This is very good news. The paper is promising to:
"Shine a light on the issues affecting our high street and hold councillors and council officers accountable for proposed changes to the town centre – and for a lack of action."
This should help to address some of the huge failures over the last few years with regard to Streatham High Road including:
- An inadequate Savils survey. Savil’s report on which Transport for London (TfL) and Lambeth Council have been drawing up their plans for the High Road was very limited in who it canvassed in restricted locations – no cyclists, no one on the Common or at Streatham Hill, or from the coffee bars. No comparisons of better or worse high roads were offered. No Green options for people to comment on.
- The neglect of the findings in the 2009 Streatham Masterplan which identified some of the key issues which need to be addressed, but many of which have been ignored.
- The huge local disappointment over how the successful bid for £375,000 (in Round One of the Mayors Outer London Fund) was spent in the area near the Odeon Cinema, with trees that are only green for six months of the year.
- The consistent failure of the Council to stand up for Streatham, and a general lack of political will to make the creative and pioneering decisions that need to be made in order to change Streatham High Road for the better.
The Streatham Guardian is asking for ideas and a public debate on the high road's future. This is something Streatham Green Green Party intends to contribute to, and indeed have already been thinking about. Here are some preliminary thoughts and ideas to begin our contribution to the debate. They are not exhaustive, but designed to help to get the discussion going.
The central issue for Streatham High Road which has been consistently identified (for example in the Streatham Masterplan) is not just how to attract people to the High Road from outside the area, but how to attract local people who often go elsewhere for leisure and shopping – for example to Clapham and Brixton.
To address this successfully it is clear that we need to look more broadly at the whole environment of the high road, not simply as local business and shopping, important though they are.
Streatham High Road need to become somewhere interesting, engaging and surprising - a creative place that people want to come to relax, meet other people, and enjoy shared space. The vision certainly musn't be of yet another clone town - which would be economically and socially disastrous.
Jan Gehl is a Danish architect credited with transforming Copenhagen so that four times as many people now go to the centre of Copenhagen than in the past. This achievement was realised by recognising that shopping should never be the main reason for coming into an area. However, when people do come into an area, they shop. But public well-being needs to be the priority, not shopping. The key question is whether Streatham High Road serves local people’s needs. And when it does, people will come there to shop.
On that basis these are just some of the issues and provisional ideas that we suggest need to be explored:
Independent Shops and Local Economy
It isn’t just the prevalence of pawn shops, betting shops and money shops on the high road which is a problem. It is also chain stores. As the NEF has pointed out, for every pound spent in a chain store the majority of the money leaves the local economy. For every pound spent in an independent local shop, the majority of the money stays in the local economy.
The campaign to Shop in Streatham is a great initiative, but we musn't fall into the trap of thinking that all shopping in Streatham is good shopping. It is independent, local traders, which need to be prioritised.
Indeed, there is a real threat to the high road posed by big supermarkets like the new Tesco, which will be part of the Streatham High Road Hub development. It is likely that many people will drive to the new Tesco, park, and do all their shopping at Tesco. Independent shops in the High Road may see very little benefit. Indeed, there may be a loss of trade. We must therefore look as ways of protecting the high road against this.
Planning rules can be used to encourage more local and independent shops. This is something that we will be looking at as part of Streatham Action, in particular whether a Neighbourhood Development Plan can help in this respect.
In order to keep money in the local economy a local currency might also be considered, following the success for example of the Brixton Pound. (The Streatham Pound or Streatham Shekel?)
The problem of the A23 which is dangerous, creates pollution and noise, discourages visitors from enjoying a good high road experience and takes people through Streatham (as opposed to taking them to Streatham) needs to be tackled head on. This problem has long been acknowledged. The Streatham Masterplan for example identifies problems such as:
“The speed at which cars travel down the High Road, which reduces safety for pedestrians”
“Traffic congestion along the High Road, which contributes to an unpleasant pedestrian environment (air and noise pollution)”
It identifies the need to:
“Promote sustainable travel through measures to encourage walking and cycling and reduce dependence on car travel”
But there are creative measures which should be considered including:
- Dropping the speed limit to 20 mph along the high road would reduce noise and air pollution, easing traffic flow and cutting collisions and fatalities.
- Introducing “dutch style” cycle lanes and many more facilities for secure bike parking. Cycling, under current plans, looks as if it is going to continue to be given a very low priority. This may be partly to do with the poor Savills survey on improving the high road which was fundamentally flawed in that it only consulted pedestrians, not cyclists. But there are huge numbers of people who cycle in Streatham, and their needs are not being met. If we meet them, then we will attract more people to the High Road.
Many of the shops on the high road still aren’t properly accessible, and create barriers for people with wheelchairs, mobility impairments or those with buggies and prams. Streatham High Road must be fully inclusive for all people in the community.
If we are going to make the High Road a truly unique, interesting and creative place, we need to think creatively about its street furniture.
The Belenden Estate in Southwark for example has 6 different lamppost designs, which are all energy efficient.
The local community needs to be involved properly in the built environment – for example getting local artists to design installation art.
Greening the high road
The trees planted down the central reservation around the Odeon cinema are only green for six months of year, giving a very bare look to that section of the high road.
From a green perspective, great swathes of the high road remain totally barren. This is despite a mounting body of evidence that greener environments improve quality of life, and even increase High Street spending. We need to increase biodiversity, tackle the pollution on the high road and reduce CO2 emissions through much more greenery.
Again, this was something identified in the Streatham Masterplan, but has so far been ignored. Green roofs for example, were suggested, but to our knowledge not one has been installed in four years since the plan was first developed.
These are just a few ideas to get the debate going. We look forward to contributing to the debate in the months to come.