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Whitechapel High Street – one of the roads done up with colour and pattern like a CO2-guzzling Christmas tree – is groaning with the weight of traffic diverted from LTNs.

Biggs nods to voters’ views as election looms

IT TOOK a by-election loss to persuade Tower Hamlets Executive Mayor John Biggs to change his mind on one of his key policies. He has only changed it in that it is “paused”, rather than going “full steam ahead” – but it’s still a change.

There can be no doubt that the Weavers by-election on 12th August prompted Labour’s Executive Mayor to order a review of his “Liveable Streets” policy – and the “Low Traffic Neighbourhood” (LTN) schemes.

There have been big campaigns against other unpopular policies – campaigns which have collected signatures and taken deputations to the Cabinet and Council. There have been grassroots campaigns, in which members of the community have made their feelings known. There have even been a couple of campaigns run by the odd figurehead who has tried to rally the community behind them. None has interrupted the onward march of Biggs.

What the by-election did – uniquely – was to remind the Labour camp that Tower Hamlets voters don’t like being ignored and they will use the ballot box to tell politicians that this is the case. The Labour Mayor and the Labour councillors have been given notice not to take their seats on the Council for granted. Boroughwide elections are due next May, and there is nothing like a boroughwide election to focus the mind of those in office.

The ”Liveable Streets” policy was a nonsense from the start. There was so much wrong with it.

If you say “Liveable Streets” quickly enough, it sounds like “Liverpool Street”.  When it was first discussed, a number of residents at meetings wondered why we were taking such an interest in a train station just beyond the borough’s western boundary.

You would expect a Labour Mayor (or Council Leader) to be known in their borough as someone who spends most of their time tackling poverty and improving life for the residents, especially the most vulnerable ones. When the current Administration’s leadership talked about Liveable Streets, they sounded like they were describing how they were going to prettify Tower Hamlets – not a welcome message to those already suffering from gentrification.

There were two messages coming out of the Town Hall. One was that there was no money for a range of important core services. The other was that there was money for plant pots, tweaking the layout of junctions and closing roads. We all love a plant pot, but most of us don’t see them as a high priority at a time when the Council Tax is going up and the Council is cutting day nurseries and central support for special education and community languages. The community knew that the austerity of the Tory Government meant that the Council had to make cuts – but why was “Liveable Streets” exempt?

Roads leading to primary schools may be closed during morning drop-off and afternoon collection times. At the same time, central support for pupils with special needs is being cut back.

The aim of improving air quality and making travel easier for cyclists and pedestrians is broadly welcome. But what residents saw was a massive volume of through traffic being diverted on to the A11 and A12 (which London Transport had tarted up like a Christmas tree, making life difficult for vehicles and pedestrians alike). At the same time, local drivers were penalised if they wanted to make a short car journey or call an ambulance.  It was as if some top Tory had come into the borough without any understanding of its needs and tried to impose some policy you might dabble with in a leafy suburb.

Lutfur Rahman used to bang on endlessly about being Mayor “to serve the people”.  It was repetitive to the point of being quite boring – but you knew what his priority was. John Biggs bangs on about how he’s been forced to make cuts by the Government, but he’ll but us some new plant pots and a road barrier or two. There’s really no comparison when it comes to communicating.

The Executive Mayor has announced a pause in the Liveable Streets policy – not a halt. Why not book a chat with your ward councillor if you want to see the policy shelved, with the budget spent on other things?

●You can check your ward councillors’ contact details here (some Cabinet and other positions are out of date):
Councillors’ contact details

●Read more about the Biggs Administration:
Executive Mayor John Biggs

●Watch East London’s weekly news magazine programme,
live at 10pm every Tuesday and on demand all week:
The Tuesday Show

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