Westcombe Hill low-traffic neighbourhood: We’ll be watching effects in Charlton, council says

Eastcombe Avenue
Residents in Eastcombe Avenue regularly complain of rat-running traffic

Greenwich Council says it will monitor the effects of closing Westcombe Hill to through traffic on neighbouring streets in Charlton and take action if necessary.

The council is consulting on plans to stop through traffic running down Maze Hill, Vanbrugh Hill, Halstow Road and Westcombe Hill in response to persistent jams in residential roads in east Greenwich and Blackheath. Buses, emergency vehicles, walkers and cyclists will be able to use the roads as normal.

Maze Hill has been particularly badly hit since the upsurge in traffic following the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as similar traffic measures in west Greenwich and in Greenwich Park. Westcombe Hill is often used as an alternative to the six-lane motorway-standard A102, which runs alongside it.

Similar schemes across London – aimed at tackling a long-term increase in motor traffic in London, much of it borne by residential roads; as well as to make it safer for people to walk and cycle when public transport is restricted – have proved highly controversial, with often bitter campaigns for and against them. The west Greenwich scheme, which saw streets around Royal Hill and Hyde Vale blocked with planters, saw competing petitions both for and against the scheme and misleading claims that the ambulance service had objected. Two opposing campaigns have sprung up in Greenwich: Greener Maze Hill and Greenwich Gone Too Far.

Westcombe Hill
A camera will be placed on Westcombe Hill to restrict traffic

This scheme will see cameras put in place on Maze Hill, Vanbrugh Hill and Westcombe Hill; planters will be installed on Halstow Road. One option mentioned on an online consultation is to make the measures only operate in the rush hour, with free access at other times.

While most schemes are clearly aimed at making back streets safer, many drivers will consider the three roads with cameras as main roads – particularly Westcombe Hill, which older motorists will remember as the main route to the Blackwall Tunnel until the late 1960s and is served by four bus routes.

Responses to the council’s proposals on its consultation website have been overwhelmingly hostile, although it is unclear how many respondents live within the affected area and how many are drivers from outside who object to the upheaval of taking a different route. In the Blackheath Westcombe ward which makes up the south of the area, 36 per cent of residents do not have a car – a figure that rises to 48.8 per cent in Peninsula ward to the north, which suffers the most from congestion.

One risk of the Maze Hill and Westcombe Park scheme is that traffic will simply move to another rat-run – Eastcombe Avenue and Victoria Way, which are already blighted by traffic heading to and from the Charlton retail parks. TfL analysis given to councils last summer indicated that Charlton and the western part of Woolwich was the area of Greenwich borough most suited to hosting a low-traffic neighbourhood.

Victoria Way
This rat-run via Victoria Way is unaffected by the new scheme

There are no formal plans at present to deal with the rat-running in Charlton, but the council’s cabinet member for environment, sustainability and transport, Sizwe James, said the new scheme was “just the start”.

Asked if the council had contingency plans in place if that happened, the cabinet member for environment, sustainability and transport, Sizwe James, said: “During the experimental period we would assess any impact on surrounding areas including the Eastcombe Avenue and Victoria Way routes. Schemes can be improved, and additional measures put in to reduce traffic on other residential streets.

“Due to funding arrangements, we cannot work on all areas at once, but we have got more proposals in the pipeline for other areas which we will be consulting on soon. This is just the start.”

He said the consultation was for “initial proposals” and added: “Any measures would be implemented as an experimental scheme with a full consultation forming part of this process.”

Westcombe Hill
Westcombe Hill is paralleled by the six-lane A102

“Our proposals are based on traffic analysis and concerns about increasing traffic raised by local residents. We’re collecting residents’ views on traffic levels in recent years, whether levels have increased and how residents have been affected,” he said.

“If we don’t act now traffic will only continue to get worse. It has already doubled over the last decade in London and in our borough alone between 2014 and 2019 the number of miles driven on our roads increased by one hundred and thirty million.

“People who choose to drive through residential areas are disproportionately affecting everyone’s quality of life – due to air and noise pollution, speeding and illegal parking.

“The proposals would not stop anyone from using their car if they want or have to, but would direct vehicles on to the main roads that were designed to carry them in the first place.

“Why should the health of our residents and in particular our children be at the mercy of drivers who do not even live in the borough taking short-cuts through residential areas because that’s what their mobile sat-navs told them to do. It may even make people question what their first choice of transport is if they feel safer walking, cycling or wheeling because their streets are no longer dominated by heavy traffic.

“If we want to reduce the amount of people with heart disease, osteoarthritis and cancers caused by inactive lifestyles or asthma and respiratory diseases caused by car exhausts then we have to be brave and we have to begin somewhere. The gases from these vehicles are causing a third of all our emissions too – making the planet warmer and directly contributing to climate change.”

A consultation is open at greenersafergreenwich.commonplace.is.


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TfL ‘monitoring’ effects of widened bus lanes through Charlton

Woolwich Road
Transport for London says the widened lane improves safety for cyclists

Transport for London says it is monitoring the effects of widened bus lanes between Charlton and Woolwich after over 2,000 people signed a petition calling for them to be removed.

The lanes have been widened between Anchor and Hope Lane and the Woolwich Ferry to assist buses and improve safety for cyclists, cutting the ordinary traffic lanes down to one in each direction.

In January TfL consulted on plans to build a segregated cycleway between Charlton and Woolwich, which would have had a similar effect, but after the coronavirus pandemic the route between Greenwich and Charlton was prioritised instead. Eventually TfL hopes there will be a continuous cycle route between Tower Bridge and Woolwich.

Bus lanes were widened as an interim measure – and introduced to Woolwich Church Street for the first time – to speed up services and to add some extra safety for cyclists. However, they have been blamed for increased congestion on Woolwich Road and Woolwich Church Street.

A petition created three weeks ago by Gagandeep Singh says there are “vehicles queuing up all day and evening”. By Thursday evening it had gained 2,359 names. One signatory claims it took them 90 minutes to travel between Woolwich and Charlton; another said: “It’s impossible to get out of the roundabout at Warspite Rd. Traffic jams are terrible all day long.”

While there has been a huge jump in traffic since the end of the first coronavirus lockdown, there has been congestion where drivers attempt to filter from two lanes to one at the junction with Anchor and Hope Lane. While the wider bus lanes – which replace narrow cycle lanes on Woolwich Road – allow cyclists to overtake buses at stops, they are not continuous. This means riders still have to take their chances with HGVs and other fast-moving traffic at roundabouts – despite the introduction of a 20mph speed limit on the route.

Woolwich Road
Two lanes merge into one at Anchor and Hope Lane

A Transport for London spokesperson told The Charlton Champion the widened lane had been introduced as part of its Streetspace programme “to create more space for people to safely walk and cycle”.

He added: “The bus lanes push general traffic and HGVs further away from cyclists; making this corridor a much more pleasant and less intimidating route, and provide a link from Woolwich into the Cycleway that is currently being built between Greenwich town centre and charlton. These lanes are an interim measure while we work on the permanent scheme that was consulted on earlier in 2020, and which would provide a two way segregated cycle lane taking people from Woolwich all the way into Greenwich, and eventually into central London.

“Bus lanes protect buses from congestion and ensure journey times and intervals between buses are more reliable. Bus lanes will help guard against a damaging car-led recovery by improving bus journey times and safety for Londoners making journeys by public transport and the increasing proportion travelling by bike.

“Changes made as part of the Streetspace programme are being introduced on a temporary basis under temporary traffic orders, and will be monitored after implementation to ensure they deliver the expected benefits. Monitoring along the A206 corridor will include reviewing cycle flows, perception of safety, collision rates, general traffic flows and bus journey times.”

Woolwich Road
The widened lanes do not run across junctions

He continued: “We are reviewing the operation of the bus lanes with the Royal Borough of Greenwich, and the data we are collecting is helping to inform these ongoing discussions. Where appropriate, adjustments to the scheme will be made if they aren’t performing how we expected. The new measures will be in place for up to 18 months, after which the monitoring strategy will form a key part of discussions between TfL and the council as to whether the scheme should be removed or made permanent.”


CYCLEWAY 4 PROGRESS

Woolwich Ferry to Anchor and Hope Lane, Charlton: Bus lanes as interim measure, funding for cycle route not yet certain

Anchor and Hope Lane to Farmdale Road, Greenwich: Work yet to start

Farmdale Road to Old Woolwich Road: Due to open early December

Old Woolwich Road to Old Royal Naval College: Uses existing routes

Old Royal Naval College to Norway Street, Greenwich: Awaiting funding application

Norway Street to Rotherhithe Tunnel: TfL in discussions with local councils, plans due in coming months

Rotherhithe Tunnel to Tower Bridge Road: Complete


Work is continuing on the cycleway between Old Woolwich Road and Farmdale Road, which will see a safer crossing put in place for riders at the Angerstein roundabout. It is due to open in early December – about two months later than planned.

The TfL spokesperson said: “This is later than originally anticipated for a number of reasons, including delays in our supply chain for temporary materials, issues with ducting identified when on site and a recent design change to Vanburgh Hill bus stops to assist bus operations.

“We are currently finalising plans for the section of cycleway between Charlton and Anchor and Hope Lane and will announce our proposals and construction timescales shortly.”

A small section of Cycleway 4 is already open between Tower Bridge and Rotherhithe Tunnel; TfL said this week that plans for the section through Deptford would be announced “in the coming months”.


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Angerstein Wharf crossing: Greenwich Council knew of closure plan but did not tell residents

Angerstein Wharf crossing
The crossing is a local landmark and one of only a handful in London

Greenwich Council knew about controversial plans to close a railway crossing a year before Network Rail made it public – but did not tell local residents, councillors or the local MP, The Charlton Champion can reveal.

Network Rail first told Greenwich Council about its plans for the Angerstein Wharf branch crossing, across a freight line on the east Greenwich/Charlton border, in April 2018, emails released by the track company under the Freedom of Information Act show. Several council officers were involved in discussions and three site visits were held.

Councillors for Peninsula ward – who would have known of the importance of the crossing – were not told about the issue and neither was Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook, The Charlton Champion has established. The council maintains “there was nothing to tell residents” at the time.

A council officer dealing with conservation was also involved in a discussion about the planned closure in December and January 2019.

Network Rail sent the council a formal notice warning of the crossing closure on 14 February 2019, but the Valentine’s Day missive went unanswered until after a neighbour of the crossing used Twitter seven weeks later to say that residents had received letters about the closure.

Greenwich then threatened Network Rail with a injunction to prevent the closure of the crossing, which is used by hundreds of people each day heading to and from Westcombe Park station. It is one of a handful of foot crossings on London railway lines, and has grown in importance since new housing was built on the Charlton side of the crossing at Fairthorn Road.

The plans, which are to accommodate a resignalling of the line to and from the Angerstein aggregates wharf by the Thames, have now been put on hold.

Angerstein Wharf crossing
A sign warning of the closure was stuck to a fence at the crossing

‘A full diversion is the way to go’

Network Rail first told Greenwich Council about the plans on 11 April 2018 – 12 months before neighbours found out. An unnamed member of Network Rail’s track renewals team warning that works were planned in May 2019 that “may affect the nearby foot crossing at Farmdale Road”, asking to set up a site visit. No response was received for a week until after the Network Rail officer sent a follow-up mail, after which a site visit was arranged by Greenwich’s street works area co-ordinator. An email sent from Network Rail after this visit states “I think we both formed the opinion that a full diversion is the way to go”.

After this, a further email from Network Rail which appears to have been sent to the planning team says “we need some assistance from yourselves to help us evaluate what we can do with the crossing to ensure public safety and rail transport safety”.

Responses include an email from one Greenwich Council officer to another stating “I don’t know what the Farmdale Road foot crossing is (level/bridge) as it’s not clear on the plan”.

On 9 May 2018, a planner responds to say: “The council would be likely to object to any closure since the route is well used by local people and by virtue that the passageway continues access over the A102 to Westcombe Park railway station, a route previously under threat when the A102 was built and with that the footbridge now seen over that road. NR could, of course, provide an alternative route in the form of a subway beneath its line.” A further site visit was held on 22 May 2018.

After that site visit, a council structures and street lighting manager emails with a summary of what was discussed, including plans for Network Rail to install CCTV as part of a risk assessment. But no further response was sent by Network Rail.

Network Rail has told The Charlton Champion: “After that meeting Network Rail undertook the process to understand the status of the crossing.”

‘Our closure of the foot crossing’

Separately, in November 2018, a Network Rail officer emails to comment on Greenwich Council’s plans to locally list the crossing – a mild form of protection against development – and states: “We would be happy to discuss with you further regarding the potential listing of these items and whether that is compatible with our closure of the Angerstein Wharf foot crossing.”

In mid-January 2019, a Greenwich officer emails to set up a meeting with their Network Rail counterpart. Network Rail has said this was followed by a third site visit to the crossing on 13 February.

Then on 14 February, a formal letter was sent by email warning of the closure of the crossing.

It promises: “We will erect clear signage either side of the crossing to make it clear when the closure will commence… As we have been in close liaison with you about these works, we wanted to inform you of this.” Greenwich Council says it did not receive this letter.

No response was received until 8 April – two days after a neighbour of the crossing tweeted about a letter he had received about the plans.

The tweet was included in the email. Meanwhile, the councillors and MP were finding out about the scheme for the first time through complaints from residents.

“I am not aware that Network Rail has notified the council directly of the proposed work,” the email states, while a further mail from the head of highways cites “a number of strong high level representations today objecting to the proposed crossing closure”.

Network Rail letter
A letter from Network Rail was placed in Fairthorn Road

The council then threatens an injunction, at which point Network Rail removes its plan to close the crossing. Asked what happened to the “clear signage”, a Network Rail spokesperson said: “The closure notice and information relating to the alternative route was displayed on the over bridge on the approach to the crossing and along Farmdale/ Fairthorn Road for the recent works and the Angerstein resignalling commissioning at Easter.”

A third site meeting was held on 12 April 2019 – a year and a day after the council was first told about the plan, and a few days before The Charlton Champion sent its Freedom of Information request – with an email from Greenwich Council confirming “that self-closing gates are to be installed to ensure that the public will be reminded that in opening these that they are at a level crossing”.

“I look forward to a copy of the letter bound for stakeholders and residents and further details of the works programme during the course of next week.”

Angerstein crossing
The path is a popular route to Westcombe Park station

Councillors the last to know

Many current and former Greenwich councillors have long remarked privately that they are often the last to know about issues in their areas. Furthermore, the correspondence shows that officers were unaware of the crossing or its impact on the local area – which could also explain the council’s attitude to the consequences of the nearby Ikea store, where long-promised measures to assist pedestrians and cyclists have yet to be completed.

A Greenwich Council spokesperson told The Charlton Champion: “The council did not support Network Rail’s closing of the Angerstein Wharf crossing at short notice and with no consultation with residents in April 2019. When Network Rail made their initial enquiry to us in spring 2018 we were clear that they had not provided enough information of their plans.

“When we heard nothing further we assumed that their plans had changed and therefore there was nothing to inform residents of.

“The council has no record of receiving a formal closure notice from Network Rail in February 2019. If we had, we would have challenged their proposals and briefed our elected members then.

“In April we were as surprised as residents to find out what they had done. We swiftly instructed our legal team who persuaded Network Rail to postpone their plans. We will be meeting Network Rail next month and we will go prepared with legal advice regarding the status of the path and Network’s Rail statutory obligations to keep it open.”

This story has also been published on The Charlton Champion‘s sister site 853.


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