Columbia Road traders fear market day chaos if council goes ahead with traffic restrictions

People look at the flower stalls in Columbia Road Flower Market on a Sunday morning. Picture: Isabel

People look at the flower stalls in Columbia Road Flower Market on a Sunday morning. Picture: Isabel Infantes - Credit: Archant

Traders at London’s oldest flower market have said they fear their livelihoods are in “jeopardy” after the council announced plans to severely restrict traffic in the area.

Stall and shop owners in Columbia Road, which hosts the famous Sunday flower market, are worried Tower Hamlets' plan to make streets in the area one way and impose road closures could seriously impact their deliveries and the community.

Shane Harnett, whose family have run a stall in Columbia Road Flower Market since 1937, said: "The problem from our perspective is we haven't had much information. It all seems a bit cloak and dagger.

"We're still confused about where we'll be able to park to unload for the stall. We need our vehicles to be close to our market pitch and I can't see how that can happen under these plans.

"I've just spent more than £100,000 on two new lorries to be ULEZ compliant. I live in Essex and will only use these lorries for the Sunday market.

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"We all know changes have to happen but there has to be a balance between traders, shopkeepers and residents.

"If the changes the council are proposing are implemented, we might have to leave the market and it could put some trader's livelihoods in jeopardy."

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The council says it wants to help prevent 4,000 vehicles a day travelling through the neighbourhood and is planning two road closures on Columbia Road at the junctions with Gosset Street and Barnet Grove.

A one-way system with cycle lane will be introduced in Temple Street. Nearby Warner Place, Mansford Street and Old Bethnal Green Road, which are used by delivery trucks, will also be made one way.

The proposals are part of Tower Hamlets council's Liveable Streets programme - a £15million scheme being rolled out in 17 areas in a bid to improve air quality.

Plans already enforced in Wapping proved controversial and sparked street protests from taxi drivers and residents last year who said they felt the road closures cut them off from the rest of the borough. Proposals to reduce traffic in Brick Lane, famous for its many curry restaurants, are also being drawn up.

Traders say they fear the changes will cause chaos on market day because there will be only one entrance to the road and several roads around the area will be closed - meaning much longer journeys in for some stall owners and the possibility of limited parking.

Kate Evans, who owns Angela Flanders Perfumery, said: "We have another shop in Spitalfields and have to make a lot of deliveries to and from each site. If these changes are imposed they will be chaotic, as well as adding time and expense to every journey. We only open at the weekend and Sunday is the biggest day for us. If there is any damage to the market it damages all of the businesses around it."

Campaigners, who have set up the group Battle For Columbia Road, say they want the council to impose the closures with signs and cameras rather than physical blocks. They claim this would mean the closures could be relaxed on market day.

A council spokesman said planners are proposing that access to Columbia Road will remain via Hackney Road to allow deliveries for the Sunday market and for shops, with parking available in adjacent roads.

He added: "The proposals, based on several months of community engagement, went out for consultation in November and December 2019.

"More than 2,100 people took part in the consultation survey and we'll be publishing the outcome later this month and talking to residents and traders about the finer details as we implement any changes."

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