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Garages Sideswiped by Oval 'Low Traffic Neighbourhood': "These changes are not good for everybody"

According to London Councils, 87% of firms registered in Lambeth are so-called 'micro-businesses' with 0-9 employees - among the highest proportion of such businesses among all 32 London boroughs. However, firms in the Oval 'Triangle' 'low traffic neighbourhood' (LTN) area have told OneOval that travel restrictions imposed by the LTN have have caused them real difficulty. We caught up with two local 'micro-businesses' to ask if the LTN has added a turbo charge to their trade - or slammed on the brakes.

To date, neither business has seen a benefit from the LTN - quite the reverse, in fact. At 9 Oval Place, mechanic Awudu says their client base, built on word-of-mouth referrals and personal service, is struggling with the delays and uncertainty posed by LTN-related re-routing: "It’s dropped a lot, more than 50% or something like that. Dropped a lot. I know some of it is because of corona, some of them are not wanting to park their what we do is, if you phone, we have to quickly tell you about the scheme of the road. So they are going to get in." At Oval Garage, Tauland told us "the point is, this situation is now affecting the business, because the drivers that come to deliver to us will now have to go around and around, and sometimes they don’t come at all because they say ‘no, I cannot come, it’s too far". This is a particular problem for smaller or more urgent orders they place with suppliers: sometimes "if you order something small, [it] takes 3-4 hours to come [to] deliver one part’. So they get stuck, I get stuck." This, in turn, affects the service they deliver: "if I say to customers ‘your car won’t be ready for today, can we push it for the next day because delivery going to be later', [it leaves them] no time to sort it out." In a competitive market, such differences can have big repercussions for reputation and vital repeat custom.

As with any business, certainty is vital - and, post-LTN, in short supply, for customers too, who now face fines for entering the LTN; as Awudu says: "that’s another headache...whenever they come through they will get a ticket." The logistical aspect of both businesses is now more of a challenge. Delivery drivers unfamiliar with the area have struggled to access the LTN area. Since the LTN came into force, "it takes sometimes four hours [for suppliers] to come here from Camberwell. The new drivers don't know how to get here, so they go back and say ‘I’m not gonna go in there'. The old drivers know how to go in there." An added disincentive to persevere with these deliveries is the cost to the delivery driver: "if it’s a new driver, then they might get a ticket, [and] he has to pay for the ticket, you know, so he has to take it and pass back and the road is blocked...We got one driver, one Friday, he didn’t turn up, so, Monday, we couldn’t do the job we were meant to do. It’s a bit disturbing for someone who just needs a quick fix for their brakes. Especially if it's 4 o’clock, and [the suppliers] finish at 5 o'clock."

Across London, LTN's have exposed existing - or caused new - social divisions, on an almost street-by-street basis. Oval is no different, as Jonatan observes of two of the more affluent streets within the Oval LTN: "people that live here on Claylands [Road] and Fentiman Road are never going to complain." says Jonatan at Oval Garage, "but people from this estate...have to spend more money for petrol, they cannot get deliveries". Some of these seem to have been reflected in previous business patterns; Awudu notes that, despite being almost literally around the corner from affluent localities such as Fentiman Road, "no, we don’t have a lot of customers there." This means loyal customers are based further afield, and have been discouraged from returning - "they are the people we have to tell about the scheme". The relative lack of local clientele makes life that much harder for the business and, as with other interviewees, a lack of timely communication from the Council has not helped: "this just happened, the roads got blocked without any notice" (Jonatan), "we didn't have any letters here. If there is a letter we should find it on the floor because the post comes here" (Awudu).

In common with other OneOval interviewees, the solution seems clear to Tauland, Jonatan and Awudu: a more nuanced, responsive policy, in the form of moderated access to the LTN area. Awudu says he thinks the alternative is clear: "we have to get one out and one in. Let the business go on...yes, access here [to the LTN]." This could be just a single street or road: "we need just in and out. Dorset Road in and Richbourne Terrace out, one of them. Any one there, in or out." He fears the outcome will be severe is such changes are not implemented: "at the moment the business is slow already. If the road [stays] blocked it’s going to be even worse." Tauland concurs: "Maybe they could have locked one road, not so many roads. They blocked [the] two or three main roads – leave access to one at least." He, too, worries about the ramifications were the Council not to change tack: "it’s going to affect everything around, not just the garage."

After a recent tour of Oval businesses, Vauxhall MP Flo Eshalomi tweeted that it was good to see them "getting back after lockdown". This may be true for those she visited, but it is jarringly at odds with what we heard from Awudu, Jonatan and Tauland, whose employers are located just a short walk away from where the tour took place. Their accounts were sobering, and Eshalomi may consider visiting these firms on her next tour. By that time we will, with any luck, know whether the Council plans to get under the hood of the LTN for a tune up, to keep it running at top speed in the fast-lane - or to send it to the scrapyard.

This is the latest in our series of interviews with people and businesses affected by the Oval Triangle LTN. Want to speak about your experience? Get in touch:

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