Report of the Director of the Built Environment.
The Committee considered a report of the Director of the Built Environment regarding temporary traffic management measures implemented on City streets in response to Covid-19.
Officers stated that, as Members were aware, the country continued to be in very uncertain times at present with a new national lockdown starting today. They added that the Covid-19 measures first introduced in Summer 2020 had always been delivered in anticipation of a return of City workers which had fluctuated depending upon the Tier of restrictions imposed on the City. Given the continuing uncertainty, it was now recommended that the restrictions on-street remain in place and be further reviewed in Spring 2021 in order to reassure those that were returning to the City could do so safely and comfortably.
A Member referred to the fact that the report stated that 85% of responses received had suggested that they would not support any of the measures introduced being retained long term. He added that he had concerns around using the consultation portal to gauge public opinion as he felt that it tended to be those who had complaints that would seek this out. He added that he was in favour of the scheme but had himself used the portal only to flag up issues. Officers flagged that it was important to gain feedback from the public and other stakeholders in terms of what they thought was and was not working so that measures could be adapted accordingly – as had already happened in a number of locations. Officers were also interested in gaining an insight into whether people would support the changes longer-term. It was acknowledged that the work being undertaken to gain this information was not quite the same as that that would take place around a permanent project but it was a way of helping to inform any future decisions. If permanent changes were to be considered on any of the City streets, further and fuller consultation would take place on these in due course. The number of responses on the portal were low to date for reasons that were well understood and due to the low footfall in the City but Officers would seek to continue to encourage and promote engagement with this.
Another Member noted that the report requested an increase in budget but did not specify which fund this would be funded from. Officers reported that a funding envelope for the Phase 3 works (including greening and seating) had been approved by the Resource Allocation Sub Committee. Additional funds had also been secured from the National High Street Fund.
A Member spoke to underline the gravity of the situation that everyone had been facing over the past ten months and to thank all for their support for this work. Nevertheless, he recognised that some of the measures that had been implemented had worked in the favour of some street users but to the detriment of others and that it was therefore important to keep the need for balance in mind when next reviewing these. He added that the role of the City Corporation was to support the City’s financial and professional services and to ensure that businesses could be accessed effectively in a number of different ways. The Member asked whether thought could also be given to trying to find a means by which the Committee could assess what value the expenditure on the introduction of these measures had had given that they had probably been installed on the assumption that a larger number of people would be returning to the City than had actually materialised. He concluded by stating that he was disappointed to learn of the poor response rates to the City’s survey on these measures as this made public perception difficult to gauge. He questioned how Officers were currently communicating with the business community on these changes when many were not present in the City at this time. He underlined that their engagement and feedback as to what they really want and need to facilitate a return to work for their staff as soon as this was possible was vital.
Officers acknowledged that engagement with businesses was challenging at present and that it was difficult to make contact with them beyond what information was made available by electoral services and the like. That being said, regular updates and newsletters on the temporary measures had been sent to City businesses and feedback had been received from organisations such as the City Property Association. Members were also helpful in terms of feeding back on behalf of businesses within their respective Wards. Officers undertook to continue to communicate with all stakeholders as much as possible through all of the channels available to them.
Officers acknowledged the point raised as to benefits and disbenefits for different users of the City’s streets and suggested that this was true in relation to these temporary changes being implemented and would also be true of changes brought about in delivering the Transport Strategy and Climate Action Strategy going forward. Whilst these temporary changes had, undoubtedly led to some longer journeys for some travelling by car or taxi, it should still be possible for everyone to access all businesses in the City. This would be kept under review and Members were asked to alert Officers to any particular access issues that they were aware of. Certain changes had already been made in response to concerns raised such as the change made at Coleman Street which had been done in relation to a concern regarding access to a loading bay at this location.
In terms of value, Officers acknowledged that a not insignificant amount had been spent on these changes. It was reported that transport works had all been funded by the Department for Transport – either directly or through Transport for London. Officers stated that it may be difficult to quantify value but that they could consider how best this information might be encapsulated for future updates.
Another Member recognised that it had been difficult for Officers, in present circumstances, to visit those locations where changes had been implemented and to witness for themselves how these were working. She questioned what the workaround was on this. Secondly, the Member referred to locations where pavements had been temporarily and flexibly extended noting that this meant that there was effectively a kerb separating the two separate parts of the pavement which might lead to some confusion and render these less accessible. She questioned what Officers were doing around this and proposed longer-term changes. Finally, the Member noted the points made around equalities and accessibility – particularly for those with mobility issues – stating that she would be interested to learn the views of the City Access Group and whether any recommendations from them or other similar groups had fed into the changes and how best this Committee could have due regard to them.
With regard to assessments, Officers reported that it was frustrating to be making decisions about changes to the City’s streets without the benefit of getting the day to day feedback on these that being in the City every day would ordinarily allow. Members were informed that, up until the recent introduction of Tier 4 restrictions across London and now a further national lockdown, Officers had been visiting the City and the locations concerned for 1-2 days each week. Officers had also overseen the initial installation of measures on-street and were conducting site visits as and when issues were raised even under current restrictions and once risk assessments had been undertaken.
On the point made around temporary changes and how users could equate these with any permanent, longer-term changes in respect of pavements and the like, Officers reported that the survey queried whether users were broadly supportive of the extra space, the overall the principle of this and the details of the changes made. It also provided them with the opportunity to comment on how the changes impacted upon other things such as journey times by car/taxi. Officers added that a very light-touch approach had been taken in terms of providing more space for pedestrians and that, if these were to be adapted and made permanent or semi-permanent, these walking areas would be made level and step-free.
In terms of accessibility, Officers reported that they and the Chair had engaged informally with the City Access Group on these proposals at the outset and had also consulted with Transport for All. A very comprehensive approach had also been taken in terms of Equalities Impact Assessments. In terms of how best Members could take account of feedback from these groups, Officers reported that their comments would be incorporated within all future project reports if they had provided specific feedback on these. Officers recognised that accessibility needs were multifaceted and different for different groups of people and that it was therefore important to engage with relevant groups on these matters and to ensure that the correct balance was being struck.
Another Member stated that there had previously been a signal for blind and partially sighted pedestrians at Ludgate Circus which was operational from 07:00-21:00 but that this now seemed to have been removed. He questioned whether there were any proposals to replace this and, if so, when. Secondly, the Member spoke on electric cycles and scooters utilising the City pavements noting that some travelled at speeds that were considerably in excess of 15mph. He added that these vehicles were silent and were therefore extremely dangerous to pedestrians and questioned what arrangements/enforcement was in place regarding these and potentially requiring that they were licensed or that they had speed limits imposed upon them.
Officers reported that they had raised the issue of the Ludgate Circus audible signal with TfL and were still awaiting a response on this. It was highlighted that there was also a rotating cone on the bottom of the push button here which also facilitated the safe crossing of visually impaired pedestrians.
In terms of electric scooters travelling at more than 15mph, Officers underlined that the law was clear on this issue and that if the vehicle was not speed limited, it was effectively classed as a moped or motorcycle and therefore required the necessary insurance and licences associated with these. As the Member had provided prior notice of this question, Officers had also engaged with the City of London Police to seek some information around enforcement and were awaiting a response on this. They undertook to share this with the Member once available.
The Member thanked Officers for their responses and commented that the observation of his Ward colleagues who resided on or near Fleet Street was that there had been virtually no pedestrians or cyclists here. There was, however, a particular problem with the bus stop which could now only accommodate one bus at a time that, together with the narrowing of the lanes, had created a variety of difficulties in terms of traffic jams and air pollution.
RESOLVED – That Members:
1. Note the changes made to the on-street interventions to those approved by Committees in May and June 2020 (As set out in Section 5).
2. Note the intention to change existing measures on Coleman Street and Cheapside 9as detailed in Section 4) and that cha will be exercised under authority already delegated to the Director of the Built Environment to initiate a Temporary Traffic Order.
3. Approve retaining the programme of temporary changes that are currently on-street, with a further review in March 2021.
4. Note the budget update for Phases 1 & 2 and approve an increase of £28k and the adjustments to the Phase 3 budget as detailed in Section 3.