Climate campaigner slams Tower Hamlets for ‘inadequacy’ of response to crisis following new report

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The same report found that Hackney was the best-performing London borough when assessing its climate delivery.

A healthy street campaign group has slammed the “inadequacy” of an east London council’s response to the climate emergency following the publication of a damning report.

In Climate Safe Streets: One Year On, One Year To Go, published on May 18, London Cycling Campaign (LCC) listed Tower Hamlets as the worst-performing London borough when assessing its climate commitments.

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In the report, LCC noted how Tower Hamlets was the only borough to have seen an increase in mode share for private vehicles between 2010 and 2020. It adds that since then, Lutfur Rahman, leader of the Aspire Party, has been elected as mayor on a pro-car agenda, promising to tear up low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) and other vehicle-restricting schemes.

“Tower Hamlets residents have elected a Mayor and party that stood on a platform to actively enable more driving – much of it presumably from outside the borough, and all of it with such clear negative impacts on all those who live in the borough,” the report states.

“Rather than roll back progress in the name of ‘opening’ roads to more private motor traffic Mayor Rahman and the Aspire Party should focus on delivering positive change in the borough for residents on pollution, road danger inactivity and the climate crisis.”

In its assessment, LCC found the council has taken “no substantive action” on cycle routes, dangerous junctions or cycle use. On cycle parking, it says the new Town Hall has 3,000 available spaces, but none residents can use. Regarding LTNs, the report notes the council is consulting on removing several schemes, including Brick Lane.

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This is despite data indicating Tower Hamlets has the third-highest percentage of households with no cars or vans among London’s boroughs. According to the 2021 census, its 66.4% was only bettered by Islington (66.9%) and the City of London (77.2%).

Transport for London (TfL) recently witheld funding to the borough via its Local Implementation Plan (LIP), due to concerns about how the council was intending on creating schemes encouraging residents to use public transport, walk and cycle, and cut private vehicle use.

Oli Rake, coordinator for Better Streets for Tower Hamlets, told LondonWorld how the report “underlines the inadequacy of the council’s response to the climate emergency.

“13% of the borough’s carbon emissions come from transport. The council must do more to promote the transition to sustainable modes of transport like walking and cycling.

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“It is not possible to achieve net zero by electrifying cars - the council needs to accomplish a serious change in residents’ travel habits.

“The mayor and the council have told us that they take the climate emergency seriously: it’s time to turn those words into actions, by making walking and cycling in Tower Hamlets safe and pleasant.”

At the other end of the scale, Hackney was described as the “exemplar” London borough on climate delivery by LCC, with its work on its Net Zero commitments and LTNs among several areas of praise.

Cllr Mete Coban, cabinet member for environment and transport, said: “We are delighted to be recognised for our climate safe streets - and proud of our record of supporting people to walk and cycle through school streets, new low-traffic neighbourhoods and the rollout of thousands of secure cycle parking spaces.

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“This work will continue over the coming years - as we look to make more of Hackney low traffic, green grey areas on our streets and create a greener, healthier Hackney for everyone.”

As well as London’s boroughs, the report also reviewed the efforts of the mayor, Sadiq Khan, who it pushed to do more to tackle the climate crisis and reduce car use.

It included two key recommendations for Mr Khan, namely to “get the ULEZ expansion done without delay”, and to solve “internal incoherence” in Transport for London (TfL), which LCC claims is causing various schemes to be pitted against one another.

Commenting on the report, Simon Munk, head of campaigns at LCC, said: “London must not be a postcode lottery for climate action or safe cycling and walking.

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“We need a lot more boroughs delivering ‘Climate Safe Streets’ like Hackney and Waltham Forest and fewer, like Tower Hamlets and Bromley, failing to deliver as our new report shows.

“Every London council and the mayor must deliver more streets fit for cycling, walking and children playing, and faster, if we’re to help London escape the grip of car dependency and the cost of living crisis.

“Our new ‘One Year On, One Year To Go’ report highlights what needs to be done, for future generations, and to make London a better city today.”

Tower Hamlets Council was approached for comment.

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