Monday, 24 February 2020

Environment Monday - Barnet Council Draft transport strategy - No vision at all for 2040

Barnet Council have released their draft transport strategy that will drive the Borough to 2040 (forgive the pun).

Lets start with the positives. The fact that there is any attempt to frame a long term transport strategy is a significant move forward for Barnet, which previously preferred to simply bury their corporate heads in the sand. The report effectively suns up the main problem

"Barnet has high car use for an outer London borough, particularly in the north of the borough. Barnet has the second highest car ownership levels per household in London: almost double the level of neighbouring Haringey. These cars are overwhelmingly petrol or diesel: despite the number of electric cars doubling in the past two years, in late 2018 only 1% of all cars registered in the borough were electric. Almost a third of Barnet households do not have access to a car Journey distances in Barnet do not mean that travel by car is an inevitable choice: two thirds of car journeys in the borough are under 5km and a quarter of car trips begin and end in the borough.
Furthermore, all seven main Barnet town centres have a PTAL rating above 4, meaning they are easily accessible by public transport. Although radial journeys are much easier than orbital travel. TfL also estimate that there are almost half a million journeys per day in Barnet that could be converted from motorised transport to walking and cycling, after excluding journeys that are too long, part of a chain (such as from home to the shops to school) or involving carrying heavy shopping or equipment. The key barriers to walking and cycling are environments dominated by fast flowing traffic, lack of cycling infrastructure and fears over safety."
This identifies correctly that car usage is high and lack of decent cycling and walking infrastructure is a problem.

Air quality.

The report identifies appalling air quality issues. For a Borough with so much green belt, this is especially disturbing

"Within Barnet, emissions from traffic have the most severe and pervasive impact on air quality justifying making the whole Borough an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA). Air quality in some areas of Barnet breaches legal limits, particularly at major junctions in the Borough where there is a higher traffic flow and a high number of stationary vehicles. Pollution levels are higher along arterial routes, particularly the North Circular, M1, A1 and A5; PM2.5 concentrations are shown in Figure 2.4. Modelled data relating to 2016 (released by TfL in July 2019) shows that twelve schools in Barnet breached legal air quality limits.[1]"

[1] 2016 London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (2019) supplied by the GLA
The plan details planned improvements, such as the new Thameslink Station at Brent Cross West, the proposed West London Orbital railway (from Hendon, Cricklewood and West Hampstead to the HS 2 interchange at Old Oak Common), Crossrail 2 to New Southgate and a few smaller schemes, such as step free access for Burnt Oak. There are objectives for changing the type of fuel used by cars, sadly this is where we start to see that the report has been written by people who don't really understand their brief. I was amazed to see that the second objective for changing fuel type is as follows.

·       Objective 2. Changing fuel type on its own will have little impact on congestion or available routes.

This is clearly not an objective. The fact that this is included demonstrates that the document has not been written or peer reviewed by experts before being released. In fact of the five objectives, only the first is a genuinbe objective for change.  I simply cannot understand how such unprofessional mistakes were made.


The Strategy states


Walking should be the natural mode for short journeys in Barnet, enabled by an attractive public realm, increased safety and air quality improvements, as well as clear and legible signage and wayfinding and well maintained footways.

This is of course sensible. The report identifies three key areas for improvement

Strategy in Barnet

Walking in Barnet will focus on three types of trips: trips to school; shopping and leisure trips to town centres; and trips to transport hubs.
Trips to school will be targeted because air quality issues are particularly acute around some of Barnet’s schools and there is potential to embed sustainable travel patterns in residents at a young age.
Shopping and leisure trips are also a key focus: over half of all potentially walkable trips are for shopping and leisure purposes. Hence, proposals should focus on improving the pedestrian environment of Barnet’s town centres.
Commuting patterns in Barnet do not offer much whole journey potential for walking; however, the stage from home to station does. 62% of Barnet residents live within 1200m (approximate 15-minute walk at average speed) of an Underground station. Areas around Barnet’s transport hubs will therefore be targeted with measures designed to increase walking.

These are all sensible, however there is a seeming blindness to many of the root causes of problems. Making proximity to schools a primary selection criteria, would make a huge difference. This is not addressed at all in the strategy. Having local schools for local pupils is clearly the best way to get them to walk to school. Sadly the parental obsession with school league tables is what fuels the drop off with a car culture. 

On the subject of signage, there is a bizarre (to my mind comment) bearing in mind that this is a strategy for 2040. It states

·       The Council will continue to work with TfL to increase the number of Legible London signs in the borough and support their introduction in Cricklewood.

Why on earth is Cricklewood the only area of the Borough to be targetted for legible street signage for 2040? Surely by 2040, every area of the Borough should be targetted? This is clearly a tactical fix for a present problem, presumably included to demonstrate a particular councillor in a marginal ward is actually doing some work?

I had to laugh at the next comment

Alternatives / Consequences of inaction

·       An illegible environment might deter people from walking and cycling, but also from using public transport.

If I was making a spoof document to take the mickey out of the council, I could not have done a better job. This adds to the impression that this is a badly researched and put together report.

Another demonstration that this is not a strategy document is the following statement

Improving footways can make walking more pleasurable and reduce fears of tripping / falling. The Council has been investing in the borough’s highways and footways for the past four years and since 2014 has invested in excess of £40 million to improve our roads. Whilst the works take place action is also taken to tidy up associated infrastructure and generally reduce street clutter[1].

[1] Barnet Council (January 2019) Environment Committee Report: Highways Planned Maintenance

Again such comments as this have no place in a strategy document aimed at making the Borough fit for purpose by 2040. Anyone familiar with the Borough's pavements will have noticed a marked decline over the past 15 years. I can only presume that the above note was put into try and mislead us that there have been improvements. Having lived locally since 1962, I know how good the pavements used to be. 


I will not be covering the cycling aspects here in detail. The Barnet Cycling Campaign are preparinga response. I will just point out that the follling statements demonstrates much that is wrong with the report

·       Cycle routes could be provided between areas which have the potential to attract cyclists. They would need to be direct. The following routes are among the highest priority connections according to TfL analysis:
·        North Finchley to Totteridge and Whetstone;
·        North Finchley to High Road and Ballard’s Lane;
·        Finchley to Hornsey, which The Council are already working on;
·        North Finchley to Highgate; and
·        Hendon to Brent Cross.

It seems that the council is rather keen on cycling around North Finchley? My view is that safe cycling routes to tube and rail stations and on East-West routes with poor public transport provision. I have long been an advocate of Boris bikes at Mill Hill Broadway and Colindale station for acceess to RAF museum, council offices, Saracens etc.

Barnet Topography
There is also a rather misleading statement regarding the topography of the Borough. Whilst it is true that the eastern side of the Borough is quite hilly (see map), west of the A1 this is not the case

·       Given Barnet’s topography and demographics, electric bicycles are likely to be more effective than standard bicycles. Over one in five Londoners quotes being too old or unfit as a barrier to cycling; electric bicycles offer similar advantages to conventional bikes when compared with a car – improved air quality, reduced road congestion and improved road safety – but require less physical effort.
This demonstrates a lack of homework on the part of those putting this report together. It is odd that the suggested improvements are inthe hillier part of Barnet, rather than Edgware/Burnt Oak/Colindale

Public Transport

It seems that Barnet Council believe that faster buses is the answer to the issue of East West public transport.
Orbital journeys in Barnet by public transport are currently very difficult: although bus routes exist, they are often caught in congestion, reducing reliability and increasing journey times.
An efficient orbital service would not only join key destinations such as Hendon, Brent Cross, Finchley, New Southgate and Arnos Grove, but also provide resilience for radial routes such as Thameslink, Northern Line, Piccadilly Line, Jubilee Line and, in the future, Crossrail 2 and the West London Orbital by joining them together. This would involve close collaboration with neighbouring boroughs of Enfield and Brent.

Barnet Fast Busroute map

The map included is quite bizarre.

The maps seemingly has two routes, the more northerly one of which avoid the Thameslink stations completely. It also seems to terminate somewhere between Burnt Oak and Edgware on the Northern Line. It also seems to avoid the Barnet Branch of the Northern Line.

The implication is that it will be a guided busway, as this is cheaper than a tram system or a tube/rail option.  As ever penny pinching seems to be the way in Barnet. Given that there is an existing rail trackbed between Mill Hill East and Saracens Stadium, as well as between Edgware and Mill Hill, which would require minimal work to adapt to a Croydon Tramlink based system, it seems that a major opportunity is being completely ignored. The document should be seriouslye exploring this and aiming to identify fundings sources. The logical network would be from Crossrail 2 in New Southgate to Edgware, or even beyond to Stanmore.

Another missed opportunity is a station on the West London Orbital Station at the RAF museum in Hendon, as a turn around point. This is a national museum and a station would relieve pressure on the Northern Line, with the huge Colindale developments.

On Demand Bus/Cab services.

We already have cab services around the Borough. What the Mayor/Barnet should do is insist that all cars and minicabs operating in Barnet use renewable/clean fuels.

Road Safety.

This is appalling at present. The report states

Improving road safety is critical in Barnet: approximately 100 people are killed or seriously injured on Barnet’s roads every year, almost two every week.

The report concludes

·       Speed limited by road design. To be effective, engineering features should be introduced which limit speed on non-arterial routes, following advice in TfL’s Achieving Lower Speeds Toolkit.
·       Enforcement. To deter speeding, drivers breaking limits should be penalised.

This is interesting. Barnets Conservatives spent millions ripping out speed reducing infrastructure, such as road humps between 2002 and 2012. It seems they've realised that they have made a terrible mistake. As to enforcement, I rather hope speeding drivers are already penalised.

Freight and Logistics.
 I am at a loss to comment on this section. I can only speculate as to who wrote it. Firstly the aspiration

Freight will flow efficiently through the borough, enabling the goods and services that the borough and city require to reach their destinations. Negative impacts such as air pollution and collisions will be reduced through journey efficiencies in densely populated areas, fuel changes and road safety improvements, while congestion could be reduced through consolidation.

Clearly, there is zero understanding of what freight transport really is. Much freight on the roads in Barnet ends its journey in Barnet. Brent Cross shopping centre, for instance, is a huge destination for lorries containing goods. Post office sorting offices, major building sites (of which there are many in Barnet and many more planned) are huge originators of freight traffic. Barnet passed plans for a huge rail aggregates terminal in Cricklewood, which is now in operation, is also a major originator of road freight.

Local residents in Mill Hill know that the builders of the NIMR development on the Ridgeway have taken no notice at all of designated routes. The council has taken no enforcement action at all against these breaches that we are aware of. This should be easy to police. Cameras on site and around, which can be monitored for breaches, with punitive fines for those contractors who do not follow the plan. The fact that this is not acknowledged shows that there is simply no understanding at all of what Barnet can do.

A major step would be to ban lorries from our streets in rush hour. 

Perhaps the most alarming section in the report on freight is the following statement.
Similarly, even if Network Rail electrified all rail routes in Barnet, freight trains would still need to run on diesel unless the entire national network was electrified. As a result, a key part of The Council’s freight policy will require coordination with neighbouring boroughs and national government to ensure fair and enforceable restrictions across the network
This shows just how little the council understands the issue. Firstly all of the main line railways in Barnet that form part of the Network railways are electrified. The only sections that are not is the Freight only line from Hendon to the Cricklwood aggregates hub and Dudding Hill Line. The Dudding Hill Line would offer major opportunities for through freight services operated by electric trains if electrified and re-signalled as part of the West London Orbital railway scheme, sadly this does not warrent a mention. I am not qualified to say whether the aggregates terminal could be safely electrified. Historically the solution was to have pilot engines for such depots. These can also operate as Thunderbird engines to rescue stranded electric trains when they bring wires down etc. It would seem to me that there is an excellent opportunity at Cricklewood to station one such engine.


 This document is quite woeful. It is badly researched, lacking in vision and does not in any way, shape or form address the issues that the huge developments in Barnet raise. We will be returning to the themes raised in coming weeks.

If you wish to comment, you are advised to use the Survey sheet -

I suggest that Barnet Residents do not use this. The questions are laid out in a way that completely prevents a proper response. I suggest that all residents write to the email address suggested - and state that you wish to comment by email on the subject and submit your comments in the format of your choice. Barnet have form for makingsuch surveys vehicles for getting the response they want.  

I have embedded the document below, if you wish to comment. If you care about our local environment, please read this and send your comments.

This response is very much a first read, but it is vital that you also read it and supply your responses.

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