Guest post by Bethnal Green residents group Battle for Columbia Road

Photo of Columbia Road flower market (Wikipedia)
Columbia Road flower market (Wikipedia)

Battle for Columbia Rd is a ‘loose coalition’ of residents, shopkeepers and stall holders from Bethnal Green who are sick and tired of their views on the Liveable Streets Scheme being ignored by the Council – so they got themselves organised.

Wapping residents and Columbia Road residents have the exact same problem. While both groups support the overall aim of the Council’s Liveable Streets scheme both groups believe that the Council deliberately ignores their comments or objections.

You can see more details about Battle for Columbia Road at the bottom of the page and you can contact  on Facebook or on Twitter @SaveColumbiaRd

Battle for Columbia Rd’s Nick Wilson contacted LW after noticing that Wapping residents are having major issues with the bus gate so we thought it would be good for the Bethnal Green people to share their experiences with the Wapping people?

Take it away Nick!

Battle for Columbia Road guest post

Under new proposals costing £15 million, emanating from Tower Hamlets Council’s scheme Liveable Streets, unwanted road barriers are scheduled to be erected at either end of Columbia Road (Flower Market) E2.

Sound familiar, Wapping?

This will divide the community and cause significant consequences for residents; especially victimising the elderly, disabled, those with young children and those with jobs not accessible by public transport who are reliant on their cars and door to door transport services such as Dial-a-Bus and Blue Badge holders.

Access is also required for deliveries, taxis and most importantly emergency vehicles. It’s a simple fact that it will take longer for vehicles to get through. The additional miles and minutes may make all the difference to an elderly resident who is having a heart attack.

The scheme’s restriction to access is a breach of the Equalities Act 2010 (Pt2. Chapter 1 protected characteristics/ Chapter 2 prohibited conduct) and the Ministerial Forward states;

“While many take for granted the ability to travel easily from A to B, this is not the reality for everyone. For our ageing population, and the fifth of people who identify as having some sort of disability, access to transport can be far from straightforward.

That is why this Government is determined to make sure that disabled people have the same access to transport as everyone else, and that they are able to travel easily, confidently and without extra cost. We have a manifesto commitment to get a million more disabled people into work by 2027, and this Strategy will help to deliver that.

I have been encouraged by the increasing awareness among transport operators of the need to design and deliver their services in a genuinely inclusive way, in particular the greater recognition that less visible disabilities such as autism, dementia or anxiety can be just as much of a barrier to travel as a visible disability”.

Council clarification needed

The council haven’t yet expressly clarified if their equality assessment addressed the disabled as well as the elderly. The council states Liveable Streets was being introduced following requests from residents and businesses in the local area, adding that the impact on those businesses was considered as part of the consultation analysis.

Yet the findings suggest that residents & businesses hadn’t been consulted and would both be adversely affected as well as threatening the survival of the historic Columbia Road Flower Market.

The scheme proposes the closure of 14 roads plus 18 new one-way systems (see below) within a relatively small area (which has several one-way systems and closed roads already) and has the effect of boxing residents in, forcing them to take significant diversion of almost three miles on already congested roads to go north or south, depending which side of the dividing barriers they’re on.

Residents are concerned this scheme will further increase traffic on the main roads, slowing down traffic and making bus journeys longer, increasing costs and thereby increasing pollution in the Bethnal Green area, which is diametrically opposed to the stated aims of the project, which is to reduce air pollution around local schools.

The cycle lanes being installed on nearby Queensbridge Rd have already caused tailbacks on the Hackney Rd back to Old Street roundabout delaying both cars and buses.

The Liveable Streets area-wide plans put forward by Tower Hamlets Council late in 2019 were met with disapproval and horror by residents and business owners & traders.

Project Centre consultations

Many protested at a meeting of locals and at the two consultation presentations run by Project Centre Ltd, the company given the £15 million fund to design and implement the scheme, but it seems the objections were mainly ignored.

Project Centre Ltd also ‘won’ the contract for a similar scheme in Walthamstow, which by the council’s own analysis states the journey times along main roads increased after the implementation of this particular scheme, some by 45 mins!

So upset and frustrated are the locals of Jesus Green/Columbia Road that they engaged the services of their own urban planner to adjust the Council’s plans (see below) retaining 80% of the scheme but ensuring the other 20% worked for the community.

They have even suggested traffic cameras or timed entry periods instead of barriers that exclude residents and businesses but help cut the ‘school run’ and ‘commuter rat runs’ – both of which are the only times traffic is visible in the area.

Letters, emails, phone calls ignored

However having presented the new plan along with an amount of letter writing, phone calls and emails to Tower Hamlets Council they have had no response.

Freedom of Information requests ignored

Even requests under the Freedom of Information for the data from a survey sent to residents and businesses, (and accessible online to those living outside of the area) has not been forthcoming.

Recently reduced transport options for local residents compound the impact of these closures as well as affecting business in the area. Many continue to express their frustration and upset over the scheme as the deadline for approval, January 29th, approaches. “The council are presenting the Liveable Streets proposals as if they are directly responding to residents and businesses, when its evident they are not!”

Balance between traders, shopkeepers and residents

Photo of Columbia Road flower market (Wikipedia)
Columbia Road flower market (Wikipedia)

Columbia Road Flower Market trader, Shane Harknett recently said: “Until the residents informed us, we knew nothing about the proposed changes. We don’t know where we’ll be able to park to unload our bulky goods. We need our vehicles to be close to our market pitch. I have just spent over £100,000 on two new lorries to be ULEZ (Ultra Low Emissions Zone) compliant. There has to be a balance between traders, shopkeepers and the people living here. If the changes are implemented, I will leave the market.”

The effect of stall holders leaving Columbia Road Flower Market would be detrimental to the independent small shops and businesses that line the road.

Kate Evans, from Angela Flanders Perfumery, 96 Columbia Rd says “We have been trading in our shop and living above on Columbia Road since 1985. This proposal will create a partition through the heart of our local community, which was designed in the 19th Century as one cohesive residential and commercial area. No consideration has been given to the shops & Flower Market trading access. I have to transport many boxes and bottles to and from my shops, the cost in time and money plus the possible loss of customers due to the depleted market will force me to close.”

Local historian, author and community activist, Linda Wilkinson: “I’ve lived here all my life, I was born on Columbia Road. Currently we have a fully functioning area from the point of view of restricting traffic. Many small changes over the years have made the area difficult to enter. Frankly, we need better public transport, not this expensive piece of fantasy.”

It’s not just the Columbia Road/Jesus Green area that is involved in the scheme. Included are also pocket parks (one outside a local busy pub) and pedestrianised zones stopping resident access but encouraging night-time loitering and anti-social behaviour in a residential area already close to the busy night life of Bethnal Green, Shoreditch & Hoxton.

Drug dealers are already using cycles & motorbikes so will be able to zip through barriers unable to be followed by police cars. Other surrounding streets will be blocked off, made one-way with minimal access. And there is much research to suggest that quieter, smaller streets become more vulnerable to street crime and burglary when traffic and footfall is reduced.

Locals are calling for Tower Hamlets’ Mayor John Biggs to sit down with them and listen to their concerns, adjust the proposals favourably to not only address the councils concerns but to take into consideration the community that lives here and pays their council taxes.

So far this hasn’t happened.

And in light of the fact the Mayor of Tower Hamlets is shortly implementing his School Streets scheme and with the extension of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone in 2021, we question how much of Liveable Streets is actually necessary.

Battle for Columbia Road people

There are 12 key people including shopkeers on Columbia Road and Bethnal Green Road. Everybody lives in the immediate area, unlike a lot of those who have voiced their support for the scheme.

Key figures are Nick Wilson (resident & local small business owner), Kate Adler (Angela Flanders perfumery on Columbia Rd – owner & resident), Linda Wilkinson (resident), Amanda Reynolds (resident & urban planner), Rebecca Collings (resident), and Shane Harnett representing the Columbia Road market traders.

We have engaged Amanda to draw an alternative urban plan that keeps 80% of the council’s wishes but the other 20% gives access to all that live and work here.

We are still pushing for timed road closures for example 7.30am-9am and later between 3pm -5pm (during school hours) to tick the Tower Hamlets Council argument that “its for the children’s lungs.” It doesn’t seem to matter that they are forcing the traffic onto main roads, and causing congestion around bus stops where the children wait for buses.

Battle for Columbia Road are meeting some Council reps this coming week (Monday 20th January), albeit very late in the day as the cabinet meeting to ratify the scheme is on 29th January.

Map of Tower Hamlets Council Liveable Streets Proposal for Columbia Road / Jesus Green area
Tower Hamlets Council Liveable Streets Proposal for Columbia Road / Jesus Green area

Road closures as indicated on map

  1. Gosset St-Columbia Road at Birdcage: Park Area at will encourage anti-social behaviour, late night noise, drug dealing and sends all traffic down Wellington Row and or Quilter Street along the park.
  2. & 3 Ravenscroft St from Columbia Rd to Hackney Rd one way north: South side of Ravenscroft St already blocked off. Making north side of Ravenscroft St one way prevents entry for residents into Jesus Green from Hackney Rd
  3. Horatio Street already one way so no entry into Jesus Green.
  4. Ropley Street possible access in and out if (6) cancelled.
  5. Columbia Rd-Banet Grove closure: This basically landlocks all residents into the area with the only route out via the southside with up to 3 mile detour to travel north.
  6. Durant St- Gosset St: Already blocked off.
  7. Closure of Gosset St between Warner Place and Squirries St: This road block will send all ‘lost’ traffic into Jesus Green Estate who will circle round and then leave as they entered.
  8. Gossett St one way from Squirries St to Wellington Row at Birdcage will send all traffic into Jesus Green via Wellington Row past a school and homes.
  9. Barnet Grove two way from Columbia Rd to Wellington Row (?). Barnet Grove one-way system has been effective at reducing traffic. If two-way, parking will be lost and traffic increased.
  10. CCTV camera on Jesus Green. Why? If for ASB then this should be outside Birdcage Public House. If to catch traffic then can be used on Columbia Rd for timed closures.
Diagram of alternative scheme proposed by Battle for Columbia Road residents
Alternative scheme proposed by Battle for Columbia Road residents

Contact Battle for Columbia Rd

Wapping businesses and residents adversely affected by the bus gate can contact Battle for Columbia Rdvia Facebook or Twitter @SaveColumbiaRd to have a chat.

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