LTNs – Lower Traffic Nightmares

Harrow Council will give monthly 'balanced review' of LTNs | Harrow Times

As I sat on my sofa, laptop on my legs, headphones in, waiting for the meeting to start; I wondered whatever became of the guy that would have usually been out on a Thursday night in a pub or a club. Even though Lockdown and 2020 as a whole has put a stop to all of that mid-week shenanigans, I would have still usually been doing something better than waiting for Harrow Council’s webcam meeting to begin. Watching I’m a Celebrity maybe or playing Jay’s Virtual Pub Quiz? 

After a while of waiting, the lights came on and one by one the faces of Harrow Councillors popped up. I noticed that the leader of Harrow Council, Cllr Graham Henson, thought it was appropriate in the month of utter turmoil in the borough, to give himself a Christmas themed background. Well, if he was Buddy the Elf of this party, then the woman sitting in front of her curtains in another shot, was The Grinch. Cllr Varsha Parmar sat there stony faced. I was getting flashbacks of Guy Goma who went for an interview at the BBC many years ago now, and was mistaken for a music industry expert and ended up live on-air answering questions about something he knew nothing about. The only difference between Guy and Varsha, was Guy actually made an attempt to give answers. 

To give people who don’t know some context, my area of London is one of many that has had LTNs (Low Traffic Neighbourhood Schemes) implemented on our roads. Implemented by the Labour-run council. They began as just your average plastic road blocks that many people thought were just for temporary roadworks but soon became big wooden flower pots that will stick around for at least a six-month trial. All sorts of reasons have been given for how they will benefit the community but quite frankly, as anybody with half brain cell knows, those benefits have not come to fruition and they never will.  

I really wish that this meeting could have been Live Streamed on the television. The reason I say this is because there is a culture of working-class people aligning themselves with the Labour Party due to their up-bringing and this continued unbroken chain of identity politics is not only stupid, but dangerous. When I was growing up it was a simple case of Labour = Good Guys and Conservatives = Bad Guys. Working-class people are brought up to believe that Labour, are the party of the people. I think, that myth is being broken slowly and the last election result proves that the tide has turned and working-class people and many BAME people do not feel like the current Labour mob speak on their behalf. Maybe one day they will, but not today. I believe it’s important to engage with people of all parties and not blindly follow the people who are wearing your team’s colours. The situation in my area is a case in point.  

As the meeting began, Conservative Councillor Paul Osborn, (who I had spoken to the day before regarding a very serious incident near me where an ambulance and police car were blocked at an LTNs which prevented them from getting to somebody in need on my road) began the debate by asking the Mayor Nitin Parekh to bring the discussion on LTNs forward. He asked for this so the public didn’t have to wait around for 3 hours to listen to other issues from the area nor have to witness a send-off for a chap who I believe was getting some well-deserved recognition. It just wasn’t relevant, and was probably more suited for another day. The Mayor refused. Of-course he did, he didn’t get dressed up his nice outfit for people to log-off early.  

Over the last month and half, the LTNs bollards have caused havoc in this area.  We’ve seen a rise in traffic on our main roads which was inevitable. When you block people’s usual routes, they’re going to end up congregating in the same place if only a few roads are free to use. Forget the fact that residents in Harrow pay the third highest council tax in London and now can’t even use the roads which they pay for; the maths and science dictates why this has been a disaster. Even I know that and they were my two worst subjects at school. Same number of Cars minus Roads = More traffic. They’ve created less space for cars, but the same number of cars are still on the road. The idea that this scheme will result in more people walking and cycling is so far nothing but a myth. The project is discriminatory against the elderly and disabled. It’s increased pollution. It’s caused drivers to drive more erratically due to being held up and delayed at the blocks. It’s a shambles.  It’s a risk to life. It’s a public health hazard. At the time of me writing this 4326 people have signed the original petition to have them removed. More have signed paper copies of the petition. Over 1000 negative comments on the Councils own Street Space Scheme feedback page. The people want these gone. And what do Harrow Council do? They fiddle while Rome burns!  
 
At the beginning of this scheme, I was just a one-man band, throwing out my opinion into social media, writing letters to my local MP, explaining the fact that this idea would eventually kill somebody. So, when I was approached by some people who had seen the stuff I had been writing asking whether I wanted to form an association which would enable us to speak at council meetings I was a bit reluctant. What could a jobless bloke like me add to the cause?  I’ve recently written at 64,000-word novel so debating people on Facebook or Twitter isn’t going to make my fingers tired or my brain break out into sweat, but arguing back and forth into the social media echo chamber isn’t going to get us very farr [satiric misspelling]. Could I offer more?  

That’s the thing; when we formed what would become Free Harrow we found a great strength in our diversity. We all brought and continue to bring different skills and knowledge to the table. Sure, some people were already involved with the community, involved in politics etc, however, many of us are just your average person who were irritated and angered by the utter disdain shown to us by Harrow Council. We are from all different backgrounds, different races, religions, cultures etc but we work as a team for the common goal. We have not made this a political fight, or an anti-Labour fight but a fight for respect and common sense. It’s comforting to know that there are people out there fighting on behalf of others, fighting against injustices. Trust me, the way these schemes have been undemocratically rolled out without thorough consultation with the community is definitely an injustice. I personally ended up getting involved for all of the community, even people who want the LTNs scheme. Contempt for one of us, is contempt for all of us. Today it might be something you like being implemented without gaining the communities views but tomorrow it could be something that seriously impacts you negatively.  

Back at the Harrow Council meeting, the LTNs debate was eventually brought up. The petition reader rudely being referred to by an incorrect name, which he swiftly corrected. When it got to Cllr Varsha Parmar to speak she cleared her throat and spoke with as much charisma as, ironically, a plant pot. She was uninterested as she reached for a pre-prepared statement. I felt like she was desperately trying to hold a yawn in as she began to speak the words that somebody else had clearly written for her. She morphed in to a school child who had been forced to the front of the class to read a passage from Of Mice and Men. Breaking down each syllable so she didn’t say anything wrong. By this time, I was wincing so much, I wanted to be put out of my misery like George did to Lennie.  
 
The problem is and has been from the start, these councillors are sticking their heads in the sand and being ignorant to the facts. Sticking their heads in the sand and their hands in the pot of money that was offered to them by central Government. Like a kid on Halloween shoving their hand into the stranger’s sweet jar and taking as much as they can. No thought for the consequences. Greed takes over for them but it’s us left feeling sick in the morning.  

As the Harrow Council meeting went on people who I’ve been getting to know and interacting with on a daily basis began to one-by-one present questions directed to councillors of their choice. They read out their questions eloquently, with passion and with truth on their side. Unfortunately, for every question given, Cllr Varsha Parmar batted them away like Freddie Flintoff, or maybe she had more of Rahul Dravid technique considering she was on the defensive from the get go. I don’t think there was a single question that was answered fully or respectfully. One exchange was a simple question of when will she release the findings of the monthly review. “Shortly,” Varsha said. “When?”  replied the person asking the question. “Shortly,” “When?” “Shortly” it went on. The review is weeks overdue. I could see that the questions were getting to her. She began to refer to people against the schemes as ‘those who shout the loudest’ but always going back to her notepad after an outburst of anger to get back on track. At one-point Conservative Cllr Marilyn Ashton quite rightly called her out on the nonsense she was talking and called the scheme ‘stupid’. Cllr Parmar broke away from her prepared statement once more to bark ‘don’t call us stupid’. The classic strawman technique. If you’re not familiar with this technique it’s basically where you take a statement said by somebody and then refute it by arguing against something they never said. Cllr Ashton was quick as a wink to unmute herself and correct Cllr Parmar, leaving the Labour councillor mumbling incoherently to herself.  

Still sporting a Christmas background Cllr Gavin Henson didn’t fare much better. Although I felt like his speech about being underfunded for years by central Government was genuine, he has to appreciate that people are bored of hearing our Labour councillors passing the buck. They chose to partake in this scheme, they chose to apply for the money and then they implemented the idea horrendously. That’s on them. So, whilst Cllr Kiran Ramchandani shouted ‘the government made us do this’ to me on Twitter after the meeting, reminiscent of the “he made me do it, he talked me into it” scene from the film Jaws, we know that not to be true. The bizarre thing also being, this lady, Cllr Ramchandani, actually does come across as a polite person who does want to engage with the community. However, whilst she admits that it was wrong how the scheme was implemented, she still voted to keep the blocks in place.  Is that towing the line and putting your morals to one side? I don’t know. She has invited me for a chat next week however, and I do have hope for some solid back and forth.  

I always knew there was a murky side to politics but it wasn’t until getting involved more with this that I saw just how badly it stinks. These councillors are treating people like they’re stupid. They don’t listen to us and then think we’re going to be impressed if they go on some anti-government rant or nearly weep at their own words when going off on a tangent about the war. Cllr Henson at this meeting had the bare face cheek to mention Remembrance Sunday. We were literally sitting there talking about how he and his fellow Labour councillors have processed schemes in the area undemocratically and he thinks that mentioning something serious like the death of millions of brave soldiers is somehow going to placate us. The brave people who died during the war, died because they were fighting for democracy, fighting against authoritarianism, dictatorship and forcible suppression. If you can’t see the irony in that then I can’t help you.  

The meeting towards the end turned into this unusual, grotesque, odd scene where The Mayor asked all the councillors whether they wanted to extend the meeting, and they all began to unmute themselves and started shouting ‘yes’ and ‘no’ over and over again. The Conservative councillors all agreed to extend the meeting but the Labour councillors voted against. Then in a grim but comical exchange, Cllr Osborn asked to move to the vote on whether LTNs are removed or kept. Labour Cllr Adam Swersky then unmuted himself after keeping very quiet all meeting to say “this will run in to the time we have to discuss the living wage”. Well, Adam and his pals just voted not to extend the meeting time, and then tried to blame Paul. It was weird.  

The root cause here is people in power like to take the piss. Unfortunately for them on this occasion, the community has come together and told them we will not take their foolishness. We will not be treated with scorn. You can’t keep us in the dark anymore. Your error in disregarding us on this topic, means in future we will be watching you on all topics. We know who’s in bed with who. For some of you it is not too late. You can still redeem yourselves; you can still engage and listen. You can still make a valuable contribution to the borough. If you don’t, then when somebody inevitably dies (if they haven’t already) because of the LTNs, then the blood will be on your hands. It’s as simple as that.  

At the end of the council meeting, the councillors voted. 33 to keep the scheme in place, 27 to remove. Labour all voted to keep it and the Conservatives all voted to remove it. It pretty much went as expected.  

I think moving forward, what we have to make the councillors realise is this scheme was only passed because a few hundred people campaigned for it. Of course, people who live on certain roads will enjoy it but their enjoyment is detrimental to the large majority. Not just residents who live in our area, but those who pass through it too. We are supposed to be a hub for business, huge transport links to all over the country and the roads need to be open for our town to flourish. This is London. If you have some kind of fetish for country living then move to the countryside. Taking away people’s freedoms under the illusion of being ‘green’ isn’t going to bounce here. Whilst you try to turn us into a mini-Emmerdale, the focus is turning away from the actual needs of this area. People are getting stabbed and shot on a regularly basis. We need money put into Local Youth Services, Crime Prevention, Education etc. We don’t want to be wasting our time arguing about something that all but 400 people never wanted. It’s insanity!  

Finally, we need to stop misrepresenting stats to suit agendas. There was an article in the Guardian written by Peter Walker (a keen cyclist and very obviously pro LTN) where it was stated that 52% of Londoners in a poll of 2000 people are for the LTNs. I believe Peter was quoting Grant Shapps who was quoting the poll. But that’s not the full story is it? Why are pro-LTN people not posting the link to the full poll? (Click here to view it). Well, that’ll be because the same poll also states that 53% of people now find London to be unsafe for cycling (up from 35% in August, which was before the LTNs implementation). It also shows that only 29% of people said that the LTNs scheme was effective. So, 52% of people want the LTNs scheme but only 29% of people think the scheme is effective? Make it make sense! Twisting polls that are already created from loaded questions to further a goal and trick people into thinking something is the truth when it’s not. Even the title of the poll is ‘Londoners Support Pedestrianisation of London, but Find Policies So Far Ineffective’.  Of course, we want to live in a better, healthier society. We have never claimed anything different. We are open to suggestions, but we are not open to suggestions being implemented without valid engagement with everybody who will have to live with the consequences. I think that is very fair. I think by playing it that way, we are more likely to find common ground. At the end of the day, nobody in their heart wants the worst for their community, they want the best. It’s just how we get there that we disagree on.  

As I’ve already mentioned Of Mice and Men, I’ll leave it with John Steinbeck to have the final say:  

“In every bit of honest writing in the world, there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. KNOWING A MAN WELL NEVER LEADS TO HATE and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. TRY TO UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER!” 

You can give your feedback on the scheme HERE

You can sign the petition to remove the scheme HERE

You can watch the full Harrow Council meeting HERE

Visit my website HERE

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