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ICO to probe Greenwich Council over misleading emergency services claims

London Fire Brigade fire engine

The Royal Borough of Greenwich is to be investigated by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) amid allegations senior staff misled residents and businesses over its engagement with emergency services concerning its new low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) proposals.

Despite confirming it 'continued to engage with emergency services’ over designs for the West and East Greenwich neighbourhood management project in an email to a resident dated 9 October 2023, it is now thought the council failed to inform London Ambulance, London Fire Brigade or Metropolitan Police services of proposed plans until after the response to the resident had been made.

FOI to Greenwich Council

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted to the council on 28 August (above) asked for information on its communication with emergency services, including copies of all correspondence and information on meetings held.

Responding to the request on 6 October, the council's confusing reply, below, stated: 'We continue to engage with Emergency Services (London Fire Brigade, London Ambulance and Metropolitan Police) in relation to the West and East Greenwich Neighbourhood Management Project. At present we do not hold this data.’

FOI response from Greenwich Council

Following a request for an internal review into the response received, assistant director of transport, Ryan Nibbs, stated there were 'no issues apparent' in the council's initial response, while there was 'nothing to suggest the original response was not appropriate,’ despite admitting it held no evidence of liaising with emergency services.

The council's claims it had engaged with emergency services prior to 6 October have since been questioned, after it emerged the first interaction made by the council to emergency services was not until 16 October (below), 10 days after confirming they had continued 'to engage,' as revealed in a further FOI made to emergency services.

Council correspondence with emergency services

Multiple claims concerning the council's interaction with emergency services were also made weeks before by council officers according to members of the public in attendance during drop-in sessions open to residents and businesses at the Greenwich Centre on 19 September, West Greenwich Library on 26 September and during an overspill, ticketed event held at Woolwich Town Hall on 5 October.

Additional claims were also made by senior officers during an online meeting on 25 September, chaired by Nibbs and his colleague, transport strategy manager Ryan Bunce, after deputy leader Averil Lekau disappeared from the meeting unannounced just minutes after opening it, leaving Nibbs and Bunce scrambling for answers to questions raised.

Lekau, pictured below, who also serves the borough as cabinet member for climate change, environment and transport, is thought to be the main decision maker when it comes to choosing whether to implement any parts of the traffic management scheme or not.

Averil Lekau

A request for an investigation into the council's questionable claims has now been submitted to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 states people requesting information should be informed if it is held by a local authority at the time the request is made.

Correspondence seen suggests the council could not have adhered to the request made because it had failed to engage with emergency services at that time.

The ICO have been known to prosecute individual council officers in the past for providing false information by way of FOI responses.

The council’s latest scheme looks set to repeat the same mistakes made during 2020 after they rolled out LTNs across West Greenwich.

Despite the previous scheme being disbanded, in part, due to the disbenefits it presented to emergency services, as well as increasing traffic on boundary roads by up to 27 per cent, its latest iteration looks set to present even more of a negative impact due to its expansion across both sides of Greenwich Park, making all steep hills apart from one impassable. According to the council's own traffic data, Blackheath Hill—which will remain open—is already used by over 32,000 vehicles per day. It is comprised of over 58 per cent social housing properties, with around 60 per cent of residents identifying as non-white, according to the latest Census data. Meanwhile, up to 90 per cent of residents living on more affluent roads the council proposes to close to through traffic are white. Social housing in the immediate area is almost non-existent.

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