Amid the political rhetoric concerning drivers’ rights and ‘15 minute cities’, Cllr Averil Lekau appears steadfast in her determination to create people-friendly streets while meeting net zero targets by 2030.
Since May 2022, she has been Royal Borough of Greenwich’s deputy leader and cabinet member for climate change, environment and transport. For her, maintaining the status quo is not an option.
She recognises that some schemes will be unpopular with motorists, but argues that issues around public health, road safety, liveable streets and climate change can no longer be ignored.
“Anything that changes people’s behaviour is always a challenge,” she says. “Most people may agree with the principle of what you are doing, but once it impacts on them directly, then there’s a bit of kickback, isn't there?”
Lekau believes the rights of non-drivers in the borough should also be considered, especially as they now represent a significant part of the population. According to the latest Census data (2021), 43% of households in the borough do not have access to a car.
She told me: “Whatever the case, it should also be noted that transport is the second biggest source of emissions in the borough. We need to improve air quality and encourage more sustainable modes of transport to create a climate resistant transport network.”
Any assessment of people-friendly streets must recognise the positive impact on health and wellbeing, she insists.
“Our adult social care budget is huge in terms of care packages. So, these costs also have to be taken into account. We need to look at how we can move from a reactive to a preventative approach.”
The rate of physical activity among adults in Greenwich is lower than the London average while childhood obesity is higher than the London average, according to research carried out for the council.
“That’s why we need to make our streets and public spaces more attractive, inclusive, and encourage people to walk and cycle, reducing the reliance on cars.”
Greenwich officers in the public health and transport departments are working more closely together, she points out. “When I took on this portfolio, I was very clear that we had to look at any changes in our transport through the lens of public health, and to respond to the new challenges.”
These aims are set out in the council’s Transport Strategy, which was published in October last year. Greenwich has pledged to invest £3.1m to improve infrastructure for walking and cycling, tackle congestion and improve air quality.
The funding, including £2.1m from Transport for London (TfL) and £1m from the council’s own budget, will support transport priorities including: 20mph speed limits; controlled parking zones (CPZs); more school streets; emissions-based parking charges; free cycle training and a ‘try before you bike’ scheme, run with Peddle My Wheels.
Work has started on improving public spaces in Greenwich town centre to encourage more walking and cycling, as part of the Liveable Neighbourhoods scheme.
The work is designed to complement improvements to cycle routes between Greenwich and Woolwich.
This is one of only five Liveable Neighbourhoods that TfL has funded this year. TfL said that another 13 Liveable Neighbourhood schemes have been “paused” due to its “constrained financial position”.
Another of the Strategy’s aims is to implement more School Streets in the borough. So far, 11 School Streets have been trialled and we are in the process of making them permanent while we identify more schools to trial.
“It is all about making the streets outside schools safer, and encouraging children to cycle to school,” explains Lekau. “Part and parcel of that is to give the confidence that their route to school is safe.” Alongside improved road safety, School Streets have also eradicated the problem of engine idling, she says.
Lekau is equally passionate in her support for more 20mph roads across the borough.
“For me, the 20mph limit is fundamental to reducing road danger because a person is five times more likely to be fatally injured at 30mph compared with 20mph. And these are the lives of our residents I’m talking about. So, anything that increases their safety, to me is key.”
Most residential streets in borough are already 20mph zones. “We’ve already made some good progress. There are several corridors, including some principal roads, which we need to consider whilst tackling the remaining residential areas. The Transport Strategy commits us to considering a borough-wide 20mph limit, and we need to figure out how best to achieve this.”
The council is planning to re-allocate kerbspace from parking to other uses such as rain gardens, bike hangars, parklets and EV chargepoints.
The Strategy sets out a road user hierarchy to appraise transport schemes and prioritise kerbside space for users with greatest need.
“Pedestrians, cyclists, public transport, and people with mobility issues are given the most priority, and long stay vehicle parking given the least priority,” explains Lekau.
“The Transport Strategy is clear that applying this hierarchy may often mean we consider providing fewer vehicle parking places, especially where there is ample off-street parking or if parking occupancy is relatively low.
There are currently 48 bike hangars in the borough, each of which stores six bikes. “There has been a surge in demand since the start of the pandemic and we are actively looking to expand and help address this demand,” says Lekau.
The council is also hoping that increased car club availability will encourage residents to make the switch from ownership to rental. Car club vehicles on public roads are currently operated by Enterprise Car Club while some cars parked in off-street parking bays are operated by Zipcar. Hiya Car, a peer-to-peer car club, is also available in the borough.
“We are currently working with a number of car club companies to help increase the number of cars available to local people and move the overall number of Car Club vehicles available to residents of the borough from twenty to one hundred this year,” says Lekau. “We’re also working with external partners to offer more EV charging points.”
Lekau also points to the council’s efforts to improve public transport in Greenwich. This includes plans for a cross-river DLR extension from Gallions Reach to Thamesmead via Beckton Riverside and a bus rapid transit (BRT) connecting Thamesmead to the Elizabeth line at both Woolwich and Abbey Wood. A proposal has been submitted to the Government by TfL along with partners Greenwich and Newham councils and three landowners - Thamesmead Waterfront (a joint venture between Peabody and Lendlease), abrdn (formerly Aberdeen Standard Investments) and St William (a Berkeley Group company).
The Strategic Outline Case (SOC) includes the Thamesmead & Beckton Riverside Public Transport Programme, which aims to “unlock the huge opportunity that exists to boost transport provision in this area”, says Lekau.
Under the plans, a new DLR station would be built at Beckton Riverside, with a tunnel under the River Thames linked to another new DLR station at Thamesmead.
“This is an area of great deprivation,” says Lekau. “We’ve seen the huge impact of the Elizabeth Line, and the DLR extension could unleash that kind of impact in this area - it would be a game changer.”
Buses also feature in the Transport Strategy’s vision to challenge the dominance of the car. In July TfL launched the Superloop network, which aims to improve public transport connectivity in outer London by linking town centres, hospitals, schools, and transport hubs. One of the new services is the extended SL3 to Thamesmead.
“The extension of SL3 to Thamesmead supports our business case for DLR,” says Lekau.
“However, further steps are needed to create a complete network. We need to are working with TfL to deliver more new routes and bigger bus priority schemes across the borough.”
Royal Greenwich is also working with TfL to install high quality cycle routes in the borough such as the Greenwich to Woolwich cycle route, and other strategic cycle routes, such as Eltham to Greenwich Park and Shooters Hill to Greenwich Park. “The routes will be designed in accordance with the latest guidance and, where appropriate, will include segregation from motor traffic,” says Lekau.
Free cycling training is available to all primary schools in the borough, and on request to adults, along with free maintenance courses.
“We have to do whatever is necessary to help those people who don’t feel confident getting on a bike – and that tends to be women and especially women from black and ethnic minorities,” says Lekau. “And that means offering training and improving cycle routes. In some cases that will involve re-allocating road space and in other cases, where you have a wide pavement, re-allocating space there.”
She accepts that such measures will be opposed by some motorists. “Yes, we have to deal with some powerful lobbies, and that includes a very strong cyclists’ lobby by the way. But my view is you are never going to please everybody. For every person that’s really happy with what you’re doing there is another person or two who is not so happy. In the end it comes down to what you think is the right thing to do.”
Before taking on the climate change, environment and transport portfolio in 2022, Cllr Averil Lekau was the health and adult social care cabinet member. This, she says, has made her aware of the links between sustainable transport and public health.
She has been a councillor at the Royal Borough of Greenwich for the past 10 years, representing the Thamesmead Moorings Ward, in a range of senior positions including chair of the health and adult social care scrutiny panel, and cabinet lead for housing and anti-poverty.
In May 2022 Anthony Okereke was elected leader of the Royal Borough and Averil Lekau became deputy leader.
A roll-out of controlled parking zones (CPZs) to cover the whole borough is also planned. Currently about 30% of the borough’s roads are within a CPZ.
“We also plan to improve and increase controls within existing CPZs, to ensure they’re clear, standardised and consistent borough wide,” says Averil Lekau. “CPZs are an essential tool in managing our valuable street space. They allow us to prioritise space for pedestrians, cyclists, public transport, and people with mobility issues. They also discourage unnecessary car trips that could otherwise be carried out on foot, by public transport or by bicycle. And they?discourage multiple car ownership and encourage lower emission vehicles.”
In August the council introduced emissions-based parking permits as part of its commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030. The new system comprises 13 emission bands, mirroring the banding used by the DVLA, offering discounts of up to 80% for the least polluting vehicles. If more than one vehicle is registered at the same address, a £100 surcharge is applied for each additional vehicle, and all diesel vehicles will incur a £50 surcharge.
Resident and business permits, including new applications and renewals, are now charged based on the vehicle’s CO2 emission categories, as registered with the DVLA.
“These changes to parking charges and permit costs will encourage residents and businesses to embrace more environmentally friendly ways to travel, including using public transport, low emission vehicles, walking, cycling and scooting,” says Lekau.
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