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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Tackling toxic air in our cities is also a matter of social justice

Oh, lovely. Image: Getty.

Clean Air Zones are often dismissed by critics as socially unfair. The thinking goes that charging older and more polluting private cars will disproportionately impact lower income households who cannot afford expensive cleaner alternatives such as electric vehicles.

But this argument doesn’t consider who is most affected by polluted air. When comparing the latest deprivation data to nitrogen dioxide background concentration data, the relationship is clear: the most polluted areas are also disproportionately poorer.

In UK cities, 16 per cent of people living in the most polluted areas also live in one of the top 10 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods, against 2 per cent who live in the least deprived areas.

The graph below shows the average background concentration of NO2 compared against neighbourhoods ranked by deprivation. For all English cities in aggregate, pollution levels rise as neighbourhoods become more deprived (although interestingly this pattern doesn’t hold for more rural areas).

Average NO2 concentration and deprivation levels. Source: IMD, MHCLG (2019); background mapping for local authorities, Defra (2019).

The graph also shows the cities in which the gap in pollution concentration between the most and the least deprived areas is the highest, which includes some of the UK’s largest urban areas.  In Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham, there is a respective 46, 42 and 33 per cent difference in NO2 concentration between the poorest and the wealthiest areas – almost double the national urban average gap, at around 26 per cent.

One possible explanation for these inequalities in exposure to toxic air is that low-income people are more likely to live near busy roads. Our data on roadside pollution suggests that, in London, 50 per cent of roads located in the most deprived areas are above legal limits, against 4 per cent in the least deprived. In a number of large cities (Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield), none of the roads located in the least deprived areas are estimated to be breaching legal limits.

This has a knock-on impact on health. Poor quality air is known to cause health issues such as cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and asthma. Given the particularly poor quality of air in deprived areas, this is likely to contribute to the gap in health and life expectancy inequalities as well as economic ones between neighbourhoods.


The financial impact of policies such as clean air zones on poorer people is a valid concern. But it is not a justifiable reason for inaction. Mitigating policies such as scrappage schemes, which have been put in place in London, can deal with the former concern while still targeting an issue that disproportionately affects the poor.

As the Centre for Cities’ Cities Outlook report showed, people are dying across the country as a result of the air that they breathe. Clean air zones are one of a number of policies that cities can use to help reduce this, with benefits for their poorer residents in particular.

Valentine Quinio is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared.