Queen’s Crescent- an abuse of power

A recent tweet about Queens Crescent https://twitter.com/EdwardAdoo/status/1560700246140805121

In 2019 Camden Council conducted a “co-design” process with local people about how to improve Queens Crescent. This resulted in a proposal for build-outs with trees to help slow traffic:

The plan offered by The Decorators after co-design
This was the proposal for the tree build-outs, later abandoned by Camden when offered money for ‘road closure’Active Travel’

In 2021, post-Covid, the Council made a unilateral decision to close Queens Crescent to through traffic, turning their back on the co-design process. They were encouraged in this by the GLA (Greater London Authority), despite the fact that the GLA did not understand how the area works. The Council were offered money by the Department for Transport for a “Active Travel” measures (like the rest of the country). It was Camden’s decision how to spend it and, in our case, they saw fit to impose an LTN centred on our neighbourhood shopping street, Queens Crescent. Queens Crescent is the only “high street” in the borough to suffer one (perhaps for the obvious reason that LTNs are meant to protect groups of residential streets).

When applying for Good Growth Funds in 2018 Camden Council made commitments. Two stand out:

  • independent evaluation of the funded work by independent evaluators based on an evaluation schema designed at the beginning of the project
  • quantitative economic development targets e.g. 20% increase in turnover, footfall and number of businesses

It is not known whether independent evaluators were appointed but Camden’s quantitative development targets were dropped, according to a council officer for these reasons:

“The metrics proposed in the original grant application in 2018 were for assessing the impacts of the public realm project envisaged at the time of submitting our funding proposal. The metrics were suggested in advance of the co-design work and the development of the final proposals and well before the development of the ETO (Experimental Traffic Order) element of the final scheme. So the 20% isn’t an ETO target. The context and the project have changed since early 2018 when the funding proposal was submitted and we continue to iterate project delivery in conversation with the GLA.”

Local people and businesses were not asked the direct question: is it OK to give up any targeting of economic improvement?

The Good Growth Fund is focused on sharing the benefits of economic growth with communities. Here are comments by GLA officers and others which confirm that:

The GLA put it as follows in June 2020: “The key principles proposed are healthy streets, space for the community and support for small businesses and the market”.

“To strengthen Queen’s Crescent and its market as the thriving economic and social hub of Gospel Oak” is the phrasing Camden used in applying to the GLA.

In November 2021, the GLA’s interim Head of Regeneration (Duggan) wrote about the overall Queens Crescent project which frames Safe Travel’s interventions: “the project delivers quality public space which supports local communities and the local economy”.

Recent Queen’s Crescent scheme publicity carries the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEAP) logo because in Camden’s words: “Camden received Good Growth funding for this project from the GLA, and they asked us to highlight various organisations connected to this fund”.

The LEAP “.. brings entrepreneurs and business together with the Mayoralty and London Councils to identify strategic actions to support and lead economic growth and job creation in the capital” and is a “key enabling partner” of the Good Growth Fund.

Despite all these fine words, Camden essentially gave up any economic development commitments without discussion with the community. It then doubled down on “active travel” interventions by adding closing Holmes Road, the other neighbourhood economic “hub”. None of this is related to economic development

A last point emphasises how nonsensical this whole Kabuki theatre of pretend local government actually is. The original targets for economic improvement included in Camden’s application for Good Growth money are obviously unattainable and nonsensical. 20% increases across the board for footfall, turnover and new businesses cannot have any basis in any sensible econometric evaluation of growth potential on the Crescent (and none is provided). It is plainly fairy tale stuff and the only positive thing which can be said about it is that it’s at least a quantitative target.

One reason why Camden liked the Active Travel approach to Queens Crescent is that it offered them the chance to swamp the public discourse with figures about lower traffic and reduced NOX pollution. All that data would distract everyone from the Good Growth fund’s original purpose: to improve Queens Crescent as an economic setting in a way that would benefit everyone in the community i.e a way for the wider community to benefit from economic growth hence the phrase Good Growth.

During the trial period, 81% of respondents on Commonplace website recorded negative reactions.

After the trial period ended, the Council made minor alterations to the trial scheme, which stayed essentially the same, ie. blocking Queens Crescent to through traffic. The consultation results for the final proposal are mired in controversy: questions only related to the minor changes to the scheme; only 58% of respondents lived in the area, whilst Camden drummed up support from outside the area; the consultation was extended by a week to enable Camden do this. For obvious reasons the comments are not longer visible in the Commonplace platform.

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