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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The tube that’s not a tube: What exactly is the Northern City line?

State of the art: a train on the Northern City Line platforms at Moorgate. Image: Haydon Etherington

You may never have used it. You may not even know that it’s there. But in zones one and two of the London Underground network, you’ll find an oft-forgotten piece of London’s transport history.

The Northern City line is a six-stop underground route from Moorgate to Finsbury Park. (It’s officially, if confusingly, known as the Moorgate line.) But, unlike other underground lines, it not part of Transport for London’s empire, and is not displayed on a normal tube map. Two of the stations, Essex Road and Drayton Park, aren’t even on the underground network at all.

The line has changed hands countless times since its creation a century ago. It now finds itself hiding in plain sight – an underground line, not part of the Underground. So why exactly is the Northern City line not part of the tube?

The Northern City line, pictured in dotted beige. Source: TfL.

As with many so many such idiosyncrasies, the explanation lies in over a century’s worth of cancellations and schemes gone awry. The story starts in 1904, when the private Great Northern Railways, which built much of what is now the East Coast Main Line, built the line to provide trains coming from the north of London with a terminus in the City. This is why the Northern City line, unlike a normal tube line, has tunnels wide enough to be used by allow mainline trains.

Eventually, though, Great Northern decided that this wasn’t such a bright idea after all. It mothballed plans to connect the Northern City up to the mainline, leaving it to terminate below Finsbury Park, scrapped electrification and sold the line off to Metropolitan Railways – owners of, you guessed it, the Metropolitan line.

Metropolitan Railways had big plans for the Northern City line too: the company wanted to connect it to both Waterloo & City and Circle lines. None of the variants on this plan ever happened. See a theme?

The next proposed extensions, planned in the 1930s once London Underground had become part of the domain of the (public sector) London Passenger Transport Board, was the Northern Heights programme. This would have seen the line would connected up with branch lines across north London, with service extended to High Barnet, Edgware and Alexandra Palace: essentially, as part of the Northern line. The plans, for the main part, were cancelled in the advent of the Second World War.

The Northern Heights plan. The solid green lines happened, the dotted ones did not. Image: Rob Brewer/Wikimedia Commons.

What the war started, the Victoria line soon finished. The London Plan Working Party Report of 1949 proposed a number of new lines and extensions: these included extension of the Northern City Line to Woolwich (Route J) and Crystal Palace (Route K). The only one of the various schemes to happen was Route C, better known today as the Victoria line, agreed in the 1950s and opening in the 1960s. The new construction project cannibalised the Northern City Line’s platforms at Finsbury Park, and from 1964 services from Moorgate terminated one stop south at Drayton Park.

In 1970, the line was briefly renamed the Northern Line (Highbury Branch), but barely a year later plans were made to transfer it to British Rail, allowing it to finally fulfil its original purpose.


Before that could happen, though, the line became the site of a rather more harrowing event. In 1975, the deadliest accident in London Underground history took place at Moorgate: a southbound train failed to stop, instead ploughing into the end of the tunnel. The crash killed 43 people. The authorities responded with a major rehaul of safety procedure; Moorgate station itself now has unique timed stopping mechanisms.

The last tube services served the Northern City Line in October 1975. The following year, it reopened as part of British Rail, receiving trains from a variety of points north of London. Following privatisation, it’s today run by Govia Thameslink as the Great Northern route, served mainly by suburban trains from Hertford and Welwyn Garden City.

Nowadays, despite a central location and a tube-like stopping pattern, the line is only really used for longer-scale commutes: very few people use it like a tube.

Only 811,000 and 792,000 people each year enter and exit Essex Road and Drayton Park stations respectively. These stations would be considered the fifth and sixth least used in the tube network – only just beating Chorleywood in Hertfordshire. In other words, these usage stats look like those for a station in zone seven, not one in Islington.

One reason for this might be a lack of awareness that the line exists at all. The absence from the tube map means very few people in London will have heard of it, let alone ever used it.

Another explanation is rather simple: the quality of service. Despite being part and parcel of the Oyster system, it couldn’t be more different from a regular tube. The last (and only) time I used the line, it ran incredibly slowly, whilst the interior looked much more like a far-flung cross-country train than it does a modern underground carriage.

Waiting for Govia. Image: Haydon Etherington.

But by far the biggest difference from TfL is frequency. The operators agreed that trains would run between four and six times an hour, which in itself is fine. However, this is Govia Thameslink, and in my experience, the line was plagued by cancellations and delays, running only once in the hour I was there.

To resolve this, TfL has mooted taking the line over itself. In 2016, draft proposals were put forward by Patrick McLoughlin, then the transport secretary, and then mayor Boris Johnson, to bring "northern services... currently operating as part of the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise" into TfL's control by 2021.

But, in a story that should by now be familiar, Chris Grayling scrapped them. At least it’s in keeping with history.