An interview with Waltham Forest Streets For All

1. To start with, can you say a bit about yourselves? What brought you together? What kind of organisation are you? Where do you draw support from? And how do you finance your activities?

Waltham Forest Streets for All is an umbrella organisation for all groups fighting road closures and other transport related issues in the borough. We were formed originally from members of E17StreetsforAll, Our Streets, and a group in the Blackhorse area. Since then, there have been groups in Markhouse, the Stay Together group in Leyton, and groups in Chingford, as well as Save our Buses, for whom we provided a dedicated web page. As new issues arise, for example the recent anti-CPZ campaign in Highams Park, we offer advice, support, contacts, and a platform on our website.

We are not constituted as a charity or other official form. We ask members to subscribe to our objectives which are:

HEALTH
We support investment in electric/green vehicles to reduce dangerous air pollution. We support the encouragement for those who are able to walk and cycle where safe infrastructure has been provided. We support facilitating rapid response vehicles and carers to be able to attend patients without being delayed by road closures.

SPEED RESTRICTIONS
We are opposed to speed humps which delay emergency vehicles and cause pain to many people with disabilities. We support technologies that enforce speed limits such as CCTV.

BUSES
We support the provision of bus lanes and the phasing out of polluting vehicles. We oppose ‘floating bus-stops’ which put pedestrians at risk.

ROAD CLOSURES
We are totally opposed to road closures which cause serious and potentially fatal delays to emergency vehicles, impact severely on small businesses, and delay carers and others who need to make important journeys around the borough. Road closures force traffic onto fewer roads thus increasing pollution through longer journeys and idling engines.

CYCLING
We support increasing safety for cyclists by provision of physically segregated cycle routes so long as this does not reduce pavement widths or involve the removal of bus lanes. We support the demands for cyclists to be registered and to have insurance.

PEDESTRIANS
We support physically segregated routes for pedestrians that conform to the Council’s Access Guidelines in terms of width and positioning of street furniture. We totally oppose shared space and blended crossings which are dangerous for all pedestrians, but especially those with physical, sensory or learning disabilities and children.

We do not have any funding. The Committee pays for any things such as leaflets out of our own pockets.

2. Leading on from that, what are your current key aims?

Currently we are re-energised by groups across London rising up in opposition to so-called Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). These groups are making the same points regionally as we have been making for years here in Waltham Forest. The groups are amalgamated under the One London name. We are assisting many of them with images, information, etc. A government petition is underway and a London wide demonstration planned for the near future, and we aim to support both

We continue to campaign against the road closures in Waltham Forest. Most recently, we have leafletted every dwelling in the so-called Hilltop area encouraging residents to object to the Experimental Traffic Orders that have barricaded their roads, although twice before the majority of residents said they did not want closures. Our aim here is to gather more objections than people who voted for the closures.

We collect all the evidence that we can about the perverse consequences of road closures, loss of pedestrian space, and removal of bus lanes; and use social media and conventional mail to lobby decision-makers. Our aim here is to stop people mindlessly supporting measures just because council propaganda says ‘good for the environment’.

We submit Freedom of Information Act requests to bodies such as the emergency services to try to get proof of what our members and emergency workers on the ground tell us; that road closures cause delays which can be potentially life-threatening. Our aim is to build a portfolio of cases.

3. As your website demonstrates, you have spent a good deal of time looking at the research that LBWF claims underpins its decision-making on transport issue. Is this research generally robust? And if it is not, what kind of flaws have you encountered? For example, are they largely technical issues, or more to do with temptations like over-egging the pudding?

Two pieces of research relating to the supposed benefits of LBWF’s ‘Mini-Holland’ have been carried out by academics from institutions with long-standing reputations in their respective and relevant fields, a team from Kings, commissioned by LBWF, producing David Dajnak et al., Air Quality: concentrations, exposure and attitudes in Waltham Forest (King’s College London, August 2018), and a team from the University of Westminster then publishing Rachel Aldred et al., ‘Impacts of an active travel intervention with a cycling focus in a suburban context: One-year findings from an evaluation of London’s in-progress mini-Hollands programme’, Transportation Research Part A Policy and Practice (Vol.123, May 2019), available here:

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tra.2018.05.018

A major finding of the Kings’ study (for which see link, below) was that the estimated outcome of pollution reduction in Waltham Forest over the period 2013-2020 would lengthen the lives of five-year-olds by some six weeks.  This has been interpreted and widely disseminated by LBWF as being a direct consequence of LBWF’s Mini-Holland programme.  However, in subsequent correspondence, the Kings’ lead author stated that ‘we cannot quantify [the] mini-Holland contribution’ to lengthened life expectancy. 

Also, in calculating the air-quality improvement from reducing ‘school run’ car traffic, Kings’ researchers were entirely dependent on LBWF’s unsubstantiated assumptions regarding the reduction in this traffic as a result of LBWF’s own measures.  Consequently, Kings’ estimates of the benefits of reducing ‘school run’ traffic cannot be regarded as independent or robust.

Despite the admissions noted above, Kings has remained silent even as its client LBWF has continued to trumpet that the study confirms the beneficial impacts of its interventions on life-expectancy.

The University of Westminster team concluded unequivocally that their ‘findings indicate that the partially-implemented London mini-Hollands programme has been effective in increasing active travel and improving perceptions of the local environment’.  However, there are serious questions concerning these findings: first, the independence and balance of the research; second, the representativeness of the study’s survey respondents; and, third, the study’s results not actually showing what is claimed for them. 

Nonetheless, like the King’s study, the University of Westminster work has gained widespread but uncritical promulgation, not only by LBWF and other overtly-campaigning parties but also by the study’s academic lead, Professor Aldred, who labels those who are experiencing adverse consequences of Mini-Holland as ‘backlash’ that is ‘notoriously’ vocal in Waltham Forest, and believes there is ‘an ongoing need for political leadership in England to successfully implement such interventions’. 

4. Needless to say, you have been much involved with Mini-Holland. LBWF continuously asserts that Mini-Holland has been a great success, and indeed should be rolled out elsewhere. How do you respond? 

We think our response is best summed up in the report that we wrote for Haringey Councillors, warning them not to repeat the mistakes of LBWF, available here:

https://72b29da2-c608-4b0b-8a31-b846485ead3f.filesusr.com/ugd/10ac5f_934c82cc22f9415295a42af6c3d415cc.pdf

5. In recent weeks, some Waltham Forest residents have woken up to find that they now live in LTNs, surrounded by a myriad of roads closures. The stated aim, according to LBWF, is ‘to create people friendly streets with less traffic, noise and pollution, that are safe and more pleasant to use’. Who could argue with that?

On 20 September 2020 the Sunday Times Transport Editor eulogised the ‘20-minute neighbourhood’ in Walthamstow Village: ‘Mini-Holland’ to local people.  One of our members responded with concerns about Mini-Holland that are also being encountered in LTNs being rolled out across London, imposing disproportionately on the mobility and well-being of the many who don’t or can’t cycle but walk or use buses, or are visually-impaired, or are reliant upon family, friends and carers visiting them or taking them to health appointments and social events.  And Mini-Holland is imposing disproportionately also on main-road residents, the trade of local businesses, and all of us when we need unhindered emergency attendance by police, ambulance or fire brigade.

On 27 September 2020, the Sunday Times Transport Editor revealed that traffic on minor roads in London had increased by 72 per cent over the previous decade, while remaining flat on major roads; for him this confirmed the desirability of LTNs.  In response, our member noted the implication that minor-road traffic would be diverted to the major roads, which, compared to minor roads, already expose many more people to worse air quality: not just residents but also workers, shoppers, and those going to school or leisure facilities and waiting at bus-stops.  Moreover, the Sunday Times Transport Editor’s data show that the traffic increase on a main road would on average be seven times the reduction on a minor road, because there are many fewer miles of major road to which traffic can be diverted: a distinctly unfair trade-off.

6. Finally, a general question. You are seasoned campaigners. What are the lessons that you would pass on to those who are just starting out on issues of their own? Are there essential dos and don’ts when it comes to trying to get a message across? Is there anything that is particularly important to know in the context of Waltham Forest?

We are involved with the One London campaign, linking all the campaigners against Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. They are as angry as many Waltham Forest residents were some years ago. There are two main areas that we are advising them about. One is consultation.  Lots of these groups are furious that there was no consultation about the LTNs and are demanding that residents be consulted. That is quite right and proper of course, but we have told them this:

‘Why Consultation is not Necessarily the Answer: Lessons from Waltham Forest Mini-Holland Project

When the Mayor of London first announced this scheme, LBWF prepared their bid only in consultation with a very vociferous cycling group. They did not at the time consult with the general population

 When the bid was won, naturally LBWF wanted to deliver everything they had put in the bid.

So the “consultation” events were never genuine. They were just an attempt to get people on board with what had already been decided.

The consultations were devised, organised and reported on by the same people who were tasked with delivering the bid

The Mini-Holland team prepared all kinds of leading questions for their “consultations”. They did not allow people to answer different questions, or to make their own points. They used weasel words such as “enjoy”, “improvements” and “modal filters”. If people said they liked trees, this was interpreted as endorsement of the whole scheme.

One of the first meetings was held at Vestry House. Around 50 people turned up and only a tiny number supported the proposals. Nearly everyone there was opposed to them. However, the Mini-Holland team reported this meeting as being “positive” and “in favour”. That was when we realised that these meetings could not be trusted.

The consultations are not accessible to many people. Lots of people opposed to the closures are not digital natives. Many do not have English as a first language. Many struggle to express their opinions in the right language to the “authorities”. Many have busy lives and do not understand what is being proposed until the barriers go up.

The pro road closure lobby are very active on social media and have council support for their lobbying activities.

When the Council is temporarily prevented from instigating its proposals by the results being too big or too well-known to massage the figures, they come back again and again until they get the result they want.

Campaigners in Markhouse managed to download the results of an online consultation and demonstrated that residents were opposed to LBWF’s proposals. The Council then targeted a few roads at a time and are now closing roads against residents’ wishes.

In the Hilltop area the Council has come back for a third time having been told clearly twice before that residents do not want their roads closed. They wear people down. The people promoting the closures are paid by the Council … with our money. Those opposed have to give up their own time, their own money and lots of energy fighting back.

There has been huge opposition. Thousands of people have attended demonstrations, signed petitions, written letters, protested at “consultation” events. However, the Council will not listen to a word being said against their precious scheme. They dismiss the concerns of disabled people, elderly people, small businesses and emergency workers.

Councillors are elected to represent the whole population but this Council treats anyone who doesn’t agree with them with complete disrespect. Much of the disagreement comes from highly qualified people and/or people who are directly experiencing problems from Mini Holland. Our representatives either do not want to know or claim they have to follow the Whip’.

Several campaign groups are also embarking on Judicial Review (JR) procedures. Again, we have warned them that JRs only look at process and do not make any judgement on the rights and wrongs of the case. We also told them about the failed JR of E17StreetsforAll where individuals were left with onerous costs.

For further information on Waltham Forest Streets For All and its activities, see:

https://wfstreets4all.wixsite.com/home/about

Related Posts

LBWF, Mini-Holland, and air quality: the King’s College Environmental Research Group report and its frailties

LBWF’s perfidies in microcosm

An interview with James O’Rourke of Walthamstow Independents Forum

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