Time to have your say: Have you made up your mind about who should run the council?

Votes set to be cast on Thursday to decide who runs the Town Hall

Friday, 29th April — By Charlotte Chambers

Islington Town Hall

WHILE it may not be a nail-biting finish to the end of the race on election day on Thursday – with many predicting Labour to have another barnstorming performance – even council stalwarts admit there could be a few upset applecarts.

Four years ago, when Islington last went to the polls across the borough for local elections, Labour took all but one seat in the council chamber.

Their winning candidates took more than 50 per cent of the vote in nearly every ward and more than 100,000 votes out of 168,000 boxes ticked in total.

They even saw their total votes rise by nearly 5 per cent on the previous election.

It may be hard to imagine for anybody who has recently moved to the borough that the council – not that long ago – was run by the Liberal Democrats.

A ding-dong battle for control between the two parties has made way for Labour dominance more recently.

But is anything different this time, apart from the redrawn electoral map?

These new boundaries have led to the new ward of Laycock being created to bring the total number of voting areas up from 16 to 17. Other wards have been reshaped and renamed.

Highbury West has ben rejigged, it’s now called Arsenal; Highbury East, is now just called Highbury; St George’s becomes Tufnell Park and St Mary’s and St Peters have had slight name changes – St Mary’s and St James’ and St Peter’s and Canalside, respectively.

The other ward names remain unchanged although they may have had slight boundary changes.

The Tories picked up one seat during the course of this last administration when former mayor Rakhia Ismail defected from Labour.

Labour are considered the closest thing to a dead cert to hold onto power overall, but there may be a number of issues this time around that could trip them up – and see the numbers change, even slightly, against them.

One thorny subject that has taken up yards of space in our letters pages week after week is the Holloway Prison redevelopment.

Campaigners and neighbours have been calling for a rethink on the height of the tower blocks which are due to be built there later this year.

Some opponents say the massive development will block out their sun.

Women’s groups were also left disappointed after they were allocated just one floor in the same redevelopment for a new centre.

They had been calling for a women’s standalone building to match the legacy of the site, formerly an historic women’s prison which once incarcerated the suffragettes.

Another subject that has equally taken up space in our post bag each week is the highly divisive low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) which began to be rolled out across the borough at the start of the pandemic, without consultation.

While many green groups and active travel campaigners have welcomed the traffic-reducing schemes, vocal opponents have argued that the measures have simply forced the traffic onto already strained main roads and have not been properly thought through.

Anti-LTN groups – including the well-organised Keep Islington Moving – have decried what they see as a lack of consultation at the launch of the schemes, which were rolled out across the borough with no questions asked of the public.

Indeed, some in Labour camps now privately recognise that their “act first, ask later” approach may well have backfired, and that their recent consultations on LTNs in some wards may have been too little too late to recoup lost votes from businesses and disabled groups most put out by the changes.

But others have also praised Labour for pushing the envelope on what is seen in some circles as a radical solution to a global climate emergency.

Not only do they argue that drivers need to reassess how often they use their cars, but also that measures need to go much further to protect children from air pollution.

A number of hustings events this week seemed to confirm that green issues will be a major focus at this election.

An active travel debate – looking at how to encourage people to leave their cars at home – focused on how to reduce traffic in Islington and get people moving in other ways.

Another hustings last night (Thursday) asked how Islington can achieve its target of Net Zero by 2030.

In recent weeks, there has been another familiar line of division between Labour and its opponents: simply the line that one party’s absolute dominance of the council is essentially unhealthy for debate.

This political hot potato ran in back and forth style for several weeks in the Tribune’s letters pages too, after Cllr Caroline Russell complained that Labour debated difficult issues in secret and could not be scrutinised effectively without enough opposition members to hold them to account.

Labour councillors Gulcin Ozdemir and Tricia Clarke angrily disagreed with her analysis, insisting that their political integrity came before party loyalty.

Their words of anger – some of which were also directed at the Tribune – were then criticised by groups who are concerned by what they see as a lack of diversity of thought in the decision-making process.

Postal ballots are already being cast. Others will head to polling stations on Thursday.

The count up on votes is taking place the next day – Friday May 6 – and you will be able to read the result of every ward on our website, and then in the newspaper.

Labour: ‘Fairer, safer, greener’

• Labour have gone big on housing. By 2026, they pledge to deliver “at least” 750 new council homes amid a total of 1,550 new affordable homes – this will go some way to easing the devastating need for housing on their 14,000-strong housing list.

• They promise to be the party that “protects” youth services while guaranteeing every secondary school-aged child has access to a laptop or tablet.

• Creating 1,000 apprenticeships and incentivising local businesses to pay employees the Living Wage.

• They have promised to spend more than £10 million year on year until 2026, making council homes “fit for the future,” by making them better insulated and energy efficient. They hope this will reduce carbon emissions and tenants’ bills.

• Roll out of bike hangars by 2026 to meet demand of 7,000 on waiting list.

Conservatives: ‘It’s time for change’

• Straight out of the blocks with their flagship policy: the Tories would scrap all LTNs on the grounds that they have not worked – pollution on main roads has increased along with emergency services response times. Perhaps recognising that they are unlikely to win control of the council, they have promised they would scrap LTNs in the wards in which they are elected.

• To bolster their green credentials elsewhere, they have promised to scrap parking charges for electric cars.

• Freeze council tax for the next four years.

• Introduce “bobbies on bikes” in an attempt to catch phone snatchers and muggers.

• Incentivise businesses to offer apprenticeships by discounting their business rates.

• Offer “limited” free parking to “drivers who want to stop and shop at our local businesses”.

Lib Dems: ‘Listening to Islington’

• Calling Labour “complacent and tone deaf,” the Lib Dems have promised to listen.

• While the Lib Dems support LTNs, they accused Labour of “bungling” it through a lack of consultation. They promise to give exemptions to disabled people, carers and other “essential users”. They promise not to introduce any new LTNs without support from local “Citizens Assemblies”.

• Drawing on advice from Lib Dem-run councils Kingston, Richmond and Sutton, they said they would tackle poor rates of recycling to match high rates in those boroughs.

• Cut the cost of parking a bike to £20: “storing a bike should never cost more than parking a car in the borough”. They have also pledged to provide bike hangars anywhere they are requested by six or more residents.

Greens: ‘More green councillors’

• Attacking “lopsided democracy,” the Greens called for a mix of councillors to properly scrutinise and provide effective opposition to Labour.

• Housing: build extra council homes on land already built on – with resident support look at building on garages and roofs. All new developments to be 50 per cent affordable.

• “Expand and improve the LTN programme”.

• Ensure that Islington is on track to meet its Net Zero 2030 target

• Support the Mayor’s Vision Zero approach to Islington’s roads – ensuring there are no deaths or serious injuries.

• Build protected cycle paths on all main roads.

• Ensure it’s always cheaper to park a bike than a car.

• Support parklets, play streets, school streets and enforce anti-idling.

• Restrict the “roamer” parking scheme to older people and those with disabilities.

Wards to watch

Tufnell Park (formerly St George’s): The Holloway prison redevelopment is a hot topic after local activists accused the party of “not listening” to their concerns and prioritising new homes above everything else. The Greens came close under old ward boundaries before but have work to do to unseat Labour’s Tricia Clarke and Gulcin Ozdemir who in recent weeks have railed against warnings of a “one-party state” running the Town Hall.

Highbury: Another key ward the Greens have been eyeing up in this election run-up is Highbury, the ward where they won their sole elected councillor eight years ago. This time around, they are hoping all three of their candidates will be hitting the top spot after they were both less than 100 votes behind the two Labour councillors elected four year ago.

St Mary’s and St James’: Liberal Democrats are making their push here polling a triple – and credible – runner up to Labour in 2018. They have put two of their of their best known candidates in this ward: Kate Pothalingam and Terry Stacey, the Lib Dem’s rambunctious former leader who ran the council until 2006.

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