Party promises could spell the end of the road for people-friendly streets

Controversial low-traffic neighbourhoods may be a defining issue in elections

Friday, 29th April — By Ellie Crabbe

Lenny Villa

Lenny Villa: ‘As long as Boris keeps on doing what he’s doing all the boroughs are going to turn to Labour’

COULD low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) – the removal of traffic from local streets – be a defining issue at this year’s council elections?

Businesses that we spoke to this week on a tour of the borough suggested frustrations could be a factor, but the Labour Party would ultimately retain control of the Town Hall.

Over the course of the council’s four-year cycle, there have been anti-LTN protests outside the Town Hall building, but Islington has remained undeterred, insisting the environmental benefits of cutting down car traffic are too important to step away from.

The Conservatives say they will abandon the road closures, while the Greens and the Lib Dems – while distancing themselves from Labour’s approach – have both said they will support upholding the LTNs already in place.

Labour and the Greens want to see more restrictions brought in while the Lib Dems have pledged to hold “Citizens Assemblies” to decide whether any more roads should be affected.

And none of this has gone unnoticed.

In Highbury Park, part of the renamed ward Highbury, James Godfrey from the butchers said they may have to follow other businesses in the street and close if customers do not return to the area soon.

Complaining that LTNs had “massively reduced” their passing trade, he said: “Rents have been going up and for about a year while sales have been dropping so we just don’t know how much longer we will be here.

“Other businesses on this road are closing down because it is just not viable anymore.” He said while he hadn’t decided who to vote for, it “definitely won’t be Labour”.

Lee Bourne of fishmongers Bourne’s, also in Highbury Park, said he felt “completely disillusioned” with the council and was considering abstaining altogether. Colleague Gary Stammers agreed, adding: “The main issue for me is the road closures which are destroying business here. Customer numbers have dropped massively. We don’t have anywhere near as much footfall here as we once did.”

He said getting home – just 10 minutes away – had become “awful” due to traffic caused by road closures.

Meanwhile at ED Elsons in Essex Road, builders merchant Geoff Gray said the Tory promise to do away with road closures was an appealing prospect – and predicted it would win them lots of votes on polling day.

He said: “I will only vote for people who are getting rid of LTNs. I think lots of people will vote Conservative.

“The council is supposed to represent the people of the borough but they did not properly consult us. That’s what I’m angry about. If people had been properly consulted and the majority had agreed to the LTNs then that would be fine.”

He complained that the LTNs’ goal to cut pollution had not worked as the main roads were now clogged with stand-still vehicles.

“We use large trucks and they have to take big detours now, which would surely increase emissions,” he added. “Of all the residents who come in the shop, I don’t know anyone who supports the LTNs. I think lots of people will be voting Conservative.”

David Twydell, who chairs Chapel Market’s traders’ association representing 60 traders, said while he recognised traffic emissions were an issue, “without proper logistics our trade cannot exist”. He said he would not be voting Labour, but kept his voting card close to his chest.

Calling the restrictions “unnecessary,” he added: “It feels like everything is tailored to cyclists who don’t contribute to the community in the same way that we do. Deliveries are taking us much longer and I think the congestion and emissions are just being directed elsewhere.

“I love Islington, I was born and bred here. I’ve seen a lot change, but recently I don’t think the changes have been for the better.”

However, not everyone was cheerleading the Tories.

Lenny Villa from framing shop Leonard Villa Ltd in Caledonian Road said he has “been a Tory for ever and ever” but thought they would struggle to gain any seats against a backdrop of Tory behaviour on a national level.

“As long as Boris keeps on doing what he’s doing all the boroughs are going to turn to Labour,” he said.

Locally he believes the issue that will drive people to voting booths is the cost of living and rising inflation – which will impact on mortgages and savings.

But he thought it would also inspire younger people to vote as their living standards plummet.

“It’s going to be difficult for the younger people,” he added. “They can’t afford to buy houses so they’re renting. Rents are going up by four or five per cent.

“So if you’re young, suppose you’re on £20,000-£25,000 a year, by the time you paid your rent, your phone bill and you’ve had your Costa coffee there’s not much left.”

He also felt that the LTNs were an issue for local businesses and welcomed them being reversed.

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