Residents and traders react to car ban

Image above: Devonshire Rd

The announcement from Hounslow Council that it will restrict access to traffic on Devonshire Rd and Turnham Green Terrace to make more space for shoppers to walk around at a safe distance from each other, has had a mixed reception from residents and traders.

Karen Liebreich, Director of Abundance London said:

“I’m delighted the council, with support from the Chiswick councillors, is finally taking measures to prioritise walking and cycling over car use. The extra space given to our local businesses and the improved environment should help us to rebuild after these months of closure. Safer and healthier streets for all means that hopefully something good can come from this awful experience”.

Keith Richards, who writes the ‘My Corona’ column for The Chiswick Calendar, said:

“It is extremely encouraging to see Hounslow Council taking residents’ views seriously. We need more of these schemes and we need them to be made permanent but this is an excellent step in the right direction.”

But Mike Moran, who runs the Top Hat dry cleaning business on Devonshire said it would ruin his business.

“If this is made permanent, I reckon I will be closed by Christmas”.

Leon Wilks, who runs W4 Bathroom & Heating supplies, is also concerned about the effect it will have on his trade:

“It’s just another thing I have to deal with which will make my life harder”.

Images above: Karen Liebreich; Mike Moran; Keith Richards

Businesses anxious

A straw poll of businesses on Devonshire Rd revealed how anxious they are that the ban on cars will affect them badly. While some, notably the food businesses, see it as potentially advantageous, allowing them to spread out onto the pavement and serve more customers, and others, such as the dress shop Wild Swans don’t think it will make much difference, others, notably those dealing in big, heavy goods, are very alarmed.

Chris Couch, who runs the rug shop Tribe, told The Chiswick Calendar:

“I understand the need for social distancing but my business, as well as many others on the road are reliant upon our customers being able to park to drop off or pick up – rugs can be quite heavy things. The most distressing part of the recent announcement is that the council does not appear to have discussed/consulted with any of the businesses on the Devonshire Rd and is going ahead regardless.

“In 2016 Devonshire Rd was closed to traffic for three months while Thames Water carried out what proved to be unnecessary works. In that period our sales were down nearly 40%. I can’t see why there will be much difference this time round. Retail businesses are already struggling with the impact of Covid 19 and all that entails. We will do our best to adapt so our businesses survive, but what the council is proposing could be the final straw for some. All I’m asking is for the council to discuss this with businesses so we can achieve a safe shopping environment for our customers without further harming businesses”.

Leon Wilks, who runs W4 Bathroom & Heating supplies, told me their shop had been closed for the whole of April. Their landlord has not budged on reducing the rent at all. He is struggling to cope with all that the coronavirus emergency has thrown at them and closing the road to vehicles was a “big concern” for him. Most of his customers are architects and builders. He says plumbers, who at the moment drop by in their vans on the way between one job and another, just won’t bother. They will go somewhere else which is easier to access. Unlike other businesses which have changed their business model and gone largely online, he might sell 30 – 40,000 different parts and people come to him as much for his expertise as for the actual parts.

Images above: Lighting by The Chiswick Lighting Company; Coffee by Tamp

Penny Ledbury, who runs Chiswick Lighting, has been shielding for her own health and that of her business partner, so they have been rearranging their business to do more sales online. While she understands and agrees with the arguments for closing the road to vehicles, she says 50-60% of her customers currently come and collect by car and she is worried how the closure will affect them.

“I’m not saying I hate the idea” she told me, “but I rely on the bigger orders which people need to be able to collect by car”.

Mike Moran at Top Hat also relies currently on customers coming by car. His shop was fully closed for only a week during the coronavirus emergency. Though most of his staff are furloughed, he has gradually built up the hours Top hat is open and now they are open six days a week from 08.00am – 3.00pm. Even so he has found his trade has dropped by 80%.

“A lot of people come in here with their shirts. If you’re not going to an office to work, you don’t need your business shirts cleaned. People bring us their nice clothes that they wear out to restaurants and they’ve not been going to restaurants.

“While I can see someone walking along the street with a shirt or a dress, I cannot see them lugging a big bag of clothes”.

Dorian Needs, who owns the coffee shop Tamp told me he thought pedestrianising the road totally would be a good idea, but he thinks allowing people to continue cycling and banning cars is a dreadful idea.

“In theory I could support it but in practice I think it’s disastrous”.

Images above: Clothes currently available from Wild Swans

Cecilie, who manages Wild Swans, is personally in favour. Stressing that this is her personal view, not that of the shop, she can’t quite understand why so many of the other traders are so upset about the idea. Coming from Denmark the idea seems completely normal:

“In Denmark the high streets are very much pedestrianised”.

A couple of other traders I spoke to were not keen to be quoted because although they themselves weren’t against the idea, they were aware that other traders are upset about it and they didn’t want to be insensitive.

Devil in the detail

What they all want to know, and what the council has not yet published, is quite what access for ‘essential servicing’ might mean. Once the council releases the details, that might solve some of the problems envisaged, though they might also have to make some adaptions.

“The loading bay is very useful to us” said Antoine from Lea & Sandeman.

“It will a good thing for people who are local and want to hang around and look in the window and come in for maybe just one bottle, but it will be harder for people coming from further away who want to carry a crate of wine, though hopefully we will still have the parking bay opposite.

“I have drivers who do deliveries. I think we will adapt”.

Michael Robinson of Hounslow Cycling Campaign told me:

“We welcome the council’s announcement on Friday about plans to provide more space for people rather than motor vehicles in these and other areas in the borough. We look forward to seeing details about additional measures soon.”

Council Consultation

Not all traders are against the idea and not all residents are in favour of it, but it does seem that people who live locally have picked up on the fact that the Council has been asking people’s views in a consultation which has been going over the past few weeks, and there has been a groundswell of pressure building to ban cars from certain roads, whereas for the shop owners and managers, many of whom don’t live in Chiswick, this seems to have come as a bolt out of the blue.

Several of the shop-keepers I spoke to on Monday were hearing the news for the first time. Nearly all were irritated that they hadn’t been asked for their views beforehand and none were aware that the council was responding to directives from government to limit the use of cars.

Cllr Sam Hearn, who represents Chiswick’s nine Conservative councillors on transport matters, told The Chiswick Calendar:

“There has been no proper consultation with local businesses on these proposals, despite the fact that many of these businesses depend on easy vehicle access for customers in order to be able to trade.  It is not realistic to imagine that customers are going to drop off or walk home carrying heavy goods on foot.

“We have met and discussed with the council the proposed changes to the road system in Chiswick and elsewhere in the borough but feel that many key decisions had actually already been taken.

“We would ask the council to consult the businesses and to take on board and incorporate their concerns as a matter of urgency.”

Image above: Heat map showing the areas which people have commented on most (the darker the shade of orange, the more comments)

Announcement made Friday 29 May

Hounslow Council announced on Friday (29 May) that it would be restricting through traffic on Turnham Green Terrace and Devonshire Road, limiting vehicle access to buses and ‘essential servicing’, in order to allow shops and restaurants to spread onto the pavements and shoppers to move about in the road with safe social distancing. Parking spaces will be suspended, but required access to premises and some disabled bays for blue badge holders will be retained. Further parking bays will also be suspended outside the police station, to provide more space for pedestrians and cycle parking.

The council has been criticised for not doing enough, when other parts of London have already pedestrianised large areas. On 7 May Hounslow Council announced the first traffic measures, coning off one side of the road in Turnham Green Terrace and making Wellesley Rd and Stile Hall Gardens no through routes. Since then, the government has released statutory guidance strengthening their requirements on councils to undertake these works and for them to be done as ‘swiftly as possible’.

Government requirements

A Department of Transport letter to Chief Executives dated 28 May outlines details of an ’emergency active-travel fund’. The letter says active travel (walking and cycling) ‘will have an essential role to play in helping us avoid overcrowding on public transport systems… ‘The first tranche of £45 million will be released as soon as possible so that work can begin at pace on closing roads to through traffic, installing segregated cycle lanes and widening pavements’.

In their statement on Friday Hounslow said:

‘The council supports the government’s approach which will help ensure that traffic levels, which have recently increased, are kept as low as possible. Reducing traffic volumes and providing more dedicated space for vulnerable road users will help improve safety on the roads, support people to undertake more physical activity and help sustain recent improvements we have seen in local air quality’.

All London boroughs have been given temporary emergency powers to create more space for people to follow social distancing guidelines in town centres, and to get around safely on foot and by bike.

The heat map above shows that the comments people have made during the consultation have been largely focused on the central axis of Turnham Green Terrace and Devonshire Rd. Many local residents have commented on how much clearer the air has been and how nice it has been not to have the roads where they live clogged with cars during the lockdown.

Michael Robinson, of Hounslow Cycling Campaign said it would be ‘Carmageddon‘ if ways were not found to restrict the use of cars. As people go back to work and decide not to risk using pubic transport, which London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said should be used as a ‘last resort’ it’s easy to see how Chiswick could become totally gridlocked and polluted if everyone decided to take to their cars.

Dr Ed Seaton wrote a guest blog for The Chiswick Calendar saying it was ‘time for action not words’: ‘The Covid pandemic should fundamentally alter the way we behave, both now and in the future’.

Images above: Rugs in Tribe; bathroom set in W4 Bathrooms

Read More Stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Safer Streets in Chiswick: Time for Action not Words

See also: Conservative councillors publish new policy on walking and cycling