Sadiq Khan urged to use legal powers to prevent East End LTNs being axed

Sadiq Khan has been urged to use his legal powers to intervene in a London borough where the local mayor is set to rip-out traffic calming schemes.

Green politicians believe there is a “crystal clear” opportunity for the London mayor to use provisions within the Greater London Authority Act to save several walking and cycling schemes in the East End, which were introduced using Transport for London funds.

Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman decided last month to axe the low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) schemes in Old Bethnal Green Road, Columbia Road and Arnold Circus.

Sian Berry, a Green member of the London Assembly, told Mr Khan at Mayor’s Question Time on Thursday that it was an “important test case” for his wider ambition to improve road safety and tackle deprivation and inequalities.

She said: “It’s really clear – you are meant to take action when your agreed work under your strategy is frustrated, and I don’t think you can sit on the sidelines.

“You didn’t do that with UIez, and Londoners need you to stand up for other policies.”

She said that under sections 145 to 153 of the Greater London Authority Act the mayor had the power to intervene.

In a letter to the mayor, Ms Berry said the GLA Act made it “crystal clear” that it was his “ultimate responsibility to ensure borough commitments are carried out”.

She wrote: “Frankly, it is hard to imagine a clearer case when issuing directions or directly taking over borough powers would be more justified.”

Sian Berry: Test case for the mayor (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
Sian Berry: Test case for the mayor (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

Ms Berry told the City Hall meeting that the delivery of healthy streets was “really patchy” across London. “We have seen a series of boroughs that are not only not acting but which are reversing things,” she said.

“Kensington and Chelsea took out a protected cycle lane. Now Tower Hamlets are ripping out their own healthy streets schemes.

“This is a bigger issue and a precedent, and I think you should not find it acceptable that boroughs are removing and blocking healthy streets that have been agreed with you.

“Sure it’s time now for you to use the powers that you have to intervene more decisively?”

Mr Khan said he was “disappointed” that some boroughs had “failed to support the changes that London needs – and some are going backwards”.

He singled out Tower Hamlets and Kensington and Chelsea, where he said the Tory-led council “continue to fail to provide safe cycling infrastructure on key roads like Kensington High Street”.

Sadiq Khan fears there is little chance of blocking Lutfur Rahman’s plans (Dave Benett)
Sadiq Khan fears there is little chance of blocking Lutfur Rahman’s plans (Dave Benett)

Mr Khan said he had “looked into” instances where the GLA Act could be used to intervene in Tower Hamlets – but indicated there was a low chance of victory.

“It’s very difficult in relations to chances of success,” he said. “What I don’t want to do is waste taxpayers’ money on lawyers and court fees.

“I think we have got to be very careful about an impression being given that City Hall will force councils who, for whatever reason, decide to change their minds.”

Mr Khan said that “as a matter of principle” powers should be devolved as locally as possible.

He said TfL had the ability to withhold funding to boroughs that did not follow the requirements of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy. “We are considering all options,” he said. “The GLA Act is just one of them.”

It is thought that £1m in TfL funding provided to Tower Hamlets council for transport enhancements remains frozen and cannot be spent addressing the demand for more cycle hangars or other cycle infrastructure.

Nathalie Bienfait, a Green councillor in Tower Hamlets, said there was huge support in the council’s own consultation for retaining the schemes, which do not prevent local journeys by car but are designed to prevent “rat-running” by motorists looking to divert through residential areas.

“You would be hard-pressed to find any consultation in London that was so supportive of the scheme,” she told the Standard.

“In general, people in Tower Hamlets are really disappointed, despite the local mayor having won a majority at the election.”

Juliette Tuke, of Save Our Streets Bethnal Green, said it hoped to challenge Mr Rahman’s decision in a judicial review claim at the High Court.

She said: “Everybody feels quite resilient. We are fully determined to fight on. More people have joined the group and more people have offered their time. It’s galvanised people.”

The decision is due to be “called in” by the council’s overview and scrutiny committee at the end of the month.

It is thought this – and the fact that council officers were unsure which of three options Mr Rahman was going to select – could mean that the changes on the ground may not happen for several months, though the large planters in Arnold Circus could be removed easily.

Ms Berry told the Standard that she was disappointed with Mr Khan’s remarks at Mayor’s Question Time.

“We have got such a clear case here of a council going back on its legal commitments,” she said. “I think the mayor at least needs to find out if he can use these powers in a way he should be able to.

“I think he needs to take a grip on this. It’s his job to have this strategic overview. All I heard today were excuses for further inaction.”

Leo Murray, co-director of climate charity Possible, said: "Ripping out the low traffic neighbourhoods in Tower Hamlets goes against everything local residents have said they want, with two separate consultations showing overwhelming support for the schemes.

"This goes to the heart of the Mayor’s own strategy for climate, and what local people want their borough to be like. Sadiq Khan should use all the powers he has to stand on the side of Londoners who want safer streets."