This was brought home to me forcefully last night by a meeting in Palmers Green, an outer London suburb. The meeting had been organised by the local Tory MP allegedly to draw attention to the concerns of local shopkeepers but more probably for electoral reasons - the local elections are only a month away.
These concerns were about the loss of on-street parking proposed by Enfield Council as part of a major plan - the 'Mini-Holland bid' - to make cycling safer and more popular in the borough. This was definitely a protest meeting as no spokesman for the Council or the cycling movement was given a place on the agenda (though several spoke from the floor after I pointed this out!)
The main speaker - Costas Georgiou of the Green Lanes Business Association - predicted the death of the Palmers Green high street if the plans were implemented and showed an artists impression of a traffic-free high street whose main features were cycle lanes and tumbleweed! Many other speakers were equally angry - though frightened might be a better word. These fears are understandable. Most local businesses have struggled to survive the recession - not all successfully. And for a business owner the business is more than a way to make money - its part of their identity and they feel passionate about it. So the idea that they might lose some custom to places with better parking is deeply threatening.
The shopkeepers were articulate about the need for parking and the lack of consultation by the Council.
For the other side councillors, cyclists and Green Party activists were less passionate but cited much more evidence. Now the available evidence is not of the highest quality but a good survey (The means: to change places for the better) was published in 2012. It shows that:
- car ownership is beginning to decline - by 3% in outer London between 2001 and 2010 (Page 26).
- walking is the most popular way that shoppers reach district town centres in London (page 27).
- shopping cyclists spend more per month than shopping motorists - which is not what shopkeepers think.
|Retailers estimate (%)||31||17||34||5|
Now Palmers Green is not Camberwell - no two places are the same - but this does show that we need not believe the shopkeepers estimates. What both sides, and all the other interested parties, need now is facts.
The Mini-Holland money - £30 million from Transport for London - is a great opportunity for the borough to make its streets and places more attractive and valuable to all residents. There's a need for consultation and also for more imagination than we've seen so far. I, at least, will be watching closely.