‘Chronic’ street clutter makes London ‘worse place to live,’ report finds

Think twice before you drop your Pret cup onto a rubbish pile on the pavement

As a global and capital city, London’s pavements may not be pedestrian-friendly, potentially earning it the title of a “worse place” to live, a report finds.

The study, titled “Reducing Street Clutter in Central London,” evaluated Goodge Street in W1, Charing Cross Road in WC2, and Belvedere Road in SE1. It revealed that nearly half of the street clutter (47 per cent), including E-bikes, rubbish bags, and bollards, has a moderate or severe impact on the lives of Londoners, with A-boards being the most common type of obstruction.

Street clutter doesn’t just affect accessibility for groups such as wheelchair users, people with buggies, and mobility scooters users who require more space; it also creates equality and safety issues. Pedestrians may attempt informal road crossings due to the obstructions, leading to an increased risk of road accidents. Local businesses are also negatively impacted as street clutter hinders navigation and reduces foot traffic to shops. It poses a threat to London’s reputation as a global capital city for both international visitors and domestic tourists.

However, addressing street clutter is a complex challenge. It is unclear who bears responsibility for managing these obstructions, as the report indicates that local authorities have limited control over objects placed in public-private spaces. Ownership is often divided among different entities, making it time-consuming to resolve the issue, where the cost of decluttering is a significant barrier. Additionally, organisations often lack the capacity or power to act.

The report recommends that London governance entities collaborate to tackle the clutter issue more effectively. This could involve measures such as banning A-boards and working with business improvement districts (BIDs) to minimise the impact of commercial waste on local streets.

Millie Mitchell, Senior Researcher at the Centre for London, emphasised the need for better urban walkability in the city centre, said, London is a fantastic global city, but it isn’t going far enough in ensuring everyone can enjoy walking in its city centre equally.“Our research has revealed the growing accessibility issues that street clutter presents. It’s stopping people from walking to where they need to be, and the knock-on impacts are worrying for businesses, for London’s net-zero targets, and for disabled Londoners.“With the right action from government, businesses and local authorities, we can make sure the need to reduce street clutter is taken more seriously. This would make London a role model for urban walkability across the world.”

Alexander Jan, Non-Executive Chair at Central District Alliance, said:“At a time when New York and others are marching ahead with investment in street waste management systems and the wholesale removal of phone boxes, our government at all levels – as well as statutory regulators and utility providers – together need to up their game urgently to tackle long standing problems that damage too much of London’s public realm.”

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