A new road scheme created by Conservative Westminster Council has increased road danger and air pollution outside a school in Fitzrovia, causing concern for teachers and parents and has frustrated the efforts of local environmental campaigners.
Riding House Street in Fitzrovia was for many years shut to all motor traffic, with concrete blocks across the carriageway, outside All Souls Primary School because of nearby construction work.
But the street was reopened in December 2021 under the Conservative council’s “school streets scheme” allowing drivers to avoid traffic lights when heading west across the Camden and Westminster border through Fitzrovia.
In place of the concrete blocks are a set of road signs asking drivers not to use the road during school hours.
Westminster Council’s school streets scheme is intended to reduce road danger, improve air quality, and encourage active travel to and from schools. But the new scheme in Riding House Street has made things worse than before.
“It’s difficult to see who wins from this strange decision,” says Andy Beverley of the campaign group Westminster Healthy Streets.
“Westminster Council had an opportunity to show hundreds of schoolchildren and local residents that they really are serious about reducing road danger and air pollution. Instead they have stuck with a decision that actually increases road danger and air pollution.”
Outside the school on the first day of term a Westminster Council officer was on hand to patrol the new “pedestrian and cycle zone” for the first few days of the new term. After that there would be no council patrol.
However teachers and the school governor were surprised to be told that parents and children should not stand in the pedestrian and cycle zone but keep to the narrow footway instead.
The school gates were where parents and children socialised before and after the school when the road was blocked to motor traffic.
Many people now asked: “What’s the point of a pedestrian zone if you are told you cannot stand in it?”
Henry Scutt, chair of the school governors, said the school street scheme was “confusing”.
According to Westminster Council the reason for telling pedestrians not to stand in the pedestrian and cycle zone is to avoid collisions with cyclists.
However during the 45 minutes that Fitzrovia News spent outside the school the only source of road danger was a driver who came speeding down the road, despite the signs saying the road was closed.
When stopped by the council officer — who informed the driver that the road was closed and he’d have to reverse back out — he said “sorry I didn’t see the signs” and carried on driving through regardless.
His registration number was recorded and enforcement action will be taken, says Westminster Council.
But apart from the road signs there is nothing to stop drivers using the street during the closure times.
In October last year the head teacher Alix Ascough wrote to local people to ask for support in keeping the street closed to motor traffic.
“For those of you who know our school, you will be aware that we have a hall on the opposite side of Riding House Street to the main building,” she wrote.
“This hall is used throughout the day by children as young as three-years-old. This means small children crossing the street throughout the day.
“As the street has always been closed since the hall was built this has never been a problem. However, with cars and motorcycles using the road I am filled with fear as to how dangerous this would become,” she said.
The school street scheme is made under an Experimental Traffic Order (ETO):
“The general effect of the Order will be, on an experimental basis and in connection with the introduction of various ‘school streets’ within the City of Westminster, to introduce a Pedestrian and Cycle Zone in Riding House Street, between its junctions with Cleveland Street and Nassau Street, in which motor vehicles will be prohibited from entering or proceeding between 8.30 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. on Mondays to Fridays inclusive — the prohibitions will not apply outside the term times for the school and the associated traffic signs will be either covered or folded away when not in operation.”
A public consultation on the ETO will run for six months from 20 January 2022.
“The Council will consider in due course whether the provisions of the Experimental Order should be continued in force indefinitely,” states the ETO.
There is no provision in the ETO for the street to again be properly closed to motor traffic. The consultation appears to be for the benefit of disgruntled motorists wishing to avoid the traffic lights along other routes.
Fitzrovia News approached Westminster Council about the concerns raised but they have not responded.
Sign the petition to have barriers installed
The school has started a petition to ask Westminster council to install barriers across Riding House Street during the school hours from 8.30am to 5.30am.
Supporters can come to the school to sign the petition between 9am and 1pm, which will be available at a table by the first set of doors at the the school reception area, thus avoiding lots of face to face contact, at the Foley Street entrance, 49-54 Foley Street, London W1W 7JJ.
“Many thanks for all your support, it is very much appreciated,” says head teacher Alix Ascough.