Cars will be banned as emergency services prepare for busiest shift

Click to follow
The Independent Online

With only 17 days to go before the end of the millennium, transport and emergency services are gearing up to deal with the four million people expected in central London for the capital's biggest party since VE Day.

With only 17 days to go before the end of the millennium, transport and emergency services are gearing up to deal with the four million people expected in central London for the capital's biggest party since VE Day.

A car exclusion zone will be thrown around the city centre from 9am on 31 December until 7am the next day. It will ensure the crowds can wander on foot, in safety, between the multitude of events.

Only motorists with proof of residence or a letter from their employer stating they need to be in the area will be able to get in. Others will have to use buses, taxis and trains running to a special millennium timetable to travel around the city.

Traffic will also be excluded from Greenwich in south-east London - the site of the Millennium Dome - after 3pm. The Greenwich foot tunnel under the Thames will close from 5pm until the following day. Police advise those wishing to visit the area from north of the river to use the Docklands Light Railway. To enter the Greenwich town centre revellers will need a special wrist band, which will be available from the local tourist information centre from Saturday.

At 8pm on 31 December the Blackwall tunnel, linking north-east and south-east London, will close for south-bound traffic for up to eight hours.

The emergency services are expecting their busiest night on new year's eve as 5,000 police patrol an area usually covered by 450 officers.

The ambulance service expects the number of calls it receives to increase by 30 per cent. London's Ambulance Service (LAS) will this week introduce a new system of "priority despatch" to ensure the 231 ambulances in operation on the night will be able to cope with demand. On a normal Friday only 165 ambulance crews are working.

An LAS spokesman said yesterday that the millennium events had "concentrated minds" on a Department of Heath report published in July this year recommending the introduction of the system. Operators will ask a series of questions to divide cases into seven different categories, ranging from "red one" - life threatening conditions - to "green two" - people who are given advice on how to deal with their condition themselves.

All police leave has been cancelled. A spokesman said yesterday it was not just previous mass celebrations that had helped prepare officers for what to expect when as many as four million people arrive in the city centre to celebrate the coming of the new century. He said: "The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales was the last event when millions of people descended on London and we learned some valuable lessons from that."

Police will also be monitoring the streets using techniques practised during the annual Notting Hill Carnival.

Most of the people expected in London for the celebrations are likely to live locally, as hotels have not reported any significant increases in bookings for the night.

Throughout central London special clearways have been designated to ensure all the emergency services are able to move freely around the capital. Any cars parked on these will be towed away.

Comments