An open letter from Cllr Thalassites - Kensington High Street

Published: Thursday 3 December 2020

Cllr Johnny Thalassites-001.jpg

Last night, workers from our contractor Conways were forced to halt work on removing the temporary cycle lane from Kensington High Street, by Extinction Rebellion. 

The action taken will have cost our residents money, was conducted purely in self interest, and was nothing more than another PR stunt.

They saw an opportunity for themselves, and decided to hijack a local issue and debate. 

However, the reason I am writing today is to say I have the utmost respect for the school teachers, families, and commuters who have dedicated themselves to fighting for something they believe in over the last few days, and I respect and admire the way they have done it. Especially when passions are clearly running so high.

This is what Londoners do, we welcome free speech and fair debate.

But this is also about balance.

We have seen a growing minority hurling abuse on social media, threatening business owners if they don't join the cause, or making up false support using logos and names without permission.

My message to this minority is please consider others.

People with disabilities, the elderly, delivery drivers, taxi drivers, bus users, car users, emergency services, pedestrians, shoppers, scooters, motorbikes, and cyclists.

All using the same spaces, often at the same time.

At the last count, we had over 1,000 emails in our active travel email inbox, split 58 per cent for and 42 per cent against the cycle lanes.

Of people who identified as residents of the borough, the split was 31 per cent for and 69 per cent against.

Locally, three quarters of businesses are against the scheme.

On this basis we made our decision.

Do I weight the opinions of local residents more than others? Yes, because that is my role as a local councillor. I am a representative of the people who live in this borough.

Threatening us with legal action or financial penalties will make no difference to our decision, London boroughs aren't here to be bullied into submission through sanctions.

This also isn't political. We decided to end the cycle lane trial because it wasn't working. Residents have told us so, businesses have told us so.

On top of that, this period is vital for businesses and they have made it clear to us that this is not the time to be experimenting, when, frankly, our high streets are facing their toughest test in decades.

This isn't just about shops, deliveries, and access. It is about jobs and livelihoods.

This isn't the end, we are still listening, and we are still looking at ways to improve cycling provision, long term – but our focus is likely to shift to alternative schemes that have a positive impact for our residents.

We remain committed to school streets, expanding the schemes again in the coming months, and making the borough 20mph across the board – because these measures work, and they work for everyone.

I fully accept that we are in the middle and there are lots of different views, and whichever way we fall, people will be happy and unhappy. It isn't always simple, the same schools campaigning for the cycle lanes also wanted free parking in the borough to be extended, so teachers can drive to work, alongside other key workers. Something we have put in place for them, despite concerns from residents.

For some, I'm sure this message will probably fall on deaf ears, or be tossed into the twittersphere to be ridiculed or argued with.

But in every decision I take, my intention is to always try to strike the right balance.

Thank you. 

Read our full and final decision.