hamlets borough of London have managed to raise almost £37,000 through crowdfunding for a legal challenge on the council's decision to scrap key traffic calming measures including low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), despite the council's own reports showing that the backing to get rid of the schemes was only fringe.
In September, The Tower Hamlets Council, led by its pro-car mayor Lutfur Rahman, had voted to remove a number of key LTNs in the borough — despite a series of consultations showing that a majority of the residents were in favour of retaining the measures.
Following the decision, the group Save Our Safer Streets in Tower Hamlets Coalition had pledged to launch a legal challenge against what it describes as a decision that ignores what residents want, as well as "making the air dirtier and making cycling and walking more dangerous at a time when people need cheap forms of transport more than ever".
The group said: "Lutfur Rahman has taken the most extreme, undemocratic, and dangerous decision available to him this evening. He has decided to rip out all the walking and cycling infrastructure in Bethnal Green.
"This is not the end. We know we have public support for our cause and the overwhelming evidence too. With the advice of our lawyers, we will monitor the legality of what the council has done."
And following through with that threat of a legal challenge, the group, with the backing of all 700 people, has managed to raise £37,000 for the legal fighting fund — although it is still short of £45,000 to fund the case if the court decides there are grounds for a full hearing before a judge.
Jane Harris, from Save Our Safer Streets, told The Standard: "This legal challenge is an absolute last resort for us. We have tried for a year and a half to meet the mayor and look at the specific issues and solutions for Bethnal Green, but he hasn’t even bothered to visit the scheme, let alone meet us.
"Not only has he ignored all the evidence, expert views and residents’ preferences about keeping the schemes, but he has now made a decision which we believe has broken the law."
Campaigners also added that Transport for London, which has been in support of the schemes and had previously blocked funding to the council because of the pro-motorist and anti-active travel stance taken by the mayor, has become an "interested party" in the case.
Lutfur Rahman, whose Aspire Party won 24 of the borough’s 45 seats at last May’s local elections after standing with a pro-motorist manifesto, has spent his time in office rolling back initiatives aimed at reducing motor vehicle traffic and promoting active travel, which he claims have increased congestion and contributed to more CO2 emissions in the area.
Last October, the council put an end to School Streets initiatives in the borough, designed to restrict the use of motor vehicles outside schools at drop-off and pick-up times, despite opposition from teachers, parents and pupils.
However, his one-track mind actions have been met with resolute resistance in the form of juggernaut campaigning and protests. When the council shut the School Streets scheme, children and parents took to the barricades and blocked the road after workers began to remove the play area and traffic restrictions, including seats, planters and artwork that the schoolchildren had helped to build and create.
Even on the night when Rahman — whose previous spell as mayor was cut short when he was found guilty of electoral fraud and “corrupt and illegal practices” — claimed that he was scrapping the LTNs introduced by the previous Labour administration in 2021 in Columbia Road, Arnold Circus, and Old Bethnal Green because they "divided communities", a unified yet diverse protest by active travel campaigners was being staged outside the town hall.
— London Cycling Campaign (@London_Cycling) September 20, 2023
Even the police force has been against the council's decisions, with the Met police urging the Tower Hamlets Borough Council to not scrap the Liveable Streets initiative in Arnold Circus, saying that it has resulted in a reduction in antisocial behaviour-related crime.
In fact, according to papers ironically published by the council’s cabinet, 59 per cent of residents in Bethnal Green supported retaining the traffic-calming schemes, while 58 per cent of those surveyed in Arnold Circus were also in favour of the initiatives.
The council report also confirmed that air quality and road safety has improved both within the areas where the schemes have been implemented, as well as on boundary roads.
Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.