LOBBYING: LETTER TO SOUTHWARK COUNCIL WITH RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTIVE TRANSPORT MEASURES IN THE COVID-19 CRISIS

XR Southwark’s Lobbying Working Group recognises Southwark Council’s efforts to respond to the COVID-19 and on-going climate crises. However, we are alarmed that as the weeks pass, progress is not being made fast enough, especially with regards to active transport measures. 

The below is our open letter sent to Southwark Council in June 2020 offering recommendations for reallocating streetspace to walking and cycling. These recommendations are based on advice XR Southwark has received from local community groups. 

“Dear Cllr Livingstone,

On 9 May, the Government published binding advice on COVID-19 requiring local councils to
make radical changes to their streets “within “weeks”, heralding the moment as “a once in a
generation opportunity to deliver a lasting transformative change”. As an area with some of
the highest public transport usage and worst air pollution in the UK, Southwark is required to
reallocate significant streetspace to walking and cycling before July.

All around us councils have risen to the crisis and are starting to catch up with the vision shown
by cities like Paris and Bogota. Lambeth has delivered multiple Low Traffic Neighbourhoods,
Croydon and Lewisham 50 new planters to filter streets, Hackney is on track to deliver 40
school streets by September and even Westminster has rolled out many cycle lanes. All
around us except our borough of Southwark. Here all we have seen in three months are two
minor schemes, one on Rye Lane that breaches equalities laws. An “acceleration” of previous
schemes, some of which date from 2015 and were supposed to have been already delivered,
is promised. There is still no plan published identifying new measures, something Hackney
managed to do as long ago as April. At best we hear a “streetspace principles” report will go
to Cabinet in July.

After the massive delays drawing up a climate emergency strategy, the delay in drawing up a
streets plan to respond to this health emergency comes as no surprise. Given the serious
flaws in the borough’s transport plans highlighted by TfL over a year ago, the lack of walking
and cycling proposals or consideration of equalities issues is not unexpected either. It is clear
the borough is struggling to come up with new ideas, prioritise them and then deliver at pace.
As direct effects of COVID-19 have been greatest on BAME communities, partly due to greater
air pollution exposure, and indirect economic and social effects of high COVID-19 rates are
likely to disproportionately affect these communities. Inaction on transport raises serious
concerns about racial and social justice.

It is vital that additional schemes are prioritised in areas which will have the greatest impact
on addressing the existing inequalities in our Borough, areas such as the middle of the
borough. Additionally, the council should ensure cycling is made more accessible for those
without bikes, such as extending cycle hire to Peckham with the spare developer funding
untouched since 2015.

In the next few weeks, according to experts, the biggest transportation priority for local
authorities should be to minimise motor traffic before social restrictions are lifted further. Based
on advice we have received from community groups, we would urge the following actions by
the end of this month:

  1. Create space on our busiest shopping streets, such as by preventing driving through
    Rye Lane, Walworth Road and Bermondsey Street.
  2. Create three new Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and set out plans to deliver five this
    year.
  3. Reallocate car parking and lanes to space for walking, cycling, cycle parking and for
    local businesses to trade outside.
  4. Deliver two new and upgraded protected cycle routes to cater for big increases in
    cycling.

If you fail to undertake such measures this month, against your legal obligations, XR
Southwark will plan in partnership with community organisations to take peaceful action to
give space back to walking and cycling.

Going forward, it is important that the council is more open and transparent, including
explaining why it has fallen so far behind its neighbours. This will be vital to build trust with
communities when engaging them about how experimental traffic measures are working.
While other councils have set out what they are bidding for, Southwark is not even sharing
this with its Environmental Scrutiny Commission. 77% of Southwark citizens surveyed want to
see less traffic in the borough: given the rapidly closing window of opportunity for action, we
would urge the Council to trust the people and “Act Now”.

XR Southwark believes that public policies should be undertaken as an outcome of genuinely
deliberative processes. Once you have set out your interim plans for reallocating streetspace,
we would be grateful if you could share your learnings and reflections about the delays so
Southwark can become open and agile in future. This is essential to deliver a just transition to
the climate emergency, which we are sure you agree has to be the key priority for the council’s
new leader.

Sincerely,

XR Southwark Lobbying Working Group

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