Parents and teachers have criticised a council’s plans to rip out protective bollards at several local primary schools, claiming that a reliance on CCTV cameras to enforce the School Streets will “endanger the safety” of children cycling and walking, after a motorist was filmed almost hitting two children on bikes right outside a nearby school where the physical protection was recently removed.
Over 800 people have signed a petition to save the School Street at Bessemer Primary School in North Dulwich, which was established five years ago as one of 18 similar initiatives in the London borough of Southwark, restricting the use of motor vehicles outside schools at drop-off and pick-up times and applying to both school and through traffic.
Southwark Council officers have indicated that the local authority intends to remove the physical barriers – collapsible bollards installed at the entrance to each School Street – from the primary school by 2 January, a move which opponents claim has been made without formally consulting the school, parents, or residents.
Bessemer Primary's School Street (credit: Alice Bing)
While the physical protection will be removed, CCTV cameras will remain in place to enforce the School Street, which campaigners claim will simply “generate income for the council”, rather than actively keep children cycling or walking safe.
However, the council has claimed that the use of ANPR cameras is “preferable” as physical protection is not required, while removing the “risk” of barriers being left up at non-designated times.
The decision to rip out the bollards at Bessemer Primary School comes after barriers were removed at another school in the borough, Alleyn’s Junior School on Hillsboro Road, while Harris Primary Academy’s School Street in East Dulwich is also under threat.
Last week, footage was shared on social media of a motorist “racing” through the now unprotected School Street at Alleyn’s Junior School, failing to give way, and close passing two children on bikes right outside the school gates, causing them to scream.
😱Children on bikes are screaming as they are close passed by a driver racing along Hillsboro school street this morning.
⚠️Failing to give way and driving through a school street closure.
This was undoubtably safer with barriers at either end, now ineffective £ ANPR cameras. pic.twitter.com/ajGNSS0Qmm
— Dulwich Roads (@DulwichRoads) November 22, 2023
“This was undoubtably safer with barriers at either end, now ineffective £ ANPR cameras,” the Dulwich Roads account, who posted the video to X, formerly Twitter, said.
“We’re told that the school are prepared to continue to man the barriers, but the council won’t let them or the parents. Meanwhile, school street barriers are being removed elsewhere. What is going on in Southwark Council?”
Calling on the local authority to reconsider their decision to rip out the bollards at Bessemer Primary School, headteacher Elizabeth Whitehead said: “Our school, which has over 600 pupils, is ‘split site’ so covers both sides of the road. Parents and children need to cross the road to collect children from each side of the road and staff also escort children from site to site while the barriers are still up.
“As a school, we worked closely with parents, local councillors, and other residents to ensure it was a success. School staff have been supporting the scheme by putting the barriers up and down, something which we have always been happy to do.”
Alan Foster, the chair of the parents’ association Friends at Bessemer, added: “After five years, children and adults are now used to the road closure and use the space to walk, cycle, and scoot in a much safer environment. Taking this away would endanger their safety.
“If the proposed solution is for physical barriers to be replaced with ANPR cameras, we are concerned that they do not prevent a driver making a mistake that could result in a tragic accident.
“We have a good solution now. The council is seeking to fix a non-problem, with a less safe option. This serves no-one.”
“The bizarre thing is this is popular with people who live on the street, parents and pupils, and the school. With 600 pupils it can get very crowded on the pavements so closing the road makes things much easier and safer,” Alex Bigham, a parent who started the petition to the council, said.
“The cameras in our area already generate millions of pounds of revenue, it seems only right that a small proportion of that is spent on keeping and maintaining the bollards which keep our children safe.”
Meanwhile, the headteacher at Harris Primary Academy, which also faces the prospect of losing the barriers, wrote to parents earlier this year, telling them that “with the ANPR cameras in place, Southwark Council have advised that there should not be a need for the physical barriers across the school street boundaries.
“We feel that removing the barriers would be too risky for our school community, so staff will continue to bring them out each morning and afternoon.”
Responding to the criticism from parents and teachers regarding the planned removal of Bessemer Primary’s barriers, James McAsh, Southwark Council’s cabinet member for the climate emergency, clean air, and streets, said: “A school street will remain at this specific site. As with all school streets, we work very closely with the school on how we manage the local area and we are meeting Bessemer Grange school leaders to discuss the next steps and their preference for traffic management.
“Children’s safety is paramount and how we manage traffic near schools is generally guided by the wishes of the school, nothing has changed in that.
“ANPR is often preferable as it doesn’t require physical operation and removes the risk of barriers being left up or down at the wrong times.”
The opposition to Southwark Council’s plans is not the first time that schools and parents have defied the wishes of local authorities displaying reticence or outright opposition to School Streets.
Last October, children and parents at Chisenhale Primary School in Bow took to the barricades (literally), mounting barriers and blocking the road, in a bid to prevent their School Street from being ripped out by the pro-motoring mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman.
The demonstration, worthy of a West End production of Les Misérables, took place 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, as part of a council decision which parents and teachers again claimed was carried out without proper consultation.
And earlier this year, parents of children attending a primary school in Worcester, where children riding their bikes have regularly been put in danger by motorists using a narrow, nearby lane as a shortcut, established their own guerilla School Street by blocking both ends of the road at school pick-up times, in response to the “horrendous” road safety conditions in the area.
However, the local county council’s cabinet member for transport criticised the parents’ unofficial actions, which he claimed saw them take “the law and road safety into their own hands, effectively blockading a road without a permit and without permission”.
Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.