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Street clutter ‘making London worse place to live’

Think tank warns that e-bikes, A-boards and disused phone boxes are making pavements unpleasant places to walk, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

A-boards in London (credit Google)

London is lagging behind its global rivals when it comes to the issue of ‘street clutter’, a think tank has warned.

In a new report, the Centre for London says that streets in the heart of the capital are strewn with “poorly-placed or redundant objects”, including disused phone boxes, dumped e-bikes and advertising ‘A-boards’.

The paper’s authors argue that the problem is making London a worse place to live, travel, visit and work in.

As well as affecting footfall to London’s businesses, the city’s cluttered streets are also making the capital less accessible to people with mobility issues, the think tank says.

The Department for Transport recommends that pavements be a minimum of two metres wide to ensure accessibility for all, but the report found that many of central London’s footways are narrower in places.

Researchers assessed Goodge Street in W1, Charing Cross Road in WC2 and Belvedere Road in SE1.

They found in all three locations that A-boards – placed on pavements by businesses to draw customers in – were the most common form of street clutter. They also concluded that nearly half (47%) of all street clutter had a ‘moderate’ or ‘severe’ impact on the walkability of pavements for pedestrians.

Millie Mitchell, one of the report’s authors, said: “London is a fantastic global city, but it isn’t going far enough in ensuring everyone can enjoy walking in its city centre equally.”

She added that street clutter is “stopping people from walking to where they need to be, and the knock-on impacts are worrying for businesses, for London’s net-zero targets, and for disabled Londoners.”

The report was praised by Alexander Jan, non-executive chair at the Central District Alliance – a business improvement district encompassing Holborn, Clerkenwell, Farringdon, Bloomsbury, and St Giles.

He said: “At a time when New York and others are marching ahead with investment in street waste management systems and the wholesale removal of phone boxes, our government at all levels – as well as statutory regulators and utility providers – together need to up their game urgently to tackle long standing problems that damage too much of London’s public realm.”

On street advertising boards, known as A-boards, the report points to the example of Edinburgh, where the council introduced a city-wide ban of the objects in 2018. The only exception is during the annual fringe festival.

The think tank recommends that mayor Sadiq Khan introduce a similar ban across Greater London. It says: “There are already some local bans in place, for example in Hackney and the City of London. TfL have also banned them on their road network.

“But many of central London’s main streets run through borough boundaries […] Persuading businesses to accept and comply with a ban that only applies to one half of a street is difficult.

“If the ban were to be city-wide, then the playing field for businesses would be level, and all of London could benefit from reduced pavement clutter.”

On the subject of e-bike dumping – another issue raised by the report – London’s walking and cycling commissioner Will Norman said: “The mayor and I want as many Londoners as possible to choose more sustainable ways to get around the capital like walking and cycling, and everyone should be able to use the pavements without fear of tripping over a poorly parked e-bike.

“Dockless e-bike rental is currently unregulated and organised locally between individual e-bike operators and individual boroughs.

“We are working with the operators, London Councils and London boroughs to increase the quality, safety and sustainability of e-bikes – and improve parking facilities – but we really need the government to urgently devolve the powers to cities to regulate e-bikes and e-scooters themselves.”

The report also recommends that borough councils develop their own “decluttering strategies” and that the government should give councils “the power to remove redundant street furniture, such as redundant phone kiosks, with very limited grounds for appeal, subject to prior notice”.