Pro-motoring protesters with megaphones shouting “streets for all” attended the opening of Walthamstow’s £27m mini-Holland cycling scheme. The protestors jostled with assembled dignitaries, including Simon Smits, the Dutch ambassador.
Up to 60 protestors had turned up to disrupt proceedings. A coffin was carried aloft to signify the “death” of Walthamstow village. There were also posters, such as one that said: “Please Get Rid of this Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain.” Another – seemingly ignorant of the history of motoring – said: “In loving memory of our village, 1815–2015.”
Ironically, the protestors used tactics more normally used by cycling campaigners, and were helped by the fact the route they marched along, Orford Road, was now free of motor traffic.
The protest was organised by E17Streets4All, a campaign group that has taken Waltham Forest council to the High Court in order to overturn road closures in Walthamstow village. 17Streets4All’s Facebook page says: “We are a group of Walthamstow residents and business owners [who have] come together … to challenge the implementation of the Mini Holland scheme in its current form and achieve the implementation of a sensible, redesigned scheme acceptable to the majority of people living or working in the area.”
The Facebook page and a linked website had called for people to turn out in numbers to protest the traffic-calming scheme. e17streets4all.co.uk is run by Don Mapp, a gardener in Walthamstow. He has previously campaigned against the council’s controlled parking zone, believing the public highway in front of his house to be his part of the road:
"In the twenty or so years I've lived here there have been very few times that I've been forced to park away from my house,” he said.
Mr Mapp added: "The Labour administration at the council is just anti-car.”
Cllr Clyde Loakes, the deputy leader of Waltham Forest council, is blamed by the protesters for “forcing through” what they say are “unpopular” transformations of “their” village. At last night’s Cycle Planning Awards Cllr Loakes was named the cycling champion of the year and the Walthamstow village trial picked up the best infrastructure award.
At the official opening of Walthamstow’s mini-Holland scheme, scheduled to coincide with the London Cycling Show, a planning conference at the Walthamstow Assembly Rooms, Cllr Loakes was met with jeers of “on your bike.”
Ambassador Smits later expressed his surprise at the protests and revealed that an elderly woman had asked him why he had named the scheme “mini-Holland.” He said it wasn’t he who had done the naming although he was, in fact, the Dutch ambassador. It was Smit’s first day in the job.
At last night’s Cycle Planning Awards London’s cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan revealed that one of the scheme protestors – an architect with an office on Orford Road – had applied for a change of use to his building to allow his business to become a cafe by putting out tables and chairs.
e17streets4all’s Twitter account has 20 followers. A parody account – @E17Streets4Cars – has 207 followers. E17Streets4Cars’ profile says: “Here to defend your RIGHT to drive & park EXACTLY where you want, when you want, how you want.
Cllr Loakes said: “There are clearly people who don’t like the scheme. But we spent six months on consultation which had a high response rate and addressed a lot of people’s concerns.
“But we are living in an age where public health issues are increasing rapidly especially obesity and air pollution. More cycling and walking will combat that and make the streets safer for school runs.”
He admitted that some motorised journeys might now take a few minutes longer but that “rat-running” motorists had to be discouraged from using Walthamstow village as a short-cut between major roads. Less than fifty percent of Walthamstow residents have access to motor cars.