Children and parents took to the barricades on Thursday to save their “school street” from being ripped out by a pro-car borough mayor.
Lutfur Rahman, the mayor of Tower Hamlets, had ordered workmen to remove the traffic restrictions around Chisenhale school in Bow on Thursday morning, including planters and seats that the pupils helped build.
The protest resulted in police being called and saw the children celebrate when council contractors drove off at lunchtime on Thursday after being unable to complete their task.
Sarah Gibbons, a parent involved in the campaign to save the school street, told the Standard: “We have got protesters down there trying to stop them. The council this moment have started ripping out planters and children’s art work.
“All the kids have got used to that road being very safe, very clean and very quiet. From Monday that just goes. It’s really disturbing. There is no benefit from getting rid of the scheme.”
Parents plan to mount their own traffic patrols outside the school when pupils return next week, after the half-term break.
But they fear the contractors will return and eventually remove the restrictions from Chisenhale Road and Vivian Road.
The children were back on the barriers on Friday morning as their protest continued.
— ChisenhaleRoad (@chisenhale) October 28, 2022
At present, a “green corridor” made up of planters and wooden barriers protects the school gates in Vivian Road, while an outdoor play area and two-way cycleway has been created in Chisenhale Road – preventing it from being used by through traffic.
There are also hour-long restrictions on non-residents driving in Vivian Road and Chisenhale Road at the start and end of the school day.
Parents say Mr Rahman has been able to axe the school street because it was introduced under emergency covid rules that lapse automatically unless they are formally renewed. They fear all 26 school streets in Tower Hamlets are at risk.
The school is in a ward, Bow, that has no councillors belonging to Mr Rahman’s Aspire party - leading parents to suspect it had been deliverately targeted.
It is the latest move by the controversial borough mayor – who returned to power in May after being banned from office for election fraud – in axing schemes that were designed to make residential streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
Transport for London is already withholding funding from Tower Hamlets council because of Mr Rahman’s plans to remove low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs).
“This potential school street removal further adds weight to our concerns about how their actions are going against the Mayor’s Transport Strategy,” a source close to London mayor Sadiq Khan said.
Nathalie Bienfait, a Green councillor in Tower Hamlets, said: “I am astounded, livid and exasperated that the mayor has chosen to entirely remove a school street scheme outside Chisenhale primary school.
“The mayor was elected on a manifesto which promised to rip up road closures. However the children who will be harmed as a result of his actions couldn’t vote for him - so what mandate does he have from them?
“One thing is clear: Tower Hamlets is not a safe place for children and families under this mayor.”
In a statement to the Standard, Mr Rahman said: “The Chisenhale primary school street was established through an experimental traffic order (ETO), which introduced road closures for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon.
“The ETO has now lapsed, and the mayor has decided – in keeping with his manifesto promise to re-open the roads – that the road closures will not be made permanent.
“However, the mayor and the council take the safety of children extremely seriously, and have therefore asked officers of the council to examine alternatives to the ETO, including (though not limited to) the possibility of introducing zebra crossings in the immediate vicinity of the school, as well as increasing the number of traffic wardens, yellow lines, ‘do not stop’ signages, and traffic management personnel – such as school crossing patrols – outside of the school.
“Updates will be given to residents as soon as these options have been properly assessed by officers.”
Mr Khan, referring to his Londonwide plans, said he “wanted to fight toxic air street by street” after pledging the cash for more school streets in a £69m funding deal for borough councils.
There are already an estimated 547 school streets across the capital, of which 373 have been funded by TfL and City Hall.
Mr Khan said more than 260,000 children were breathing cleaner air as a result of the measures, which use enforcement cameras to fine non-residents for driving in the streets during school drop-off and pick-up times.
But with 97 per cent of schools and colleges in outer London in areas that breach World Health Organisation air quality targets, he wants the Government to toughen the UK’s own toxic air laws.
Mr Khan said: “School Streets are a key tool in helping to reduce air pollution around schools. They have made a massive difference to the way our children travel and there are now more children than ever in London benefiting from cleaner air, less congestion and safer roads.”