Our Autumn Forum on Thursday 18thOctober provided an opportunity for Society members to meet the new administration running Richmond upon Thames Council since May’s elections. We were pleased to welcome Council Leader Gareth Roberts, together with Deputy Leader Alexander Ehmann who has responsibility for Transport, Streetscene and Air Quality, and Martin Elengorn who looks after Environment, Planning and Sustainability.
Councillor Roberts opened the forum by setting out the administration’s three main priorities: making Richmond fairer, greener, and safer. These would have to be delivered in the context of the scope of the limited powers available to local authorities and the financial constraints under which they operate.
A good example of these limitations was the central government cuts in policing that have led to the disappearance of routine police presence in Richmond and measurably reduced police performance against targets. Councillor Roberts recognised that this was unsatisfactory, both from the perspective of reported crime and low-level anti-social behaviour. However, the Council had no powers to increase police resources so instead was focussing on crime prevention.
In response to questions, Councillor Roberts spoke about the merger of services with Wandsworth. Some departments had good local knowledge of Richmond borough; others were still shaking into place. It would not be practical, nor indeed affordable, to return to a more localised arrangement, so his focus was on making the current situation work well and delivering the best possible services within cost constraints.
Councillor Ehmann then spoke about the current consultation on introducing a 20 mph speed limit on all roads in the borough other than its two trunk routes, the A316 and the A205. This proposal had been included in the LibDems’ manifesto in response to mounting evidence that at slower speeds far fewer accidents take place, there are far fewer injuries, and far fewer deaths. This applies even more so to main roads than side roads, which is why routes such as the A307 Kew Road are included in the proposed 20 mph zone. Additionally, a piecemeal implementation of the zone could as much as double its cost with the extra signage needed, and make it less straightforward for motorists to follow.
It was expected that overall air quality would improve as a result of implementation. In addition it would encourage walking, cycling, and the use of public transport. Councillor Ehmann was keen to point out that the administration was not anti-car, but that its aim was simply to encourage people to shift to more sustainable forms of transport.
In response to questions, Councillor Ehmann explained that enforcement of the 20 mph zone would be as for 30 mph. There would be no additional police. Compliance by most drivers would lead to an overall reduction in speed, which would deliver the expected improvement in road safety. In order to assess the effectiveness of the proposal, and to optimise it if it goes ahead, the Council has already started gathering speed measurements to establish a baseline. They would not be implementing the modern-day equivalent of speed bumps, as these often lead to an increase in emissions when cars brake to avoid them and then accelerate to the next one.
Former councillor Frances Bouchier asked about the budgetary plans for improving safety for cyclists. Councillor Ehmann responded that though the budget was limited this was an important priority. They were reviewing the acclaimed Tower Hamlets scheme, and there was also a bid being made to the Mayor of London to improve the cycling route from Ham to Richmond. In response to a question about dangerous cyclists, he explained that his focus would be more on providing an environment where cyclists did not feel the need to misbehave than on enforcement.
Regarding the length of housing lists, Councillor Elengorn explained that this was a challenge. The Borough of Richmond had a target of 300 new homes per year, rising to 800. Failure to meet this target would result in the Council having to relinquish planning powers. Their approach to resolve this is a “Green Growth Strategy”, which aims to provide quality homes on larger sites. One site currently under evaluation is at Homebase by North Sheen Station. Additionally he reconfirmed that the Friars Lane Car Park, which was controlled by Property rather than his department, is still zoned for residential development.
Other areas covered included: possible reversion of the Old Town Hall to community use; providing the Museum of Richmond with a more accessible site; consolidation of Richmond’s libraries on the site of the current lending library on Little Green utilising the adjacent Queens Hall; increased pedestrianisation of George Street; the hope that over time the TfL buses that cause most of the air pollution will become greener; the future of the House of Fraser site; and the dilapidated state of some areas of the Riverside, which Councillor Elengorn promised to escalate.
We would like to thank Councillors Roberts, Ehmann and Elengorn for their time, and for providing a very informative evening.