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Renaming streets in wake of BLM could cost hundreds of thousands, LBC reveals

7 October 2021, 07:03

Renaming streets with links to the slave trade could cost councils hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Renaming streets with links to the slave trade could cost councils hundreds of thousands of pounds. Picture: Alamy
Matthew Thompson

By Matthew Thompson

Renaming streets with links to the slave trade could cost councils hundreds of thousands of pounds, LBC can reveal.

Several councils who initially announced plans to review street names in the wake of BLM protests last summer appear to have quietly shelved or delayed the plans.

We sent freedom of information requests to eight councils who had announced concrete plans to rename streets. The results are striking.

Last year, Hackney Council set up a “Review, Rename and Reclaim” programme that identified 16 streets in the borough. So far, they told us just two of them have been renamed, at a cost of £22,000.

Renaming them all, even at that price, would take the total well into six figures. But the cost of renaming residential streets is likely to be higher still.

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Documents produced for Haringey Council earlier this year revealed that the price of renaming just one street, Black Boy Lane, was estimated to be £186,000. That’s largely because of the disruption to residents who would have to change their addresses on everything from bank statements to driving licenses. The council proposed giving every resident a £300 compensation payment.

But residents we spoke to were less than enamoured with the idea. When told of the likely price, walking her kids home from school, Yerie Kamara said, “What? No! That’s ridiculous. As a black lady, it’s better to invest in our community. We need more centres for the kids. After school clubs. But that kind of money on a street? At this time? No. No, no, no."

Alin Vlad, who moved to the street six months ago, said: "It’s a waste of money. Just leave the name how it is. You could spend the money on something beneficial. Clean the street, or supply extra security. That would be a better idea than spending the money on changing the name, it’s not worth it."

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Faced with that eye-watering estimate, Haringey Council deferred the decision in March. They told us a report with proposed next steps would be considered by the end of the year.

And there are signs other councils are now getting cold feet.

After the BLM protests last year, Newcastle Council said they would review two streets: Blackett Street and Colston Street. When we asked them this year though, they said the council had no plans to rename the streets.

Similarly, last year Watford Council agreed to look at renaming four streets. When we asked them their assessment of the costs, they said no assessments of renaming the roads had been made at all.

Plymouth City Council managed to spend a mere £590 renaming Sir John Hawkins Square, but crucially, it is not a residential area, so has none of the costs associated with Black Boy Lane.

Camden Council told us they had spent £12,000 on renaming Cecil Rhodes House in September this year. But crucially, they admitted that this did not include “any possible remuneration, disruption or out of pocket costs to residents” which they said would be made on a case-by-case basis. So it’s clear the costs could escalate.

Susan Hall, Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly said: “This is just so ridiculous. Splashing thousands of pounds to rename street signs, it just shows a complete disregard for taxpayers’ money, and of course our city’s history.

"When councils are cash-strapped, which I genuinely believe they are, for them to even be looking at this is absolute nonsense."

Hackney Council, though, defended its programme. Cllr Carole Williams, the lead for equalities, said: “Hackney residents, over 25% of whom have African or Caribbean heritage, have told us in consultation that they are offended by the legacy of those who profited from enslaved Africans. 

“Our Review, Rename, Reclaim project has identified 16 sites named after those involved in the slave trade, and is working directly with local people to reclaim this legacy and make our public spaces more representative of local communities.”

Councillor Joseph Ejiofor, leader of Haringey Council, said they are seeking “to ensure that our monuments, building, place and street names are reflective of our values, and the culture and diversity in our borough”.