Council Called Out Over Lack of School Streets

Borough only one in inner London not to have a programme

School Streets have been implemented widely elsewhere in London

A plea is being made to Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) Council to implement a ‘School Street’ programme to protect local children from poor air quality.

Representatives from a third of all primary schools in the borough have written to council leaders to request the measures which would include timed road closures during drop-off and pickup.

The group says that School Streets have been proven to be effective at reducing air pollution and traffic danger for children, as well as supporting families to walk or cycle the school run.

H&F is the only Inner London borough, and one of only two boroughs across the entire city, to have implemented no School Streets with a trial having been abandoned despite council officers reporting favourably on the outcome. H&F Council was actually one of the first London boroughs to trial a School Street in 2018, but the scheme was removed without warning before the trial period had ended, reportedly following a personal intervention by council leader Stephen Cowan.

A 2021 FOI request revealed that the scheme had been judged a success by officers as it had achieved its objectives, but was still cancelled “due to the council’s policy of fairness to motorists” following complaints from car drivers - who then had their fines for breaching the restrictions refunded. Residents of neighbouring streets had also complained directly to the council leader, who is a local councillor for the ward in which the trial took place, about rat run traffic now passing their homes instead of the primary school gates. The council has confirmed that it has no plans to reintroduce such schemes.

The schemes have also been consistently popular in London where they have been introduced.

Air quality at every single school in Hammersmith and Fulham is in breach of interim World Health Organization guidelines on particulate and nitrogen dioxide pollution according to figures released by the Mayor of London and the request was made on the day of the national Clean Air Day initiative.

The letter, coordinated by newly formed local community action group H&F Clean Air Parents, was also sent to the newly appointed cabinet members for public realm, climate change and children. It explains that figures from the Healthy Streets Scorecard coalition show London now has over 500 School Streets, mostly introduced since April 2020, with neighbouring boroughs like Brent and Hounslow each boasting dozens of schemes. Even Kensington & Chelsea, often seen as London’s most pro-car borough, already has nine School Streets and plans for more.

The only other London borough to have implemented zero School Streets is Bexley, which has the lowest rates of walking and cycling in the capital.

School Streets have been operating at a small scale in the UK since 2017, but rose to prominence during the pandemic, as new funding and statutory guidance from government instructed councils to implement them wherever possible. Support from London Mayor Sadiq Khan has seen millions of pounds allocated to London boroughs to roll out the schemes.

The letter also calls out the council’s own ‘Healthy School Streets’ programme as inadequate and misleading, as the projects it is delivering contain no traffic restrictions, instead being limited to measures like planting new flowerbeds, widening pavements and re-painting 20mph road markings. The group says these measures do not meet the required standards for Streetspace for London schemes and that it is unclear whether TfL are aware that their funding is being used in this way.

Nikita Crocker, H&F Clean Air Parents organiser, said, “We just want children at our schools to benefit from the same protections now enjoyed by pupils at hundreds of schools in other boroughs across the capital. London’s air pollution crisis is especially damaging for children, routinely hospitalising asthma sufferers and stunting the lung development of all children growing up in areas where the air is not safe to breathe. Scientists say this childhood exposure is likely to knock years off their lives, and lead to a range of chronic respiratory and other health problems.

“We need the council to urgently step up and use the powers it has to protect our kids, and so-called ‘Healthy School Streets’ that do nothing to address the core problem of motor traffic at the school gates are simply not good enough.”

A spokesperson for the council cited the South Fulham Traffic, Congestion and Pollution Reduction scheme as the council’s preferred method of improving air quality saying, “We agree with the group – who rightly say the main problem with School Streets is that it creates ‘rat run traffic passing homes instead of the primary school gates’. We can do better than that.

“We’re rolling out our award-winning ‘air cleansing scheme’ that does more and goes further than they do by taking a holistic approach.

“Our pioneering initiative slashes rat-running traffic across whole neighbourhoods and is helping to reduce poisonous NO2 in the air we breathe.”

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Jacob Phillips - Local Democracy Reporter

June 17, 2022