Labour council leader admits plan to ‘take advantage’ of Covid

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A London council leader has said he wants to ‘take advantage’ of coronavirus to make controversial temporary road closures and cycle lanes permanent.

Julian Bell, the Labour leader of Ealing Council, is hoping to make the area ‘the cycling Copenhagen of London’ after already receiving £600,000 of funding.

The married father-of-four added that the local authority in suburban West London is hoping to get more than £1million to make the lane changes permanent.

His comments were made in a council meeting on Zoom which was posted on social media, provoking outrage from those already frustrated by the changes.

Julian Bell, the Labour leader of Ealing Council, is hoping to make the area 'the cycling Copenhagen of London' after already receiving £600,000 of funding

Julian Bell, the Labour leader of Ealing Council, is hoping to make the area ‘the cycling Copenhagen of London’ after already receiving £600,000 of funding

Mr Bell, a passionate cyclist who once travelled 18,000 miles on his bike in five years, said: ‘Clearly we want to take advantage of Covid around active travel infrastructure.

‘We’ve already got over £600,000 of funding from TfL to put in temporary cycling and walking infrastructure.

How Ealing Council’s Julian Bell is a cycling champion and even set up Labour Cyclists 

Ealing Council's leader Julian Bell

Ealing Council’s leader Julian Bell

Julian Bell, who set up the Labour Cyclists group, first worked for the Labour Party in 1994 and was elected as a councillor for Ealing in 2002.

He has served four terms as leader of the West London authority and is married to Hermia with four daughters, including the CBBC and Martin Lewis Money Show presenter Angellica Bell.

Previously, Mr Bell hit the headlines in 2014 when he was branded a ‘hypocrite’ after buying a five-bedroom property while staying on as a housing association tenant.

In February 2017 the council revealed he had travelled 18,250 miles on his bike since October 2012, the equivalent of cycling around the world.

At the time, he said 2 to 3 per cent of journeys in Ealing were made by bike, compared to half in Copenhagen. 

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‘Our aim is to hopefully get back over £1million of funding and to actually make these permanent, these changes, so that as I said we can kind of be the cycling Copenhagen of London. 

‘So we have a climate crisis strategy, an action plan, that we’re working on and clearly working towards net zero carbon by 2030 is a key objective.’

Responding to the video, one Twitter user said: ‘The entitlement is outrageous. No concern for the effect it’s having on the communities and businesses it affects. 

‘I’ve not spent so much time in my car as I have since the LTN (Low Traffic Neighbourhoods) scheme. Zero common sense and shameless. This is why people hate politicians.’

Another tweeted: ‘Have these people not looked around the UK and seen the chaos that these not used cycle lanes are causing?’

And a third said: ‘The bicycle is 200 years old. These luddites are trying to transform Ealing’s roads for something that was a progressive form of transport 200 years ago That’s like ditching broadband and going back to dial up. 

‘Instead of transforming Ealing into Copenhagen what they should be doing is putting in the infrastructure for today’s technology. We have electric and hydrogen vehicles – how about making Ealing the blue print for tomorrow’s tech instead of trying to turn it into something it’s not?’

An Ealing Council spokesman was today contacted for comment by MailOnline.

Earlier this month, campaigners said road closures brought in during the coronairus crisis are causing gridlock and leading to life-threatening delays for the emergency services.

Councils are using emergency coronavirus cash to rush through the ‘green’ measures, an audit of local road schemes suggested.

Paramedics were blocked by a bollard during an emergency call after it was installed as part of a low traffic neighbourhood plan in Ealing, West London, earlier this month

Paramedics were blocked by a bollard during an emergency call after it was installed as part of a low traffic neighbourhood plan in Ealing, West London, earlier this month

A lone cyclist travels along a bike lane on Park Lane in London's Mayfair earlier this month

A lone cyclist travels along a bike lane on Park Lane in London’s Mayfair earlier this month

Under the projects brought in to aid social distancing and encourage walking and cycling, portions of road are being turned over to pedestrians and bikes – and in some cases, closed off altogether.

Covid blitz on drivers: What’s happening across Britain?

  • Bristol: Council has pedestrianised parts of city and suspended parking. Bristol Bridge has been closed to private vehicles.
  • Bath: Motorists are banned from using key city roads from 10am to 6pm.
  • West London: Several roads have been closed in Ealing to give people more room to socially distance.
  • Bolton: Seven roads shut in the city centre to aid social distancing.
  • Colchester: High street closed to cars. 
  • Ludlow, Shropshire: High street closed to traffic between 10am and 3pm.
  • Wigan: Pedestrian zone times extended so they run from 9am to 5pm. 
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The Mail carried out a snapshot survey of 30 local authorities and found all have introduced schemes that have an impact on traffic in the past four months.

The rash of new restrictions has led to life-threatening delays in reaching heart attack and stroke patients, according to the College of Paramedics.

In May, councils were handed £250million for ‘green’ schemes to promote social distancing and to encourage walking and cycling in the wake of lockdown.

Supporters say the measures have cut air pollution, led to a rise in physical activity and attracted strong local support.

But campaigners claim draconian measures are being rushed through, bringing chaos to the roads at a time when many are shunning public transport in favour of their cars over Covid fears. 

Last week a mother who said her daughter was killed by lethal levels of air pollution called on the Transport Secretary to ban eco-obsessed councils from closing roads.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, whose daughter Ella suffered a fatal asthma attack thought to have been triggered by illegal levels of pollution, says ‘green’ schemes designed to reduce pollution should be scrapped.

Mrs Kissi-Debrah lives near one of 114 ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’ (LTNs) in London where road blocks are set up to stop residential streets being used as rat runs.

But motoring groups say LTNs and other green schemes cause serious congestion as drivers are bottlenecked on main roads.

An empty bicycle lane in Tooting, South London, during a morning rush hour earlier this month

An empty bicycle lane in Tooting, South London, during a morning rush hour earlier this month

Empty cycle lanes cause queues of cars and vans at Balham in South London earlier this month

Empty cycle lanes cause queues of cars and vans at Balham in South London earlier this month

They are furious at ministers for allowing councils to exploit powers introduced as a result of the pandemic to rush through anti-car policies.

Mrs Kissi-Debrah lives 80ft from one of the country’s busiest roads – the A205 South Circular in Lewisham, south-east London – and said traffic levels have ‘quadrupled’ since an LTN zone was set up ten weeks ago.

LTNs have been blamed for a 153 per cent surge in congestion in outer London, where roads have been closed to reduce pollution and promote walking and cycling. 

Wandsworth Council in south-west London recently scrapped an LTN scheme after residents complained about pollution.

Bromley Council in south London has started legal action over road closures in neighbouring Croydon, claiming they have worsened traffic.

Other schemes – such as widened cycle lanes, pedestrianised streets and 20mph speed limit areas – have brought gridlock to towns and cities across Britain.

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