London Community Organizations Unite to Challenge Hackney Council’s Road Closure Scheme

LONDON -

Jewish communal organizations have come together to challenge Hackney Council’s decision to close 40 “School Streets” for two hours daily, when schools start and finish.

The plans were announced on Hackney’s website, without any community consultation. According to a wide range of community voices, the proposals will cause “mayhem” and make the morning and afternoon school runs unworkable. Hamodia has learnt that the Interlink Foundation has initiated a legal action against the council for making road closure decisions without community consultation.

“School Streets” are streets where Hackney Council primary schools are situated. The Council intends to transform roads outside schools, so that only pedestrians and cyclists can use them at school start and finish times. This is intended to enable children and their parents to maintain social distancing as they walk and cycle safely to school. The School Streets programme is part of what Hackney calls “a radical plan to rebuild a greener Hackney after the pandemic.”

Thirty new School Streets were implemented on September 7, and a further 10 schools, many in the Stamford Hill neighborhood, are set for closures in the autumn.

The Council’s reason for not consulting is that the road closures programme is being implemented as a series of “experimental traffic orders.” As an experiment, residents and businesses will have a chance to comment on the scheme only after it has started operating. The council will consider residents’ comments alongside traffic monitoring before any decision is made on whether to make them permanent.

Residents, community organisations, schools and businesses have expressed outrage, saying that there are huge knock-on effects of closing many of these roads during crucial hours. While there is in-principle support for the goal of reducing traffic and pollution, these schemes may have the opposite effect, as drivers will seek alternative roundabout routes, causing more congestion in neighboring streets and even more pollution.

Six of the School Streets designated for closures in the autumn are in Stamford Hill:

1) Holmleigh Primary School, with entrances from Dunsmure Road and Holmleigh Road

2) Jubilee Primary School, with entrances from Filey Avenue, Cazenove Road and Osbaldeston Road

3) Simon Marks Primary School with the entrance on Kyverdale Road

4) Springfield Community Primary School with the entrance from Castlewood Road and Leadale Road

5) Sir Thomas Abney Primary School with entrances on Fairholt Road and Bethune Road

6) Harrington Hill Primary School with the entrance on Mount Pleasant Lane.

If implemented, motor traffic will be banned in front of these primary schools on Monday to Friday during term-time, between 8:30 and 9:30 in the morning and between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. Signs and cameras will be put up at the entrances to these streets to inform drivers and vehicles which have not registered for an exemption (for example a resident of that street). Any driver passing will be issued with a fixed penalty notice.

One outraged local resident called the scheme a “local cash grab” and said, “A recent council response to a Freedom of Information enquiry has also shown that the council brought in nearly a million pounds from fines relating to School Street closures. This makes me think that this was implemented as a money-making scheme.”

One resident living in Fairholt Close told Hamodia, “I send my children to three different schools, and therefore rely on the school van service to get them to school. I will receive a resident’s exemption, but these road closures will effectively prevent my children’s transport vans from doing pick-ups. I will need to take them to school myself, which means I will arrive late and potentially lose my job.”

Mrs Devorah Eisenzweig from Hatzola told Hamodia, “If the proposed road closures are implemented, it will result in significant congestion in the surrounding roads and areas.

“Even if all Hatzola vehicles receive an exemption to access the roads with the closures, response times to emergencies will still be significantly delayed due to the severe congestion in the surrounding streets, possibly costing lives in serious emergencies, ch”v.

“We sincerely hope that the council will give serious consideration to our concerns and not implement these road closures.”

One shop owner on Oldhill Street told Hamodia, “In 2018, Hackney designated Oldhill Street as a School Street because of the Tyssen Community Primary school. I have since seen a 25% reduction in sales. They have damaged my business. It is too complicated for customers to work out what hours are restricted. They don’t want to be caught on camera at the wrong moment and face a penalty. It’s easier to shop elsewhere.

“Additionally, this is a failed experimental scheme as Tyssen School parents now drop off their children at the Firsby Road entrance, which became the main entrance to the school. Traffic wasn’t reduced but simply redirected.”

Gerald Lebrett, headteacher at Side by Side special-needs school, told Hamodia, “Our school is situated at a dead end on Big Hill and the only access to the school is through Springfield or Mount Pleasant Lane. If either of these two roads are closed at the start and end time of school this will significantly impact our pupils, including increasing time to get to school for children with various needs.

“The council had proposed to close both roads leading to our school, they have now confirmed they will only close one for which we are grateful. However, the impact of even one road closure will have a detrimental effect for our school. For the children, parents and staff we ask that the local authority not implement the road closures.”

Yidel Hoffman, transport coordinator for the Satmar Schools van service, told Hamodia, “These road closures will make it impossible to run a van service to transport children to and from school.

“I am sceptical about the Council’s intentions. For more than seven years, several community schools have asked the Council to implement a zigzag crossing and lines outside Jewish schools. The Council has never approved these. Do they really care about children’s safety?

“How could a scheme — which will undoubtedly have a huge negative impact on people with protected characteristics — have been done without any consultation? They are arguing that the COVID situation makes it an emergency and that this is only an experiment. This is not such an emergency to excuse coming out with such a radical scheme without consultation.”

Reb Binyomin Stern, President of the Union of Hebrew Congregations (UOHC) added that, “the proposed scheme will negatively affect synagogue goers. The morning and afternoon prayers coincide with these road closures, that means longer journeys to and from prayers. Additionally, some batei medrash will become effectively inaccessible with these road closures, for example Beis Hamedrash Skver on East Bank and Beis Hamedrash Vayoel Moshe D’Satmar on Fairholt. So elderly people — who need direct access — transported daily by different volunteers won’t be able to make it to beis hamedrash as they will be fined if they enter those roads.

“As a community we recognise the importance of improving air quality and would be more than willing to have a separate conversation with the council to collaborate on a more positive approach to dealing with environmental issues, but in this case as the impact will be huge, a wider consultation is warranted and essential to better understand and act on any potential negative impacts.”

Hamodia understands that a meeting with School Streets council officers took place last week on Monday. Community representatives included ward councillors, the UOHC, Hatzola, Chinuch UK, Side by Side school and Emess Car Service. The meeting was arranged and hosted by the Interlink Foundation, and the council officer pledged to respond to the concerns raised.

Details of the council’s proposals can be seen at https://hackney.gov.uk/school-streets

Councillors Simcha Steinberger, Michael Levy and Harvey Odze are urging residents to make their views known by emailing the Mayor, Philip Glanville on mayor@hackney.gov.uk and copying in the street scene team streetscene.consultations@hackney.gov.uk and stamfordhillroads@gmail.com. In your email please be specific about which road closures you support or are objecting to, and describe how the School Streets scheme will impact positively or negatively on you or your family members. Please include if there is a particular impact due to a “protected characteristic” such as disability, age or religion.

An online petition set up by Hackney residents has so far garnered nearly 10,000 signatures. The petition calls on the Mayor of Hackney to make a U-turn and properly consult all residents before implementing these road closures.