New ‘Covid roadblocks’ to calm traffic risk are slowing down 999 response times

More temporary “covid roadblocks” are being installed in residential streets across London despite claims they are causing problems for emergency vehicles.

New low-traffic neighbourhoods have been announced near Hyde Park and in Newham as polling suggested the controversial schemes were supported by a public majority.

However, London Ambulance chiefs have reported slight increases in response times, although they say there has been no impact on patient safety. More than 70 low traffic neighbourhoods have been introduced in residential areas of the capital since the first wave of Covid-19 to encourage residents to walk and cycle and discourage “rat running”.

Councils are able to quickly install bollards and wooden planters on a temporary basis without full consultation — prompting controversy from some drivers. One neighbourhood in Tooting was rapidly abandoned by Wandsworth council after protests, while another in Ealing sparked a political rebellion that almost cost council leader Julian Bell his job, after a failure to liaise in advance with ambulance chiefs.

This week Lewisham council announced changes to the enforcement of a scheme in Lee Green after drivers were issued with £3 million of fines.

LAS chairman Heather Lawrence said the reduction in traffic will improve public health in the long term. She told an LAS board meeting last month: “Although ambulance journey times became a little bit longer there have been no adverse events. We will keep a check on that to ensure that nothing compromises safety. What they’re trying to do is beneficial for the health of the population — particularly low emissions, asthma, that sort of thing.” But Elliot Colburn, the Tory MP for Carshalton and Wallington, told the Commons last week he was receiving photos and videos from constituents showing the “chaos that road closure schemes are causing”.

He said: “That has included videos of emergency service vehicles having to turn around while on call and find alternative routes to incidents.”

The latest proposals include a Westminster scheme in the area bounded by Edgware Road, Bayswater Road and Sussex Gardens. Westminster has also completed a borough-wide roll-out of 20mph speed limits.

Newham council has proposed two zones in West Ham and Stratford, promoting cycling up to its border with Waltham Forest.

The LAS said: “Changes to road layouts clearly have the potential to impede our response to the most critically ill people and could delay life-saving treatments.”


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