The parents of a teenager who died after road closures delayed his ambulance have called on Grant Shapps to learn from their son's death as he rolls out his “green transport revolution”.
Gareth and Candace Edwards want the Transport Secretary to ensure councils he is encouraging to close roads do not slow down police, ambulance and fire teams responding to 999 calls.
A coroner wrote a ‘’fear of future deaths’ report after hearing how an ambulance was delayed because it encountered newly closed roads as it tried to reach Josh Edwards, 19, who had suffered a fitting episode after taking ecstasy and cocaine in Leeds in May 2017.
The Telegraph can reveal the coroner’s report, which showed the ambulance took 25 minutes to arrive after encountering road closures introduced for a sporting event, has been sent by the London Ambulance Service to councils in the capital introducing so-called Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.
The letter, seen by this newspaper, warns how paramedics are “concerned some change to road layouts … may impede our response to time critical patients and ability to convey patients to definitive hospital care without delay or hindrance.”
The email, which includes an attachment of the Leeds coroner’s report and calls for emergency services to be fully consulted about new road layouts, adds: “It is not acceptable to delay the ambulances reaching address or 999 calls within a restricted traffic area, as any delay could result in death or permanent injury to a patient.
HM Coroner has issued prevent future death notices regarding these issues previously, so any scheme must allow emergency vehicle access at all times during operations.”
Speaking from their home in Leeds, Josh’s parents said: “The coroner clearly realised road closures can have an effect on ambulance response times. Although the road closures that day were due to the Leeds Half Marathon it proves that closures can and will affect response times.”
Mr Edwards added that he saw first hand how cycle lanes in Leeds then slowed down his son’s ambulance travelling to St James’s Hospital where Josh, a mechanical engineer, later died after suffering a heart attack following his first use of drugs.
“I was in the police car escorting the ambulance, both with sirens and flashing lights, before we became stuck in heavy traffic by the cycle lanes on Armley Road,” he said.
“This road used to have two lanes on either side, but after the cycle lanes were installed the road now narrows to single lanes causing a pinch point and this is where we were stuck for two to three minutes.
“Every second counts in a life or death situation. We are unhappy more such lanes are opening and roads are being closed off, seemingly without thought of the effect they could have on emergency services.”
Commenting on video footage of ambulances having to do three point turns or stopping to remove bollards at newly closed roads, Mrs Edwards added: “We are appalled that emergency services are being prevented from reaching their destinations, having to re-route, change course and even stopping to move objects out of their way.
“This must be so frustrating for them, they just want to get where they need to be and help save lives.”
Mr Edwards said: “Grant Shapps should take a look at the coroner’s report, although I fear he wouldn't be interested.”
The coroner’s report highlighted how the ambulance crew responding to the 999 call about Josh were unaware they could cross and use the roads closed to make way for a half marathon.
The inquest heard his death would probably not have been prevented even if the ambulance had arrived on time. At the height of lockdown, Mr Shapps launched a £250 million for councils fund to promote walking and cycling as lockdown was lifted.
While the schemes have been welcomed by cyclist groups, others have held demonstrations opposed to the project.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Attempting to link this awful tragedy to low traffic neighbourhoods is deeply misleading - the road was closed for the Leeds Half Marathon, not a low traffic neighbourhood.
“These schemes are backed by extensive engagement with the emergency services and local authorities are required to consult them before any Low Traffic Neighbourhood is introduced.
“Emergency vehicles have full access to properties in Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and in many places, their access has improved because narrow, unsuitable roads are no longer full of traffic.
“In the vast majority of LTN proposals, the emergency services have raised no concerns but if any arise we of course expect councils to address these urgently and we will not hesitate to withhold funding if they don’t.”