GP surgeries say hard road closures in Dulwich are ‘hampering vaccine rollout’ as a new coalition calls for the LENs to be scrapped and replaced with camera-controlled permit schemes – with health workers and blue badge holders exempt.
At Southwark Council’s cabinet meeting on Tuesday, representatives for Dulwich Alliance – formed of GP surgeries, residents and traders – called for a new approach to traffic restrictions, saying their proposals could help heal a divided community. At the meeting they delivered a petition with over 500 signatures.
They are demanding an end to 24-hour road closures and advocate an ‘area-wide, camera-controlled exemption scheme that allows fair and reasonable access during restricted hours’ – with a full public consultation.
The plan is backed by Elm Lodge Surgery in Dulwich Village, which has gone on record saying that its community vaccination has been ‘hampered’ by patients with limited mobility struggling to travel to Tessa Jowell Health Centre. The surgery is advocating exemptions for blue badge holders and health and social care workers as a ‘common sense’ approach.
“While we recognise that many of our younger patients will benefit from the nudge to cycle or walk more, the introduction of camera gates and the changes at the village traffic lights have had a significant negative impact for many of our frail elderly and disabled patients,” a spokesperson said.
“A number have expressed to us they don’t know how they would get to the surgery during the restricted times.
“Our community vaccination efforts have also been hampered as patients with limited mobility have been unwilling to travel to the Tessa Jowell Health Centre during restricted times.
“Our GPs and nurses are concerned that the restrictions make it a lot more time consuming to carry out home visits for housebound patients and we are aware that it makes the work of carers even harder.
“It would seem common sense to have an exception to the restrictions for blue badge holders and for health and social care workers on duty.”
It is a view echoed by Lordship Lane’s 306 Medical Centre, whose spokesperson said: “We now take longer routes to visit our patients, who also need to take longer routes when attending the nearby Tessa Jowell Health Centre for blood tests and appointments.
“What would have taken five minutes, now takes at least 20 minutes. Our community nurses also struggle as these changes add to their journey times.”
Speaking to the News on Monday, Dulwich Alliance co-founder Richard Aldwinckle stressed that the group was not suggesting ‘a return to square one’ and was supportive of measures to improve air quality and make roads safer.
The group’s new report, Dulwich Says No, will help build consensus among those living, working and regularly travelling through East Dulwich and Dulwich Village, and develop a ‘fairer’ scheme that will make life easier for disabled drivers and key workers.
In the report, the alliance analysed 1,900 responses made between June 2020 and January 2021 to a public consultation on the road changes on Southwark Council’s Streetspace websites.
The report claims detailed comments show around 71 per cent are against the scheme currently in place and that this figure has not changed over time while the scheme ‘beds in’.
According to their findings, 76 per cent of respondents indicated they were against the closures in Dulwich Village, including the 24/7 junction closure, with 62 per cent against the 24/7 closures in East Dulwich.
Hard road closures – which physically prevent through traffic – do not make exceptions for key workers, disabled badges, or indeed electric vehicles.
As we reported in December, London Ambulance Service, Metropolitan Police and London Fire Brigade have all pushed for camera-operated restrictions.
A spokesperson for the Dulwich Alliance said. “This is a badly planned scheme, imposed without any consultation, that clearly isn’t working.
“The alliance strongly supports Southwark’s stated aims of reducing pollution and encouraging active modes of travel such as walking and cycling.
“However, this scheme discriminates against vulnerable people who depend on their cars for mobility.
“It shifts traffic and pollution onto surrounding streets where children also live and go to school, it is damaging the viability of our local shops and businesses, and it is causing tremendous anger and social division, pitting neighbour against neighbour.
“This is entirely the council’s fault and it needs to act on these findings, not ignore them or run yet another consultation just because it doesn’t like these results.”
The report is backed by the Dulwich Village Association, representing more than 35 businesses in Dulwich Village.
Formal objections to the Low Emissions Neighbourhood have been made by 98 per cent of its traders, many of whom say customers are let down by poor public transport links.
Southwark Council has routinely highlighted that those against the schemes are in a ‘minority’. During its initial borough-wide public consultation, before the schemes were put in place from July 2020 onwards, more than 6,000 people visited a dedicated online map to highlight areas in the borough where roads were narrow and cycling dangerous or difficult to help identify areas in need of improvement. Over 10,000 agreements were registered.
Responding the group’s claims, Cllr Catherine Rose, who holds the roads portfolio at Tooley Street, struck a diplomatic note and said: “We value and take into account all entries on the Commonplace website. However, Commonplace is one tool amongst many that we’ll use as part of our review.
“In order to give everybody a fair and equal opportunity to participate, we will conduct a full consultation, as is the case with all of our LTNs.
“This is a legal requirement and unlike Commonplace, it will ensure that local people are prioritised, names and addresses are recorded, and people are limited to one response per person.”
As the News has previously reported, the council has shown signs it is not against a re-think. Cllr Rose previously vowed to ensure the hastily implemented LENs would be made into a ‘coherent’ plan, with a final review of the project held in June 2021, with long-term decisions based on public feedback in the interim.
What is clear is the need to both reduce pollution and increase road safety, and help tip the balance more in favour of those who do not own a car – who are, in fact, the majority in Southwark.
Currently, fifty-eight per cent of households are car free in the borough yet, over the last decade, traffic has increased across all types of roads, most sharply in side streets favoured by walkers and cyclists. Half of all journeys made by car, in London, are just three kilometres long.
Advocates of the low emission neighbourhoods and low traffic neighbourhoods see firm action as a key measure in pushing forward real change – along with other measures such as the ULEZ roll out and improved public transport.
Targeting side roads does have clear safety benefits. According to a City Hall report, by September 2020 there had been 125 deaths on London’s roads so far that year, up 12 per cent from 2018. The majority had been walking when they were fatally injured.
Although traffic has increased across London as a whole in the last decade, volumes have risen most sharply in side streets favoured by walkers and cyclists.
Four thousand Londoners died due to toxic air in 2019, according to research from Imperial College, and researchers now have clear evidence pollutants are linked to diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimers and brain cancer, as well heart and lung conditions.
At the same cabinet meeting, a number of Dulwich residents aired their support for modal filters. Julie Greer told councillors that that area-wide timed restrictions will “not deliver any meaningful health or environmental benefits” and the opportunity to discourage vehicle use for short and unnecessary journeys would be missed.
“Filters do not prevent anyone from driving anywhere in Dulwich,” she said. “Their preferred route may be affected, but no one is blocked in.”