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Cycle lane ‘will ruin our businesses’

Critics say people will find it difficult to cycle up steep Haverstock Hill

16 October, 2020 — By Richard Osley

Haverstock Hill is in line for a major change to make the road safer for cyclists and pedestrians

BUSINESSES in Belsize Park and Hampstead have told the Town Hall they will be put at risk of a closure if a new cycle lane is built over the car parking spaces used by their customers.

Camden has drawn up plans for the new safe space for bikes on both sides of Haverstock Hill as part of its redrawing of the borough’s roadmap amid the Covid crisis.

But on Monday night, councillors faced a joint deputation from a restaurant, a hair salon, a dry cleaners and a dental clinic, who together said some of their customers relied on coming by car.

Leading the appeal at an all-member meeting, David Levin, who owns Tish, said: “My restaurant is my life. Please don’t destroy us. Please don’t do this thing to us.”

The new segregated cycle lane running on both sides of the road would start at Prince of Wales Road and run up to Pond Street, and will involve the removal of scores of parking bays.

“Local businesses are unanimous in our strong opposition,” said Mr Levin. “Several shops are empty due to Covid and by removing the car parking, this scheme will close many more and destroy Belsize Park and Steeles Village and the jobs and services they provide.”

“Talking of parking in the back streets is simply not viable. Perkins Dry Cleaners’ customers, for example, use the parking to collect dry cleaning, which is often bulky and hard to carry. Freshly-cleaned, ironed clothes are not easy to take by bike. If customers can’t park they won’t come.”

Tish’s David Lewin addresses the meeting

Some 90 per cent of businesses on the hill have signed a petition calling for a rethink.

Describing the plans as “existential for us”, Mr Levin added: “The guests of my restaurant, Tish, overwhelmingly come by car. Reflecting the Jewish community, we have a lot of older guests and young families. They find it harder to walk, cycle or use public transport and they rely on using the parking bays and the single yellow lines after 6.30pm.”

Lisa Hauck, who runs a hair salon, said: “We have clients who just can’t walk or cycle. I have lost clients before because they basically said to me they can’t park,” she said.

Businesses are looking for a pledge that the changes will not be installed before further discussions with them, a “guarantee” that Liberal Democrat councillor Luisa Porritt also called for at the meeting.

“I think there is a legitimate question as to whether the size and scale of this scheme is appropriate, because it’s not just a standard residential road. Haverstock Hill is a high street and these changes will massively affect businesses that have already been hit hard by the pandemic,” she said, adding that ward councillors in Belsize had not originally been told of the proposals and there should have been more consultation when devising them.

Camden’s environment chief Councillor Adam Harrison said: “The plans will be reviewed as we go along, particularly with the businesses. We are looking to work with them to draw up a phased action plan so we can design a scheme with those needs in mind.” He added: “It’s an important principle that everybody should be able to drive everywhere if they need to, and this will be the case. In the current plans, there is actually anticipated extra disabled space planned for the area, which may give reassurance to some people.”

Cllr Harrison said the project was “also an important pedestrian scheme as well”, adding: “There are four new zebra crossings being added, and there is one push-button crossing being added as well.” Camden’s Cycling Campaign has already endorsed the project as an important route in a wider network of lanes.

But Camden’s opposition leader, Conservative councillor Oliver Cooper, said: “Almost every single business on Haverstock Hill, employing up to 1,000 people, signed this petition. “Camden must listen to them before it’s too late. By narrowing the road, Camden is deliberately stopping traffic passing buses at bus stops. This would create traffic tailbacks behind every bus and every stop up and down the hill.”

Support from Royal Free

THE chief executive of the Royal Free Hospital has offered her support for the new cycle lanes planned for Haverstock Hill.

Caroline Clarke said she hoped the changes to the road would make it safer for staff to cycle to the hospital in Pond Street.

“In order to promote cycling and active travel, and enable our staff to choose cycling, it needs to be safe,” she said, adding that the segregated space would make it “a viable alternative to using cars.”

Ms Clarke, writing in a letter to councillors, added: “Our staff are also increasingly aware of the health effects of the climate and environmental emergency and how this impacts on all of us, for example through air pollution. This is a real concern for us, our staff, and our patients, many of whom have respiratory conditions.”

Around 10,000 people work for the Royal Free across three sites. Ms Clarke was the deputy chief executive of the hospital for seven years before taking over the top role in February last year.

But could HG Wells pedal up the hill?

CAN you cycle up Haverstock Hill? While not a test for any true “king of the mountains”, the steep gradients were referenced as a possible challenge for cyclists at Monday’s meeting.

Tish restaurant owner David Levin said: “We never had anybody come to us by bicycle for dinner. In part, this is because of the steepness of the hill, which makes it difficult to cycle up or down, with or without cycle lanes. In fact, Haverstock Hill’s steepness is referred to by HG Wells in The War of the Worlds. If it was obvious to him, it should be obvious to the council.”

The late science fiction author certainly did not sound as if he fancied tackling the 5 per cent gradients on a bike in his seminal novel, although “overturned horses” were more of an issue.

Wells, who knew the area well having lived in Fitzroy Road, Primrose Hill, wrote the passage: “The steep foot of Haverstock Hill was impassable owing to several overturned horses, and my brother struck into Belsize Road.”

Hairdresser Lisa Huack said she reached her salon in Haverstock Hill on a bike but told the meeting that even cycling up a small part of the road was “incredibly hard”.

Labour councillor Adam Harrison

But Camden’s environment chief Labour councillor Adam Harrison had an ‘if we build it, they will come’ style response to the concerns over steepness.

“It can be slow cycling up a hill and that’s why we need to create space for people who are slower, who have less confidence,” he said. “We don’t want to be having to compete with the traffic. You need to take that time. Once you start to create space for people in that situation, you start to bring different people into cycling to what we have at the moment.”

Cllr Harrison told the all member meeting: “One of the criticisms at the moment of cycling in London is that it’s too white and too male. “That’s true, we need many more women cycling for example.”

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