Changes to London’s roads are notoriously difficult. In recent times we have had the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and the fierce debate that arose during covid-19. Part of the problem can be found in the history of London and the way that the city has been developed over centuries.

Experts describe London as a polycentric city. A place with many core districts and no clear hierarchy among them. Another popular description of London is a collection of villages. Each with its own identity.

In the book ‘Great Planning Disasters’ by the government advisor and geography expert, Professor Peter Hall, he describes how engineers and planners have been ‘grappling with the problems of London traffic since the start of the automotive era’. There was a Royal Commission on London Traffic as early as 1905. Their report is contained in ‘eight bulky volumes’.

In his descriptions of the political machinations between London Boroughs, the old Greater London Council and the Government in the form of the Department of Transport we learn that the road network today was shaped by public opinion.

Briefly, the M25 went ahead, parts of the North Circular Road proceeded to be dual carriageways and several lanes wide but – significantly – south of the river Thames plans for expansion and widening roads were ‘deleted’ around 1973 following a Labour victory at the GLC local election. This was after years of preparation and technical works. The voters of south east London wouldn’t have it and their parliamentary seats counted towards the formation of the next Government. In the 1970s there were a few changes of Government with general elections in 1970, 1974 (two) & 1979.

The plans for altering the road network in Catford are not new. There have been high level and some low level discussions for at least twenty years. A major scheme did not receive Government funding at the turn of the century. A letter from the Highways Agency following a Parliamentary Question from the conservative opposition in the form of Mr. Bernard Jenkin, MP, dated 28 July 2000 confirms that A205 Catford Town Centre Improvement scheme was cancelled.

Against this historic backdrop, Transport for London have launched a public consultation on their plans to ‘help the council create a greener town centre and ensure Catford is an enjoyable place for people to live, work and visit’.

The boundaries of consultation – and the limits of the road changes – is very interesting. In the schematic map below, TfL exclude any changes to the main south circular road where it narrows to two lanes, one lane in either direction under the Catford railway bridge, it excludes the problematic junctions at Halfords – not shown – and on the other side of the road at Ravensbourne Park – this particular junction is the route for all traffic to Catford Bridge Station, the 635 flats of Barratt’s ‘Catford Green’ development and the old road to Brockley.

This pinch point is arguably the biggest reason for traffic jams in Catford and Lewisham Council has plans for redevelopment here too. Why arbitrarily exclude this?

TfL say: “Unfortunately, we don’t have a map specifically for traffic movements.”

This is startling news given the relationship between the A2, A21 and the A205 in the area, however, the TfL traffic engineers have explained the proposed turning movements like this:

Plassy Road will be two-way operation as will Rushey Green and Brownhill Road

Traffic from Brownhill Rd wishing to go to Bromley would turn left onto Plassy Road and then turn left at Plassy Rd/ Rushey Green junction.

Traffic from Brownhill Rd wishing to go to Lewisham and central London would turn right at the Brownhill Road junction with Rushey Green.

Traffic travelling between London and Bromley would use Rushey Green.

Surprisingly, the images used to publicise the consultation do not bear any relationship with Lewisham Council’s own plans for Catford Town Centre and redeveloping the land

The blocks shown are all relatively low rise along Rushey Green and there are no tall towers. However, in recent planning documents released, the Plassy Road Island site could see soaring towers of 20 storeys. This omission must be corrected before any further plans start as these buildings will generate significant traffic congestion.

The claims for ‘greening’ the Catford Town Centre are rather undermined when shifting the roads will mean losing some of an historic cricket pitch. This was known as the Private Banks Sports Ground and has hosted first class cricket. It is now owned by the private school St Dunstan’s College and called the Jubilee Ground. There is no additional parkland or space proposed to compensate for this bold land grab.

Given that over £50 million of public money is to be spent on this attempt to change one of London’s arterial routes, surely we could expect a better consultation on a more credible plan?

TfL say that they will accept email comments to until midnight 5th June 2023.

Picture credit Archoptical for aerial view of Catford.

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