Walthamstow wants to become a “mini Holland” through new pro-cycling measures

Rendering of an access-only residential street. Image: Waltham Forest Council.

In Holland, where there are more bikes than people, cycling accounts for 70 per cent of journeys. So, when the local authorities proposed to introduce a clutch of pro-cycling measures in the London district of Walthamstow, they decided to call the whole thing “Mini Holland”. The phrase conjures images of a happy, healthy, bike-filled neighbourhood. The reality hasn’t proved quite so simple.

The £30m scheme, funded by Waltham Forest council and Transport for London, includes a new cycle superhighway and segregated cycle lanes on the Whipps Cross roundabout. On 26 September, the council began a two-week test of some of the pro-cycling measures, which included restricting car access to eight roads.

One of the aims of the plan was to improve the local economy. But, one week in, local businesses are complaining that cars can’t reach offices and shops and business is suffering. The owner of a local architecture firm told the Waltham Forest Guardian that the pedestrianisation of Orford road, on which his practice is based, will “close us down” (architects get a lot of trade from passing drivers, clearly). On the other hand, this advert for a three-bed house does note that the area is “part of Mini Holland LBWF proposals”, implying it could be a selling point for some.

The way the trial has been implemented has caused problems, too. The Waltham Forest Guardian reported that “many people are not aware of the trial, and that cars have been towed and tickets issued to motorists”.

In response, Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, has written an open letter to the council saying they didn’t provide enough information to motorists before the trial began. Creasy has apparently received an “avalanche” of emails and tweets asking about the project; unfortunately, she didn’t receive any formal details either, so wasn’t able to help.

The MP has now asked the council to clarify who will make decisions about the scheme’s future, and how residents can give their feedback on the trial. As things stand, it looks like mini Holland’s first reviews won’t be that glowing.


What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.