Has London’s outer borough cycling scheme worked? Mini Holland, four years on

A bike rack in Blackhorse Village, Waltham Forest. Image: James Cracknell.

Four years ago former London mayor Boris Johnson unveiled the three winners of a £100m pot of cash to boost cycling in the outer boroughs. Waltham Forest, Enfield and Kingston councils won the ‘Mini Holland’ competition, taking home £30m each, with five losing bids picking the scraps of the remaining £10m between them.

The idea, said Johnson at the time, was “a complete transport makeover” of the successful boroughs. Ambitiously – and optimistically – he claimed they would “become every bit as cycle-friendly as their Dutch equivalent”.

But what’s happened since March 2014? Have these areas really been transformed into quaint British replicas of Amsterdam? Or have they squandered their cash on expensive vanity projects in homage to the mayor who gave it to them?

Mini Holland remains a work in progress in all three boroughs, with the programme not due to finish until March 2021. But while residents of Waltham Forest, Enfield and Kingston and have generally spent the last four years responding to consultations and coping with roadworks, in some places the benefits have begun to be felt.

Walthamstow Village. Image: author provided.

Waltham Forest is leading the way. It was the first to launch its Mini Holland cycling programme, ambiguously named Enjoy Waltham Forest, in September 2015, and has so far spent two-thirds of its £30m budget. By comparison, Enfield and Kingston have only spent half of theirs.

But the rush to get started came at a cost; council leader Clare Coghill apologised after admitting a consultation on the first completed scheme, a part-pedestrianisation of Walthamstow Village’s main shopping street, was “flawed”. Yet, this same scheme has also won praise, and helped Waltham Forest win ‘Transport Borough of the Year’ at last year’s London Transport Awards.

The opposition to Mini Holland, ostensibly from car owners, has been fiercest in Waltham Forest, too. There were protests outside the town hall and a 6,000-signature petition. Complaints centred on the installation of 30 modal filters – dubbed ‘road closures’ by opponents – that have caused problems for delivery drivers and anyone using a sat-nav. This was addressed last year with the launch of a cargo-bike delivery service, ZED Waltham Forest, funded through a £400,000 grant from the London Air Quality Fund. Claims the modal filters increased emergency response times were denied by London Fire Brigade.

Lea Bridge Road. Image: author provided.

Going beyond the Netherlands for infrastructural inspiration, Waltham Forest has also installed dozens of blended ‘Copenhagen’ crossings. These give priority to pedestrians crossing side streets on main roads. It has also taken on several big projects, including the centrepiece of its Mini Holland programme, a 4km segregated east-west cycle lane along Lea Bridge Road.

The challenge in Enfield – a sprawling borough that has one of London’s lowest cycling participation rates – is greater. The council aims to boost the popularity of cycling fourfold with its Mini Holland programme, simply dubbed Cycle Enfield. It’s currently outdoing Waltham Forest and Kingston for the installation of segregated cycle lanes, with 10km completed and another 20km planned.

Enfield’s biggest achievement so far has been the cycle lanes built along Green Lanes in Palmers Green and Winchmore Hill, two distinct town centres. Concerned that lost parking spaces would harm trade, many local businesses campaigned against the schemes, forming the group “Save Our Green Lanes”. The campaign was backed by local MP David Burrowes – but he subsequently lost his Enfield Southgate seat to Mini Holland supporter Bambos Charalambous in the 2017 General Election. The cycle lanes opened a few months later.

A cycle lane in enfield. Image: author provided.

Other schemes proposed for Enfield include more segregated cycle lanes along the A1010 through Edmonton and Ponders End, which will eventually join to become a continuous 8km route. A major revamp of Enfield’s congested town centre is also planned.

Kingston’s Mini Holland programme, Go Cycle, was only officially launched last spring. It includes ten linked routes across the borough, connecting existing disjointed cycling infrastructure to create a borough-wide network.

One major scheme is complete, with a two-way segregated track installed along a 1.5km section of Portsmouth Road, adjacent to the River Thames. A £4.3m revamp of Kingston Station, featuring an attractive new public forecourt with improved access and crossings, was a winner in the ‘wellbeing’ category of last year’s New London Architecture Awards.


Mayor of London Sadiq Khan now wants the Mini Holland programme to form part of his ‘healthy streets’ vision, promoting a general shift towards walking and cycling along with improved green spaces and reduced air pollution. The three boroughs are embracing the initiative with a series of smaller projects such as training workshops, organised rides, and new cycle hubs, complementing major investments in infrastructure.

But with only a quarter of London’s boroughs benefiting from the £100m being spent on the Mini Holland programme – £40m more than the cost of building Transport for London’s Cycle Superhighways – time will tell whether it proves value for money.

James Cracknell tweets as @JollyJourno.

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Barcelona’s car-free “superblocks” could extend lives. So will they catch on elsewhere?

Barcelona. Image: Getty.

The world’s biggest cities have larger populations and higher economic outputs than some countries. But as they grow in size and complexity, cities are also facing thorny challenges that threaten the health and happiness of residents. Congestion, pollution and a lack of community spaces have become major drags on people’s aspirations and experiences of urban living.

In response, cities must manage their resources and priorities to create sustainable places for visitors and residents, and foster innovation and growth. Enter Barcelona – the capital of Catalonia, in Spain – where a bold stroke of urban planning first introduced “superblocks” in 2016.

Image: ISGlobal/FAL.

Superblocks are neighbourhoods of nine blocks, where traffic is restricted to major roads around the outside, opening up entire groups of streets to pedestrians and cyclists. The aim is to reduce pollution from vehicles, and give residents much-needed relief from noise pollution. They are designed to create more open space for citizens to meet, talk and do activities.


Health and well-being boost

There are currently only six superblocks in operation, including the first, most prominent one in Eixample. Reports suggest that – despite some early push back – the change has been broadly welcomed by residents, and the long-term benefits could be considerable.

A recent study carried out by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health estimates that if, as planned, 503 potential superblocks are realised across the city, journeys by private vehicle would fall by 230,000 a week, as people switch to public transport, walking or cycling.

The research suggests this would significantly improve air quality and noise levels on the car-free streets: ambient levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) would be reduced by a quarter, bringing levels in line with recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The plan is also expected to generate significant health benefits for residents. The study estimates that as many as 667 premature deaths from air pollution, noise and heat could be prevented each year. More green spaces will encourage people to get outdoors and lead a more active lifestyle.

This, in turn, helps to reduce obesity and diabetes and ease pressure on health services. The researchers claim that residents of Barcelona could expect to live an extra 200 days thanks to the cumulative health benefits, if the idea is rolled out across the city.

Space to play. Imag: Mosa Moseneke/Unsplash.

There are expected to be benefits to mental health, as well as physical health. Having access to such spaces can stave off loneliness and isolation – especially among elderly residents – as communities form stronger bonds and become more resilient.

Stumbling blocks

It was Salvador Rueda, director of the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona, who first championed the introduction of superblocks – and he argues that the idea could be used in any city. Even so, authorities looking to expand the concept in Barcelona or beyond will need to be mindful of some concerns.

Changes like these require capital investment. Even as the car-free streets are transformed with urban furniture and greenery, the remaining major roads will likely have to accommodate heavier traffic.

Nothing comes for free. Image: Zvileve/Flickr/creative commons.

Further investments in local infrastructure – such as improving surrounding roads to deal with more traffic, or installing smart traffic management system – could be required to prevent serious congestion. Then the question remains, how to finance such investments – a higher tax rate is unlikely to be popular.


What’s more, whenever a location becomes more desirable, it leads to an increase in property demand. Higher prices and rent could create pockets of unaffordable neighbourhoods. This may lead to use of properties for investment purposes and possibly, displacement of local residents.

It’s also worth noting that Barcelona is an old and relatively well-planned European city. Different challenges exist in emerging global cities across Asia, Africa and Latin America – and in younger cities in the US and Australia. There is a great deal of variation in scale, population density, urban shape and form, development patterns and institutional frameworks across the cities. Several large cities in the developing world are heavily congested with uncontrolled, unregulated developments and weak regulatory frameworks.

Replicating what’s been done in Barcelona may prove difficult in such places, and will require much greater transformations. But it’s true that the basic principles of superblocks – that value pedestrians, cyclists and high quality public spaces over motor vehicles – can be applied in any city, with some adjustments.

Leading the way

Over the history of human civilisation, great cities have been at the forefront of innovation and social progress. But cities need a robust structure of governance, which is transparent and accountable, to ensure a fair and efficient use of resources. Imposing innovation from the top down, without consultations and buy-in, can go squarely against the idea of free market capitalism, which has been a predominant force for modern economies and can lead push-back from citizens and local businesses.

Citizens must also be willing to change their perspectives and behaviour, to make such initiatives work. This means that “solutions” to urban living like superblocks need to have buy-in from citizens, through continuous engagement with local government officials.

A man speaks at a public consultation on the Eixample superblock in Barcelona. Image: Ajuntament Barcelona/Flickr/creative commons.

Successful urban planning also needs strong leadership with a clear and consistent vision of the future, and a roadmap of how that vision can be delivered. The vision should be co-developed with the citizens and all other stakeholders such as local businesses, private and public organisations. This can ensure that everybody shares ownership and takes responsibility for the success of local initiatives.

There is little doubt that the principles and objectives of superblocks are sound. The idea has the potential to catch on around the world – though it will likely take a unique and specific form in every city.

The Conversation

Anupam Nanda, Professor of Urban Economics and Real Estate, University of Reading.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.