"We can’t keep on with this": More Evidence of Oval LTN Impact on Small Business.
Family-run Zarco Delicatessen, on Dorset Road, has been selling popular Portuguese goods, sandwiches and coffees for years. But being situated just inside the new Oval Triangle 'low traffic neighbourhood' (LTN) means their fortunes have taken a turn for the worse. We got the lowdown on the problems caused by the LTN from Joanna, who, along with her Father, runs Zarco.
Zarco's clientele, which pre-LTN was drawn from a broad range of areas, has dwindled as the Oval LTN made travel more difficult: "at lunchtime, people used to come from Brixton and Vauxhall, have a chat with us and have a sandwich. Now they say I'm not going all the way over there, plus go around [the LTN area], just to have a sandwich, I’ll just stop at one of the coffee shops on South Lambeth Road and have a sandwich there." Joanna recognises that new traffic patterns are a boon for some other businesses: "it’s good for the shops on South Lambeth Road". But this is cold comfort for her and her family: "but we're a local shop, they aren't going to come all the way here, unless they like our service, they like our food and they don't mind going [a bit further]. But you can count on your fingers the numbers [of these cases]."
It is not just Zarco that has had a turbulent few years; the Portuguese community in south London have been thrust onto the frontline of political, social and economic uncertainty: "most of our customers are Portuguese, obviously because they're scared with what is going on, with Brexit, and then the pandemic, they said 'OK, I’ll save up money in case it all goes wrong, in case I lose my job, I can't afford to pay my rent'...they won’t come into the shop, then with the road closures it's even worse." This has meant that some of the customers on whom Zarco could rely for occasional, small-item visits now stay away: "...they used to come in to buy a pack of milk, a pack of pasta, because they like the traditional brands. But now, they say ‘I’m not going all the way over there’.
There has been a marked decline in Zarco's trade since the LTN came into force, but this was just the latest setback for the business after a turbulent few years: "Oh yes, it’s been noticeable. First then obviously was Brexit. We started feeling that people were scared, starting to save a bit of money, in the beginning people buying food, buying, buying, buying, buying. Then obviously all their cupboards were all stocked up with groceries, they don't come back out." She fears her family's business will not even survive the the Oval LTN trial period: "18 months is a long time, We only need a couple of months to affect our business and then we don’t have the money to pay our suppliers, to pay the staff, to pay the bills. We can’t keep on with this."
Joanna is the first of our interviewees who received communication on the LTN from a local Councillor: "...it felt a bit like 'you were advised about what was happening, this is temporary'. It’s not, come on, at the end of 18 months, [the Council are likely to say] its working fine, let’s keep it.'" When asked what she would have said in a consultation on the scheme, she says: "if we were consulted from the beginning then obviously we would say ‘you can’t do this’, isn't there an easier way to do this, you could do one-way. One-way is fair. You come in Clapham Road, go out South Lambeth Road, But give us some access. What I don’t understand is, you can come through South Lambeth Road, but just a bit further down from the shop that’s where you can’t go in or come out. That's blocked, at the beginning of the road, and I don’t understand the logic of that. You either close the whole road or nothing at all. Again, give us some one-way access." She is cautious when asked about any charged-for, resident-only access option for the LTN: "I don’t know that residents would agree to pay just to have access. Because they live here, they should be able to come here, they have to pay for their permit, why should they pay again to come to your house? Why should we have to pay again? We have to pay for our permits, so why do we have to pay to have access to our shops, our houses? That’s just a way to take people's money."
"I would ask the Councillors to think about the small businesses as well. This is where we get the money, this is how we live, this is how we pay our bills, and they're making decisions like that, to close the roads, and then we lose business, how are we going to survive, how are we going to pay? So, think about us as well, don’t think about only the big ones, the ones that have houses in Fentiman Road that cost millions, think about us as well. We’re people, we work, we pay our taxes, we should have our rights as well...I came to this country when I was 12, but I believe I have the same rights as other people, OK?"
"I'm not rich, I don't have millions, my house isn’t worth millions, but I still have my rights, you have your rights. And they should think about us, as well."