Camden Council’s decision to allow demolition and construction lorries through the narrow streets off Tottenham Court Road followed by an announcement of a consultation on a “healthy school street” plan does nothing to instil confidence that the council’s development and transport planners are anything other than dysfunctional.

Looking down Bedford Avenue with a "cut-out" of a woman standing on the side of the road holding a "look both ways" sign.
Look both ways – two problems at once. Camden wants heavy lorries to use this side street rather than Tottenham Court Road where a major redevelopment is taking place. A “healthy school street” nearby will also add cars, buses and taxis on the school run. Photo: Linus Rees

While the development planners are happy to allow large scale demolition and redevelopment on Tottenham Court Road their colleagues in the transport department won’t allow that major street to be used for the construction traffic.

If only they would have the same care for the people living in the narrow streets behind this development – particularly Bedford Avenue which will have all those heavy lorries file past people’s windows. Such is Camden’s dedication to preserving the new tarmac on Tottenham Court Road over people’s lives in the forgotten side streets.

Then the day after rubber-stamping the planning application for 247 Tottenham Court Road they announce plans to create a “healthy school street” in front of Ecole Jeanine Manuel primary school on the south side of Bedford Square.

Instead of school buses and cars setting down pupils outside the front door of the private school, the only way into Bedford Square will be via Bedford Avenue.

Even the drawing accompanying the consultation is wrong and only shows the part of the school facing Bedford Square. It ignores the space they occupy on Bedford Avenue. Camden cannot even get this right. A consultation should not be based on incorrect information.

A coach, private hire vehciles, taxis and private cars parked on the pavement at Bedford Square.
Drivers of a coach, private hire vehicles, taxis and private cars queue on the pavement in Bedford Square waiting to pick up children in November 2019. The proposal will just displace this illegal pavement parking to outside the Architectural Association school on the west side of the Square, obstructing the main pedestrian desire line from TCRd station to the university campus. Photo: Stephen Heath.

For when the school first opened a few years ago, pupil access was from the school’s entrances on Bedford Avenue. They would be dropped-off and picked-up from here at the beginning and the end of each day. It was chaos. There was road danger, congestion, noise and pollution.

But eventually, with some encouragement from Camden and local residents, the school agreed to operate the current travel plan with access from the Square. Now this is being reversed under the new plan.

All traffic will now have to travel along Bedford Avenue and add to the motor vehicles that already service the St Giles Hotel which fronts onto Tottenham Court Road but which are not allowed to use Tottenham Court Road. And don’t forget the construction traffic waiting in line.

Camden’s officers from different departments appear incapable of communicating with each other. The result is a conflict in public safety by putting all that traffic on the same narrow back street.

In 2006 Bedford Square was reconfigured to remove traffic and create a more pedestrian friendly space when it had a major makeover. What the Council said at the time was:

“Camden have no plans to undertake a permanent scheme that would relocate traffic from Bedford Square to Bedford Avenue.”

Officers went on to say “…the scheme is designed to be traffic-neutral, and does not involve any traffic management measures which would cause traffic to divert out of Bedford Square onto other roads”.

Similarly, at the meeting of Cabinet on 21 January 2015 at which the West End Project was approved, officers reported: 

“The number of coaches and large vehicles that use Bedford Avenue and Bedford Square is not expected to increase significantly as a result of these proposals or to lead to congestion issues on Gower Street.” 

They also reported “The traffic modelling shows that the volume of traffic in the area would go down and therefore the air quality would be likely to improve.” Really?

Taxis parked on the pavement on Bedford Square.
February 2021. Even with fewer children at the school taxis park on the pavement and drivers wait with their engines running outside the school. Photo: Linus Rees.

Of course, the problem in the Square was created, not by the school but by the change of traffic under its behemoth West End Project, planned long before the school existed. It is this the Council should be looking at. We fear the fallback position has always been for Bedford Avenue to become the one and only street that can be used to service all the local high traffic generators.

Camden’s attitude is that its residents don’t matter – we just get in the way.

The implications of the “Healthy School Street” proposal were not considered when the 247 Tottenham Court Road redevelopment was approved by the planning committee last month. Why wasn’t the committee advised of this as attendees surely would have known?

And did the committee follow proper process by omission of the forthcoming school plans?

We continue to wonder…

Camden consults on ‘healthy school street’ at Bedford Square.

Camden gives go ahead for major demolish and rebuild on Tottenham Court Road despite opposition.

Stephen Heath is an architect, urban designer and local resident who advises the local community on planning matters.