A look at how Waltham Forest has changed since the launch of the Mini Holland cycling scheme
Whether you cycle, drive, or only use public transport, if you live in Waltham Forest chances are you’ll have noticed big changes to the borough’s roads over the past three years.
The term ‘Mini Holland’ was coined by former London mayor Boris Johnson in April 2013 when he challenged councils to create new cycling visions and bid to win a slice of a £100million funding pot to help make those visions reality. He said at the time: “This will go beyond anything seen in the UK before.”
Waltham Forest was one of eight outer-London boroughs to submit bids, and in March 2014 it was announced as one of three winners, alongside Enfield and Kingston. Each was awarded around £30m, with smaller amounts given to losing boroughs.
Councillor Clyde Loakes, the council’s portfolio lead for environment, has been the chief proponent of Mini Holland in Waltham Forest, and promised to “deliver an ambitious programme of improvements that will remove the barriers to cycling within the borough” and “enable us to become one of the UK’s very best places to ride a bike”.
While major new infrastructure such as cycle ‘superhighways’ and revamped junctions would be in Walthamstow, smaller improvements in other areas and borough-wide efforts to promote cycling would create a “cycle culture” across Waltham Forest.
Mini Holland was officially launched in September 2015, after an initial trial scheme in Walthamstow Village which included part-pedestrianising its main shopping street, Orford Road.
But while cycling and environmental groups welcomed the news, there was opposition from the outset, with business owners fearing a loss of custom, and car owners resistant to ditching their vehicles. A series of new ‘modal filters’ in Waltham Forest, which turned many residential roads into dead-ends for motorists, forced cars to use main roads instead.
Traffic data has so far shown that in areas where Mini Holland has been introduced, while overall car use has fallen by 16 percent, main roads such as Hoe Street and Lea Bridge Road are now busier. A protest against Mini Holland shortly after its launch was attended by several hundred protesters, with thousands also signing petitions to the council.
Last year a Freedom of Information request asked whether emergency response times had risen, but a London Fire Brigade official concluded: “It is my view that data does not show an increase in response times and that road closures in Waltham Forest have not had a significant impact on our services.”
Another chief complaint when Mini Holland launched was the initial consultation process for the scheme in Walthamstow Village, something which the council does now admit was inadequate. Leader Clare Coghill, who took over running the council from Chris Robbins in May this year, said in a recent interview with On London: “I don’t think anybody in the town hall would suggest that the consultation process around Mini Holland couldn’t have been better. That was one of the things that wound people up. We’ve definitely learned from that and in future we will be much, much better at how we engage with people and seek their opinions.”
Regardless, Walthamstow Village is now cited by other local authorities as an example to follow, and Mini Holland has helped the council win prizes such as the London Cycling Award in 2015 and Transport Borough of the Year in 2017. Anecdotally traders in Orford Road gave the Echo mixed responses on how their trade had changed since the street was part-pedestrianised, but Dale Egan from Lotolie’s hairdressers said: “The best thing was when people started socialising in the road. It has been made safer.”
Mini Holland includes transforming not just Walthamstow Village but also ‘Markhouse Village’ and ‘Blackhorse Village’ – the word ‘village’ appended by the council to these areas despite them in no way being villages – while also introducing smaller improvements to Chingford, Highams Park, Leyton, and Leytonstone.
As well as installing modal filters, dozens of ‘Copenhagen’ crossings that give priority to pedestrians at junctions have been created, while a series of ‘bike hubs’ have been built outside railway stations to encourage commuters to cycle.
The single biggest and most expensive piece of infrastructure installed with the Mini Holland money, however, is the cycle ‘superhighway’ now being constructed along Lea Bridge Road. The location was chosen after data showed it was the route most used by cyclists in the borough. Whipps Cross roundabout, at the eastern end of Lea Bridge Road, is also in the process of being transformed into a cycle-friendly junction.
Segregated routes have already been built along parts of Blackhorse Lane, Blackhorse Road, Hoe Street, Markhouse Road, and Selbourne Road, as part of a series of core cycling routes.
An overall objective of Mini Holland is, of course, to increase the number of cyclists in the borough, and specifically boost cycling as a proportion of road users compared to other transport modes from around two percent before the scheme launched to ten percent by 2020. The council was unable to supply recent cycling figures for this article but said a new travel survey had been commissioned.
Encouraging bike use is expected in the long-term to boost public health through exercise and improve the environment by reducing air pollution. A more immediate impact is road safety, and early figures suggest a positive effect. But with slightly more than half of its £30m so far spent, there is much work still to come before the council’s Mini Holland vision can be said to be fully realised.