Getting the Facts Right: Residents Want Safer, More Attractive Streets

Hanna Chalmers responds to Dave Hill’s article in the Guardian on 7th November 2015  “Waltham Forest ‘mini-Holland’ row: politics, protests and house prices”.
It was with increasing dismay that I read Dave Hill’s article about Mini Holland in Waltham Forest. As a local his description seemed to entirely omit the voices of support from people such as myself. Mini Holland isn’t just for middle class male cyclists and estate agents – it’s for people like me.
I am a mother of two young children living in the Conservative northerly reaches of Waltham Forest and I am one of many thousands of residents desperate for streets, which are safer for pedestrians and more pleasant to live in. I don’t cycle regularly so Dave Hill’s description of support for the scheme coming from a minority of white, male cyclists and ‘estate agents’ does not speak for me.
When I heard there was a motion by Conservative councillors to contest both Mini Holland and the 20MPH speed limit that was proposed for my neighbourhood I felt compelled to stand as a speaker at the full council meeting that Dave Hill describes.
He was right to say there was a large crowd protesting outside the Town Hall, organised by the “E17 Streets 4 All” group. Mini Holland has been controversial. But the way fears have been presented as fact by some opponents of the scheme has led to confusion for many residents in Waltham Forest.
It was troubling then to read in the Guardian that, because of Mini Holland, business has ‘fallen through the floor’, that vehicles have been ‘unable to gain access’ and that ‘motorised vehicles now clog adjacent streets’ when there is absolutely no evidence of this.
These are just assertions made by the very same “E17 Streets 4 All” which on Friday was told by a judge their attempt to derail the scheme in the High Court had ‘no merit whatsoever’. They must now pay thousands of pounds towards legal costs incurred by my council. Should a journalist really be printing what this group says without balance or critique?
Well here are some assertions from the other side of the debate: Who is to say that Mini Holland will or will not be bad for the elderly and infirm? Yet, the ‘no’ lobby present as fact that these groups of people will suffer. I would say it is in fact, counter intuitive to see more pedestrianised streets as bad for the old and infirm.
Is it also fact that it will be bad for trade? Only time will tell but for the first time in 15 years every shop front on the newly pedestrianised Orford Road is occupied, restaurants have put out more tables.
In my corner of Waltham Forest we were door dropped with leaflets that said, ‘Say No to Mini Holland’. Heap on top of this further Facebook speculation that Mini Holland is part of the global conspiracy theory ‘Agenda 21’ and you have too many people in the borough in a state of total confusion about what is true, what is idle speculation and what is simply lies.
Dave you would be very welcome to run over from Hackney any time you like to check out what is happening with the scheme. If you’d like to pop in for a cup of tea I could give you my side of the story. And you could meet local people who support efforts to make Waltham Forest’s streets safer, greener and more pedestrian friendly. And there wouldn’t be an estate agent in sight…

Hanna Chalmers

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