Anger but no consensus on what do to about regulating traffic through Grove Park

The two residents groups which represent Strand on the Green and Grove Park jointly held a public meeting last week on what to do about regulating traffic in Chiswick south of the A4.

They had carried out a consultation of their members which produced a large majority (70%) in favour of some measures to restrict traffic, but an even larger majority (87%) who want changes made to the current measures, brought in over the past two years to stop commuters rat-running through a residential area in their thousands every day.

The changes are confusing, have resulted in many penalty notices and the refusal of Uber drivers to pick up and drop off beyond a certain point and businesses to see a drop in trade, causing anger and frustration. Cllr Hanif Khan, Hounslow Cabinet Member for Transport, was there and promised to listen (if he is re-elected in Chiswick Gunnersbury ward in May).

We asked Karen Liebreich, car owner, cyclist, environmental community activist and Grove Park resident, who was at the meeting, to unpack the issues and consider what is to be done.

Guest blog

By Dr Karen Liebreich MBE

Last Thursday (17 March) the Grove Park Group and Strand on the Green Association co-hosted a public meeting to discuss the traffic changes in what the council call South Chiswick, and most locals call Grove Park.

In 2019 the London Borough of Hounslow embarked on a scheme entitled the South Chiswick Liveable Neighbourhood to try and reduce the amount of traffic cutting through Grove Park from the A316 to the A4, to improve connectivity between the river and the rest of Chiswick, including the upcoming Cycleway 9 on the High Road, to improve the Grove Park piazza for pedestrians and people on bikes, and to create school streets and low traffic neighbourhoods south of the A4.

Data was collected and schemes were being prepared. It was acknowledged that local levels of traffic (6,000 cars per day on Staveley Road, 3,000 on Thames Road, 70% driving over 20 mph on Hartington Rd) were unacceptable. The local councillors were fully consulted. They agreed about the problems but the solutions were still under discussion.

Then came Covid, and in May 2020 the national (Conservative) government, in conjunction with the (Labour) London Mayor, announced a Streetspace scheme to speed up the creation of safer spaces for walking and cycling. At the same time evidence about the effects of air pollution on children’s lungs, dementia levels, asthma suffering etc began to accumulate, and with the lockdowns people suddenly realised how quiet and safe streets could be were it not for the dominance of the car. 

Streetspace measures were introduced under Emergency Traffic Orders, with the intention that these could be modified as their effectiveness – or otherwise – became clearer. Some – such as the dramatic closure of Turnham Green Terrace, at the same time as Fishers Lane, and with Acton Lane compromised by a damaged water mains leak – were obviously poorly thought through and were soon abandoned.

Devonshire Road, which had been working well at a social level with most hospitality outlets pleased with it, was also abandoned by the newly appointed Head of Transport, leaving many of the cafes and restaurants unhappy with the outcome. Cycleway 9, which had already received planning approval, was to be installed quickly in a more temporary layout.  

In South Chiswick a confusing mixture of solutions was proposed. Some roads were closed with barriers (Harvard Hill, Staveley Road), some were resident only (Hartington Road), some had timed entry and exit (Thames Road), some became school streets (Grove Park Terrace, part of Staveley).

As these were adapted following feedback, changes were made, often resulting in more confusion. Council communication was poor. Signage was legal, but often ignored by people who had travelled their usual routes for years. Some signage was vandalised, resulting in more confusion. Fines began to mount up. 

GPG/SOGA solution

The Grove Park Group and the Strand-on-the-Green Association eventually proposed an alternative scheme, comprising nine Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, which would fine people driving through ‘except for access’, enforced by timings between entrance and exit (similar to the current scheme for Thames Road). They believed this would permit access for residents, visitors, shops, deliveries and taxis, while preventing through traffic. 

This idea was presented to the Head of Traffic, Jefferson Nwokeoma and Cabinet lead for Transport, Cllr Hanif Khan but was rejected. One reason was that it would massively increase the number of PCNs (Penalty Charge Notices); neither GPG nor SOGA could cite another successful scheme of similar complexity. A ‘South Fulham scheme’, based on a white list of permitted cars was much admired by Councillor Sam Hearn, even though GPG/SOGA favoured a different scheme using ‘except for access’ rather than a whitelist. 

Survey, meeting and hustings

In February and early March 2022 GPG and SOGA carried out a survey. 582 responded, of whom 441 were from within the Grove Park/SoTG area, 141 from outside. The vast majority (87%) wanted changes made to the current measures. A large majority of residents within the area (70%) wanted some measures to restrict traffic; the vast majority (89%) from outside the area wanted no restrictions. 

At the meeting last Thursday these survey findings were presented. The church was full; the audience was mostly elderly and almost entirely white. There were no young people apart from one bored child. Although a good turnout, it could hardly be considered representative of the area as a whole. As one participant later noted, it essentially comprised a ‘self-selected “no change” group.’

The SOGA representative noted that some of the worst problems for pedestrians and cyclists are at the junctions of the A4 and Sutton Court Road, and at Hartington and the A316, and thought that these could be easily resolved. Those of us who have dealt with TfL to improve these junctions grinned wryly, knowing that this is not at all easy. 

Speakers from the community then presented their views. Sue Birch from Busby’s Pharmacy said that she was conflicted; as a resident she had noticed the improvement in quality of life, she was now able to smell flowers and hear bird song instead of car traffic, but as a business she had lost around 15% of trade from passing traffic (though local prescription rates had not changed). Deliveries were also problematic as the timings of the differing schemes were confusing (though these have recently been harmonised). 

A resident, Victoria Lynch, claimed she was disenfranchised and cited a now debunked newspaper article concerning pollution levels in Islington, though the relevance to the Chiswick scheme seemed tenuous at best.

“We are in a ghetto,” she announced, “Friends and family are frightened to visit.” The audience applauded. A Dr Rosen who lives on Waldeck Road, said his children could no longer access the sports facilities at Roko (a quick Google check shows this journey is 1.3miles, 7 minutes cycle ride away).

Vanessa Townsend, deputy head at Strand School told how she only had parking for 15 staff members, but 30 needed parking space. Staff members were leaving because there was no parking. The lack of parking meant her staff could no longer visit the pub with their families. No-one mentioned that the parking changes might be linked to the new sports stadium and irrelevant to the LTN. 

Lawrence Waterman OBE, who lives on Park Road, and was the head of Health & Safety for the 2012 Olympics, and is now the Chairman of the British Safety Council spoke in favour of the changes. He explained how pollution kills 40,000 people a year. How there is no point in saying ‘we must do something about it’, but not accepting that there might be some personal inconvenience. Just as smokers claimed that banning smoking would be the end of pubs and businesses, so we must accept that we must drive less. The audience booed. Behind me a resident, Karen Cadbury, said, ‘I bet he’s a cyclist’ (he isn’t). 

Clover Summer, a local mother of three primary school age children, sent in a statement:

I support the road changes, as they have made walking and cycling with children much safer for local trips, like to Harvard Hill, Chiswick House, Dukes Meadows and the High Road, all of which we can now get to on quiet roads. We rarely use the car now. I’ve had no problems with tradespeople, taxis or visitors since the measures came in (including the newest changes). I don’t support the ANPR camera idea because I think stopping rat runners is only half the story – we also need to disincentivise driving for short local trips, if we want quieter streets and lower transport emissions.’

Resident Chantal Gargour noted that she was a nature-lover, worked for Trees for Cities, and – although she found the signage incoherent – she was pleased with the changes. 

Cllr Hanif Khan stepped up. He was there as Hounslow’s lead cabinet member for Transport, but everyone knew he was also standing for a neighbouring Chiswick ward at the upcoming election. He pointed out that he had visited the GPG chair’s house, had listened to him, had met many residents. He had taken lots of notes and listened carefully. The audience, many of whom felt that they had not been listened to, barracked in disbelief. Khan won points for bravery, but few for clear explanations. 

Cllr Sam Hearn took the stage. He said that the Harvard Hill and Staveley Road barriers were now unnecessary. He demanded facts – conveniently not mentioning that over twenty traffic monitors throughout the area which would have provided some facts, had all been vandalised one night (his colleague, Cllr Biddolph, blamed playful fox cubs having a busy and well-organised night biting through them).

He had been told that Hounslow couldn’t afford Air Quality monitoring, although he noted that highly paid officers had come in secretly in October and installed diffusion monitors. He explained how Low Traffic Neighbourhoods only move pollution elsewhere, and blamed a “cult, magic thinking” for taking over the council and, presumably, the (Conservative) Department of Transport.

Soon he was back on his favourite subject, the lack of modal shift, which he has repeated like a mantra for the past years with increasing volume and decreasing credibility. He concluded by crying “The signage is absolutely rubbish! Sort it out!” The audience applauded.

Then Cllr Gabriella Giles took the mic. Like her father, David, the ex-Conservative chair of Grove Park’s Riverside ward, now expelled from the party, she is a fervent believer in getting rid of all the current changes. She called the current changes “the one single most important issue that impacts this ward in our lifetime.”

After a painfully obscure digression via rugby strategies she noted that she had cycled in the area as a child and had only recently begun to have issues. The system was not fair, she said, it created a hierarchy. She complained that transport officers were transferred (in fact most of the department left, several in despair at having to deal with the daily complaints of Chiswick residents). Tricky junctions such as those on the A4 and A316, she said, were seen as too difficult for the council to deal with (although these fall under the authority of the almost bankrupt TfL rather than the council).

The Lib Dems for a nearby ward were allowed to speak and mumbled something incoherent about lack of consultation though of course they believed in doing something. The Greens sent in a statement. 

One man, who said he had to drive his 93-year-old mother to the doctor every day, expressed the views of many when he said that as a Chiswick resident he had the right to drive his car wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and that no-one should be able to prevent him.

Someone asked Cllr Khan how much money had been made from PCNs. He said he didn’t have the precise figures to hand for each road, but that it fell far short of the £9 million that Hounslow had to pay TfL for all the over 60s to have free bus passes. Gabriella Giles gleefully announced that it was over £2 million pounds for Hartington alone. Of course, the GPG/SOGA scheme with many additional cameras would likely bring in far more.

Instead of being appalled at so many people failing to read road signs properly, or wondering how many more would pay PCNs with the desired nine camera solution, she loudly demanded that the audience vote Conservative for four more years of her as councillor.

The audience cheered loudly in anticipation of four more years of being represented by councillors who have completely failed to make any impact or to see the wider picture, but who successfully play to the tendency of some in Chiswick to feel they are a victim of terrible oppression by occasionally being forced to drive an additional few yards.

Somewhere, outside the little W4 bubble, where the “single most important issue” is a short traffic detour, there is a climate and pollution emergency.

Karen Liebreich

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Friends of the Earth relaunch in Hounslow

See also: Dozens of Insulate Britain protestors charged

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