Leyton’s Francis Road: does pedestrianisation mean gentrification?

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It’s the street that has come to symbolise the fast-moving changes in the area. Landlady Tuesday Roberts from The Northcote pub has her say

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Francis Road, Butterfly-Corner, 2014. Photo: Jan-Kattein-Architects, who were commissioned to improve the look of the parade by Waltham Forest.
Francis Road. Photo: Jan Kattein Architects, who were commissioned to scrub up the parade by Waltham Forest in 2014.
Let me begin with how much I love Leyton. A born and bred Londoner, I’ve had the pleasure of living all around this city of ours: Greenwich, Hackney, Barnet, Wimbledon, Walthamstow, and Stepney to name a few.

But nowhere have I seen the community cohesion that Leyton and Leytonstone have elegantly achieved as our city shifts its socio-economic demography. Signs of community are everywhere, our local FB groups erupt positivity. We’re so excited to support local independent businesses, whether that be a great local plumber, artist or the latest fabulous restaurateur. Class system dismissed, we line up to help each other. No pretentious barriers here. And yet these new civic plans may spit on the lot of it.

I’m a relative newbie to the street, a small business owner with The Northcote, a community pub on the top of Francis Road. The plan, in a nutshell, is to pave over its middle section to create ‘Mini-Holland’, as it’s been labelled. My section of the road won’t be pedestrianised.

I know I should be in favour of the idea of creating a new secondary Leyton-based high street, a Leyton Village if you will. The hope is it will push more people onto the street. So why aren’t I so sure?

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Georges Den is a staple of the street. Photo: Twitter
Georges Den is a staple of the street. Photo: Twitter
Let’s start with the reported remark at one of the most recent local consultation meetings, that the main aim of the plans are to “build a different clientele”. Sorry? My apologies but what is the problem with the existing clientele? Before we know it the ‘us v them’ socio-economic battle that’s plaguing our capital, and ruining community relations citywide, fully lands in our currently inclusive E10/E11 postcodes.

Almost all businesses on the street have signed the petition against pedestrianisation. Indeed I had quite the battle finding residents in favour for this piece. George of George’s Den clearly demonstrates the importance of passing trade: the majority of his Christmas tree and firework sales come from drivers seeing his street display, pulling over quickly and being able to put their purchases in the car. Believe me, these annual events are massively important to balancing the books.

Many other businesses explained that they feared delivery vans wouldn’t be able to reach their door under the new plans. No clearer than Paul from Leyton Fences, who’s sure that as soon as work starts he’ll have to move.

But he wasn’t the only small business I spoke to that had a clear exit strategy, so devastating was their evaluation of the plans. Is that really what we want for our special community? The loss of shops like United Hardware that go around and change elderly people’s light bulbs for them?

Well, that’s the crux for me. Waltham Forest Council bid hard for this £30 million TFL pot of gold. So the free money could now be used to push out existing businesses on low rates, some with rate releases and create a greater revenue for the council and freeholders. Excellent because I was worried how those London landlords keep their heating on through the cold months.

Yardarm are the latest arrivals. Photo: Miranda Eason
Yardarm are the latest arrivals. Photo: Miranda Eason
Not all businesses on the street are against the project. The lovely owners of Yardarm moved from E17 and saw the positive effects that pedestrianisation has had in Walthamstow ‘Village’. It was genuinely nice to hear some projected positives. The Mini-Holland would make the road more attractive and therefore potentially result in the currently vacant commercial properties reopening. At a lovely new rate value no doubt.

Hospitality businesses in the proposed paved area, such as coffee shops and eateries, will massively benefit from being able to purchase outdoor front space for the price of a couple of hundred quid license fee. Shrewd move for a new business owner to foresee. (For a minute there I can start to imagine a lovely buzzing Havana-like town square. Buskers! We could get buskers! And those miming people too. If only we had a bit more paving we would definitely talk to each more. Probably about how good the mime artists are. Everyone would come off the high street and Francis Road will be as lively as it ever was in its heyday.)

Marmelo has thrived without pedestrianization. Photo: Leandro Farina
Marmelo has thrived without pedestrianization. Photo: Leandro Farina
One fan tells me the street closure could encourage people to cycle more. Gotta tell you doll, it’ll take more than part-closing one street to get me on a push bike. Put in some Boris Bikes and you might have me thinking.

If TFL really want to reduce traffic in the city why not put the £30 million into reducing ticket prices so it becomes more economically viable for me to take the tube when visiting Mum than to drive? Put it into more air conditioning or night tube staff training. Or increased safety in cycle danger hotspots…

I tried hard to keep politics out of this article but it’s hard not to sympathise with the difficulty of having a wholly Labour representation in the borough. Locals opposed to the closure of Francis Road definitely felt that there was nobody to fight for their different opinion on the matter. Some were very relieved that local boy, Lib Dem Bob Sullivan (and Grove Green councillor for 33 years), is here to lead the prevention to the street closure.

Albert & Francis moved in in 2014. Photo: Jan-Kattein-Architects
Albert & Francis moved in in 2014. Photo: Jan Kattein Architects
Interestingly, he struggled to gain access to the ‘public consultation’ meeting. Even though he and his family are Leyton locals, oddly, with no invite issued it was necessary for him to apply to attend, supporting the claim by many that there has been poor hushed-up consultation aiming to avoid the brutality in Walthamstow. Bob also bid for the £30 million: he would’ve spent it on more cycling lanes, closing off current drive-through rat runs and improving paving for the borough, something I appreciate is important to more senior and mobility-focused residents.

Everyone I asked agreed that parking in the area is a mess and that cars must be slowed down before we have a critical accident, but is pedestrianisation an answer to these two problems? Traffic could be controlled by your common variety additional crossings, speed cameras and bumps.

Clearly the budget can only be used on transport-deemed projects but I know that I’m not the only one who will see this as poor value for money, whilst nearby homeless shelters, government-run nurseries and community projects close.

Tuesday Roberts: ''
Tuesday Roberts: ‘We don’t need greedy town planners to hand us our community.’ Photo: TR
Do we need pedestrianisation to create a more flourishing, attractive Francis Rd? Presumably the beautiful Marmelo didn’t think so when they opened their thriving restaurant. Nor Estates 10 when they saw the potential of Leyton for their latest expansion. As well as the existing butchers, florist, supermarkets, eateries and hairdressers the area used to have a green grocers and a post office – now we don’t even have a post box. So let’s all agree that high streets can be supported without paving over half the road. Maybe there’s some of that nice paint left over from the gorgeous coloured shops on Leyton High Street during the Olympic spruce-up?

Ultimately planners do not legally need the consent and best wishes of residents and local businesses owners, only from the stakeholders such as the PCT and TFL, who have already approved the plans. The consensus seems to be that this is a done deal.

For work to start in September, surely diggers and such must have been acquired and briefed? If that’s the case, our job now is to check that the proper contract tendering processes have been adhered to; that we are consulted throughout the differing stages to ensure the work is undertaken in harmony of the community; and seek assurances from the council that current rates won’t be increased in a way that stretches small businesses to breaking point. In the meanwhile, keep using these shops – they may need all the support we can give them.

Friday afternoon at the Northcote. Photo: Stephen Emms
Late afternoon at the Northcote. Photo: Stephen Emms
Last weekend in my own pub I watched for three hours as my locals old and new chatted through the rugby. A journalist, dog trainer, personal trainer, roofer, photographer and supermarket cashier talked through the match together for the first time. The following day they came in and sat next to each other to continue where they left off. Yet I couldn’t quite see the point the two ‘pro’ residents were so good-naturedly trying to make, that pedestrianisation will give Leyton a better community feel.

We don’t need social engineers to hand us our community. It’s everywhere. Join Leytonstone Arts Trail, join the wonderful Francis Road Community Facebook Page, go to a Leyton Orient match, visit one of the local handmade markets, read this title too. Leave the chain stores alone and try one of the buzzing independent cafes, pubs and restaurants; go sit in Coronation Gardens and say hello to the person on the bench next to you. Ask your local shopkeeper’s name and shake their hand.

Leyton community is everywhere. Look for it, it’s there and it’s welcoming. Above all, it’s precious.

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Agree? Disagree? Add your thoughts below, or if you’d like to write your own response with a view to us publishing it, please email us on info@leytonstoner.london. Follow the Northcote on @northcotee11 and find it at 110 Grove Green Rd, London E11
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  • solomonsky

    A sloppily-written article that doesn’t say very much and is pretty dishonest. “N
    ow let’s start with the reported remark at one of the most recent local consultation meetings, that the main aim of the plans are to “build a different clientele”.” Nobody said this.  If your case is strong you should not have to lie to make it.

  • francisroad

    I’m a Francis Road resident and I fully support pedestrianisation. Cleaner air, less traffic noise, a better community atmosphere and all round a more pleasant place to be. Bring it on.

  • Philip Herlihy

    Really well-written. I’m one of many who believe the Council’s consultation is deeply flawed. I’ve set up a “grassroots” poll as an attempt to discover a wider balance of opinion specifically over street closures. It isn’t a campaign one way or the other (although I state my view at the bottom of the page) and expressions of support are every bit as welcome as objections. With an official consultation response rate of about 14% no-one can really claim to know what the true balance of opinion is. This is an honest attempt to find out (though some ‘enthusiasts’ will insist it’s anything but) – make your own mind up!
    http://www.streetblock.net

  • LizDawson

    Slightly puzzled that in this article the editor has linked ‘handmade markets’ to a market in Leytonstone town centre…when Leyton&Stone Designers run monthly craft markets on the second Sunday of the month at Tuesday’s very own Northcote pub at the end of Francis Road!  #shoplocal http://www.leytonandstonedesigners.co.uk

  • macyojimbo

    I had lived just off Francis Road for several years and welcomed Marmelo – but let’s be fair – other than that there isn’t much else to speak of other than the long-standing cobbler and the Chris the chippie. Most of the other shops are long-standing crap or new crap. Much like the rest of Leyton and why I moved next door to Leytonstone. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors and the Northcote is a prime example – for so long a rubbish pub and now apparently the coolest place to be after a pot of paint, some drag and a slice of pizza. Utter pish.

  • Mark Stanford

    More consultation is fine, but I live on Francis Road and I can’t wait for the pedestrianisation to happen. Every other resident I’ve spoken to agrees with me. The author says she struggled to find anyone in favour. Perhaps she didn’t try very hard.

  • b_r_u_c_e_y

    I’m on Dawlish and just had a look at the proposals having kind of ignored the reviews earlier in the year, thinking it was about gathering thoughts only, as opposed to feedback on specific plans.  Initially thought ‘my god how will i drive down Francis to get my little one to nursery each day’ bit of a nimby attitude sneaking in… but having had a look the two alternative proposals seems sensible.  
    These changes might speed up gentrification a bit… but open your eyes, it’s already happening pretty quick, house prices are through the roof so that ship/argument has sailed….. and surely the Northcote is positioning itself to get a piece of that pie anyway?
    macyojimbo I love the shops, George’s is great, Chris’s chippy a regular and the hardware shop is a winner.  I hope you are happy in Leytonstone and enjoy shopping at Tesco Local.
    Page 4 here so you can make your own minds up:
    http://www.enjoywalthamforest.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/019089-LBWF-Mini-Holland-Leyton-TC-consultation-12pp-A4-WEB-2.pdf

  • FrancisE10road

    I live on Francis road and think pedestrianising it is a great idea. I have lived on the road for 10 years. I don’t feel the article gives an all round balanced argument for the benefits of pedestrianisation only negatives.
    Just because Marmelo opened pre mini Holland doesn’t mean it won’t benefit their business. Additionally I am in favour of anything that makes the road safer for my children.
    When I moved to the area you couldn’t go for a decent meal out and find anywhere decent to buy a bottle of wine. The road has changed more in the past two years than the previous eight. Any thing that helps this transition is good in my eyes.
    I would say it’s a done deal. The day after consultation finished there were a group in hi vis jackets and suits measuring the junction by Francis and Claude road. When I asked what they were doing they said they couldn’t say.

  • JohnnyDaly

    Not sure I agree with everything in the article, but it’s very well written and argued. Great piece.

  • Andy de Vries

    I’m sure most residents everywhere would like their roads to be pedestrianised or have less traffic, I’d love Grange Park Road to be pedestrianised too but it’s just going to mean more traffic elsewhere. Francis Road is super quiet already, what’s the point?

  • FrancisE10road

    I live there you are wrong it is not super quite.

  • SHame

    Whilst
    I think the pedestrianisation is generally a good idea (for Francis Road if not
    surrounding roads – like mine), the whole consultation process seems to have
    been a bit of a box ticking exercise.  
    In my opinion, that £30m was always going to be spent in the way
    that it’s now being spent regardless of public opinion, and because that has
    been so transparent it’s understandable that those opposing the plans don’t
    feel like they’ve had their voices heard – well, worse than that, completely
    ignored.  Unfortunately that seems to be causing some (keyboard)
    conflicts, on a number of different platforms.
    Personally
    I think the overall impact on business will be positive, but as with any change
    there’ll be some potential losers.  You’d like to think that business
    owners with concerns about how they deal with the change will be listened to
    and helped by the local authority, unfortunately they way things have been
    handled thus far – I’m not sure they will be feeling very confident that will
    happen.
    There are alot of different factors to consider, from businesses
    and residents to visitors – you can’t keep everyone happy but it shouldn’t have
    got to the point where people are angry.
    Viva E10!

  • NewbieE11

    As much as this article presents a decent enough argument it comes across as nay-saying & negative.   Francis Rd is  a wonderful   example of the area stating to thrive again & we should champion this not quash it!   A mini Holland on Francis Rd would encourage more independent businesses to the street , people would linger on the street longer,  it would CREATE more sense of community not the other way around and the existing businesses would benefit.  
    Yes they’d have to adapt,   but lets use the example of Walthamstow as an example.  Or at the invention of the internet if you will …..  Adapting to change is a GOOD THING!    I’ve lived off Francis Rd for 3 years & am thrilled at the developments on the street –    a lot of those old fusty shops could use a bit of life in them quite frankly most of them are depressingly empty most of the time. 
    And anything that slows down the traffic & makes it safer for children is a positive in my eyes.  
    Bring it on!