Agenda item

City Streets: transportation response to support Covid-19 recovery

Report of the Director of the Built Environment (to follow).


The Committee considered a late, separately circulated report of the Director of the Built Environment relative to the City Streets and the Transportation response to support the COVID-19 recovery.


The Acting Assistant Director – City Transportation explained that this report set out the City Corporation’s approach to facilitating social distancing on the City’s streets, ensuring that residents, workers and visitors are safe when travelling in the City and supporting businesses as their workers return to workplaces. Members were informed that there was still uncertainty around exactly what that return will look like, but Officers underlined that it was important that the City was well prepared and able to ensure businesses that appropriate measures were in place.


Members were asked today to approve the aims and objectives of this work, the overall approach and the first phase of delivery. They were informed that this work was proceeding at pace in response to an evolving situation. With that in mind, delegated authority on detailed design and approval to deliver the first phase was also sought to enable Officers to continue to move quickly whilst also taking account of any emerging issues, for example, the final proposal for Cannon Street will need to take account of TfL’s proposals for Bishopsgate and Gracechurch Street.


Officers clarified that should proposals be agreed here today, they would then be considered by the Resource Allocation Sub Committee later this month and then by the Policy and Resources Committee itself under urgency procedures.


The Chair underlined the high strategic importance of this project and thanked Officers for an exceptional piece of work so far that had been produced at pace and in challenging circumstances.


A Member commented, in his capacity as Chair of the Streets and Walkways Sub Committee, that this was obviously a very fast moving/changing scenario but that he and other Members and Officers had been working consistently for some weeks now to ensure that people are safe. He outlined one or two core principals that were being adhered to. The first being that, although there had been a recent increase in the use of cars by keyworkers, there is no opportunity and no justification for persisting in car use on either this or an increased scale. He added that this was a matter of public safety for those leaving home to get to and from work. Secondly, he highlighted that this could be an enormous opportunity to do what the organisation had set out within its Transport Strategy but at a faster pace and to ultimately make the City’s streets more congenial, safer, quieter and cleaner for ordinary people, many thousands of whom were likely to feel quite anxious about returning to work.

Finally, the Member commented on consultation stating that this work would be consulted on as widely as possible with people invited to come forward with suggestions and underlined that plans would also need to be flexible relying on the co-operation of others to highlight where measures were not operating effectively. He thanked Officers for a first class start to this process which, in his judgement, was way ahead of any other London borough and added that TfL were also absolutely supportive of the City’s ambitions here.


The Deputy Chairman endorsed what the previous speaker had said and highlighted this an extremely important decision and was fundamentally about the health and safety of those returning to the City to work. It was recognised that there would be great anxiety amongst those returning and having the confidence to know that social distancing could be maintained on the City’s streets and that there is less traffic around would help to provide reassurances. In response to some criticisms levelled against the plans, labelling them as not employer/business friendly, the Deputy Chairman suggested that they were quite the opposite and were not only business friendly but business essential. He concluded by adding that he hoped that Members would join together as a Committee to sell these proposals to the wider community, including the business community, who were fundamentally going to be the beneficiaries of this. He recognised the strange and possibly unique scenario in the City in that there were two highways authorities – the City Corporation and TfL so it was absolutely necessary for the two to work in partnership in introducing these proposals that were entirely consistent with the recently adopted long-term Transport Strategy. It was further underlined that these were interim measures – some of which would work, others would not – the proposal was therefore that the initiatives be introduced and then amended where they were not proving successful. Officers were once more commended on bringing together a complex paper and complex set of proposals.


The Chair reported that one matter that had arisen in conversations with TfL/the GLA was that should these recommendations be approved and implemented, there would be a likely period of time where there was pressure on the roads through motor vehicles yet the facilities that we were affording would not be fully utilised. He added that he was aware that TfL had put in various measures like this already and had had to change them through trial and error. The Chair reported that these proposals effectively accelerated many elements of the Transport Strategy.


Another Member, also the Deputy Chairman of the Streets and Walkways Sub-Committee commented that he was of the view that the highway was primarily for the use of vehicles and pedestrians and safe passage. He added that there seemed to be some confusion as to where decision and ownership for these matters lies. He added that he knew that tables and chairs licences were issued by Licensing but urged Officers to get a quick grasp on this so that two Committees were not working at cross purposes here. He also spoke on the asset of the Guildhall Yard and asked Officers to ensure that this was opened as quickly as possible for workers to use. The Member went on to refer to a recent email which indicated that, because of the prevalence of working from home in the City, only approximately 20,000 workers out of 500,000 were expected to re-enter the City in the coming weeks which was worth remembering when thinking of the practicalities of the approach.


The Member reported that substantial Government funding had been approved for this sort of work and wanted assurances that the City Corporation received what it was entitled to in this respect. Finally, he questioned whether, as part of the various measures planned, one-way walking or conventions such as ‘keep to the left’ had been considered to facilitate effective social distancing.


At this point, the Chair sought approval from the Committee to continue the meeting beyond two hours from the appointed time for the start of the meeting, in accordance with Standing Order 40, and this was agreed.


Officers responded to the Members points by confirming that tables and chairs were dealt with by this Committee but that they were in discussion with colleagues in the Licensing Department as to how best to manage the situation and ensure that pavements were not obstructed by tables and chairs as these measures were delivered. On the point regarding Guildhall Yard, Officers stated that they would be happy to raise this point with appropriate colleagues in facilities management. Members were informed that details on funding were expected from TfL imminently in terms of what was available and how the City might get access to it. As with most central Government funding for transport in London, this tended to be distributed via TfL to London boroughs, but it was felt that the City Corporation were in a good position to get a fair share of this.


With regard to one-way walking systems, Officers commented that this was not necessarily practical, and neither was it enforceable and could well lead to tension on the streets or lead to inconvenience, particularly those with mobility issues. They added that this was not therefore under consideration. However, in terms of conventions such as keeping left, it was noted that TfL had put together a toolkit of messaging to use on-street around social distancing, both to remind people of the need and to address these kinds of issues and the City Corporation were intending to utilise this to ensure that they were part of a consistent message across London.


Another Member commented that it was a shame that the media had gone to print on these plans that were only just being considered today. He went on to state that what struck him when talking with both large and small businesses was that they needed to be able to give confidence to each person within their organisation, across all levels, that they could return to work safely. He recognised that the City, of course, could only influence part of those journeys but suggested that the first principal of our action therefore had to be based around creating this confidence and trust that the environment that people arrive in in the City is safe, sustainable and has their security at its heart.


The Member referred specifically to the proposed first phase of delivery and suggested that, had this been put to this Committee in early 2020, it would have been praised as a bold and ambitious statement of the organisations longer term ambitions and, in his view, an organic  development off of the back of the Bank Junction scheme which he would have been very supportive of. However, he felt that recent months had altered perspectives and priorities for everyone and that the City Corporation would be doing a disservice to the 90% of the journeys that occur in the City on foot if this plan were followed. The Committee were well aware of the statistics and that the majority of City workers arrived by public transport, that cyclists and pedestrians had increased enormously year on year and, in the new normality, a congested web like this was not going to give businesses he confidence to open or individuals the feeling of safety that they crave. The Member went on to refer to the City of London Streets Hierarchy Map within the report which highlighted 16 major commuter stations, spread across the entire Square Mile and suggested that the City’s network of tube and railway stations should be at the heart of any plans – without this, people would be encouraged to get in their cars and drive even if congestion charges were reinstated or raised. By closing streets in the heart of the City around Bank, the Member stated that there was a risk that traffic and congestion would be pushed up to the very areas where rail services will deliver commuters. Furthermore, by phasing the increase of street closures over time as the plan indicates, there was also the risk of adding confusion and increasing difficulty in then having to alter negative behaviours. Instead, he proposed that he would like to see a true prioritisation of pedestrians and cyclists just as set out in the Transport Strategy longer term. At present, the City was relatively empty, and this would therefore be a perfect opportunity for major pedestrianisation around each of the 16 stations highlighted. We should then see the emergence of street closures to allow increased footfall over time from those transport delivery hubs. That way, employers and employees could see that pedestrian safety was a real priority and allow those arriving at these stations to feel more secure. He concluded by stating that these sites were, undeniably, the main channels for getting people in and out of the City and, whilst Members could not control the wider debates around transport into the City, what they could do, with confidence, is send a message to the Mayor of London and TfL that they did not want a regression to private vehicle use but wanted existing and future public transport network to be at the heart of our plans, starting now, with this Committee setting an example on what the new normal should look like ad re-setting the scene in the City. He therefore sought support from the Committee to reconsider the recommendations before them today and for Officers to then review this approach with the 16 identified transport delivery points as a nuclei from which pedestrianisation then spawns in the City.


The Acting Assistant Director – City Transportation reflected on how the proposed phase one works had been arrived at. He drew Members’ attention to the indicative map of tier 1, 2 and 3 streets and commented that Officers were progressing these works as quickly as possible with the intention being to bring proposals for the next phase of works which would cover all remaining tier 2 streets to the next meeting of this Committee on 2 June. Tier 1 streets would provide a connecting network of streets from pretty much all of those public transport hubs and help people navigate the City. He added that Officers could look to roll this out from the transport hubs and thanked the Member for this excellent suggestion. He went on to report that the reason that these streets had been prioritised the streets within phase 1, was because, subject to all of the necessary approvals, work could begin to be delivered here in the week beginning 25th May. It was also hoped that these works could be completed within a week and followed in very close succession, subject to approval, by a second phase/other streets. The Phase 1 streets had been selected based on the streets that historically (and presumably in future) had the highest flows of pedestrians and also some of the narrowest pavements. They also connected some of the City’s main transport hubs including Liverpool Street Station down Old Broad Street and across Wormwood Street, they help people get from Cannon Street and from the underground station at Bank. These streets also helped pedestrian issues in the City Cluster which would be one of the busiest parts of the City as people began to return to work and they also encompassed Cheapside, the City’s primary shopping street. He concluded by stating that the first phase was based on the data and analysis available to Officers but would be followed very closely by subsequent phases.


The Chair added that the City Corporation were being the boldest in London with these proposals which were more far reaching than any proposed by others at present.


A Member referred to a letter received from the Chief Executive of Barts Hospital which referenced hospital staff increasingly opting to walk or cycle to work in response to the pandemic and the many benefits that this brings. She went on to refer to tables and chairs and noted that the proposed tier one streets included Fleet Street but that this did not form part of stage one. She commented that she was conscious of a number of businesses within her Ward (small restaurants for example) , along Fleet Street that might benefit from a potential tables and chairs licence to continue to operate. She questioned whether these sorts of businesses might be proactively contacted on this point to give them sufficient time to apply for licences if it were felt that they were appropriate located, bearing in mind the priority for cyclists and pedestrians.


Officers responded to state that thought had already been given to how food outlets might be supported and whether there would be opportunities to create space for outdoor seating (even temporarily) if carriageway was to be reclaimed for other purposes for example or streets closed to through traffic. He stressed that the approvals for these may, however, be slightly different and that they may not necessarily need to be covered by tables and chairs licences.


Another Member asked Officers to bear in mind that tables and chairs inhibited the passage of those with mobility problems and also those with infants in pushchairs.


The Chair reported that the conversations he had had to date with TfL at Member level had stressed that all space needed to be prioritised for social distancing and that, for the time being, we needed to be very cautious about dedicating carriageway space to food and beverage use.


A Member commented that some of the routes, particularly Poultry and Cheapside, are the routes of national public processions such as the Lord Mayor’s Show and sought reassurance that the barriers and bollards referred to in the report would be implemented on these routes in a way which did not hinder these processions. Officers confirmed that they would be working alongside Highways colleague son final designs and stressed that they were well aware of the requirements for the Lord Mayor’s Show and processional routes. The streetwear installed here would be removable when required.


A Member stressed his support for the proposals and was very keen that polluting vehicles be kept out of the City. However, he raised some concerns around the governance process, highlighting that this was not fully costed out at present with TfL’s financial contributions still unclear. He highlighted that this element would need to be bottomed out before the next report was considered by the next Committee cycle. The Chair reported that he had already discussed this at length with Officers and had been made aware that there was funding available via the LIP, the funding made available by central Government via London Councils and also the City Corporation’s COVID-19 Contingency Fund. Officers hoped that this would be set out in full in the paper to this Committee on 2 June.


Another Member referred to Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill, both earmarked as Tier 1 streets, but not in the first phase of delivery. He added that he thought that the Ludgate Hill junction, particularly the eastern corner where people exit the station was going to be problematic in terms of overcrowding. He went on to question the point at which it was proposed that Cheapside be closed and asked why this closure was not positioned at the far end of Cheapside towards St Paul’s gyratory. Officers reported that Ludgate Circus, Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill were not in phase one but would feature in phase 2. There were, however, separate discussions happening with TfL around signal timings at Ludgate Circus and as many other crossings as possible to address issues of crowding. TfL were also now actively looking at Bishopsgate, Gracechurch Street, Farringdon Street and Blackfriars and working alongside the City Corporation on these locations. With regard to Cheapside, the location for the closure was based on the positive experience of businesses on Cheapside of recent gasworks closures which had been situated here. This location also allowed vehicles to still enter to service One New Change whose loading bay needs to be accessed from Bread Street also. The closure would stop the use of Cheapside for through traffic.


A Member raised concerns at the fact that there seemed to be no relation between the desire for urgency being articulated here and what was being said nationally at present. He questioned whether it was being assumed that public transport was now going to come back online very rapidly despite what rail unions and others were saying about safety concerns and whether the City were looking to encourage people to pour into stations and onto the streets to workplaces that had not been fully consulted or whether these proposals were being put forward now so that the City was well prepared for what he assumed would be closer to the end of the Summer. He stressed that, if it were the latter, there was ample time to consult businesses before any works were necessary.


The Chair commented that his perception was that, in order to provide the reassurance that the City is open and is safe whenever people decided to return, discussions needed to take place now and this needed to be demonstrated now. He highlighted that there was statutory guidance now on how office interiors should be operating and the Department for Transport had now also provided statutory guidance on highways authorities providing social distancing so the City Corporation was now, in effect, now instituting what we are mandated to do by central government. He added that the organisation could not risk lagging behind on this front as lockdown was eased and would far prefer to have these proposals introduced on an experimental level if necessary.


Officers also stressed that this was about preparedness and providing the wider public with confidence. They referred to the Prime Minister’s recent announcement calling for some to return to work and stressed that future announcements could also be made relatively quickly. They stressed that there would be proper scrutiny of the works throughout each phase at Committee level.


Another Member stressed the importance of consultation and flexibility. He questioned how Officers intended to bring people along with them on these proposals and undertake proper consultation/engagement. Officers reported that a communications plan was being worked up around the proposals and that a press release would be issued after today’s meeting to begin to raise awareness. Officers were also looking at how they could introduce a digital platform to allow people to feedback both on the changes that have been made or indeed on areas where they feel they further change is needed, Specific communications would also be pushed out to businesses and premises along the streets affected by proposals. Information would also be released, as soon as possible, through channels such as the City Property Association. Silver and Gold Groups were also looking at business communications more generally and around how people can also plan ahead and understand the capacities of public transport.


A Member questioned parking restrictions and when these would be reinstated in the City. Secondly, she commented on cycling, given that levels were likely to increase, and how whilst many of the buildings given planning permission to or built recently have cycle parking, many do not have. She questioned whether thought had therefore been given to where cycles will be parked. She noticed that, at present, many cyclists using hire bikes were cycling on pavements and remarked that many cycle hire docks were also situated on pavements and were an impediment to walking. Officers reported that parking enforcement was scaled back in the early stages of the pandemic, partly due to resource issues with enforcement officers, but there were currently efforts afoot to get this reinstated. On cycles, Members were informed that Officers were looking to increase the amount of public cycling parking and also the amount of docking areas available to dockless cycle hire which would allow the City Corporation to begin to let more operators in to the City as agreed by this Committee in December 2019. In terms of cycling on pavements, Officers stated that the City Corporation had always been very clear that cycling is not for the pavements. Members were informed that communications would be issued for all street users, reminding them that it was more important than ever to maintain space on the pavement and consider the needs of others which would be a further opportunity to reinforce the message that bicycles should use carriageway only. Finally, Officers confirmed that any new docking points would, wherever possible, be situated on carriageway and not on the pavements and the location of existing docking points would be reviewed as these proposals were rolled out  to ensure that they were not causing unnecessary obstructions.


The Chair stressed that a large part of the communications around these proposals would be around the need for people to act considerately and responsibly in new and stressful scenarios.


A Member commented that a number of offices had empty cycle store space and questioned whether they would be contacted to see if this could be utilised, thereby freeing up space on the carriageway/pavements. She went on to comment on tables and chairs licences and commented that these could be suspended at any time. She recognised that when restaurants were permitted to reopen, they would require outdoor space which is something that would need consideration at the next phase. She added that it was hoped that these measures would not be required for too long but stressed that she would like to see the template put in place to remove traffic and increase space for cycling continues. Longer-term, carriageway might also be used for covered restaurant space, similar to Barcelona.


She went on to question whether 7am-7pm closures were long enough given that shops would eventually be reopening for longer hours and with fewer customers at any time allowed into them. The Member concluded to state that she would like to see these planned rolled out even further across the City with Officers being bold in their approaches.


The Chief Commoner praised the works being proposed but questioned why we ought to settle at being the boldest in London given that many other European cities had gone much further. He noted that this would involve other stakeholders such as TfL coming on board but pushed for an even more ambitious and far reaching approach in Phase II.


A Member stressed that it needed to be made abundantly clear on the pavements and highways the separation between cycle and pedestrian use.


In response to a question, the Chair commented that these plans were absolutely not about excluding anybody from the City and that there would be some rare exceptions to road closures where those with mobility issues required access from door to door which must be facilitated as part of our accessibility duties which would remain front and centre of these plans.


A Member welcomed the Chair’s comments on accessibility. He went on to state that the City Corporation was going to have to think very creatively as to how to support restaurants in the Square Mile as a restaurant at 50% capacity would not necessarily be a survivable business. He concluded by congratulating Officers on the remarkable amount of detail in this work in such a short time and asked a detailed question on signage querying whether these could clearly state that private hire vehicles taking those with mobility issues directly to their door could pass through road closures. Officers commented that signage was a complex issue that had already been the subject of much debate. They outlined that it was possible to place informational signs on streets with timed access restrictions but stressed that there were also other effective ways to communicate these messages with the taxi and private hire trade and ensure that both the on-street and off-street messaging was very clear around this. This would be looked at in more detail in the coming weeks.


Ahead of the recommendations being considered, one Member voiced his opposition to them on the basis of comments he had made earlier in the debate about them being introduced unnecessarily hastily.


RESOLVED – That Members:


1.    Approve the aims and objectives of the transportation response to Covid-19 recovery.


2.    Agree:

a.    The proposed Tier 1-3 approach to on-street interventions (Paragraphs 36- 40)

b.    The staged approach to delivery of on-street interventions (Paragraph 41)

c.     The proposed supporting measures (Paragraph 51)


3.    Agree the proposed first phase of Tier 1 streets (Paragraph 48) and agree to delegate approval for design, for making of Orders and Notices and related procedures and for implementation and operation to the Director of the Built Environment in consultation with the Chair and Deputy Chairman of Planning & Transportation and the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Streets & Walkways Sub Committee.



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