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?
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.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.)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.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.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.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.