Wandsworth Council’s decision to scrap funding for a popular pedestrianised hotspot in Battersea has been slammed by businesses and residents.
The Labour-run administration announced it would be cutting the budget for the Northcote Road pedestrianisation scheme last month in a bid to tackle the cost of living crisis.
A report submitted to the council’s finance committee in September recommended scrapping the scheme in a move it says could free up £2.5 million.
The council said the decision was one of many ‘tough decisions’ it had made in order to support residents facing ‘severe hardship’ due to rising energy costs and inflation.
Jonny Dyson, chairman of the Northcote Road Business Network, said: “There will be a significant impact following the scrapping of the scheme, and sadly the effects will probably not even be seen until this time next year.
“While the scheme was initially designed to help hospitality businesses during the pandemic, the reality is that they will need just as much support due to the cost of living crisis.
“These businesses are hardly out of the woods now – with capital reserves pretty much down to nothing, huge rises in utility costs, staff shortages and staff wage demands.”
The move comes as the council recently announced £5 million worth of funding to support residents as the cost of living crisis continues to squeeze household budgets.
Yet Conservative councillors said the ‘hugely popular’ scheme has saved or created more than 120 jobs and enabled many long-standing businesses that would otherwise have been lost to the pandemic to continue trading.
Councillor Aled Richards-Jones, said: “It’s astonishing the council wants to scrap a scheme that is hugely popular with residents and businesses, and comes at no additional cost to the council taxpayer.
“In the last two years, the scheme has literally saved many businesses which have been on Northcote Road for decades.
“Where businesses have failed, the pedestrianisation scheme has filled vacancies because businesses know that in the summer, they’ve got additional covers.”
A recent council consultation, before councillors voted on the report’s recommendations, revealed that 88% of residents supported or strongly supported the weekend pedestrianisation scheme on Northcote Road.
One resident said: “What a shame. Northcote Road looks to be thriving during the summer pedestrianisation and attracting so many people to use all of the shops, cafes and restaurants.
“What is not to like?”
Another said: “The summer pedestrianisation scheme for Northcote Road should be continued indefinitely.
“This scheme serves residents in particular and creates the village atmosphere needed for a more holistic and balanced lifestyle.”
The scheme was first arranged during the summer of 2020 when lockdown rules were eased and was renewed in 2021, allowing restaurants to utilise outside space.
Due to its popularity with businesses and residents, and in a bid to support retailers struggling to recover from the pandemic, the scheme was renewed again in 2022.
A spokesperson for Wandsworth Council said: “We are committed to working with all businesses in the borough, especially those in the hospitality industry which are facing the biggest challenges from the after-effects of the pandemic and the ongoing cost of living crisis.
“In these incredibly difficult economic times, with the cost of living crisis affecting everyone in Wandsworth, the council does not believe this represents good value for money, but we are looking at ways that an alternative scheme might be able to be funded in the future.”
Featured image credit: Ewan Monro via Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0