Sadiq Khan urges Tower Hamlets leader to save ‘school street’ scheme

School street restrictions in Chisenhale Road in Bow (Ross Lydall)
School street restrictions in Chisenhale Road in Bow (Ross Lydall)

Sadiq Khan has intervened in the row over the proposed axing of a “school street” in Tower Hamlets by the borough’s pro-car mayor.

Mr Khan, the mayor of London, urged Lutfur Rahman to ditch plans to remove the restrictions in Chisenhale Road and Vivian Road in Bow that prevent through-traffic passing the entrance to Chisenhale primary school.

It is the latest twist in the battle to save the school street, which has twice seen young children and their parents prevent council contractors from removing the plastic bollards, wooden planters and play area that has been created outside the school.

Mr Khan said the east London borough was the third worst in England for air pollution. Researchers estimate that children growing up in Tower Hamlets have 10 per cent less lung capacity than the national average.

Mr Khan said: “Children are rightly standing up for their right to breathe clean air when they go to school - and they should be listened to.

“Not on only do school streets initiatives help reduce the amount of toxic air children and young people breathe on their journey to and from school, they cut congestion and reduce road danger, enabling people to walk, scoot and cycle to school in a much safer environment.

“I want to see more school streets in our city, not fewer - so I urge Tower Hamlets to keep these vitally important school streets. Now is the time to go forwards, not backwards, to help clean our air.”

A Kidical Mass cycle ride to Chisenhale Road was supported by hundreds of people last Saturday.

There are about 550 school streets across London, including 26 introduced in Tower Hamlets when the council was under Labour control.

A petition from Labour councillor Asma Begum seeking to save Chisenhale school street has been signed by more than 400 residents and could be debated at a full council meeting on Wednesday night.

But a rival petition, signed by almost 900 people, urges Mr Rahman to press ahead with a manifesto pledge to “reopen the roads” by removing traffic-calming schemes such as “liveable streets” and Transport for London’s “streetspace” projects.

Mr Khan no direct power to intervene in Tower Hamlets but could withhold TfL funds from the council if he believes Mr Rahman is acting against his transport policies.

Chisenhale campaigners had a “constructive” meeting with Mr Rahman’s aides last week. The school street – which was introduced during the pandemic under emergency rules that have since expired - remains in place and many residents and parents are “very keen” for it to be made permanent.

Vivian Road, outside Chisenhale primary school, is partly blocked by a safe area for pupils and staff (Ross Lydall)
Vivian Road, outside Chisenhale primary school, is partly blocked by a safe area for pupils and staff (Ross Lydall)

Green councillor Nathalie Bienfait, who has called on Mr Rahman to review road danger across the borough, said in another council motion: “The removal of Chisenhale school street and other school streets risks the safety of children and their carers when attending schools in the borough.”

She told the Standard: “Lutfur Rahman’s outrageous decision to remove school streets is getting attention for all the wrong reasons. It is clear that he is willing to put children’s lives at risk to claim a political ‘win’.

“Mr Rahman’s Tower Hamlets is going in totally the opposite direction to the rest of London. We welcome Sadiq’s comments which highlight how serious the effects of his reckless actions are.

“Mr Rahman is not only ignoring hard evidence of the efficacy and local support of school streets, he is taking Tower Hamlets back 20 years in transport policy.”

Tower Hamlets council did not respond to a request for comment.