Jack Dixon reports from Thursday night’s Mini Holland protest and the heated town hall meeting which followed it
The leader of Waltham Forest Council said there was “no turning back” on the controversial Mini Holland cycling scheme, despite a huge protest staged by campaigners.
Hundreds of people armed with placards and banners gathered in front of the town hall in Walthamstow on 22nd October calling for an end to the Mini Holland road closure programme.
But council leader Chris Robbins appeared to dismiss their objections during a debate on the subject later that evening.
He said he was “immensely proud” of the scheme’s progress and that the council was now “committed to changing the borough”.
The latest demonstration, organised by the E17 Streets 4 All campaign group, followed similar protests in September that overshadowed the grand opening of the scheme’s first completed phase in Walthamstow Village.
The project continues to court controversy, with construction work set to continue at several other sites this autumn.
A spokesman for E17 Streets 4 All said the group was not against cyclists but was determined to prevent further road closures.
“It has divided the community,” said one campaigner. “I have lived here for 30 years and it’s always been a friendly neighbourhood. It’s not anymore.
“We do not want to be seen as extreme. We are just fighting to save our village.”
Another opponent of the scheme said Orford Road, which is now closed to all traffic other than buses, had “lost its vibe”.
He added: “It’s fine to put tables and chairs out on a sunny day but you can’t run a business just on sunny days.
“People say they used to come here to eat but they don’t anymore – because it’s too difficult to get here.
“There are a few businesses under threat and some are talking about relocating.”
Several opponents of the scheme – including political representatives and business leaders – addressed a large crowd outside the town hall ahead of the key council debate on Thursday night.
Chants of “no more road closures” and “shame on you” were repeated by hundreds of protestors during the demonstration.
But defiant Labour councillors were determined to press ahead with the scheme.
Councillor Robbins said: “There is no turning back on this. For too long the car has dominated our lives. We are committed now to changing the borough.”
Sections of the road layout around the Village have been completely redesigned as part of the first phase of the £30million programme.
Waltham Forest Council is now consulting residents on further plans to reshape parts of Hoe Street, Wood Street and Blackhorse Village, with proposals for a cycle ‘superhighway’ along sections of Lea Bridge Road and a major redesign of the Whipps Cross roundabout also in the pipeline.
Critics say question marks remain over the confusing road layouts, vehicle access to pedestrianised areas and the impact on local businesses.
There have been incidences of ambulances and police cars getting lost, as well as concerns that carers are being delayed on their way to visit the elderly and disabled. The council says none of the emergency services has objected to the scheme at any stage.
Despite these issues and the large protests, supporters of the project claim public opinion is still on their side.
Paul Gasson, from the Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign, said the protests had actually encouraged more people to come forward and vocalise their support.
“This is a real flagship scheme and progress has been quite stunning,” he said.
“ The speed [of the programme rollout] has undeniably caused a lot of issues and there will always be people who disagree, but there is a strong core of people who passionately believe this is an important step forward.”
E17 Streets 4 All is seeking to take further legal action against the council over its traffic orders.