When Caroline Russell first became a transport campaigner in the early 1990s, she was courted by both Labour and the Lib Dems to stand in local elections. But, she says: “I knew I always trusted what the Greens said on transport.”
Twenty-five years on, Caroline is a councillor in Highbury East ward, Islington – the only Green on a council that is otherwise 100% Labour. With Sian Berry, she is also one of two Green members of the London Assembly and chair of the assembly’s environment committee, holding mayor Sadiq Khan to account to ensure he delivers on promises to reduce air pollution and make travelling around London safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
Caroline works tirelessly for environmental and social justice, and we were delighted to welcome her as our guest speaker at Southwark Green Party’s AGM, held on 15 November at the Albrighton Centre, SE22.
A major breakthrough Caroline has helped to bring about as a London Assembly member (AM) is to put climate change on the environment committee’s agenda. This might seem an obvious part of its remit but, amazingly, some Conservative AMs continue to reject overwhelming scientific evidence of the link between fossil fuels and global warming. The beefed-up remit means that committee members can, for example, challenge the expansion of Heathrow airport on the grounds that it will breach the UK’s legal commitments to reduce its carbon emissions.
Caroline’s work has also led to the publication of the assembly’s Hostile Streets report, looking at areas of outer London where streets are designed for cars and not people. This crisis is becoming ever greater as thousands of new homes are built along busy roads surrounded by noise, danger and air pollution.
A crucial policy set out by Sadiq Khan is his Vision Zero plan to end all deaths on London’s roads; disappointingly, however, the target date is not until 2041. As Caroline noted, if as many people were killed on our railways each year as on our roads, “no trains would run”.
So does Sadiq listen to what Green AMs have to say? Yes, said Caroline, but he is “going very, very slowly”. Car use is not declining fast enough. The mayor has pledged to triple the capital’s bike lanes to 90km but so far only 10km has been completed – and he’s been in office for two and a half years. Bike lanes are urgently needed, and “if it’s a bit inconvenient for drivers, that’s tough”.
A wide-ranging Q&A session following Caroline’s talk included discussion of the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) for motor vehicles, which will come into force in central London from April next year, with the whole of inner London covered by 2021. Caroline’s concern is that areas outside the North and South Circular roads won’t be included in the zone, yet there are residential streets running much of the way along these major arterial routes. Road pricing offers the fairest way to tackle the biggest polluters, and it's an idea that other parties are now picking up on.
Even the slow and limited action being taken by the current mayor to improve air quality could be under threat. The Conservative party, Caroline warned, has already begun to campaign in the run-up to the 2020 mayoral elections – and car-loving Tory politicians don’t believe that breathing bad air is a problem. Electing Sian Berry as mayor of London, getting Caroline re-elected as an AM, and increasing Green representation in the London Assembly will all be vital, therefore, if we are to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions and protect the health of Londoners. It’s up to Green activists to make sure voters get this message!
We support the Liveable London campaign and are pleased to see the London Cycling Campaign and Living Streets working together, showing that we have common interests as people who want safer, more pleasant streets, whether on foot or on cycle.
If elected as councillors, we will do everything we can to implement policies to make it easier and safer to walk and cycle.
Southwark Greens have been working for more action on air pollution in Southwark since 2011. Our actions include:
• triggering the first full council debate on air pollution
• putting up nitrogen dioxide pollution monitors near schools in Peckham, Camberwell and Dulwich
• taking a 500+ signature petition to the Mayor for cleaner buses through our area
• running a free Travel Clinic at Brunswick Park summer fete to help people work out how much they could save by giving up a private car
• planting a pollution screen round Goose Green Primary school playground
More details here.
Southwark Greens have opposed Southwark Council’s plans to demolish Peckham Arch and asked the Mayor to look at how these plans fail to take into account TfL’s identification of a high potential for walking and cycling in Peckham.
We support CS4 - a cycle route going between Tower Bridge and Greenwich - and would like Southwark Council and TfL to work together to fill in the missing pieces. We support the idea of a new bridge across the river for pedestrians and cyclists - the Brunel Bridge.Read more
Why do councillors ignore residents' views?
Last year, Southwark Council ran a consultation on its proposed 'Southwark Spine' cycle route. Local people and road safety experts said the designs would make cycling more dangerous, especially around Bellenden Road. In fact, 63% of people who replied opposed it.
But just before the election was called, one of the Labour councillors for this area, Ian Wingfield, signed off the scheme.
Eleanor Margolies says: "This makes a mockery of the idea of consultation. The Southwark Spine was meant to make cycling safe for all ages, from 8-80. Hundreds of people took the time to write in with their concerns. I can’t believe Cllr Wingfield has ignored us all. I will listen to residents and fight for a better scheme that reduces motor traffic and is safer for everyone."
We asked Southwark Greens what they've been up to to keep the streets tidy...
What do you do when you see a bike rusting away on the street or on a council estate?
Eleanor: It's sad to see an unloved bike! I do a quick check that it really is abandoned. Rusty chains and missing wheels are a good clue. Then I report abandoned bikes on the Southwark Council website. The council cleaning team puts a note on the bike, giving a week or two for it to be claimed by its owner.
What happens next?
Eleanor: After a further month in storage to allow owners to get in touch, unclaimed bikes are passed on to local charities like the brilliant Bike Project on Champion Hill. They refurbish old bikes and donate them to refugees. Someone gets a bike of their own and the freedom to get around locally. A bike parking space is freed up for other people who need to use it. And we all get rid of a trip hazard and eyesore. It’s win-win-win!
Southwark Council has received funds from Transport for London to create Quietway 7 from Elephant and Castle to Dulwich. The Quietways are designed to be safe and pleasant for people aged 8-80, of all abilities, for trips to school, work and shops. No lycra required! The changes will also improve the streets for people on foot, including new crossings along the route, and wider pavements outside Brunswick Park on Benhill Road.
But contractors working for Notting Hill Housing on Edmund Street put in two new humps along the Quietway route – and made them the wrong shape!Read more
Southwark Council is consulting on the status of Camberwell Grove. The road goes over the railway via a bridge, just south of the junction with McNeil Road. This bridge has been closed to all motor traffic since October 2016, due to structural failure.
The council website says: 'Repairs to the bridge will soon be completed by Network Rail, which will allow it to be reopened for small motor vehicles (under 3 tonne) with traffic lights allowing alternate one-way flows to cater for both north and south-bound traffic'. The council wants to hear your views before taking a final decision on reopening the bridge. The consultation page is here (closing Monday 30 October).
We encourage Southwark residents to respond. Read on for our comments.Read more
Overview: Some of the elements are genuinely useful. We support the new pedestrian crossing between Camberwell Passage and the Green, and the repositioning of the St Giles bus stop, to improve sight-lines.
But the plans offer far too little to improve safety. We cannot see that it is worthwhile doing this 'interim' work at great cost when it offers so little. We urge TfL to withdraw the plans and replace them with plans that consider Camberwell as a town centre with shops and community services, and consider how people actually need to move around it on foot or on bike. This is an essential step in tackling the current dangers of the junction as well as the wider public health emergency of air pollution.Read more
Transport for London has published plans for changes to the junction at Camberwell Green. Full details and drawings can be found here.
Some of the proposals are genuinely useful. Much needed changes include: a new pedestrian crossing between Camberwell Passage and the Green, and the repositioning of the St Giles bus stop, setting it a few metres back from Vicarage Grove, to improve sight-lines.
But the plans offer far too little to improve safety.
Southwark Green Party put together a simple document on some of the steps Southwark Council could take to make cycling easier, safer and more attractive for everyone, age 8-80. Download it here. (Image credit: Adam Hypki)
- Walk or cycle instead of driving – pollution levels can be higher inside a car than on the street because the ventilation intake is close to the exhaust of the cars in front and fumes build up inside a closed car. And it helps cut emissions too.
- Choose a low pollution route. Back routes can have 50% less particulate pollution. Use sites like Breathe London to plan a route
- If your workplace or school is near a main road, ask the building supervisors how air pollution is minimised. If there’s air conditioning, are the filters effective ones?
- When shopping, close the door – it keeps the heat in and pollution out.
- At home, make sure gas boilers and heaters are serviced regularly. If you have fires in an open fireplace, check that you are buying ‘smokeless’ coal, not ‘traditional’ or ‘house’ coal. It’s illegal to burn house coal in London – and it’s bad for the health of people inside the room as well as outside. Check that any woodburners are approved for Smoke Control Areas. It’s also illegal to burn logs on open fires.
Picture: It's illegal to burn 'traditional' House Coal - 'smoke-free' briquettes are a happier choice