Mind That Child! (or Falling out of love with Mr Whippy)

By Phil Cowan.

Spring was a welcome early visitor this year, making a surprise appearance in late February. While the unusually warm spell was short-lived, it ushered in an unexpected rush of budding trees, flowering plants, visitors to the area and even a few bees.

The roads around Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill also attracted a large swarm of ice-cream vans eager to cash in on the sunshine-drenched queues of people in search of frozen delights.

The tradition of ice-cream vans purveying their wares to happy kids enjoying a day out in a lovely location is an essential part of the childhood narrative.

The tradition of ice-cream vans purveying their wares to happy kids enjoying a day out in a lovely location is an essential part of the childhood narrative.

Brightly painted vehicles offering delicious treats to cool us down while playing intoxicatingly uplifting piped music as well as sending out messages of care towards children can seem pretty irresistible, until you look under the bonnet.

When all the pleasantries are stripped away, it is revealed that the operators of these businesses are virtually unregulated. Hygiene standards, road safety, tax compliance and pollution of our environment appear not to apply to them. It would seem that all attempts to bring them onto a level playing field with traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ outlets have been in vain.

Years of campaigning to bring this situation under control have unfortunately failed, in spite of the valiant efforts of many local campaigners, elected representatives and council officials.

There is no doubt in my mind that we will experience another summer of our beautiful area being endangered by recklessly parked vehicles pumping out constant diesel particulates into the lungs of the very people who are buying their products. Mind That Child! Oh, the irony!

The truth, whether we like it or not, is that our council simply doesn’t have the resources to police this situation by issuing fines; these are in any case ineffective as they are built into the business model of the operator.

The cabinet member for improving Camden’s environment, Adam Harrison, recently stated, “We know that enforcement only has limited impact and cannot operate all the time.

I agree that a different and more pragmatic approach to this issue should be adopted if there is any chance of a successful outcome. People like ice-creams in the summer: a fact that will never change. We should be exploring how we can buy them in a much safer environment that encourages businesses to operate within the law and reassures customers that they are doing so, thus boosting trade.

Firstly, I would propose that proper licences be awarded to legitimate operators based on their compliance with food hygiene and other standards. These licences should relate to designated locations that are not a risk to pedestrians, cyclists or vehicular traffic.

Secondly, the issue of pollution from the constantly running engines needs imagination to resolve. Ice-cream melts when it is not frozen and so requires refrigeration! We have an ambition in this borough to increase electric charging points for all types of vehicles to reduce emissions. Would it not be possible for licensed and approved ice-cream vans to plug into these charging points at designated locations, removing the threat to local air quality?

Or could we go one step further and take inspiration from Styles Ice Cream of Somerset, who introduced the first solar-powered vans in the UK in 2018. They have seen a huge increase in trade by displaying the right environmental credentials to their customers.

There are so many ways that this much-loved part of the British summertime experience could be improved for everyone in Primrose Hill. Working together with neighbours, visitors, the council and the traders themselves, I’m convinced we can turn ideas into actions and make buying our summer specialities safer, better and more environmentally responsible. Until that happens, Mr Whippy, I’m afraid we can’t be friends.

If you would like to make your thoughts known on this issue please email Adam.Harrison@camden.gov.uk

You can also follow Phil (Community campaigner in Camden Town and Primrose Hill) on Twitter at @Primrose_Phil

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