Press Release

‘Chronic’ issue of street clutter leaves London lagging behind global rivals – new report

Central London faces ‘chronic’ issues with street clutter that are making the capital a worse place to live, travel, visit and work in, according to a new report from the think tank Centre for London.

The report, Reducing Street Clutter in Central London, warns that the city centre’s clutter – examples of which include advertising ‘A boards’, disused phone boxes and rubbish bags – makes it harder for Londoners to navigate the city, consequently reducing potential footfall for local businesses. It also poses a major threat to London’s status as an attractive global city for international visitors and domestic tourists alike.Defined as poorly placed or redundant objects on pavements that negatively affect pedestrians’ ability to move around, the research finds that failure to clamp down on clutter leads to the worsening of multiple interlinked issues.

Defined as poorly placed or redundant objects on pavements that negatively affect pedestrians’ ability to move around, the research finds that failure to clamp down on clutter leads to the worsening of multiple interlinked issues.Amongst these, negative impacts on the desirability of walking in London are highlighted as a concern. For London to reach net-zero, walking needs to be both a desirable and accessible experience, but the Centre’s researchers provide examples which show that many pavements lack the adequate amount of space (2 metres) needed to be considered walkable for all, due to clutter. Furthermore, they stress that ‘clutter’ is a term specifically applied to the objects on the street that are disused, such as discarded e-bikes and vandalised phone boxes, as opposed to their functional equivalents.Tackling street clutter is pivotal as an equalities issue in particular. The problem affects people with mobility difficulties, who use wheelchairs, or who are blind or visually impaired, more than other Londoners. Leaving clutter unresolved is stopping disabled people for having equal access to London’s streets and shops.The report’s focus on central London was based on the use of stress assessments. Researchers assessed Goodge Street in W1, Charing Cross Road in WC2 and Belvedere Road in SE1. Consistent across all three locations was the finding that A boards were the most common form of street clutter, and that nearly half (47) per cent of all street clutter had a ‘moderate’ or ‘severe’ impact on the walkability of pavements for pedestrians.To reduce street clutter in central London, the report argues that key players in London governance must work together, which starts by collectively placing greater emphasis on the need to tackle the issue. The report recommends that the Greater London Authority should ban A boards, that local authorities develop decluttering strategies which can be incorporated into their existing street related activities, and that local authorities work with business improvement districts (BIDs) to reduce the impact of commercial waste on local streets.In some instances, local authorities lack the funding and powers to address the issue in what many Londoners would see as prompt timing. Some roads with notable levels of clutter have complicated governance structures which can take the ability to solve the issue out of local authority hands entirely. Centre for London are calling on national government to give local authorities the powers and resources they need to deal with street clutter, to give London the world class pavements it needs to avoid being left behind by other global cities already prioritising the issue.

Millie Mitchell, Senior Researcher at Centre for London, said:London is a fantastic global city, but it isn’t going far enough in ensuring everyone can enjoy walking in its city centre equally.Our research has revealed the growing accessibility issues that street clutter presents. It’s stopping people from walking to where they need to be, and the knock-on impacts are worrying for businesses, for London’s net-zero targets, and for disabled Londoners.With the right action from government, businesses and local authorities, we can make sure the need to reduce street clutter is taken more seriously. This would make London a role model for urban walkability across the world.”Alexander Jan, Non-Executive Chair at Central District Alliance, said:“This report is a wake-up call to get to grips with the unacceptable condition of many of central London’s streets. Business Improvement Districts including the Central District Alliance and Hatton Garden know all too well the harm to residents, visitors and businesses that half-abandoned phone-boxes, chaotic commercial waste services and badly managed utility roadworks cause to our urban environment  – and to London’s reputation as a global city.  

At a time when New York and others are marching ahead with investment in street waste management systems and the wholesale removal of phone-boxes, our government at all levels – as well as statutory regulators and utility providers – together need to up their game urgently to tackle long standing problems that damage too much of London’s public realm.”