Basil Clarke welcomes the fact that two recent public meetings have raised the profile of complaints about car "meets", "boy racers" and speeding on the A10 and elsewhere. They have already led to some action being taken, but do the police and council have the resources and powers (and determination) required to resolve this longstanding issue?
The first of two public meetings about nuisance caused by car meets, racing on the public highway and illegally modified cars was held in Bush Hill Park on 3rd October. It was set up at the initiative of Joy Cowley-Smith, the main administrator of the Enfield Matters website, and chaired by Enfield North MP Feryal Clark.
A second meeting was held in Grange Park on 9th October, chaired by Councillor James Hockney, who was interviewed on BBC Radio London earlier on the same day. Cllr Hockney recently collected 2000 signatures for an online petition calling for average speed cameras to be extended to cover the whole of the A10 in Enfield. The BBC also ran a story on their website.
Senior officers from the Metropolitan Police were at both meetings, and the Bush Hill Park meeting was also attended by two members of Enfield's cabinet and several other councillors.
Two people at the first meeting have published reports: one a reporter for an online newspaper published for members of the Nigerian diaspora, the other by a member of the group Safer Streets for Winchmore Hill, which was set up earlier this year after a little boy was knocked over and killed at the bottom of Compton Road. The second meeting has been covered by Enfield Dispatch and by Better Streets for Enfield. See the Links section at the end of this item.
I attended the first meeting and was pretty horrified by what I heard - those of us who live in the south west of the borough get away relatively lightly. Resident after resident, from different parts of Enfield, described the misery which has been inflicted on them for decades - the complaints go back at least 17 years. People who can no longer sit in their garden because of the noise and smoke from exhausts, skidding and wheelspins. Children who have to wear earplugs or have white noise playing in their bedroom to get to sleep. Residents of Enfield Lock terrorised by racing along Mollison Avenue.
We heard that Enfield is gaining a reputation as a borough plagued by traffic noise, prompting residents to move away and deterring people from moving here. One attendee had gone along to see for himself what was happening at a car meet in the former B&Q car park. He came across 500 cars, with their drivers performing dangerous stunts in close proximity to a crowd of several hundred onlookers. There was zero police presence because of a fatal stabbing in Edmonton the same night.
The two senior police officers at the first meeting could only point out how woefully under resourced the Met is. I asked whether there was any intelligence effort to find out about upcoming meets and collect information about drivers, illegally modified cars and where the modifications are being carried out. The answer: we don't have the resource to do this.
Earlier this year Parliament passed legislation which essentially allows the police to intervene and make arrests to stop any demonstrations and protests that they think might disturb or inconvenience people (and the home secretary subsequently toughened this up by - possibly illegally - adding in some wording that Parliament had rejected). The police have been using this law to take action ahead of events to forestall protests that they consider might breach this law, and they have clearly been using intelligence to help do so. A recent example was when the police stopped a coach conveying people planning to mount a political protest at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
Would that protest, if it had gone ahead, have endangered anyone or caused serious nuisance? I don't know for sure, but I doubt it. What I do know, from the meeting I attended, is that week in and week out car meets and boy racers in Enfield are clearly endangering lives and subjecting people to stress and misery that will have a serious effect on their physical and mental health, but there is scarcely any police resource to deal with this.
I was somewhat annoyed that, no doubt in the interests of "balance", the BBC interviewed an organiser of car "meets" in Enfield. While, if what he said was true, these particular meets are much better behaved, the message that comes across is that driving cars for the sake of it is a legitimate form of entertainment, toys for grown-ups (or almost grown-ups). They are not. They are a means of moving people between places, but when driven with anything less than maximum care, they become potential killing machines, and unnecessary driving is fueling the climate emergency.
Generally speaking, the law, the courts, the police and regulators in this country are set up with a view to protecting people from activities that might kill or injure them. The one glaring exception seems to be anything to do with motor cars. Even though we know how to prevent it, every day an average of five people are killed on our roads and hundreds more seriously injured. Several of the country's most influential newspapers protest loudly about the "nanny state" or the "war on motorists" any time measures are considered that might reduce this daily slaughter, and, shamefully, our current prime minister has recently joined in what basically amounts to a "boys will be boys" attitude to traffic offences. I have no doubt that this widespread complacency about dangerous driving is part of the explanation why the police don't invest sufficiently (or perhaps not at all) in intelligence that could prevent illegal car meets and clamp down on illegal modication of cars, when most of the information they would need is out there on social media.
To end with some good news, last weekend the police did in fact intervene and close down a big car meet in Enfield, making an unusually high number of arrests and seizures of vehicles. Perhaps 17 plus years ot complaints are finally being listened to? If so, congratulations to the people behind the two public meetings. But we'll have to wait and see whether this is the start of a concerted campaign or just another one-off.
Dangers of Illegal Car Racing: Enfield Residents Speak Up (Standard-Gazette 4 October 2023)
Stop the A10 speeding and car meets in Enfield - report by Bruce Tofield, Safer Streets for Winchmore Hill (Better Streets for Enfield 9 October 2023)
BBC London Shay Kaur Grewal show 9 October 2023 (Feature begins 2 hours 18 minutes into the recording)
Brief report on 9th October public meeting (Better Streets for Enfield 9 October 2023 - follows on from Bruce Tofield report referenced above)
Council steps in to tackle illegal 'car-meets' (Enfield Council 9 October 2023)
Enfield car meets face wider ban due to racing drivers (BBC News 10 October 3012)
Action promised to tackle noisy car meets as barriers arrive at A10 retail park (Enfield Dispatch 10 October 2023)
Update by Cllr James Hockney: Public meeting - and good news (Change.org 10 October 2023)
Inside the secretive world of London street racing (BBC News 2 January 2019)
Late night drag-racing disturb Enfield residents (BBC News 7 October 2014)