Exmouth Market traders call for the street to be made more welcoming for al fresco dining – but claim that Islington Council has dragged its heels by Elena Vardon
Restaurateurs and street traders on Exmouth Market are calling on Islington Council to extend the pedestrianisation of the street. Vehicles can currently drive down the market bar between noon and 2.30 pm on weekdays, although most pedestrians already tend to walk on the road. Their argument is that a permanent change of policy, making Exmouth Market fully pedestrian, could boost local businesses and Clerkenwell as a whole.
Fifteen pavement temporary licences have been issued to premises in Exmouth Market, according to the council. Councillor Asima Shaikh, executive member for inclusive economy and jobs said: “We’ve issued many pavement licences to help businesses adapt, and we will continue to issue licences wherever we can. Our teams have also worked hard to help businesses use areas on the pavement outside neighbouring premises, with their permission.”
“We’re supporting the local cafes, restaurants and pubs in Exmouth Market so they can offer attractive outside seating, welcome customers in a Covid-safe way, and keep their employees protected.” Yet the measures remain temporary and traders see the lack of proper pedestrianisation as an opportunity lost to futureproof the neighbourhood. “The idea is to make the road a promenade” says Garath Kerr, the owner of Café Kick, who has been trading for more than 20 years on the site.
Kerr has started a campaign on behalf of traders to make the street pedestrian from noon to midnight, with deliveries and rubbish collection outside of trading hours. He and others argue that a motor-free corridor would allow more footfall and commercial activity for the street’s independent shops and restaurants, enhancing the cultural character of Exmouth Market as a destination street. “We have a real mix of people down this market – we have the locals that live on estates to posh people that buy my most expensive bottle of wine,” he says. As well as bars and restaurants, it also has a variety of shops: a florist, a hairdresser, a tattoo parlour, a cycle shop, pharmacy and locksmith. Kerr adds that residents and passers-by would also enjoy less pollution and noisy disturbances.
All over the country, European-style terrace dining is becoming a fixture in commercial streets. The nature of Exmouth Market makes it the perfect street in Clerkenwell to be a model of pedestrianisation and al fresco socialising in a controlled and mutually beneficial manner. Traders are currently serving customers on tables outside their premises under the government’s temporary pavement licenses to support social distancing.
As a non-pedestrian street with pavements delimited by bollards, only one row of chairs and tables is allowed. But this wasn’t always the configuration of outdoor dining on the market . Restaurateurs have been serving cus – tomers on two rows of tables on the footpath between their shops and the bollards for years. They continued to do so under the temporary licenses since last summer. Yet council enforcement officers, when preparing for reopening after the third lockdown in the spring, told traders they were to be allowed to only have one row of tables, as two rows constitute a wilful obstruction of a highway, an offence punishable by fines or criminal prosecution.
Traders argue that an extra line of tables provides more control by allowing people to sit down, instead of encouraging noisy crowds, and that taking tables away results in people standing, leading to less manageable situations. “Even in height of summer, the atmosphere is slightly being lost,” says Samantha Clark, the proprietor of Moro, the restaurant that launched the reputation of Exmouth Market as a gastronomic hub in 1997. As Clark says, “none of this is controversial”. The pedestrian model has already been in place and is proven to benefit traders, customers and policing. Adds Kerr: “We want the street to work positively for everyone.”
A consultation period and collaboration with different stakeholders would be needed but Exmouth Market traders are willing to support Islington Council and accommodate temporary adjustments. In a similar fashion to Chapel Market, signs could be erected on each side of the street to keep vehicles from entering.
As a council spokesperson says, “Under the Government’s guidance, licences granted by the council under the streamlined pavement licence process are temporary and will not be valid beyond the end of September. “We have looked at temporarily making Exmouth Market a pedestrian street, but this wasn’t possible because of the need to keep access for local residents and businesses. We need to consider all local needs and any proposal to create a pedestrian street would be subject to full consultation with the local community.”
Kerr and fellow traders believe that a change in policy in line with the needs of Clerkenwell is crucial to adapt to post-pandemic ways of business and socialising. “This is a chance for Islington to illustrate how a beautiful street can be turned into a vibrant future high street,” he says.