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Children protesting outside school
Photograph: Sarah Gibbons

Kids in Tower Hamlets are protesting at the destruction of their ‘school street’

The pupils took to the barricades to stop the borough’s pro-car mayor from opening the street to traffic

Written by
Ellie Muir

Whether it’s soup on Van Gogh or cake on Charles, London has seen loads of protests in the last few weeks. Everyone’s got a battle to fight in this climate, even the kids.

Children who attend a school in Bow in the borough of Tower Hamlets have taken to the barricades to protest the reopening of their ‘school street’ to traffic. The pupils (along with their parents) started protesting on Thursday to save the street’s traffic-calming measures from being ripped out by pro-car Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman.

The protest comes after London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced £69m a year for London borough schemes, including more school streets. A school street is a road outside a school with a part-time restriction on traffic during drop-off and pick-up times, making roads safer at peak times and reducing hazardous pollution.

At the east London school, the school street also enabled the creation of the Chisenhale Play Space, which was partly funded by local residents, and provided an additional facility for school activities and the local community, according to a press statement issued by the protesters.

Rahman allegedly ordered council workmen to remove the traffic restrictions around the school on Thursday morning, including planters and benches that the pupils helped build for the street. The kids’ protest stopped the contractors from carrying out the work, and the children apparently cheered as the council workers left the site.

The children held signs reading ‘Kids before cars’ and ‘Safe streets for kids’ to demand the borough’s mayor reverse the plans to axe the school street. Parents plan to initiate their own traffic patrols outside the school when pupils return next week, after the half-term break. But they fear the contractors will return and eventually remove the restrictions from Chisenhale Road and Vivian Road.

Transport for London is already reportedly withholding funding from Tower Hamlets Council because of Mr Rahman’s plans to remove the borough’s low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs).

Sarah Gibbons, a parent involved in the campaign to save the school street, told the Evening Standard: ‘We have got protesters down there trying to stop them. The council have started ripping out planters and children’s artwork.’

‘All the kids have got used to that road being very safe, very clean and very quiet. From Monday, that just goes. It’s really disturbing. There is no benefit from getting rid of the scheme.’

Headteacher of Chisenhale Primary School, Gemma Anidi said: ‘We are very disappointed by the council’s decision. The removal of School Streets puts children’s lives at risk, and will discourage the many who walk and cycle to school from doing so. I worry deeply now about the safety of children travelling to and from school.’

Mr Rahmanm said: ‘The Chisenhale primary school street was established through an experimental traffic order (ETO), which introduced road closures for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon.’

‘The ETO has now lapsed, and the mayor has decided – in keeping with his manifesto promise to re-open the roads – that the road closures will not be made permanent.’ 

The Mayor pledged to reopen roads after residents in Tower Hamlets complained about road closures causing disruption across the borough. 

He added: ‘The mayor and the council take the safety of children extremely seriously, and have therefore asked officers of the council to examine alternatives to the ETO, including (though not limited to) the possibility of introducing zebra crossings in the immediate vicinity of the school, as well as increasing the number of traffic wardens, yellow lines, ‘do not stop’ signages, and traffic management personnel – such as school crossing patrols – outside of the school.’

Year three pupil Charlotte (aged 7) said: ‘I will miss the school playground, because when you’re out of school it might be dangerous. And we enjoy playing there before during and after school. Why does Mayor Luftur Rahman like cars more than kids?’

The children’s crusade starts here…

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