Subversive Suburbanite

Enfield’s Mini Holland – the plot thickens

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I often find that, ironically, the most blogworthy periods of my life leave me no time for blogging. That was certainly the case in the run up to Christmas, when I neglected family, friends and church for the Mini Holland cause  – although thanks to a friendly local journalist I did get to write a post for the Guardian Bike Blog instead…

So here’s a Mini Holland update. November and December were roller coaster months for those of us looking forward to living in a cycle-friendly borough (and for those who can’t think of anything worse). The first of five consultations, on the A105 / Green Lanes route, ended in mid-November – with the surprising outcome that 60% of the public are in favour of the scheme. Despite all their sound and fury, and the impression given in public meetings, it seemed that the noisy minority really were a minority after all. However, Cycle Enfield (the part of the council that’s delivering our Mini Holland) were at pains to point out that the process is a consultation, not a referendum. Cllr Anderson inherited Cycle Enfield from a predecessor, and he regrets the question in the consultation that asks, ‘Do you support the scheme overall?’ – which does make it look like a vote.

In the same week the news came that a judicial review instigated by Waltham Forest’s Mini Holland opponents failed miserably.  The judge said there was ‘no merit whatsoever’ in their complaint that the council hadn’t consulted properly, and ordered them to pay £12,000. This group, E17StreetsForAll (parodied as ‘E17Streets4Cars‘ by someone who’s sussed their real motives) also interrupted the Mini Holland launch by carrying a coffin down the high street. Meanwhile, residents in the third Mini Holland borough, Kingston, released a report explaining that installing cycle lanes will make the water supply vulnerable to poisoning by terrorists. I was left feeling quite disappointed by our own antis. Could they not try a bit harder to provide this level of entertainment? (Although it did transpire that they are going down the judicial review route too. I hope they can afford it.)

So, that was the battle of Green Lanes. Then the battle of Enfield Town – the next phase of the consultation, along with the main east-west route – began. Enfield Town centre is key to the whole scheme. The plan is to take all car traffic off the high street, leaving only a bus lane, a bike lane and access for loading vehicles. Given that cars currently drive along it at a rate of 700 per hour, with 70% simply passing through, this will be a huge transformation. It could make Enfield Town and its historic market a pleasant place to linger in again. It clearly isn’t at the moment, with one of the highest business vacancy rates in the country (20%). I shop in Enfield Town occasionally, and like most other shoppers, I stay in the pedestrian shopping precinct and don’t venture onto the high street unless I have to – never mind attempt to cross the road with its 3 lanes of traffic. Most of the vacant shops are, funnily enough, on that north side of the road.

Pretty, no?

I stood on the high street twice before Christmas to hand out flyers reminding people to fill in the consultation. Most people who stopped to look at the plans seemed to think it was a no-brainer: take cars off the high street? Of course! Why wasn’t this done years ago? Certainly anyone pushing a buggy or holding a child’s hand took this view. But Enfield Town is where the antis have been the most active. Car traffic will be diverted off the high street along Cecil Road, which is currently one way. Older residents remember all the disruption when it was converted to one way in the 1970s, and can’t believe it’s being changed back again. And while Cecil Road is not mainly residential, those who do live there are understandably miffed about the inevitable increase in traffic on their road. Mini Holland opponents have seized on this controversy, and the anxiety of business owners who don’t believe they will benefit, and on any other negative aspect they can rustle up, and rumour has it that when the consultation closed the majority of respondents had said ‘No’.

Nah, let’s stick with this…

And finally, yesterday saw a bizarre turn of events – Conservative MP David Burrowes standing in the middle of Palmers Green announcing the results of his own personal ‘referendum‘ on the A105 cycle lanes.* Over 2,000 responded, of which 75% were firmly against.** ‘Let’s send the money back!’ he said into his microphone. ‘Yay!’ said his supporters. He was clearly chuffed about the ‘unprecedented’ response to his postcards, and had the look of a surfer who’s found a really cool wave to ride – one made of people who will vote for him in the next election! Good for him! So if we send the £30 million back to Transport for London, we asked, how then will we tackle Enfield’s problems of physical inactivity, child obesity and air pollution? How will children ever cycle to school?

Er… Anyway, it was an unprecedented response!

(‘We’re not against cycling,’ one woman assured me at this event. I’ve now lost count of Mini Holland opponents who say, ‘I’m not against cycling. We should definitely encourage cycling,’ but when questioned, what they mean is ‘encourage people to drive their bikes to green places far, far away, and ride them there’. Or if we must install cycle lanes, they should be on indirect routes that won’t hamper anyone’s driving – certainly not on direct routes along main roads. Or to schools.)

It was reassuring to hear Cllr Anderson call the ‘referendum’ an ‘utter disgrace’, and reaffirm his commitment to the scheme. He even said, ‘The fact that there is opposition should be a badge of honour and further evidence that this is revolutionary.’

Good for him. And this time I mean it.

* This was not a referendum but a survey of his constituents, who do not comprise all the people living near or using the route in question – after the official 12-week consultation had closed.

** This is not, as he claims, a ‘majority of my constituents’, since there are 17,000 of those, but you don’t need to pass a maths test to be an MP.
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