Highgate residents rally against 'nightmare' no right turns

Residents point to the new No Right Turn sign at the top of Swains Lane

Highgate residents opposing the road changes in Swain's Lane - Credit: Polly Hancock

“Furious” Highgate residents claim road restrictions around Swain’s Lane have transformed Pond Square from a “quiet little backwater” into an “absolute nightmare”. 

In May last year, at the start of the pandemic, Camden Council banned right turns from the top of Swain’s Lane onto Bisham Gardens and South Grove, in an effort to prevent drivers using it as a cut-through to Highgate High Street.

As a result, residents say traffic has been forced onto Pond Square during rush hour and created a new rat run, leading to congestion, collisions with parked vehicles and erratic three point turns.

But campaigning group Camden Cyclists, which supports the scheme, says the changes “don’t go nearly far enough” – as the town hall consults until September 5 on whether to make the trial permanent.

Peter Tenenbaum, a local resident, said: “Traffic in rush hour going through Pond Square is just unbelievable.

“Many of us have had our cars damaged from large vans coming down thinking they’ve got a shortcut, when really there isn’t one.”

Peter added: “They’ve turned what is the last real village square in London into an absolute nightmare in rush hour.”

William Britain, chair of the Highgate Society, said that the proposal and consultation “are wrong in so many ways”, despite agreeing with Camden’s objective to make walking and cycling safer.

Residents at the new No Right Turn sign at the top of Swains Lane

Residents say the restrictions have worsened traffic in Pond Square - Credit: Polly Hancock

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Listing the group’s “strong opposition”, he cited diverted and heightened traffic in Pond Square, Highgate Hill and Highgate West Hill.  

“The timing of this consultation means we’ve not yet seen the full impact of the ending of lockdown restrictions combined with the start of a new school year,” William said.   

“With the one-month consultation running until September 5, the danger is that the response rate will be low and only take into account traffic during the quieter holiday period over the summer.”     

Jeff Salmon, of the Pond Square Residents Association, said that life for neighbours on the road had “changed immeasurably”.  

“Pond Square used to be a haven for children running around,” he said. “You just don't see that anymore as the parents aren't allowing their children out on the streets. It’s just constant traffic.”  

Pond Square resident Edward Stanners claimed the scheme has brought no benefits, while neighbour Ed Coulthard said: “Camden are presenting their decision as a way of creating healthier neighbourhoods and encouraging cycling – but of course they have just diverted traffic onto a formerly peaceful residential square used as a refuge by so many people seeking some peace and quiet.”

From left: Highgate residents Ed Coulthard, Jeff Salmon, Edward Stanners and Peter Tenenbaum

From left: Highgate residents Ed Coulthard, Jeff Salmon, Edward Stanners and Peter Tenenbaum - Credit: Polly Hancock

The Swain’s Lane scheme is part of Camden Council’s safe and healthy streets programme which has introduced road changes during the coronavirus pandemic.

The programme has set out to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists through measures such as widened pavements, new cycle lanes, and timed road closures around schools.

John Chamberlain, coordinator for Camden Cyclists, said: “Swain’s Lane is a narrow road and is used by many pedestrians and cyclists of all types, especially now with the availability of electric cycles.  

“It has for many years been a rat run for through motor traffic which often travels at speed, forcing pedestrians onto the narrow footways and cyclists into the gutter.  

“It should be closed to motor traffic north of the cemetery, with facilities for access to those few houses in this section." 

Cllr Sian Berry (Green, Highgate) said that road safety measures are “crucial” – and she encouraged residents to respond to Camden’s consultation.

No right turn sign at the top of Swains Lane N6. 17.08.21.

- Credit: Polly Hancock

Council data comparing before and after the introduction of the Highgate scheme shows that traffic reduced by 17% in Swain’s Lane, and by 5% in both South Grove and Chester Road.

However, traffic increased in Highgate West Hill by 1% and in Highgate Hill by 17%. Town hall figures comparing a Tuesday in July 2020 to October 2020 showed the number of vehicles turning onto Pond Square from South Grove rose from 237 to 406 (71%).

A pollution monitoring station in Witanhurst Lane recorded a fall of 18% in nitrogen dioxide, while data from operator Lime indicated a near 400% increase in e-bike trips that either started or ended in Swain’s Lane. The journey times of emergency service vehicles remained the same.

The Swain’s Lane scheme was introduced in May 2020 as an 18-month trial under an experimental traffic order, which allows local authorities to impose temporary road restrictions. 

As 12 months have since passed with the Highgate measures in place, Camden is required to hold a public consultation over whether to make the changes permanent.   

For more information on the Swain's Lane scheme and to complete the consultation visit https://consultations.wearecamden.org/supporting-communities/swains-lane-safe-and-healthy-street/

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