Tower Hamlets: Children lie down in front of council workers trying to rip up school street blockade

Children celebrated after their impromptu protest prevented the ripping out a safer streets blockade by Tower Hamlets council.

Police were called to a protest attended by children as young as three and their parents who were standing on top of their traffic restriction blockades around Chisenhale school in Bow.

Lutfur Rahman, the east London borough’s mayor, had ordered workmen to remove the planters and seats that pupils helped build around Chisenhale school in Bow. The work was intentionally being carried out “under the cover of darkness”, parents claimed.

It followed another successful protest last month when they took to barriers to prevent workmen digging them up.

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.

Mr Rahman had ordered them to be removed after he said he was voted into office on a ”re-open the roads” manifesto promise. But the school is in a ward, Bow, that has no councillors belonging to Mr Rahman’s Aspire party.

The children climbed on top of their road barriers shouting and singing after learning they were to be ripped out as bemused workers “hung around” waiting for advice on what to do next.

One child lay down in front of the workmen on a skateboard before they gave up trying to dismantle the planters by 9.30pm to cheers from the protesters.

Parent Rowena Macdonald, 48, initially spotted the contractors laying out cones as she cycled past “purely by chance” on Wednesday night.

She said: “I asked the traffic officer what was going on and he said the roadblock was supposed to be ripped out at 7.30pm. We spread the word very quickly, all the parents are on WhatsApp we are very organised.

“The contractors didn’t try to move us, they just hung around. Everybody was standing on it so they couldn’t do anything.

“It’s a total waste of money for the council.

“I don’t know who called the police, the protest was entirely peaceful. The officer was very supportive.

“The council sneakily came just when parents are putting kids to bed.”

Sarah Gibbons, a parent also involved in the campaign to save the scheme, said a council official promised the protesters a meeting along with residents and representatives of the school to find a way forward following their action.

She told the Standard: “We are very relieved.

“It was absolutely pouring it down. What we were most concerned about was all the blockades being ripped out overnight with no warning.

“And then suddenly all our kids being in a dangerous situation the next morning on the way to school.

“It’s all the kid’s idea they themselves climb up on the barricade and want to make videos.

“They are asking ‘Why does the mayor care more about cars than children?’”

She added: “Our message to the mayor is please enter a conversation with us and show you listen to the children of Tower Hamlets.

“We live in a time where people have lost faith in politicians but he can show he is different.

“It’s not over, we are prepared to keep going if the promise is not kept to leave the school street as it is. We want to see these school streets all over the borough.”

Children protect their blockade (Sarah Gibbons)
Children protect their blockade (Sarah Gibbons)

Previous Labour mayor John Biggs, tweeted in support of the action, posting: “Removing the school street at Chisenhale (at night to avoid protest) shows this is an administration that doesn’t listen.

“In a borough with high air pollution children’s lungs take second place to the freedom to drive along a short stretch of road nobody needs to use. Bonkers.”

A young cyclist sees of the council contracters (Sarah Gibbons)
A young cyclist sees of the council contracters (Sarah Gibbons)

In an unchanged 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.”

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson said:“The school street was established through an Experimental Traffic Order (ETO) and introduced road closures for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. The ETO has lapsed and the Mayor has decided that the timed road closures and temporary play spaces will not be made permanent.

“We are currently examining possible alternative measures to maintain safety and discourage parking outside the school without the need for road closures and will be updating the headteacher and local residents in due course.”

London Mayor Sadiq 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.”