Camden removed the democratic oversight of traffic changes

Children need safe streets to ride their bicycles

The £1.3m spent on Prince of Wales Road's cycle lanes could have taught several thousand children to ride a bike - Credit: PA Images

A year ago, as the pandemic hit, Camden pushed through wide-ranging emergency powers. A big impact on people’s lives was removing democratic oversight of traffic changes: including road closures and the removal of parking spaces.

Camden also removed the role of councillors to scrutinise these decisions and reduced the right of residents to be consulted. A year on, people wonder why these emergency restrictions on consultation still exist and what can be done to ensure good schemes are permanent and bad schemes reversed.

Camden ordered councillors not to tell residents about proposed traffic schemes. This did not help dispel the impression that secrecy was a goal. The Conservative opposition have held Camden’s administration to account, notifying residents of the proposals and seeking their opinion.

Cllr Steve Adams, Belsize ward

Cllr Steve Adams says that the public should be consulted on traffic schemes - Credit: Cllr Steve Adams

The schemes were rushed through as experimental. But assessing the success of those experiments requires performance targets or forecasts, so performance can be measured against what was promised. Camden has also said it will implement schemes that don’t have public support, also damaging consultation. A Conservative councillor challenged Camden’s cabinet member for these forecasts and targets twice last week, but was refused.

This has led to mistakes. Camden said cycle lanes costing £1.3m had to be rushed through on Prince of Wales Road because cycling would rise by 900% per cent. Recent published data shows cycling on Prince of Wales Road rose just 15% - likely all displacement from elsewhere. That £1.3m could have taught several thousand children to cycle, as Camden Conservatives proposed for the last two years. By missing that opportunity, it’s set cycling back as well as hurting motorists.

While allowing moving goalposts might suit Camden Labour, it does not deliver any confidence that the council is actually listening. This flies in the face of the national legislation under which the government allocated £2bn to promote cycling, which required emergency provision decisions to be enacted only after proper consultation. It appears that the dreams that wouldn’t get through ordinary scrutiny will be funded by the special allocations due to Covid-19.

It is correct that councils address heavy traffic levels and promote safe cycling. To be effective, measures must be evidence-led and publicly-supported. Camden must stop moving those goalposts.

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Steve Adams (Con) is a councillor for Belsize ward.