TfL withholding £1m from Tower Hamlets mayor because he may axe LTN road safety schemes

Transport for London is withholding more than £1m from a borough mayor who is considering axing road schemes designed to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

TfL is taking the unprecedented action against Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman to signal its opposition to the removal of low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) schemes in and around Brick Lane, Columbia Road market and Old Bethnal Green Road.

Mr Rahman, who supports reopening roads to drivers, consulted residents on whether to retain or axe the schemes after council data suggested they displaced traffic onto other roads and delayed buses on Hackney Road.

TfL is spending £737.8m over five years to 2024/25 on “healthy streets” across the capital – but is withholding £1.049m from Tower Hamlets because its policies appear to conflict with London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s strategy of discouraging private car use.

Penny Rees, TfL’s head of healthy streets investment, said: “We’re determined to ensure people living in every borough are able to walk, cycle and use public transport safely, and schemes delivered by boroughs play a vital role in this.

Green lanes: teachers want to save the ‘liveable streets’ scheme in Old Bethnal Green Road (Ross Lydall)
Green lanes: teachers want to save the ‘liveable streets’ scheme in Old Bethnal Green Road (Ross Lydall)

“Any projects funded through the Local Implementation Plan must enable safer, cleaner and healthier streets, in line with the Mayor’s transport strategy.

“Tower Hamlets is currently consulting on removing existing TfL-funded safety improvements on their roads and we are concerned that the borough’s recent change in policy direction is not in line with the Mayor’s transport strategy.”

TfL, in its response to the council consultation, made clear its strong opposition to the removal of the schemes.

It said Tower Hamlets had the third lowest rate of car ownership across London, with 71 per cent of residents not owning a car.

Its data showed the borough’s residents “prefer active travel options”, with more than four in five walking, cycling, or using public transport on a daily basis.

It said the removal of active travel infrastructure and encouragement of private vehicle use could prevent future active travel targets being met.

The letter, from Alex Williams, TfL’s chief customer and strategy officer, said removing the through-traffic restrictions on Old Bethnal Green Road “would increase road danger, putting greater numbers of vulnerable road users at risk of serious collisions”.

Mr Williams said the removal of the LTN around Columbia Road and Arnold Circus “would have a significant negative impact on safety” and mean the loss of a “high-quality, pedestrian-friendly urban realm area created outside the Birdcage pub”.

He said: “This LTN is particularly beneficial during the hours that Columbia Road market is in operation, when the area sees significant numbers of pedestrians – many of them families with young children.

“The road closures in this LTN have created a safer route for cyclists, including those using the signposted cycle route known as Quietway 12. For these reasons, we strongly oppose the removal of this LTN.”

Pedal pushers: the westbound cycle lane on Old Bethnal Green Road (Ross Lydall)
Pedal pushers: the westbound cycle lane on Old Bethnal Green Road (Ross Lydall)

On Brick Lane, Mr Williams said the use of two cameras to restrict through-traffic at certain times of the day was “essential for pedestrian safety and [to] enhance the attractiveness of the area for visitors and residents”.

Separately, more than 900 residents, businesses, headteachers and medics have signed an open letter to Mr Rahman from grass-roots campaign group Save Our Safer Streets urging him to “keep and improve” the new layouts.

Rebecca Unverzagt, from Save Our Safer Streets, said: “If the mayor genuinely wants to make Tower Hamlets a healthy, happy and prosperous borough, then he should listen to what we have been saying since last summer, stop his wasteful race to reopen the roads and work with the community on ways to improve the street layouts for all.”

A Tower Hamlets spokesperson said: “TfL hasn’t yet released its Local Implementation Plan funding to Tower Hamlets due to our recent consultations into Liveable Streets schemes in Bethnal Green and Brick Lane.

“We are in discussion with TfL and will continue to work closely with them to achieve a positive outcome for the borough.”