South Row
South Row has reopened to vehicles again

A scheme to stop drivers using a notorious Blackheath rat-run and free it up for cycling and walking has been halted again because of problems for service vehicles accessing historic Morden College.

Traffic on South Row on Blackheath had been slashed after Lewisham Council closed the road close to The Paragon, as part of a “streetspace” scheme to encourage people to cycle and walk while capacity on public transport is sharply reduced.

However, the bollard blocking the road has been lowered again because of concerns about access to the 300-year-old almshouses which lie just off the heath.

It is the latest hitch to hit the scheme, which initially saw a blockage put in place at the west end of South Row, sending rat-runners down narrow Paragon Place and down a school. The new blockage is next to the border with Greenwich borough, which has complained of a lack of consultation, while motorists responded to the closure by simply driving on the heath before extra measures were put in place.

While the scheme had settled down, images circulated on social media at the weekend apparently showing fire officers studying the bollard, with opponents of the scheme claiming that they were unable to get through the closure.

The London Fire Brigade said the crew was not on its way to an incident. “They were not blocked by the modal filters on the road,” a spokesperson told the Local Democracy Reporter Service this morning.  “They were in the area just taking a look as road restrictions had been put in place.” 

Lewisham Council told 853 this afternoon: “Details of all new bollards were shared with the emergency services prior to implementation. Following liaison with the Fire Brigade we understand that their crews were asked to undertake ‘visual audits’ of the installations once implemented, so they could factor this into their response planning.”

The Lewisham spokesperson added: “Separately from this, the council has been in discussions with Morden College about their delivery and servicing requirements. Following this it has been decided to temporarily lower the bollard at the modal filter on South Row, to ensure this access is maintained, whilst we liaise with the relevant stakeholders and decide on the best approach going forward.”

Map of Blackheath
The road closure, marked with an X, disrupted access for heavier vehicles trying to access Morden College. The blue shaded area marks the borough of Lewisham

The South Row scheme is part of a number of closures put in place by Lewisham to address rat-running and make streets safer for cycling and walking. Its location on the borough boundary has complicated matters, along with a three-tonne weight restriction over a railway tunnel at Kidbrooke Gardens, which feeds into South Row.

South Row
South Row is a well-known rat-run for drivers trying to avoid the A2 or A20

Founded in 1695 by Sir John Morden, a merchant who lived on the nearby Wricklemarsh estate, Morden College contains a care home and other accommodation for older people across several buildings off Blackheath. Its main entrance faces the heath at St Germans Place.

Closing South Row at Paragon Place would have forced its service vehicles to use Kidbrooke Gardens, but some would fall foul of the weight restriction. One way to solve the problem could be to move the closure to Kidbrooke Gardens, but that would require Greenwich to come forward with its own scheme.

Last week, another Lewisham scheme on the borough border – at Upwood Road in Lee – hit problems when drivers mounted the pavement to escape a road closure. Bollards have now been put in place there. The two councils disagreed on that scheme too.

Greenwich has applied to Transport for London for funding to install its own “low traffic neighbourhoods”, although it has not elaborated on where any road closures would be. However, a map posted to the council website last week talked up the possibility of safer cycling routes through Blackheath, Charlton, Plumstead, Kidbrooke and parts of Eltham, although how it will achieve this is not mentioned.

Additional reporting by Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter

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