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Children take to the barricades to save School Street

Protests began after Lutfur Rahman, the pro-car mayor of Tower Hamlets, ordered the removal of traffic restrictions around Chisenhale Primary School in Bow on Thursday morning

Children and parents have taken to the barricades this week in a bid to prevent their ‘School Street’ being ripped out by the pro-motoring mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman.

In a scene worthy of a West End production of Les Misérables, children from Chisenhale Primary School in Bow mounted barriers and blocked the road after workers began to remove the play area and traffic restrictions, including seats, planters and artwork that the schoolchildren had helped to build and create.

The protest led to the police being called to the street yesterday morning, while the council contractors – unable to finish their work – left at lunchtime, prompting celebrations from the children, who again returned to renew their protest this morning.

Parents at the school, fearful that the contractors will eventually return to successfully remove the restrictions, have also planned to establish their own traffic patrols when pupils return after the half-term break next week.

The as-yet failed removal of the School Street in Bow marks mayor Lutfur Rahman’s latest attempt to reverse traffic-calming measures that prioritise cyclists and pedestrians, such as Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), in Tower Hamlets.

School Streets restrict the use of motor vehicles outside schools at drop-off and pick-up times and apply to both school and through traffic, while typically continuing to permit access for people living in the area.

At Chisenhale, a “green corridor” consisting of planters and wooden barriers also protects the school gates on Vivian Road, while an outdoor play area and two-way cycleway were constructed on Chisenhale Road to prevent it being used by through traffic.

However, Rahman – who was re-elected as mayor of the London borough in May, seven years after he was removed from the post after being found guilty of electoral fraud and “corrupt and illegal practices” – based his campaign around pledging to reverse LTNs in Tower Hamlets, claiming they had increased congestion and contributed to more CO2 emissions.

> Anti-LTN candidate elected mayor despite five-year ban for "corrupt and illegal practices"

Transport for London has already moved to withhold funding from Tower Hamlets Council due to the divisive mayor’s plans to axe schemes designed to make residential and school streets safer for people walking and on bikes, while London mayor Sadiq Khan has expressed concerns that Rahman’s actions are harming his Transport Strategy for the city and his plan to “fight toxic air street by street”.

Rahman’s latest target, Chisenhale Primary School, is also situated in Bow, a ward which failed to elect any councillors belonging to the mayor’s Aspire party, prompting parents to believe that the school was deliberately targeted.

Rahman is able to axe the School Street as it was initially introduced during the Covid pandemic through an experimental traffic order that lapses automatically unless formally renewed by the council. Parents at the school have told the Evening Standard that they fear all 26 School Streets set up in Tower Hamlets during the last two years are at risk.

> Councils across England ignoring government advice to roll out School Streets

“We have got protesters down there trying to stop them. The council this moment have started ripping out planters and children’s art work,” Sarah Gibbons, a parent involved in the campaign to save the School Street, told the Standard yesterday.

“All the kids have got used to that road being very safe, very clean and very quiet. From Monday that just goes. It’s really disturbing. There is no benefit from getting rid of the scheme.”

Nathalie Bienfait, a Green party councillor in Tower Hamlets, added: “I am astounded, livid and exasperated that the mayor has chosen to entirely remove a school street scheme outside Chisenhale primary school.

“The mayor was elected on a manifesto which promised to rip up road closures. However, the children who will be harmed as a result of his actions couldn’t vote for him – so what mandate does he have from them?

“One thing is clear: Tower Hamlets is not a safe place for children and families under this mayor.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Mr Rahman said: “The Chisenhale primary school street was established through an experimental traffic order (ETO), which introduced road closures for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon.

“The ETO has now lapsed, and the mayor has decided – in keeping with his manifesto promise to re-open the roads – that the road closures will not be made permanent.

“However, the mayor and the council take the safety of children extremely seriously, and have therefore asked officers of the council to examine alternatives to the ETO, including (though not limited to) the possibility of introducing zebra crossings in the immediate vicinity of the school, as well as increasing the number of traffic wardens, yellow lines, ‘do not stop’ signages, and traffic management personnel – such as school crossing patrols – outside of the school.

“Updates will be given to residents as soon as these options have been properly assessed by officers.”

Ryan joined as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.

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