In the 1960’s the rather bohemian character of Chelsea attracted entrepreneurs and designers like Mary Quant to the King’s Road, and it became – together with Carnaby Street in the West End, the focus of the pop-culture, attracting young people from all over the world. However, like all fashions, this one has passed into history but the King’s Road still has a reputation which attracts people from all over the world to its shops, pubs and coffee-bars, and generates income for local businesses.
The Chelsea Society exists to preserve and improve the amenities of Chelsea for the public benefit, and we have identified a number of issues relating to the King’s Road which need to be addressed:
- The Use of the Road
- The Appearance of the Road
1. THE USE OF THE ROAD
The King’s Road is a major route along which a significant proportion of London’s traffic moves between east and west, but it should not be seen as a motorway. It must continue to carry the traffic, but at the same time it must be convenient for local people and visitors to enjoy the ambience of Chelsea and benefit from what local businesses have to offer. We have to strike the right balance between these competing interests.
Most of the traffic on the King’s Road comprises buses, taxis (including private-hire vehicles) and delivery vehicles, and to a lesser extent private cars. In an ideal world there would be much less traffic on the King’s Road, but London is an attractive venue for people from all over the world who are coming in increasing numbers. This is not a purely local issue for Chelsea.
Traffic congestion is a problem in itself, as more and more time is wasted as people try to move around London, but congested traffic is also the cause of massive air pollution (see below) and waste of fossil-fuels, as thousands of engines are running with the vehicles going nowhere.
The Chelsea Society has explained in its opposition to Crossrail in Chelsea at http://chelseasociety.org.uk/crossrail-2/ why, far from improving traffic flow and reducing pollution on the King’s Road, a Crossrail station on the Kings Road would make matters worse.
The following are some options to consider:
Extend the Congestion Charging Zone to include RBKC? Perhaps coupled with a significant increase in the charge to make it more effective. Local people would have a discount and many of us do not use our cars to drive around London as congestion is so bad and parking so difficult, preferring instead to use the excellent public transport system. However extending the CCZ would put more pressure on the Underground and the buses, and could have an adverse impact on local businesses. There are many customers who walk or use public transport, but there are others who need their car to transport goods to or from local businesses. Local businesses also need to make and receive deliveries, but these could be done outside CCZ hours (albeit with some cost-implications for the business). The “school run” is also a significant generator of traffic, and perhaps a Congestion-charge would reduce this. Tradesmen visiting premises in the CCZ would no doubt increase their charges to cover it.
Reduce obstruction of the road? The King’s Road is narrow for a major traffic route, and it is particularly important that it should not be obstructed. There should perhaps be no parking or waiting whatsoever between 08:00 and 19:00 on Monday – Saturday on the King’s Road and on the side-streets within say 30 feet of the King’s Road (so that traffic turning into the street does not back up on to the King’s Road), and this must be strictly enforced. It is notable that traffic wardens are active in the residential streets, but are much less active on the King’s Road. This needs to change.
Traffic is obstructed by an almost constant flow of pedestrians across the pedestrian crossings at busy times. Pedestrians have as much right as anyone to use the roads but perhaps all crossings between Sloane Square and World’s End should be Pelican crossings (but without their annoying peeping noises, which should be replaced by a vibrating pad for the benefit of blind people).
Traffic is also seriously obstructed by road works, and these need to be coordinated so that the same piece of road is not excavated several times by different utilities. Also, all too often we see the road obstructed by excavations on sites where nobody is working. On the King’s Road there is a case for saying that work must be carried on continuously around the clock until completion, and if parts or equipment are needed they should be sent by special courier. Recently the carriageway and footpath outside Marks& Spencers was obstructed for an unnecessary length of time, and during that time the obstruction put the bus stop out of action.
There are some points on the King’s Road, eg the junction with Cadogan Gardens, where right-turns could be prohibited and/or bus routes diverted. There are also some side-streets which might be made one-way in a different direction
2. APPEARANCE OF THE ROAD
Litter, cigarette-ends and chewing gum are a major problem on the King’s Road. If more litter bins were provided, and emptied on a regular basis, perhaps people would be less likely to drop things on to the pavements. We should report overflowing bins and other rubbish to RBKC on 020 7361 3001 or email email@example.com preferably with a photo tagged with date, time, and place. It is remarkable how much chewing gum is found on the pavement around those very litter bins. At busy times the bins can be emptied without obstructing the traffic only by a small collection-vehicles on the pavement.
Chewing gum is a particular problem, as it is so difficult to remove from the pavements. Cadogan try to keep Duke of York Square clean, and we see their high-pressure cleaning machines operating almost every week, but it is rather like painting the Forth Bridge, and is not likely to be practicable on all the pavements of the King’s Road, which would have to be closed while the machines were working. If the government can put a tax on plastic bags, perhaps they should also put a tax on chewing gum or ban it altogether from sale in the UK.
Another problem is the large quantities of rubbish in plastic sacks or cardboard boxes which retailers put on to the pavement outside their shops. Most of these shops do not have vehicular access at the rear, so they do have to dispose of their refuse via the King’s Road. They are entitled to have their refuse collected, but RBKC needs to confirm (as seems to be the case) that they have made arrangements with the retailers so that the refuse is collected very quickly after they have closed for the day. It would not be practicable to collect this refuse from the shops during trading hours, because the refuse-collection vehicles would be causing unacceptable obstruction to traffic on the Kings Road during those hours. However, retailers should be encouraged to make agreements for their plastic and cardboard refuse to be removed by the same vehicles as are making deliveries to them, and this would reduce the number of vehicle-movements.
RBKC also needs to reduce clutter on pavements by removing as many bollards, railings and other street furniture as possible, consistent with safety considerations. There should also be a blitz on fly-posting at frequent intervals.
The King’s Road is not like Oxford Street, and we do not want it to be. It has traditionally been a place for small shops (except for Peter Jones) offering specialist goods and services, but land values are so high that in recent years only the international fashion houses, and chain stores and franchises, can afford the rents. They do make a contribution to life on the King’s Road but it would be unfortunate if they became so numerous as to change the character of the Road completely.
The landowners have to make profits, but there is a case for them to offer special terms for the kind of small businesses which have traditionally traded on the King’s Road. We know that the major landowners like Cadogan, Sloane Stanley, and Martins Properties are conscious of this but we still hear of small businesses being forced out by increasing rents. This will be exacerbated by increases in business rates which have recently been imposed.
The Chelsea Society itself may be able to assist small local businesses by drawing the attention of its members to the goods and services which they supply. However, the Society cannot endorse particular businesses, and any such scheme would need to be carefully considered. Small businesses also suffer from the issues already discussed above under Traffic, and Appearance and Cleanliness.