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WESTMINSTER PEOPLE: Peter Hartley, an activist taking to the streets

The campaigner got involved in Westminster Living Streets because 'there is no use sitting in an armchair and complaining'

13 June, 2017 — By Alina Polianskaya

Peter Hartley believes the answer to most of life’s problems is to ‘be more active’

PETER Hartley had a bit of an epiphany while talking to Tom Kearney, who was plunged into a coma after being hit by a double-decker bus in Oxford Street. Mr Kearney spent weeks in hospital but was soon up on his feet campaigning for better road safety.

“I went to see him to talk about what happened and I realised his sort of active campaigning was the best way to get anything changed,” Peter says. “There is no use sitting in an armchair and complaining, you have to get out and do something. He has done wonders for bus safety.”

Peter is now a key campaigner for Westminster Living Streets and has devoted much of his public life to promoting pedestrian and cycling rights in central London, improving air quality and making streets safer. He first became involved with the campaign group about five years ago, after “becoming concerned about people being killed and injured on the roads and also about increasing pollution”.

His priorities include reducing the amount of traffic coming into Westminster, getting 20mph speed limits introduced across the borough, and closing gates around Regent’s Park as part of the Cycle Superhighway 11 scheme.

“My father owned a garage, I was brought up around cars, I appreciate if you lives miles away you need one. But you just don’t need a car in central London,” he says, with the tube, buses and the impending arrival of Crossrail.

“I absolutely applaud the mayor’s initiative to pedestrianise Oxford Street. It’s the only answer,” he adds. “I understand local residents’ concerns, but when you live near a major shopping street in a busy city, you don’t live in an island. Displacement is never as bad as it is painted to be. Take any pedestrianised area in London, Carnaby, Leicester Square… they were all going to be horror stories when they were pedestrianised.

“The first month may be difficult, but after that it’s history. The millions of people that walk down Oxford Street every week are entitled to walk down safely and not breathe in pollution. Westminster has the potential for creating amazing vistas.”

Peter believes that an active lifestyle is the way forward and at 72 he leads by example, playing racket-ball, squash and golf. He swims regularly, and cycles nearly daily through Regent’s Park.

“You can pick up a newspaper and the answer to every medical issue is walk more, exercise more, be more active,” he says.

His connections to Westminster go way back, having lived in Soho for 10 years, before moving to St John’s Wood where he lives now. He once sold home entertainment products near Oxford Street and in the past has served as a councillor for both Maida Vale and Lancaster Gate wards. During his time he was privy to the inner workings of the council.

Recalling the reign of Shirley Porter, the ex-leader of the council accused of gerrymandering during the “homes for votes” scandal, he says: “The way the council was run, it was stuck in the past. It was practically the era of quill pens. That’s why we felt at the time that we needed someone who had the dynamism to get things changed. Unfortunately we realised too late that we had chosen a nasty bully.”

Nowadays Peter also does a lot of voluntary work, and was a Samaritan for over a decade.

In addition he was a chairman of a youth club (North Paddington Boys Club) Lanark Road and is a Friend of St Mary’s Hospital, where he was born. He now volunteers there on a weekly basis, working in the shop.

“I go there and sell chocolate and newspapers. I’m a firm believer in the NHS.”

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