Blog Post

How can we de-clutter London’s streets?

Millie Mitchell explores the negative impacts that street clutter is having in London, and what can be done about it.

What comes to mind when you think of the term ‘street clutter’? Disused phone boxes? Abandoned e-bikes? Confusing street signs?

Street clutter is any poorly placed or redundant object on the pavement that is negatively impacting pedestrians and other pavement users.

Central London has a street clutter problem. But how big is this problem, why is it happening and what should policymakers do about it?

Bin bags creating clutter in central London, blocking access to the pavement.

The scale of the issue

Street clutter causes problems for everyone.

  • Problems for pedestrians, who have less space to move around.
  • Problems for disabled people, for whom obstructions on the pavement can be difficult or even impossible to navigate.
  • Problems for people with visual impairments, who are at more risk from trip hazards and whose ability to navigate independently is disrupted by poorly placed objects.
  • Problems for visitors, who encounter messy and sometimes dangerous pavements when visiting the capital.
  • Problems for businesses, who lose out on footfall when streets aren’t clean and attractive.

Drivers of street clutter

In recent years, pavements have been used for more and more functions. Outdoor dining became increasingly popular during the pandemic, and many businesses have continued this since. Similarly, the number of dockless e-bikes across London have rapidly increased and EV charging points are now commonplace on the pavement.

In themselves, these new uses of the street are a good thing that policy makers typically encourage. But where pavements are narrow, or have existing street furniture, these new uses are increasing the cluttered feeling of  pavements.

But it’s not just new uses; street clutter is also a result of much older items on the pavement. Some, like the classic red phone box, can add character to London’s pavements. But other objects are now redundant, and yet still take up space.

Sometimes, street clutter is a result of inadequate infrastructure. Walking through central London, it is not uncommon to see large piles of commercial waste on the pavement. This is because for many businesses, there is simply nowhere else for them to put it.

What can be done?

Redundant items on the pavement need to be removed. But without adequate powers and resources, this can be challenging for local authorities to do.

National government should fund local authorities to allow them to carry out street clutter assessments – something that could also be done by giving them the power to levy charges on street furniture that they don’t own.

But even within current constraints, both local authorities and the GLA can develop strategies for decluttering. This might look like:

  • Raising awareness amongst highway maintenance staff about the negative impacts of street clutter and establishing clear processes for both staff and the public to report clutter.
  • Making space for new street furniture, such as bike racks and outdoor dining in parking spaces instead of on the pavement, where appropriate.
  • Introducing a ban on A boards for all businesses in London.
  • Working with dockless micromobility providers to create more dedicated, clearly marked bays for parking.

Our vision is for London’s streets to be inclusive, safe, vibrant and walkable or wheelable for all Londoners. Government at all levels and businesses working together to reduce street clutter will be key to delivering this.

Read our latest report to find out more.

Millie Mitchell is Senior Researcher at Centre for London.