A SURPRISE announcement by the Mayor of London that the controversial Kew Bridge bus lane is to be scrapped in three months’ time has been greeted with jubilation in Kew.

After many months of protest by Richmond upon Thames Council, MP Jenny Tonge, councillors, residents’ groups, and GLA member Tony Arbour, the Mayor Ken Livingstone revealed on Tuesday that the widely derided bus lane would be suspended in September when the experimental traffic order expires.

The introduction of the bus lane by Transport for London (TfL) in May 2002 led to a huge outcry, with residents claiming it was taking longer than ever for buses to get over the bridge and causing traffic grid lock, pollution and rat running.

The bus lane was installed for a trial period of six months, but TfL decided to increase this period until repairs to Chiswick Bridge were completed and the effects of other traffic measures evaluated.

In answer to a written question from Cllr Arbour, GLA member for Richmond and Richmond upon Thames Council leader, Mayor Livingstone said it had been decided to suspend the bus lane and monitor the impact its removal has on traffic.

Cllr Arbour said: "It is quite astonishing really as he has consistently said no to the removal of the bus lane. I shall do all I can to make this suspension permanent. I have been pressing Mayor Livingstone to scrap this scheme since June 2002 and it’s only now that Ken concedes Kew queues.

"At last Livingstone accepts that bus lanes can create more problems than they solve. I hope that this suspension is permanent. The problems it has caused have been immense. I have had a vast number of complaints about this scheme and none in its support.

"It would have been better all round if the Mayor had withdrawn the scheme when I first asked him to do this more than twelve months ago, when it had become obvious to residents that it was a disaster.

"However, I do welcome Livingstone’s change of heart, he does now accept that not all bus lanes are a good thing. I hope that in time he will realise that not all motorists are second class citizens and they too have a right to use the highways that they have paid for."

Delighted Richmond Park MP Dr Jenny Tonge said the news was ‘excellent’. She said: "This is very good news indeed. We have been campaigning for the bus lanes’ removal ever since it was put there.

"We are not against bus lanes, but this bus lane has been slowing down the buses and has created the most appalling rat running. The congestion is now so great that this corner of Kew is persecuted by rat running."

Leader of the Liberal Democrat group and Kew councillor Serge Lourie said: "Naturally we are delighted that this ludicrous bus lane is finally being removed."

He said councillors met officers from TfL last week asking for the suspension of the bus lane when the traffic order expires.

He said: "To our surprise, the senior officers of TfL said they would take the proposal away and recommend it to the Mayor and assembly members."

Christine Reay, chairman of the Kew Society said the suspension of the bus lane is "a victory for common sense and the community" and the Kew Society had warned of the problems the bus lane would cause before it was put in place.

She said: "Huge sums of ratepayers’ money have been wasted on this and we hope that TfL and the Mayor will in future listen to residents before beginning this sort of trial."

Jill Prior of Kew Road, who with her neighbour Jill Watson-Brown organised a petition of 2,500 signatures against the bus lane, said she was ‘delighted’ by the news.

She said: "It has been such a problem. Kew has been isolated. You couldn’t get in or out. We just couldn’t move. Kew Road was awful and Mortlake Road was absolutely terrible.

"I have a friend living in Mortlake Road whose children wouldn’t visit on weekends because of the gridlocked traffic. I’m only sorry we have to wait until September for it."

Jill Watson-Brown said: "We are very pleased and thankful to all the people who signed the petition and all the shopkeepers and local businesses who displayed the petition. They are the people who need thanking."