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Beigels and curry—but real Brick Lane issue is driving' traders mad

PUBLISHED: 22:38 28 October 2008 | UPDATED: 13:43 05 October 2010

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SHOPS in Brick Lane are battling over a campaign to transform East London's famous beigel and curry mile' into a traffic-free marketplace. Many restaurants have come out in support of a suggestion to pave over the street. But the suggestion is also stirring up protest against pedestrianising this narrow thoroughfare through the heart of Spitalfields. Some even threaten to start a petition against banning traffic

ABOVE: Traffic versus pedestrians down Brick Lane

BELOW: Traders Ian Johns and Mohammed Kamran say yes’ to banning traffic from Brick Lane (top row) and Ahmed Murir and Ammon Cohen say no way’ (bottom row)

Else Kvist

SHOPS in Brick Lane are battling over a campaign to transform East London’s famous beigel and curry mile’ into a traffic-free marketplace.

Many restaurants have come out in support of the East London Advertiser’s suggestion to pave over the street.

But the suggestion is also stirring up protest against pedestrianising this narrow thoroughfare through the heart of Spitalfields.

Some even threaten to start a petition against banning traffic.

Brick Lane used to be at the industrial heart of the East End, with its garment sweatshops. There was once a pickle factory half way down. Beer-manufacture was big as recently as the 1980s, with the massive Truman’s brewery and its tall chimney casting its shadow along the street.

But nowadays Brick Lane is the trendy gateway’ eastwards leaving the City, tucked behind Nicholas Hawkesmoor’s magnificent 18th century Spitalfields Church with its high spire dominating the skyline.

Even the old brewery has been transformed into a complex of trendy bars, fashion houses, craft shops, coffee shops and art studios.

Pedestrianising Brick Lane wouldn’t seem out of place now.

The suggestion has been sparked by complaints from restaurants and bars about Tower Hamlets Council clamping down on their tables, chairs and other street furniture taking up space on the narrow pavement. Even fruit and veg shops have been ordered to remove boxes displaying their wares.

Many traders fear the council clean-up’ is now sanitising and destroying The Lane’s unique atmosphere.

Some say pedestrianising could solve the problem, creating more space for restaurants and bars to have customers sitting outside while opening up more room for pedestrians.

We asked a sample of 25 shops what they thought of banning traffic.

Most agreed, the boutiques and designer jewellers as well as a Bangladeshi corner sweetshop. It would improve the shopping experience.

But opinions are divided. Wholesalers and traders depending more on customers arriving by car fear it would literally drive’ trade away.

“Pedestrianising Brick Lane would create the same atmosphere as Brighton,” insists Leroy Hamilton, owner of Mendoza’s which stocks a mix of modern and vintage clothing.

“It would, help get rid of pollution and be good for business, especially at weekends. It is definitely the future.”

Ian Bodenham and Ian Johns, who run their Hunky Dory vintage clothing a few doors along, are also in favour—as long as there’s provision for deliveries.

Bodenham said: “Many people treat The Lane’ as if was pedestrianised and it kind of looks that way already.

“It would not make the slightest bit of difference to us, but would be good for the restaurants now that the smoking ban has come into force. It would add to the atmosphere.

“The restaurants have had a hard time with the council ordering them to remove their tables and chairs.

“It was the way the Town Hall went about it as well. We hadn’t been told anything about the clearing up operation and had just had a sandwich board specially made when they came and told us we could no longer display it outside.”

At the opposite end of Brick Lane, towards Whitechapel, is Rajmahal Sweets, where manager Mohammad Islam complains of traffic he says spoils the street.

“There are too many cars and too many horns,” he says.

“It would be better for trade if we had some more car parking spaces nearby, instead of cars driving through here.”

Adele Tipler, owner of At Work designer jewellers, and Mohammad Kamran who owns Open Space leatherwear shop, both think pedestrianising would make a much nicer shopping experience—the road was always being dug up anyway!

The East End’s famous Beigel Bake takes a different view on banning traffic—they actually depend on car customers through the night when the Tube isn’t running.

“We’re open 24 hours-a-day and many customers can only come by car,” explains co-owner Amnon Cohen.

“Parking is already difficult. So if there are plans for pedestrianising Brick Lane, then we’ll start a petition against it.”

Bashir and Sons leather wholesales take a similar stand. They had already suffered from parts of the street being closed during roadworks and building the new East London Line railway bridge.

Manager Ahmed Munir said: “Pedestrianising is a horrific idea. We’re hoping that once Brick Lane reopens after all the works, our trade will improve when drivers can come through again.

“We’re already in a recession and a lot of businesses round here will close if pedestrianising goes ahead.”

Further along at Frame Land, picture frame-maker Ali Asb didn’t mince his words either.

“I’ll be the first to go if pedestrianisation happens,” he tells you.

“My customers come by car to pick up their pictures once they have been framed.”

Meanwhile, pub landlady Ann Butler, who runs the Pride of Spitalfields in Heneage Street, a few yards off Brick Lane, has collected 1,000 signatures against Tower Hamlets council’s crackdown on businesses with street furniture.

There’s no dull moment down The Lane’ once the traders get their teeth into a hot topic like the pavement issue.

It’s rather like getting your teeth into one of Amnon Cohen’s freshly baked beigels—steaming from both sides, but no compromise in the middle, just a hole.

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