In March 2014 Waltham Forest Council was one of 3 London boroughs to receive £30m ‘Mini Holland’ funding from Transport for London (TfL). The bid featured a number of key strands, which are interlinked to create a more attractive public realm environment where young and old alike find it easier, safer and more enjoyable to use active travel modes such as walking, scooting, and cycling. And to forge better neighbourhoods where people want to linger, chat, watch the kids play out, and where it is more tempting to use local shops and services rather than travelling further afield.
Its important to understand that Mini Holland is not about catering for existing cyclists – they can largely take care of themselves on our hostile streets although the vast majority would like safer roads where they didn’t court death every day. A fundamental aim of the programme is to utilise best practice on the continent (and in particular the Netherlands) in a way that genuinely tackles the road dangers and other barriers that prevents the huge numbers of people who would cycle if conditions were better. Once this programme is complete anyone between the age of 8 and 80 should be able to choose to safely travel around by bike.
The pace of delivery of this immense programme (dictated by TfL’s 3 year deadline) is rapidly accelerating, with much council and other publicity about what’s planned. And more and more local people are being invited to take part in perception surveys to offer feedback about their area, as well as engagement workshops to discuss issues and options, formal scheme consultations, and if approved, are often involved in detailed scheme design.
And now our streets are now changing on the ground, with 7 road closures having gone in over the last couple of months, and many more scheduled over the next few. We’re seeing new pocket parks and tree planting going in, cycle racks are springing up across the borough, sections of high quality cycle tracks have been constructed, 2 station cycle parking hubs have been built, and 30 on-street residential cycle parking hangers have been installed. And what’s been built is just a small part of what is planned. Already after just a few weeks of the Walthamstow Village scheme being completed we are seeing amazing behaviour change from residents and visitors – kids skateboarding & families walking down the middle of traffic free streets, boules played in a revamped and bigger community square, many more younger and older people out on bikes.
The rate of change means that community engagement has been intense and quick, and some detailed design ‘tweaks are inevitably required for schemes that are already in or planned. So its only natural that many local people are feeling rushed, and this has created a bit of a ‘bikelash’ from those who have yet to be convinced of the merits of the programme.
Protests have been held, and more will undoubtedly be planned. There will be a huge debate at the full council meeting at Waltham Forest Town Hall on Thursday 22nd October 2015, sparked by an opposition motion which seeks to challenge the Mini Holland programme.
I believe that Mini Holland is a hugely ambitious vision backed up with a brave and deliverable plan, and which at a stroke tackles a large number of so far apparently intractable bigger picture problems that local government across the UK has been struggling to address. This includes growing levels of pollution, obesity, diabetes, traffic congestion, and how to tackle these against a backdrop of rapid population growth which is set to make all these issues even worse. Mini Holland offers a powerful mechanism for us to tackle these problems, and additionally relocalise our neighbourhoods, strengthen our local economy, create a more resilient community and reduce our carbon footprint.
Unfortunately I also believe that time is running out – we are facing immense planetary challenges, including non renewable resource depletion (and more wars over them), eco system destruction, global economic instability, and run away climate change. Whilst we are currently a comparatively wealthy nation, our window of opportunity (where we have the resources to make the necessary change) is closing. We cannot afford to delay, and must do all we can to support those who offer solutions. And to be blunt, our community is going to face further and bigger challenges after mini Holland – we have to learn how to be more flexible as new threats arise, to negotiate solutions, to respectfully hear those who disagree, and help support rapid change.
So if you live in Waltham Forest and agree with me that Mini Holland is an important step in the right direction, please email your councillors telling them this. No need to agonise for hours over what to write – a few lines sent now is much better than a wonderfully constructed essay sometime in the future! In case you are interested, my email to 40 local councillors follows below.
To find who your ward councillors are:
Walthamstow resident & dad, who walks, cycles … and occasionally even drives, and Council Liaison Officer, Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign
My email to 40 local councillors.
I wish to outline why I fully back the council’s Mini Holland programme, and to ask you to continue your support for it.
I appreciate there is concern coming from some local residents and there are a few genuine issues which may require small changes in terms of scheme design detail. However I believe that the overall aims and design principles are sound.
The speed of delivery required by TfL for this programme has understandably triggered a backlash from some who have not yet had time to fully consider and comprehend the scheme benefits, and from others who are fearful of rapid change.
This can be largely tackled via further engagement with key groups, the dissemination of more information on the challenges we face in the borough and clear evidence demonstrating how Mini Holland tackles many of them.
And by making it clear that if we reject Mini Holland there is no alternative strategy to address some very serious issues… and we also lose a huge amount of funding for some innovative public realm schemes which have the potential to hugely improve our borough.
I strongly believe that there’s a silent majority who support this scheme – half of local households in the Walthamstow area don’t have access to a car, and many of those who do have a car rarely use them. This majority is being drowned out by a small but well organised and vocal opposition group.
What I don’t see from those against Mini Holland is any coherent alternative solutions on
– how to make our roads safer for those who walk, and those want to cycle,
– how to reduce air pollution which kills 10,000 Londoners a year and harms lung development in young people,
– how to make better use of the very limited road capacity in our borough without making all of our residential streets noisy, dangerous and polluted rat runs,
– how to help residents adopt more active lifestyles and improve their health reduce their burden on the NHS due to issues such as our growing rates of obesity and diabetes,
– how to help most local businesses thrive when the vast majority of their customers do not currently arrive by car,
– and how we can accommodate the projected population increase of 30% in the next 25 years on our borough without some truly radical change.
Local people who cycle have helped to compile many useful facts and figures which show why Mini Holland is the way forward; click here to see them
So as well as Mini Holland being a huge step on the right direction in tackling these urgent issues, there is an even more compelling reason …. the need for a massive reduction in our carbon footprint to prevent our and many other species being wiped off the face of this planet. I want following generations to have a future shaped by a culture of hope and opportunity, not one which is defined by scarcity & fear because we collectively failed to act and triggered a chain of catastrophic events.
There is little evidence right now across the globe that governments have the will or capability to deliver the changes necessary. So I am very very proud that here in our community we are piloting potential solutions.
And that we are seeing growing numbers of politicians, council officers and campaigners from around the UK visiting Waltham Forest to see for themselves the parts of the scheme already on the ground… and all I have spoken with are very very impressed and inspired.
I hope Waltham Forest will be known as a borough which faced up to the challenge and acted as a beacon for many other councils and communities who struggle with similar problems… not one which backed down and failed its residents & businesses.
I salute our local and Londonwide politicians and institutions who have shown the courage to continue to progress this programme despite considerable public hostility.
And I hope you will continue to support this ground breaking scheme.