Blackheath Avenue, Greenwich Park, 28 June 2020
Greenwich Park last June: Greenwich Council wanted this route used by traffic in the morning rush-hour

Greenwich Council wanted Greenwich Park to be a temporary route for morning rush-hour motorists because of the increase in traffic levels after the first lockdown, after months of it being closed to through traffic.

On Sunday, 853 revealed that the council had objected to plans to make a ban on rat-running through the park permanent, despite it wanting similar measures in residential streets either side of the park.

Sizwe James, the cabinet member for transport, has now insisted that the council supports the through traffic ban in the park – but wanted to make an exception because of the high traffic levels on he A2 last autumn.

Until last March, the park was open for traffic heading between Blackheath and Greenwich on The Avenue, the south-north road through the park, on weekdays before 10am and after 4pm. But it was closed as a through route as part of measures to deal with the pandemic. The closure was turned into a formal trial in August, and in November, Royal Parks, the charity that runs the open space, began a consultation into making it permanent.

The trial closure coincided with streets west of the park also being closed to through traffic as part of the Hills and Vales low-traffic neighbourhood scheme.

Greenwich Council said it wanted drivers to be able to use the park in the mornings because of a 17 per cent increase in traffic on the A2 last autumn compared with before the spring lockdown. Greenwich Park is a popular rush-hour route for cyclists from across south-east London and the council has applied for funding from Transport for London to improve access to it for riders from the south of the borough.

James said in a statement issued to 853: “Working towards a greener and safer Greenwich is a priority for the council and this includes reducing the disproportionate impact of traffic across the borough, and let us be clear: we supported these proposals in our written response.

“At the time of the Royal Parks’ consultation, in response to an exceptional period after the first lockdown caused a 17 per cent increase in traffic along the A2 westbound, we suggested a temporary solution. Given the significant changes in traffic flow, we asked the Royal Parks to consider adjusting its proposals to reflect the increased pressure on the highway network in the weekday morning peak period when congestion is greatest. We believe that was proportionate based on the data and information we had at the time. It was also before the current national lockdown, which has changed things for all of us.”

853 made its first enquiry to the council about the issue last Tuesday evening after council meeting papers said it had objected to Royal Parks’ plans. It took until just before 5pm on Monday for a response to come, which was also published – without James’s name – on the council website.

The news come as a surprise to one of the Labour councillors for Greenwich Park, Aidan Smith, who posted on Twitter that he had supported a closure and believed his party’s council had done the same. “It feels as if the park has been extended with The Avenue as an additional leisure facility,” he wrote of the trial closure in his submission to Royal Parks.

Former deputy leader David Gardner said he had also supported the closure and was trying to find out what had happened with the council’s response to the consultation. “Parks are for clean air, wildlife and people – not polluting through traffic,” he said.

The council’s own proposals to tackle the climate emergency call for a 45 per cent cut in car use by 2030. But as recently as last July, council leader Danny Thorpe promoted a drive-in cinema on Blackheath, to the horror of local residents. Some 40 per cent of borough residents do not drive – a figure that rises to 52 per cent in the ward that contains Greenwich Park.

Councillors on the town hall’s highways committee will discuss the Greenwich Park issue tomorrow along with competing petitions about the Hills and Vales low-traffic neighbourhood, which has been blamed by many residents east of Greenwich Park for persistent morning traffic jams. Those streets, around Maze Hill, are now in line to get their own traffic restrictions.

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