Former BBC boss Sir John Tusa criticises ‘shocking’ lack of consultation for road closures
Town Hall insists it will give everybody a say on traffic schemes but small businesses fear trade will be lost before then
18 September, 2020 — By Calum Fraser
Sir John Tusa
THE former host of Newsnight and director of the BBC World Service, Sir John Tusa, has warned that the lack of consultation into a radical reordering of Islington’s roadmap had been “disgraceful”.
The eminent broadcaster said he feared for businesses in a row of shops in Canonbury Place where there are plans to block off cars to allow more space for cycling and walking – one of a whole raft of quickfire changes being installed amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“The fact that none of the shop keepers have been consulted is disgraceful. Nobody seems to care,” Sir John told the Tribune. “We are going to have to drive on St Paul’s Road more, going to have to go through Highbury Corner which is one of the greatest farces in north London. I find the whole dogma and impracticality and lack of concern for the community absolutely shocking.”
Both Islington and Transport for London are using experimental traffic orders to bring in the changes in a bid to stop people turning to their cars – and creating more pollution – as they reduce their use of public transport amid the virus crisis.
The council’s People Friendly Streets policy, also known as Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, is being set up with bollards and cameras. Council chiefs have repeatedly said that they are trying to avoid more rat-running through residential roads.
But shopkeepers in Canonbury Place, close to Sir John’s home, told the Tribune this week that a new plan to close roads in the area is a “totally unacceptable” move which could seriously damage their trade.
In Canonbury West the council has earmarked Canonbury Place, Alwyne Road, Clephane Road and Ramsey Walk for changes.
Sunil Amin, who has run the Shriji News off-licence in Canonbury Place for more than 25 years, said: “This is totally unacceptable and economically unadvisable. About 70 per cent of our trade is from passing cars. Once this is stopped, everything is lost.”
Daniel Lee, co-owner of Canonbury Beauty and Canonbury Hair, said: “It’s going to have a severe impact on businesses here. “We are already struggling from Covid and this kind of action is the last thing we need.”
And Zafar Malik, who has run Dry-cleaning at Canonbury Place since 2003, added: “We have loyal customers who bring their laundry here from the other side of Upper Street. What they bring is heavy and cannot be taken on a bus or bike. We will lose these customers if the roads are closed.”
Sir John, who latterly became the managing director of the Barbican Arts Centre, wrote to the Tribune last week asking whether the council had done an “economic study of the impact” of the road closures.
He said this week: “Why is it a benefit to West Canonbury residents to turn the area into a gated community?”
The 18-month experimental traffic orders (ETOs) do not require full consultation.
After a year, a review will decide on whether each change should become permanent.
In the meantime, a group of protesters have been staging demonstrations against the policies on a regular basis outside the Town Hall.
Islington and TfL both have previously challenged the idea that cutting the number of cars accessing shopping areas has a significantly negative impact on the businesses.
And they point to a TfL study published last year which found that those who walk and cycle spend up to 40 per cent more than those in a car when they visit high streets.
The council’s transport chief, Labour councillor Rowena Champion, said: “We have been listening to local people’s concerns on Islington’s streets. It is vital that we act now to create people-friendly streets, in order to make it easier and safer for people to walk, cycle, and use wheelchairs and buggies as alternatives to using public transport. This will help people to socially distance and to avoid a rise in motor vehicle use as we come out of lockdown.”
She added: “Our people-friendly streets neighbourhoods will help local people to socially distance as they make essential trips, whilst contributing towards a greener, safer, healthier Islington. “Local people know their streets better than anyone else and that is why we have launched a Commonplace web page to allow them to share their comments and ideas with us. “In addition, local people will have the opportunity to have their say during formal consultations on each of the people-friendly streets neighbourhoods.”