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"This Division Needs to Stop": Mursell Estate Resident Speaks of Impact of Oval LTN

Catherine has lived with her family on the Mursell Estate, a large housing development on the edge of the Oval Triangle 'low traffic neighourhood' (LTN), for nine years. We spoke with her to get her take on the impact the LTN has had,

A map of the Oval LTN area may appear to show that Mursell residents benefit from the reduced traffic and cleaner air associated with being inside a LTN area. But this ignores the fact that the LTN has pushed traffic onto Hampson Way, a narrow one-lane road built to give residents access to their homes, whose use has increased exponentially since the LTN was introduced. For the more than 330 homes on the estate, this means that they are now ringed by traffic noise and pollution on both sides; as Catherine explains, for the two-room apartment units facing out onto Clapham Road and Hampson Way "both rooms you get noise, noise upon noise. Before, this used to be quiet. And I witness it, unfortunately for me, my room is on this side [Hampson Way] because I like it quiet, where I collect myself the next day, but I just couldn’t, the noise, the frequent cars coming through, and obviously the road is quite narrow, you tend to get the noise more. In the morning, you get the effect more. So, with that aspect, and during the summer, it was unpleasant living here. The only time you get noise in the morning, any time of year, is when the bin rubbish comes to collect, or when they clean the floor, from autumn leaves." The added noise pollution is unwanted: "but now you got that noise and the cars as well."

Catherine's car was damaged recently after she was forced to reverse along the a narrow, curved Hampson Way by an oncoming car. She also describes a recent incident where a delivery driver parked on a yellow box area, blocking Hampson Way in both directions: "there is a yellow box just in front of that tower, the van actually parked there. Now, there is no way you could maneuver to allow incoming cars to come through, and I was stuck there, as well. Blocked." The traffic cutting through Hampson Way due to road closures in the LTN area affects Catherine's young family's ability to play freely on the estate: "my kids [used to] come downstairs to play, but now its busier here. Its’ not safe anymore. We cannot open our windows to even breathe fresh air, we’ve got more pollution." Given the LTN's impact on her family, she shows striking empathy for those living on nearby residential main roads who are also impacted: "I feel sorry, I feel sorry for those residents living on the main road now, I’m putting myself in their shoes now how they going to deal with more vehicles on the road now?". Catherine has raised these issues with local Councillors and Vauxhall MP Florence Eshalomi, but she says they have been slow to respond, and the Council has come forward with only stopgap measures, some of which lack the teeth to be effective: "at the moment there is no penalty to use the road for a through road, so they have just put that, things like that, they’re really inconveniencing us, it’s not a ‘pretty’ life to live here anymore."

Echoing recent local concern regarding the impact of LTNs on emergency service response times, Catherine says that some disruption is simply unavoidable: "whatever option, [avoiding disruption to services] is not possible with emergency services. Even as we speak now, with the LTN in place of Albert Square, when the emergency services are coming down with cars, for example, behind or in front of vehicles, how will emergency vehicles move if it is all blocked with [other] vehicles. It's more difficult. Rundell Tower [another block on the Mursell] is a tall tower, even with this building, the 5th floor, 6th floor, you need a bigger truck, because [fire] could spread easily, and obviously a small truck cannot hold a fire." She fears the worst: "if we don't rectify this problem just now, if you push, push, push, only god knows when a disaster is going to happen. And that’s when Lambeth will understand, ‘oh, OK, hang on, what we done is wrong’."

Despite the Council continuing to assert that the LTN is to protect public health during the Covid-19 pandemic, Catherine casts doubt on this justification: "especially when they sent us the letter, before the implementation, [saying] that people that living in blocks of flats have nowhere to walk. Now, where they got that information from, only god knows, because I wasn’t consulted, I wasn't asked. And no residents in Mursell Estate was asked. I've actually had a resident from Ashmole Estate say no-one was asked, so where do they get their figure from? Where do they get their information from?" The possibility of cold weather driving a second wave of the pandemic is not lost on her: "we’re approaching terms of Covid-19 in place still, we don’t know how the winters going to be."

When asked about the idea that a great deal of car journeys, especially shorter ones, are superfluous, Catherine is adamant: her car use is essential, and purely functional: "I work a 9-5 job. A 9-5 job is the only job I could fit to my family...that's because I had to drop my kid at the centre at 7.30am when the centre opens. They open 7.30am, I have to drop them, then drive an hour to Sidcup, to start work at 9am. Actually I don’t start at 9am, I start at 8.40am. Why? Because I have to leave at 4pm; normally its 9am-5pm but my company has spared me 30 minutes, simply because I have to come back. So, it’s [relying on public transport] is not possible - can you see how tight my schedule is? If they do block all these roads, I’m put in a dead end. One, I’ll be late for work, two I’ll be late to pick up my kid each day. So, please tell me which employer [will tolerate lateness], or which childminder will be happy to pick up my kids late?" Far from being an isolated case, Catherine believes her situation is commonplace among Mursell residents: "there are many in this estate that are being affected like that." The Council simply "didn’t think about the repercussions, the other side of it, there is two sides to a coin, there's head and tail, why not think about the other side of it." Her frustration is evident when she describes the narrow focus on one or two transport modes over all others, ignoring the practical realities of residents' lives: "you just implement walking, walking, walking, cycling, I've got winter coming up. Who’s going to be walking during winter, in cold weather? It’s a cold country! So tell me who wanted to walk!" And she, like many, uses different modes of travel for different things at different times: "normally, if I'm not working and I'm dropping the kids to school or centre, I walk. I cut through Albert Square, and I walk at the back. I walk on the pavement. I don’t walk on the road. There is wide pavement to walk, to distance. So there’s no way, even my kids are cycling to school, or using their scooters to school, so there is no way to cycle or scooter on the road, the pavement is wide enough to do that. So I don’t understand why they want this road [to be] walk-able."

While influential local residents associations have gone to great pains to portray themselves as having a broad mandate grounded in their representing a wide cross-section of local residents, Catherine paints a picture of two worlds geographically close, but socially and economically worlds apart. Affluent Albert Square adjoins the Mursell Estate, yet, while Albert Square's members-only garden hosts well-attended parties and theatrical performances each summer, Catherine says she and her family have never in their nine years of living on Mursell received notification of the events, nor an invitation to attend. Asked if the Albert Square residents socialise with Mursell residents, she is straight to the point: "never, not even in a million years, do you see even a resident from Albert Square come over - they don’t want to, until you see the Lambeth [Council] people coming, and then they want to interact to say, yeah we should do something to our road, they should stop using our road." The division rankles: "they’re living comfortable [lives], they’ve got a big garden here, in the summer they enjoy their activities, they do their sunbathing, they relax, and everything like that, they don’t even send leaflets to Mursell Estate to invite us to come down. Never. Never. I’ve been here since nine years, not one leaflet I’ve got from Albert Square residents to say they're having activities here. Not ever one, and they do activities frequently during the summer. Not even one."

London is no stranger to sharp inequalities, and Lambeth, one of only two London Boroughs to see ethnic inequality trends widen in both the 2001 and 2011 census data, is no exception. The human stories behind figures are often obscured, but Catherine vividly portrays the unequal relationships behind the numbers: "the discrimination of people trying to be superior over other people is just too much. And you can obviously even see now, they’re even using the quality air that we had, to be superior over people". As she sees it, the Council's actions are depriving residents of the Mursell of their fundamental rights: "it’s protecting few people, few people. So, what is the quality of life for everyone? This air that we are actually so looking for is free for everyone. So, why are you making now this inequality obviously too much. You get [that] much wealth, now you want to get the cleaner air as well?" As we finish, she elaborates further: "if you do want quality for everybody, you should understand that, now that you're having cleaner air, we are suffering for poorer air quality. We too need cleaner air." Finally, she points to the high car ownership within the LTN as evidence that, as it currently stands, the scheme has stretched the idea of fairness beyond breaking point: "the truth of the matter is, most people have actually closed their road, they drive as well, [there are] more cars on these roads [in the LTN] those are you've driven through, are there not other human beings living there? Think about it. So why do you want cleaner air for yourself, but not for others?"

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