Praise for ‘Mini Holland’ as car use falls

High-profile cycling scheme continues to divide opinion – report by James Cracknell and Joshua Cheetham

Walthamstow Family Bike Club

Walthamstow Family Bike Club, recently named as hosting the best ‘family friendly’ cycle ride in London, uses newly pedestrianised streets in Walthamstow Village introduced as part of the Mini Holland programme

A £30million cycling programme in Waltham Forest is being hailed a “massive success” one year after hundreds of people protested against it.

Waltham Forest Council released traffic data showing that the first stage of the ‘Mini Holland’ infrastructure project has helped reduce traffic levels by 56 percent on key routes in Walthamstow Village, and by 16 percent overall. Data showed there were 10,000 fewer vehicles a day in and around the Village on average, with the biggest declines offset by small rises of three percent in Hoe Street and 11 percent in Lea Bridge Road as cars are forced to use main roads instead.

Walthamstow Village was chosen as a Mini Holland ‘pilot’ in Waltham Forest and the scheme, which included pedestrianising a section of Orford Road and blocking other routes to cars, was launched by the council in September 2015.

Paul Gasson, from Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign, told the Echo he thought the data was proof Mini Holland is succeeding in reducing car use and encouraging people to cycle. “When you increase road capacity, more people drive, so conversely it is not a surprise to see car use go down because of Mini Holland. No-one wants to be stuck in queues of traffic – so people find alternatives instead.

“There is a massive benefit to this, the areas that have these cycling projects enjoy a number of positive impacts as people discover alternative modes of transport that are better for our health and the environment.

“Hopefully Waltham Forest will now act as a beacon for other areas to follow.”

Several other Mini Holland schemes have begun construction since the first was launched in Walthamstow Village. They include large-scale road projects such as a new cycle-friendly junction at Whipps Cross, a cycle ‘superhighway’ the length of Lea Bridge Road, a number of ‘Copenhagen crossings’ that give priority to pedestrians walking along major roads; as well as a series of smaller schemes in residential areas of Walthamstow, Chingford, and Leyton.

However, the Walthamstow Village scheme is the one that has perhaps attracted most controversy, as well as acclaim. A protest outside Waltham Forest Town Hall in October 2015 shortly after it was launched was attended by several hundred protesters, many concerned about the impact they feared it would have on local businesses.

Second-hand furniture salesman Mark Finamore has been a prominent critic since the outset and still maintains that his business, in Orford Road, is adversely affected because large deliveries cannot be made. “It’s stopping me working,” he told the Echo. “Some things that are very big, I’m thinking, ‘well, I can’t do that because it’s too difficult to get in and out’. There are some things you can’t put in a trolley because vibrations damage them.”

The council has come in for particular criticism over the way it conducted its public consultation on Mini Holland in Walthamstow Village, with Mark even suggesting it was “fraudulent”. He said: “I’d have probably been on their [the council’s] side if they’d approached me in a different manner from the beginning.”

Despite controversy and complaints, the council has not bowed to public pressure and continues to spend the £27m it was awarded by Transport for London in 2014 to implement Mini Holland. Among the honours bestowed on the council for various aspects of its cycling programme include the 2015 London Cycling Award. Walthamstow Village is now also shortlisted for an award from the Civic Trust, a national body which recognises outstanding achievements in architecture, planning and design.

Councillor Clyde Loakes, cabinet member for environment, said: “I am extremely proud that we have been shortlisted for this award, which is testament to the huge amount of work that we put into delivering a scheme that would have real long lasting benefits for the local community.

“We set out to make Walthamstow Village safer, more attractive and accessible for everyone, and I think we have achieved that.”

Walthamstow Family Bike Club, which has run monthly family rides in the borough since 2004 and has now taken advantage of Mini Holland to run events for less confident cyclists, was recently named by London Cycling Campaign as hosting the best ‘family-friendly ride’ in the capital.