Report of the Director of the Built Environment.
The Committee received a report of the Director of the Built Environment summarising progress with delivering the Transport Strategy in 2020/21 and setting out the Delivery Plan for 2021/22 – 2023/24.
A Member raised a question on the Beech Street and Barbican Zero Emissions Zone which, according to this report, appeared to be on hold. Officers reported that the experimental traffic order for the zero emission street on Beech Street had been the subject of two legal challenges. It was confirmed that the hearing for the second challenge – a judicial review of the decision to continue the experiment – took place on 29th and 30th June and that the City Corporation were still awaiting the judgement from this hearing.
Members were informed that the current experiment was due to conclude in September at the end of the maximum period of 18 months allowed for experimental traffic orders. It was confirmed that, due to the judgement from the first legal challenge, the experimental order could not be made permanent through the usual truncated process. It had been hoped that it would be possible (although challenging) to make a permanent order through the non-truncated process before the experimental order expired. However, an interim order issued when the judicial review was granted permission to proceed to hearing, had prevented Officers from undertaking any further work, including public consultation, on a permanent order. It was reported that Beech Street, Golden Lane and Bridgewater Street would reopen to general traffic when the current experiment concludes in September. As yet, no decisions had been made about the future plans for Beech Street, but it was highlighted that Officers remained committed to improving air quality and the public realm in this location and the surrounding area. It was reported that Officers currently intended to go out to public consultation in the Autumn to seek views on future options on this. Finally, it was confirmed that Officers were preparing to brief local ward members and update residents and other stakeholders on Beech Street over the coming weeks.
The Member thanked Officers for this clarification and welcomed the consideration of the wider, surrounding area but questioned the planned timetable for this, stating that, for those residents who were in favour of the scheme, this would be concerning in terms of both air quality and the movement of traffic.
Another Member stated that he was personally very disappointed with the way that this had gone and asked Officers to confirm the cost of this work to date. He also asked whether Officers could confirm that, as of 18 September, the whole of the Beech Street Zero Emissions Zone would be reversed and re-open to traffic. Officers confirmed that, on 18 September, the current arrangements would end and that Beech Street, Golden Line and Bridgewater Street would revert back to previous arrangements including access for traffic. Officers undertook to revert back to the Member in writing on the costs incurred to date on legal charges.
Another Member emphasised his support for the proposed new consultation referred to by Officers and encouraged the inclusion of easier, alternative access for pedestrians to use the higher level and not the tunnel should they wish to traverse Beech Street within this – something which he had long championed. He commented that, at present, it was incredibly difficult for pedestrians to find their way up to the higher level here, particularly at the eastern end, due to construction and the positioning of the steps. Officers responded to state that they would be very happy to consider how easier and alternative access to the highwalks might be incorporated into the consultation process as part of the wider, area- based approach proposed.
A second Member supported this point, stressing that existing signage at ground level to the podium was inadequate and resulted in this clean-air, large, open space being massively underutilised. He questioned why Officers could not address this matter without the need for any further consultation. Officers agreed that the installation of signage alone would not require specific consultation but that any wider proposals concerning access to the highwalks would.
Another Member commented on plans to raise the zebra crossing utilising Section 106 monies from the development on Golden Lane and stated that she understood that there were also plans to raise the crossing as it reached the junction of Golden Lane and Fann Street/Brackley Street. Given that this was a residential area and the fact that there was also accommodation for elderly residents in Fann Street, the Member asked that more be done to expand the use of raised crossings that not only provided protection as vehicles approached a junction, but also provided a safer, level crossing for elderly residents, and those with impairments. She stressed the need for safety measures such as these to be progressed with some urgency, particularly given the reintroduction of traffic here in the coming months. Officers responded to state that raised crossings were something that they were keen to roll out across the Square Mile in line with the Transport Strategy to improve both safety and accessibility. Officers clarified that the projects referred to by the Member were in addition to and intended to compliment the Section 106 works and that funding for these were due to come from Transport for London. Officers stated that they too were keen to see this rolled out as quickly as possible.
Officers responded to the points raised so far stating that they were unable to commit to a more precise timetable for this process but reiterated that the aim was for consultation to commence in Autumn with any changes then taking up to 12-18 months to progress thereafter. Officers underlined that they were, of course, very aware of the air quality issues here and therefore remained committed to moving this work forward as quickly as possible.
A Member, also the Chairman of this Committee’s Streets and Walkways Sub-Committee, expressed his disappointment that the Beech Street experiment could not be made permanent and was due to cease in September. He underlined that this had been a difficult project for many reasons but that the Sub-Committee’s collective determination to continue with it, had allowed for further adjustments to be made to successfully address delivery issues and access problems for Barbican residents, while also accomplishing significant improvements in air quality. It was reported that there now seemed to be broad support for the project among the majority of local residents and other stakeholders. Due to the outcome of the first judicial review and the need to await the outcome of the second, there was a need to stop the experiment in September, however, the Member wished to assure local Ward Members and residents that the Sub-Committee remained fully committed to delivering a permanent scheme as soon as possible. The Member went on to state that he had asked Officers to ensure that the cessation of the current experiment would attempt to ensure that any future replacement scheme could easily utilise the changes already made so that, for example, the new cameras already installed might be switched off as opposed to removed entirely. The Committee were being informed that exact details of how the experimental changes would be disabled was being planned at present and the Member commented that he understood from a local Ward Member that many residents would like to see the new gaps in the tunnel median retained. He therefore asked whether this could also be taken into consideration should it be permitted on a legal basis. Communications on this matter would be sent to all stakeholders as soon as the position was clear and this would include Ward Members, the Barbican Association and the Golden Lane Residents Association among others. Consultation would then begin in Autumn around a permanent scheme to deliver permanent air quality and public realm improvements in Beech Street. The Chair thanked the Member for his leadership on this matter and added the support and determination of the grand Committee to that of the Sub-Committee.
Another Member expressed concern that, on occasion, some residents appeared to have been more fully briefed on these matters than Members of the Sub-Committee. She stressed that this had been an emotive and divisive issue and underlined the need for full reports on this in future as opposed to oral updates. The Member went on to refer to the recently installed turn offs into carparks for those travelling from west to east along Beech Street which had been actioned in response to comments received. She understood that these would not now be retained with the cessation of the current project and the resulting increase in traffic but questioned this given the safety benefits they offered as well as the expenditure on this to date. Officers accepted the point that local Ward Members ought to be briefed in advance of these matters reaching Committee and apologised for any recent oversight here. With regard to the gaps in the central reservation, Officers clarified that these were originally closed for safety reasons but stated that it had been possible to open these whilst the experiment was in place due to the significant drop in traffic levels. These might therefore have to be reinstated for safety reasons if traffic levels increased, although Members were assured that the reinstallation could be relatively light touch so that, if possible/appropriate, any agreed future state could be quickly achieved avoiding any costly engineering works. The Chairman of the Streets and Walkways Sub-Committee stated that he would welcome further dialogue with Officers on this aspect in due course.
Another Member commented that opening Beech Street and Golden Lane to all traffic would create major new safety issues for local residents and expressed concerns that this would be contrary to the City Corporation’s policy around the reduction of road traffic accidents in the City. He added that, whilst he sympathised with not doing too much to change the measures introduced through the experimental scheme, he also felt that it would be important to demonstrate all of the difficulties of the previous situation and the problems with/consequences of retaining Beech Street as an all vehicle access way. Officers commented that the safety implications of this were well understood and underlined that they were committed to improving road safety on the City’s streets. The situation would therefore be very carefully monitored with the cessation of the current experimental scheme. Officers also clarified that these areas would revert back to previous arrangements as of 18 September.
A Member spoke to thank Officers for their commitment to consultation with Ward Members and local residents but underlined that his understanding that spend on this experiment to date had already been in excess of £1.5million. Officers reiterated that they would provide the Member with full details of costs in writing, including a breakdown of any costs associated with the legal challenges. Officers reported that this had been a useful experiment from their point of view and felt that it would support and inform them in moving towards whatever permanent solution was decided upon.
Another Member spoke to question why any future changes could potentially take 12-18 months to introduce following consultation in the Autumn, given that the current experiment had been introduced much more rapidly. Officers stressed that they hoped to be able to progress more quickly than this but underlined that this would be dependent on what emerged from the consultation process and whether there was a decision to move immediately to a permanent scheme or to initially move again to some kind of experimental traffic order which was the easiest way to compress timescales. Further details on timetable would be shared with Members in due course.
RESOLVED – That Members note the report.