A school next to London’s first ever ‘zero emissions street’ was reportedly unable to get basic supplies delivered including toilet paper because delivery drivers were being fined so often they started refusing to come.
Golden Lane near the Barbican was out-of-bounds for motorists for much of 2020 and 2021 when the City of London (City) imposed a Zero Emissions Scheme on nearby Beech Street – the first of its kind in the UK.
The trial, which banned all petrol and diesel vehicles from using Beech Street for an 18-month period with the knock-on effect of it preventing access to Golden Lane at its southern junction with Beech Street, ended in September 2021. Before too long Golden Lane reverted back into a “rat-run” road, according to one City of London official. But for residents, the demise of the Zero Emissions Scheme was good news and since it was scrapped they say life has become less complicated.
It comes as councillors have rejected a proposal last week to resurrect the zero emissions scheme on the street. Gary Maker, 56, and John Davis, 69, have lived and worked on Golden Lane for decades and are glad to see the scheme behind them.
Gary and John said, as maintenance workers, getting supplies to Prior Weston Primary School and Children’s Centre Golden Lane Campus had been a nightmare when the scheme was in place. The campus is also shared with Richard Cloudesley Special School which serves kids with special needs.
Gary said it not only meant delivery drivers had to travel an extra mile to reach the school’s car park but they were also forced to run a gauntlet of cameras on Beech Street if they wanted a short cut.
He said: “We had contractors getting fined left, right and centre, to the point where they refused to come.” He added: “We couldn’t get supplies. We’re talking about school supplies – things like toilet paper.”
Gary claimed the City of London Corporation knocked back a request to make suppliers exempt from the scheme. His colleague, John, added: “I can’t see the point of putting all the traffic on the main road as [a way of] ‘saving the planet’.”
It’s a point fellow resident Americo Borges agrees with. The 54-year-old Philips rep has lived on Golden Lane since 2012 and said he’s barely noticed a change in traffic since the scheme ended. He claimed the programme had simply pushed traffic and pollution onto main roads like Old Street.
He said: “There was no good having one in the first place. If you look at the area geographically, it doesn’t bring people in from outside.” Americo added: “I feel that if the [scheme] was implemented [permanently], it would have been a waste of money.”
Another resident, who didn’t want to be named, claimed she’s not noticed any problems with traffic on Golden Lane since the scheme ended almost two years ago. She said streets like Golden Lane should be made accessible for cars and said blocking it off added an extra 20 minutes onto her commute time.
She claimed the scheme made the street more desirable and pushed up house prices. She said: “Apart from putting people’s house prices up, the scheme hasn’t helped at all and created congestion on many roads and for the people on these roads”.
Arts student Alexander Amin, 20, claimed Barbican residents had been fined just for parking their cars. He said the scheme was “well-intentioned but not well thought through”. However, he sympathised with the City, adding: “It is hard to balance what the residents want and getting the benefits of better air quality.”
The City of London said residents with a car park entrance on Beech Street were able to use the street to access their property in any type of vehicle. They said all others residents who drove regular diesel and petrol cars would have had to find another route home.
The authority added that some residents may have received a fine but a four-week warning period was in place with a letter sent out instead of fines during that period.
Janette Barton, a resident of 30 years and former cabby, said she was glad to see the scheme scrapped but warned there were downsides to the decision. She said: “My family are cab drivers and they’re not too happy about [low emissions schemes] and having to go here and there…They just want to get people to where they want to go.”
The 69-year-old said she has “definitely seen” an increase in traffic since the scheme lapsed in 2021. She now avoids walking along Beech Street, which is enclosed making it effectively an above-ground tunnel, at all costs because of car fumes.
She said although traffic down Golden Lane “wasn’t that bad”, she had noticed more motorists speeding down the quiet suburban street. She said: “You do get some nutters who blast down the road and then try turning left onto Beech Street. They have a free run down here and they zoom down.”
City of London councillors voted against resurrecting the Beech Street Zero Emissions Scheme during a meeting on Tuesday, July 4, citing questions over its effectiveness.
Councillor Shravan Jashvantrai Joshi said emissions schemes on such a small scale were not likely to be effective: “I think we need to put this into context of what Beech Street is for us in the City and what it actually impacts in the wider context of London and us looking at it from just the City perspective puts it in the wrong context.”
He added: “Taking this sort of micro-project perspective doesn’t actually serve anyone’s purposes. You’ve got to get rid of borough lines with air pollution because it doesn’t care.”
A City official said traffic had bounced back to 2019 levels since the scheme ended in September 2021, adding nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels had “marginally” risen above the legal limit since then. The City has teamed up with Islington Council to tackle traffic and pollution through the Healthy Neighbourhood programme.
While there was plenty of opposition to the zero emissions scheme, council reports revealed that 51 per cent of people who were asked, wanted it to stay. Some 49 per cent of respondents who opposed the plans said it did not go far enough to reduce traffic while 41 per cent said it did not do enough to improve air quality.
It comes as local authorities in the city continue to struggle with ways to bring down emissions. Initiatives like ULEZ and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) have led to intense backlash from residents in some boroughs.
Regarding ULEZ, a recent study by Credit Karma found two in five Londoners will have to change or give up their car sooner than planned because of the planned expansion on August 29.
Meanwhile, the CEO of a building group slammed the upcoming ULEZ expansion, claiming it would make parts of London a “no-go area” for builders and trades people. And in a North London high street traders claimed the area’s new LTN has seen their takings ‘’cut in half’ as fewer people pass through.
The experience of managers in Church Street, Stoke Newington, appears to go against what the Mayor of Hackney, Philip Glanville, claimed was an 18 per cent increase in footfall and a doubling of card transactions on the road since September 2022.
It is something Janette feels was happening in her own neighbourhood in Golden Lane. She said: “[Having a scheme aimed at cutting traffic and pollution] is a good thing because it is making the environment better but it seems to mean they are closing down all the little roads.”
Oliver Lord, UK head of Clean Cities Campaign, said the decision to scrap the Beech Street Zero Emission Scheme was disappointing and questioned the City’s legal duty to reduce levels of air pollution as soon as possible. Analysis by Clean Cities Campaign claim levels of the toxic gas NO2 on Beech Street have increased by around 25 per cent in the past year since the scheme ended, breaching legal limits that were meant to be met more than a decade ago. Mr Lord claimed these legal limits are four times the World Health Organization guidelines.
He said: “I’m also concerned there has been no mention of climate in this debate. Ending the Zero Emission Street sends the wrong signal to industry and cab drivers who have been investing in cleaner and climate-friendly electric vehicles. It’s difficult to understand why this scheme can’t proceed as a wider plan is considered and it feels very jam tomorrow – more plans for a plan when we urgently need to phase out polluting vehicles in the capital. It’s clear from the report that most people opposed to this scheme want it to go further and I hope authorities see this as a mandate to work together on a broader zero emission transport zone for central London.”
The City of London has declined to comment on many of the points raised but said traffic volumes on Golden Lane in May showed 2,100 motorised vehicles using it per day – a drop from 3,320 before the scheme and an increase from 1,070 while it was in place.
They claimed their estimates showed traffic would have returned to 2019 levels had the Beech Street scheme been reintroduced with the proposed amendment to keep Golden Lane open to cars.
They said an unrestricted route to Golden Lane School Campus had always been maintained via Chiswell Street and Whitecross Street and that it was possible for servicing vehicles to reach the school without using Beech Street.