Using bureaucracy to diminish social responsibility?
Updated: May 7, 2021
How the Camden Residents' Association need to work on their responsibility to surrounding communities when it comes to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods
A comment by Joe Scofield
Camden Crescent Photo: NotFromUtrecht, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons
In April this year, two sets of leaflets were delivered to areas around the London Road in Bath, warning residents about the potential consequences of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) for their area. These focussed particularly on the vision of the Camden Residents' Association (CRA) to establish an LTN restricting traffic through the Camden area - and how this could displace traffic and pollution onto the London Road.
I am the one who made the leaflets and took them to the Snowhill and London Road community, after observing that nobody appeared to be talking to residents about this pertinent subject.
I have since received some praise and thanks from residents glad to have been given the 'heads up' on the possible disbenefits of LTNs for the London Road, as well as offers of practical support and donations. But I've also received criticism by way of a rebuttal from the Camden Residents' Association titled: Calling out this misinformation on the Walcot Ward Liveable Neighbourhood bid.
This is my response to the points made in that rebuttal. However, I'm not going to write in the style of the CRA with a sort of 'fact-scoring' discourse. Instead, I'll begin by going straight to the heart of the matter.
The background is that the London Road area is polluted by the heavy traffic that daily flows along its main road. Here pollution exceeds legal levels. According to the latest Bath Air Quality Report, in 2019 the annual mean level of Nitrogen Dioxide at Longacre measured µ48/m3 (40 is illegal).
Half of the Snowhill social housing estate falls within the Bath Air Quality Management Area, indicating that the estate is affected by this illegal pollution. The pollution is present in places where people live, walk, shop and wait for buses along the London Road.
Research indicates that this degree of pollution can impact the health of children and adults, with the health of children being of special concern. For example, Mudwell et al (2019) find that in areas where Nitrogen Dioxide exceeds µ40/m3, children's lung capacity is reduced by about 5%. The researchers are unclear whether this stunted lung growth rectifies in adulthood. Studies also indicate that high levels of pollution can affect children's cognitive development (Beckwith et al, 2020) among various other impacts.
A pertinent issue is how far measures to restrict the flow of traffic through the Camden area might push more traffic down onto the London Road, thus increasing the already illegal levels of pollution there.
The Snowhill social housing estate on the London Road. Would LTNs in the surrounding areas push yet more traffic-related pollution onto this main road community?
Outlooks of the Camden Residents' Association
Given the gravity of the situation described, one might expect the CRA to exhibit a special sympathy towards the London Road and Snowhill community which could be at risk of added pollution displaced by the proposed Camden LTN. Instead, some of the attitudes displayed by the CRA are rather noteworthy. Where the issue gets a mention in their Frequently Asked Questions, they respond with this odd statement:
Clearly, the statement fails to appreciate the core matter of health impacts that any traffic displacement might have on the children living in the London Road area. Part of it is also confusing and comes across as a fudge.
Moreover, the statement expresses a hope that future developments will lessen pollution along the London Road—seemingly not just for the benefit of the people living there, but also to allow more margin for the CRA to push pollution from their area down onto it; perhaps nudging the pollution on the London Road back up in the direction of illegal levels.
Another striking statement from the CRA is one that encourages their own residents to support the concept of an LTN as it could serve to increase the value of their properties:
This fails to acknowledge that while LTNs do indeed create pleasant low traffic streets that may increase the value of one's home, other communities often pay a price in terms of traffic and fumes displaced onto their streets.
In their rebuttal, the CRA dispute my claim that they know a Camden LTN would displace a lot of traffic onto the London Road. But I believe anyone of moderate intelligence must be aware that it would do just that. Indeed, a glance at a map of the area shows how implausible it is to suppose that hundreds/thousands of journeys each day could be barred without any displacement onto the London Road down the hill.
Various statements in CRA documents and minutes of meetings suggest that they are in fact well aware of the problem. For example: "...Labour validly pointed out that the effects of displacement of the issue elsewhere would need to be considered..." (Answers at Camden's Question Time, 2019).
The CRA go on to argue that any low traffic measures, such as the installation of a bus gate on the Camden Road, would be introduced on an experimental basis. Basically then, this could turn into an "experiment" with children's lungs on the London Road? Would you like your children to be experimented on? Why haven't the parents of these kids so far been involved in discussions around those proposed 'experiments'?
The CRA suggest that an LTN scheme at Camden may not necessarily displace any traffic at all. However, this unrealistic idea perhaps springs from the fact that all the relevant documents available from their website are essentially pro-LTN: describing the positive aspects of LTNs while hiding the negatives. In fact, these documents are easily refuted. For example, one paper majors on the long-debunked example of the Waltham Forest LTN.
It is unwarranted that the CRA website only presents these one-sided materials in favour of LTNs. If residents were shown something else like this coverage of an Ealing LTN protest, it could help them to acquire a more balanced view.
Other factual issues
The CRA chide me for citing a figure of 7,000 vehicles travelling daily along the Camden Road, although the estimate is quoted from their own materials. Apparently, a more up-to-date figure is 3,800, based on traffic counts made by vehicle activated signs. However, a more telling figure may be the one in the Bath Air Quality Report which records a mean annual pollution level of µ25/m3 for Nitrogen Dioxide on the Camden Road. Since much of that pollution is generated by the traffic, what proportion of it would be added to the London Road air pollution if traffic displacement from the Camden LTN occurred?
One thing that the CRA completely fails to acknowledge, is that the community along the London Road is vulnerable to a cumulative impact of multiple LTNs pushing traffic onto Bath's network of main roads. This has been a pattern in London boroughs where main road communities get clogged with traffic displaced from a number of schemes. The displaced traffic gets congested, increasing emissions through countless engines idling in the gridlock, whilst motorists having to avoid LTNs clock up more motoring miles. The results are far from 'green'.
The CRA are also keen to refute my claim that the Walcot councillors helped them put in a bid to have an LTN at Camden - and this is probably their strongest point. It is the Walcot councillors themselves who submitted the bid for much of the ward to become a Liveable Neighbourhood.
However, on the matter of their proposal to establish an LTN at Camden, the CRA state that the councillors have been “very supportive of our bid” (CRA Committee Meeting Minutes, 28th January 2021). In reality, this proposal is interlocked with the Walcot councillors' Liveable Neighbourhood bid, even though that submission does not itself mention specific plans.
The Camden area does have its own issues with traffic which are presented in the paper Tacking Congestion and Poor Air Quality in Camden, Bath. The big question is whether the justifiable solution is to displace this problem onto someone else.
The CRA rebuttal shows little real concern for the vulnerable communities living in areas that suffer much worse air quality than them, which could be exacerbated by the steps they want to take. Rather, it leaps into a technical narrative on how 'you got your facts wrong'. On the subject of why the Walcot councillors haven't properly engaged with and informed London Road residents of what is going on - and the implications of neighbouring LTNs for them - the CRA respond that we are not yet at the relevant stage of the Liveable Neighbourhoods process. In this way, they cite 'process' as a justification for keeping other communities uninformed and therefore disempowered. They use bureaucracy to diminish social responsibility.
Stages of the Liveable Neighbourhoods process were designed by those who want to push LTNs through. The disadvantage is that it creates a power imbalance between the residents' associations who are well into their campaign come the wider consultation period, and their neighbours who have an uphill climb to absorb the subject and mobilise if they wish to resist an LTN scheme. And that's why some people have wanted to give communities like the London Road residents the 'heads up' early on.