Like many high streets in the UK, Roman Road is struggling in the face of changing shopping habits and a gradual loss of employment land. During the twentieth century, most of the local factories and industrial estates were demolished, as were a number of historical landmarks and recreational facilities. These were replaced by sprawling housing estates, creating cul-de-sacs and inaccessible communities. Roman Road faces the additional challenge of servicing one of the most deprived wards in the country while being under intense pressure from rising property prices in the rapidly developing East London.
The result is a unique set of challenges: high shop vacancy rate, dilapidated shop fronts, lack of evening or leisure economies, loss of community space, increasingly heavy vehicular traffic being filtered down Roman Road to the A12, poorly designed public realm, and poor pedestrian flow between Bow East and Bow West.
Our high street challenges
Following our consultation in 2013, the following issues were identified as some of key challenges faced by Roman Road:
Improving Roman Road Market
During the early part of the twentieth century Roman Road Market was one of London’s most famous markets attracting hoards of people from the city and afar. You could buy anything on Roman Road Market but it was particularly well-known for high quality fashion from the factory outlets of designer labels and reproductions by expert tailors and seamstresses. The Market suffered a slow decline following Word War II and by the 1990s it was a shadow of its former self.
Roman Road Trust wants to see the market thrive once more. We are working closely with the Council to establish the challenges faced by Roman Road Market and what can be done about them. This involves discussions with Highways, Development and Markets about a variety of interlinked issues including parking, storage, electricity supplies, back-to-back stalls, traffic control, road resurfacing and the curation of content.
Lack of evening or leisure economies
Online shopping has drawn shoppers away from the traditional high street and high streets are struggling to adapt. One way to adapt is by offering something the Internet can’t offer – experiences. The Internet may be the best place for comparion and discount shopping but it can’t offer human interaction, the opportunity to touch and taste products or a good night out with friends.
There is the potential to tempt visitors back to the high street by offering experiential value: workshops, meet-the-maker talks, community events, and an evening offer with bars, restaurants and local events.
Animation of the high street
Badly used areas of public realm along Roman Road contribute to a lack of street animation. Short dead end roads and cul-de-sacs – an unfortunate by-product of housing estates built in the 1960s – are now redundant spaces. Pavements are narrow, especially around the critical junction of Roman Road and St Stephen’s Road. Together with Cass we are working on ideas that could improve the vibrancy of the road.
Hoardings and dilapidated shops
Many of Roman Road’s shops are owned by absentee landlords. Out of sight and out of mind, shop fronts have fallen into disrepair and estate agents hoardings have proliferated contributing to a unkempt and untended appearance. We campaign to have these removed. If you want to see a particular hoarding removed or a shopfront repaired, email us the image at email@example.com.
Loss of retail square footage
Recent relaxation of planning laws means that property developers are now able to convert much retail space into residential without regulation. Over the last two years over a dozen shops have been bought by property developers who have converted the basement, the back of shops and above the shops into flats. With flats on Roman Road selling for £300-500,000 there is profit to be made by the developer, however this comes at a cost to the health of the high street.
Reducing shop floor square footage and removing basement storage, back-office space and even toilets facilities, means the resulting retail unit can be unviable for businesses in the long term, increasing empty shops and business churn rate. We campaign against planning applications that radically reduce the size and viability of retail units and we are in talks with the council about introducing a minimum ‘viable retail unit size.’
Poor pedestrian flow
The junction of Roman Road and St Stephens Road is the geographical heart of Roman Road, connecting the market and larger shops at the eastern end with the smaller, boutique shops at the western end.
To be successful it should be the social heart of our high street, enjoying the highest footfall, and encouraging pedestrian flow between both parts of Roman Road. Yet the traffic lights and priority given to vehicles accessing the A12 makes this junctions hard to cross, noisy and divisive.
This junction could and should be an area that attracts and encourages pedestrians to enter and congregate. Instead the junction serves to split our high street into two halves and prevent pedestrian flow and social interaction. We are working with The Cass and Tfl on plans to improve the junction, making it a pleasant place for pedestrians to access and socialise and unifying both ends of the road.
What we do
Roman Road Trust will work to:
1. Identify issues most important to the community
We want to work with the local community on these issues, creating a plan for the future as a community so we can better influence local planning and policy. We are doing this by launching community-led a Neighbourhood Plan that will help create better local policies on issues such as the ones listed below.
2. Build an evidence base to support our case
To help secure support and funding from local authorities and investment partners we need to build a compelling case based on evidence. We work to mapped, surveyed, measured and audited the shops on the high street, our community spaces, new housing developments, footfall, public realm space and service agreements with the local authority.
3. Campaign for change
The current socio-economical climate welcomes the establishment of hyper local groups to help have a say and govern their communities. There is a recognition that the success of local economies is best achieved through the adoption of localism. We help that happen.
4. Raise funds to make the changes
With the backing of the community and evidence in place, we then apply for grants and bids to improve Roman Road.