Question (a) from Helena Farstad to Cllr Champion, Executive Member for Environment & Transport.
The Mayon street traffic improvement project - as documented in the Finsbury Park community plan - was consulted on through autumn last year and finally approved by the residents in early December 2019. Since then, a senior officer from the Traffic & Engineering team at Islington Council, confirmed that the scheme, that will stop motor vehicles, vans, and lorries using Mayton street as a rat run, leading to illegal levels of pollution in this residential street, was expected to be implemented by the end of that financial year (April 5th 2020).
On the 20th March there was still no date communicated for the scheme and a string of correspondence commenced raising concerns that due to the developments of the Covid-19 pandemic we might experience delays in the implementation. A response from the senior traffic officer was received on the 24th March that confirmed this concern, and we are now, albeit several written requests, repeatedly told that we need to wait for further information.
Lockdown is now easing, meaning traffic is increasing, and our street is rapidly returning to the unsafe, polluted, and noisy cut through that we so intently campaigned for with invaluable support from our local ward councillor, Cllr Heather. In a public health crisis, that is Air Pollution, augmented by the Covid-19 pandemic, we do not have the luxury of time and our patience has run out.
I therefore found it very difficult to celebrate the recent announcement of the conversion of St Peter's Ward, becoming a Low Traffic Neighbourhood during the first weeks of July, when 'our scheme', signed off last year, is still without a date.
Please can the Councillor explain how she thinks this is acceptable, why the Mayton street traffic improvement project and our health & safety is not seen as priority and confirm when we will receive a date for implementation of the scheme?
As Cllr Champion was not present the question was answered by Cllr Watts:
Thank you Helena for your question and I am pleased to hear about the strong support for the planned improvements for Mayton Street. This reflects the feedback from the public consultation that we carried out in the area late last year. I’d also like to thank the Finsbury Park councillors for driving forward these plans, and their commitment to improving the area for everyone, in the local community.
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 public health emergency all engineering schemes were suspended at the end of March 2020 when we had intended to implement the changes at Mayton Street. In line with guidance on social distancing, it was unsafe to continue to implement schemes where social distancing could not be adhered to.
As you have hopefully been made aware, the works to deliver the changes at Mayton Street will now be carried out next month, between 10 August and 15 August 2020.
Together with other initiatives being delivered across the borough as part of our people-friendly streets programme, the changes at Mayton Street will improve local streets and make it easier and safer for people to walk, cycle and use wheelchairs, buggies and scooters.
Thank you. Could you please tell us more about the People Friendly Streets proposals for the Nag’s Head area?
Thank you. Design work is being carried out and we will share details with councillors and other key stakeholders in due course.
Question (b) from Roderik Gonggrijp to Cllr Ward, Executive Member for Housing and Development:
At the Community Plan for Holloway public meeting in the St George's church on March 7, you promised a genuine co-production consultation process for the Holloway Prison redevelopment. Given the disruption of the coronavirus crisis and the lockdown do you believe that the three week Peabody consultation, closing 3rd July, has been a genuine co-production' process with all the communities affected?
Thank you for your question. As you know, Islington Council is committed to ensuring everyone has a genuinely affordable, decent place to call home.
Holloway Prison site is a major step towards realising our ambition. That is why the Council adopted a supplementary planning document, to ensure the delivery of the maximum amount of high-quality, genuinely affordable homes, for local people.
Peabody has publicly committed to delivering 60% affordable housing. The council will seek to hold Peabody to account to ensure that this housing is genuinely affordable.
Whilst supporting a high density scheme, the council also wants to ensure that the scheme provides high quality homes for future residents with access to high quality outdoor space. The scheme must also be considerate of its impact on the surrounding area and be properly integrated into the local community so that it feels and operates as a natural extension of the area.
To do this, Peabody must undertake genuine and meaningful consultation with local people.
You are aware that, unfortunately, it is not up to me or Islington Council to carry out this consultation, however I have repeatedly called on Peabody to honour their promises of a co-production approach that fully engages local residents in drawing up and developing plans for the site. I have also stressed the importance of consulting with groups that are often under-represented in the planning process.
As you are aware, the scheme is currently at the pre-application stage, and we are expecting a planning application in autumn 2020.
Unfortunately the Covid-19 crisis has had a big impact on how local people have been able to have their say on the scheme, which is why I requested Peabody to extend the deadline of the current consultation, which you mentioned. I am pleased that on the back of my request, Peabody have confirmed that the consultation did not close on the 3rd July and will remain open. I also welcome their promise of at least one further round of public consultation before the planning application is submitted.
We will continue to promote the consultation to ensure all local people to have a chance to have their say on the site, and will continue to press for meaningful consultation from Peabody and look forward to the delivery of many desperately needed genuinely affordable homes for local people.
The scheme is intended to include a dedicated Women’s Building however I understand that this may now be incorporated into another building. Do you genuinely believe that that key stakeholders, including women’s groups, are being fully consulted on proposals for the building, including if the Women’s Building is freestanding, or an allocation of space within another building?
In short, yes. The scheme is subject to extensive consultation and very comprehensive engagement is being carried out. I encourage all groups with an interest in the scheme to take part in the consultation.
There are several examples in the borough of fantastic community facilities with council flats above and, once the rules are relaxed, I’d encourage you to visit those to see how it works.
Question (c) from Ernestas Jegorovas to Cllr Comer-Schwartz, Executive Member for Children, Schools and Families:
This year's Children's Services Scrutiny Committee reported that BAME (Black Caribbean) students were significantly underachieving compared to their fellow students at the end of KS4. What are your plans to academically support BAME students going forward?
As Cllr Comer-Schwartz was not present the question was answered by Cllr Watts:
Thank you for your question. I also want to thank the Children’s Services Scrutiny Committee for carrying out proper scrutiny, to help us tackle the current underachieving of Black Caribbean students at Key Stage 4 when compared to their peers.
We know that too many people of colour, specifically Black people, suffer from racial injustice and deep inequality in all parts of society, including in the education system.
In Islington, we are committed to delivering the best possible start in life for every child in the borough. This means that no matter what race, class or background a child comes from, they should have access to a world-class education and support network.
We have begun to implement many of the recommendations from the Children’s Services Scrutiny Committee, including specific work undertaken by the Equalities group. We have developed a dedicated action plan to improve achievement among children from BAME communities. This will be used as a basis for schools to make decisive changes and ensure that BAME children, specifically Black Caribbean children aren’t left behind.
Over the previous academic year, focused work by schools narrowed the gap between Black Caribbean boys and the average attainment considerably but there is still more to do - we must eliminate any gap entirely.
We also know that this is about wider diversity and representation in the education system.
I fully support the calls to Government from the National Education Union for increased diversity in the teaching profession, changes to the curriculum and a proper commitment to equip all trainee teachers with anti-racist strategies, across the UK. Locally, we are already supporting schools to carry out a range of continuing Professional Development activities for teachers, leaders and governors, including unconscious bias training.
Whilst the government don’t see this as an issue, we know it affects too many children in our borough. Sadly, if the last few months have taught us anything, it’s that we can’t wait for the Government to take any meaningful action, which is why we will press on with implementing the remaining recommendations from Children’s Scrutiny.
Supplementary schools have a key role to play. What support is being provided to them?
I would like to pay tribute to our supplementary schools and I am proud of our borough’s supplementary schools provision. I am proud of the support provided through our budget in February and I have asked officers in Children’s Services to work with supplementary school to see if we can identify further support for them.
Question (d) from Dominic Martin to Cllr Champion, Executive Member for Environment & Transport:
In light of the Secretary of State for Transport’s statutory guidance to local authorities of 9 May 2020 to “make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians”, please would the Executive Member provide the following information: (a) the changes to road layouts in Islington already implemented as a response to this guidance; (b) details of further planned changes to road layouts (and the expected dates of implementation); (c) a timetable for the response to the Islington Commonplace consultation on People Friendly Streets.
As Cllr Champion was not present the question was answered by Cllr Watts:
Thank you for your question. At the Council, we are proud of the work we are already undertaking to make our streets friendlier and make walking, cycling and using a buggy or wheelchair safer and easier.
The Council’s top priority throughout this crisis is keeping everyone in our borough safe and that is why we have already taken a number of steps and actions to introduce temporary measures to aid social distancing around shops and schools. This includes widening footways with temporary barriers at locations outside shops across the borough including on Liverpool Road, Highbury Barn, Green Lanes, Camden Passage, Chapel Market and on Stroud Green Road and supporting changes to Transport for London’s roads. Temporary barriers have also been introduced to aid social distancing at 11 schools so far with more to follow soon.
The council has an ambitious people-friendly streets programme to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and ensure we make positive, permanent changes that will see our streets become friendlier, safer and healthier. Islington’s people-friendly streets will create more space to make it easier to walk safely, cycle as part of everyday life, use buggies or wheelchairs, and crossroads. I am pleased to say that works on the first Low Traffic Neighbourhood in St Peter’s are soon to be completed, an important milestone in our people-friendly streets programme.
The St Peter’s scheme has been installed on a trial basis until next summer, when residents will be consulted on keeping the changes. More people-friendly streets neighbourhoods are set to be introduced in the Canonbury, Highbury, Clerkenwell, Nags Head, and St Mary’s areas by the autumn.
Today we have made a bold announcement that we will be accelerating the delivery of our school streets programme. This means that the number of School Streets in the borough will triple by the end of the year to 39.
In response to Covid-19 crisis and the reduced capacity and demand for public transport, we recognise the urgent need to create safe cycling routes across the borough. Therefore, we will also be introducing new segregated cycleways on main roads in the coming weeks and months.
Thank you, that is good to hear. One silver lining of the current situation is the improvements to the natural environment. We cannot afford to return to the levels of pollution we had before. Can you commit that we will not return to the pre-crisis levels of traffic and pollution?
The current situation has limited the capacity of London’s public transport network and without action we are at risk of traffic being worse than pre-crisis levels. I’d like to pay tribute to Cllr Champion for her work on the People Friendly Streets scheme. TFL are responsible for public transport and the major roads in the borough, but we are doing our bit to make sure that our streets are friendlier for pedestrians and cyclists.
Question (e) from Talia Hussain to Cllr Shaikh, Executive Member for Inclusive Economy and Jobs:
As a student, I’m very fortunate to have library access through my university and, crucially, internet and a computer that I can use at home. However, councillors will know that many less fortunate residents in the borough rely on local libraries for internet access, printing, book lending and other services. Wisely, the council chose to close libraries at the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak. However, I wonder what plans the council is now considering for partial re-opening so that residents who rely on libraries can access their vital services?
Thank you for your question, Talia. I’d also like to thank you for highlighting that Libraries are a key resource and community hub for so many Islington residents, and for given me the opportunity to say on record, how incredibly proud that, despite a decade of Tory Austerity, our Labour-run council has protected all of them.
Many local people, including myself, have missed Islington’s fantastic libraries and we look forward to re-opening them as soon as it is safe to do so, for the sake of our staff and our library users. Our safety first approach will involve very gradually re-introducing services, in a limited number of locations over a period of several weeks.
We have 10 library buildings, all of which present different challenges and which may require adaptations to operate safely. Detailed planning is now underway to prepare our buildings and our staff. A safe, phased approach will commence by inviting library users to return their books. There are over 11,000 items out on loan, all of which when returned, will be quarantined for 72 hours. We will then commence a click and collect service, again from a limited number of locations, to enable residents to take out new titles. Once we have click and collect safely underway, we will re-commence some public PC access, again from a limited number of locations and for limited periods of time.
I know how important access to free study space is, this is going to be limited because of the requirement for social distancing. However we are planning to make available study space at some of our largest libraries after we have safely restored public access to PCs.
I know our library service will be different as a result of our efforts to keep everyone safe. At the same time, we will continue with online books, newspapers and magazines which have proved very popular during lockdown, and I’m delighted to say we are re-commencing the Home Library Service.
I would also like to personally thank our libraries staff who were re-deployed during lockdown to staff the We Are Islington help desk, those that undertook wellbeing calls to our vulnerable residents, and for the rapid shift to online ways of operating, to stay engaged with our residents.
Thank you for your detailed response. A lot of people rely on libraries for internet access and other computer services. Can you tell me more about the plans to restore public access to PCs?
We are planning to restore access to some PCs in August. Those wishing to use them will need to book a time and they will be cleaned after use. As things improve, we hope to make more available. Further detail will be available soon.
The Mayor advised that the 30 minutes allocated for question from the public had expired and that all remaining questions would receive a written response.
Question (f) from Lucy Facer to Cllr Champion, Executive Member for Environment & Transport
Islington Clean Air Parents are impressed with the leadership and speed Islington Council are showing in their implementation of People Friendly Streets that will create low traffic neighbourhoods across half of Islington within a year. Please could the council comment on how they will communicate the positive effects of people friendly streets to the wider community?
Thank you for your question. I am pleased to hear that Islington Clean Air Parents are supporting the council’s people-friendly streets programme and our commitment to deliver them in a third of the borough by the end of the year, with other neighbourhoods set to benefit soon after.
Implementing people friendly streets will have benefits for everyone including making the air we breathe cleaner, increasing road safety and reducing noise caused by motor traffic. Friendlier local streets are more enjoyable to spend time in and make it easier for people to walk and cycle to work, school, local businesses and to other places, with considerable health and environmental benefits as a result.
These benefits will also be communicated to residents in a variety of ways. We will write to all residents, as we did in St Peter’s recently, prior to the implementation of each people-friendly streets neighbourhood. The council’s people-friendly streets web page will be regularly updated with new information and we will continue to use social media, local press and council publications to communicate with residents.
Making our streets more people- friendly is a huge step towards achieving our ambition to make our borough a fairer place for all. That is why our hardworking councillors will continue to communicate with all of our residents and local community groups about how we are tackling the issues the matter most to them.
We’ll continue to use all the communication channels available to us to showcase the positive case studies and stories in local press and to show the positive impact of these changes. We will also continue to work with local community groups, to help deliver this message to everyone in our borough.
Question (g) from Kate Pothalingam to Cllr Gill, Executive Member for Finance and Performance
In light of the articles in the Islington Gazette of 10 June and 15 June, please would the Executive Member provide the following information:
(a) the number of agency workers employed by Islington Borough Council in 2019 and 2020;
(b) the daily rates paid to agency workers during this period;
(c) the total cost to the Council of employing agency workers in 2019 and 2020;
(d) the steps being taken to reduce the costs of agency workers.
Islington Council is committed to recruiting permanent staff at all levels, wherever possible. We sometimes use agency and interim workers during periods of recruitment to ensure we can continue to provide the same excellent service local people deserve while vacancies are filled. All agency workers we employ contribute a valuable service throughout their time at the Council and we are grateful to them.
To answer your questions in full, in the financial year 2018/19, the Council employed an average of 505 agency workers per month and in 2019/20, employed an average of 504 agency workers per month. The average daily pay rate for agency workers during the period was £142.73 and the total cost to the Council was £20.95m in 2018/19 and £23.8m in 2019/20.
Despite, ten years of austerity - the council has been committed to protecting vital services local people need and managing our budgets to allow us to invest in the issues that matter most to local people.
We remain committed to further reduce the cost of agency workers to the Council and are already taking a number of steps to achieve this, including supporting departments to convert temporary staff into permanent employees with our ‘temp to perm’ guidance. We recruited a new Corporate Director for Resources earlier this year and we are now recruiting for a new Head of HR to improve our recruitment processes.
Question (h) from Devon Osborne to Cllr Watts, Leader of the Council
The Prime Minister has said that part of tackling a second wave of corona virus infections would be handled on a council level. Public health officials for other councils have begun to make suggestions and plans on how this could be done effectively. What plans has Islington Borough Council in place for a second wave?
As Leader of Islington Council, my top priority is keeping local people safe during this crisis. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council has and will continue to do everything it can to control the spread of the virus in Islington, providing support to those who need it and keeping vital services running safely. Supporting our communities, local businesses and organisations to put in place measures to prevent infection, reduce the risk of transmission and follow public health guidance, has been a core principle guiding and underpinning our response to date.
As restrictions on daily life are eased, it is critical that we have robust local systems and arrangements in place for preventing, rapidly responding to and controlling COVID-19 outbreaks. Timely testing and effective contract tracing will be key to reducing transmission of the virus and protecting lives during this next phase.
Demonstrating the critical role of Local Government in the response to COVID-19, Islington Council has developed a COVID-19 Outbreak Prevention and Control Plan, which sets out the systems we have established, in collaboration with our partners, to enable us to prevent and contain the spread of the virus in our borough and to investigate, manage and control local outbreaks, with a focus on our part in the testing and tracing system.
The plan outlines how the Council will continue to play a key role, working in partnership with health protection colleagues at Public Health England (PHE) London, in providing advice and support to a range of settings and communities, helping them to put in place measures to prevent infection, and investigating and managing outbreaks whilst remaining connected to key partners to ensure we deploy the necessary resources and interventions needed to contain any outbreaks that occur.
As we move forward, we will continue to deliver a ‘whole area’ response to COVID-19 in Islington, working closely with our partners and local organisations to ensure we all play our part in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and mitigating wider community impacts. This includes supporting local organisations and businesses to become ‘COVID secure’ and operate safely in accordance with Government guidance.
Connecting and engaging with our diverse communities and providing practical support to those who need it is a key part of our plan. The Council has an important role to play in ensuring that local communities have the knowledge and awareness of what to do if they develop symptoms of COVID-19, or are informed that they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. We will use a wide range of communication methods including social media and newsletters, amongst others, to ensure that all our residents have equal access to public health information and advice.
Nationally and locally, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted certain population groups, in particular older people and people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. We are committed to doing all we can to protect these individuals and groups and prevent and mitigate against any further disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 itself and the measures necessary to control its spread.
Further detail on the Council’s response is set out in the Outbreak Prevention and Control Plan, which can be accessed in full on our website.
Question (i) from Miriam Ashwell to Cllr Champion, Executive Member for Environment & Transport
Parks and greenspaces have been absolutely vital to Islington residents during the Coronavirus lockdown. We would like to thank the Council and Greenspace for keeping Islington's parks open, and commend their staff for their hard work in difficult circumstances. However, there has been a significant problem with litter in recent weeks as lockdown eases, which has upset many residents, and action is needed against those who abuse our parks by leaving litter, dog-mess, and damaged/burnt patches of grass. Local people have been litter-picking but our parks need your help.
Given the evidence that litter attracts more litter, antisocial behaviour, and crime, will Islington Borough Council increase anti-littering education and posters, and take action to address antisocial behaviours; and given the difficult financial situation, could the Council consider increasing fines and enforcement including patrols on sunny days and evenings?
Measures used in other cities include requiring repeat offenders to carry out litter-picking, and there have been good results from apps that share the fines with people who submit evidence of litterers via the app.
Thank you for your question and for recognising the incredible work our staff have done to keep our parks open and safe.
In Islington, 80% of our residents live in flats and outdoor areas are the only spaces our residents can meet others while social distancing, it has created levels of pressure on these spaces that we have never previously experienced. During this crisis, our parks and greenspaces have been absolutely vital to the health and well-being of the community, especially for the many residents who do not have access to private outdoor space. While it has been great to see so many people enjoying our parks, a small minority unfortunately have used them in an anti-social way.
We have modified our services to try to manage these challenges, including by putting on additional late evening litter collection services, had teams working overtime and diverted horticultural teams to clean litter first thing each morning so our parks are litter free again as early as possible each day. Despite this hard work, we accept that at times parks have had some significant short-term issues with litter. This is where we need the park users to do their part by not littering and taking their waste home with them if bins are full.
Our Parks Service is working with our Communications Team to improve the signage in our parks and doing a social media campaign to highlight the issue of litter and for users to do their bit. We do have staff that can enforce fines for littering and the current penalty is £100 which we feel is a significant penalty. However, as Council resources as stretched at present, many of our officers are tasked with enforcing social distancing across the borough.
I do however agree that the levels of irresponsible and anti-social behaviour cannot be condoned in the long term and I will be asking officers to look at this issue and take stronger action to deal with this challenges you have raised.
Question (j) from Chris Radway to Cllr Watts, Leader of the Council:
We can all be proud that Islington has the lowest cumulative rate of lab-confirmed Covid cases in London, and I would like to praise the Council for its role in this achievement. But now, as we come out of the Covid crisis, we need to consider the unique opportunity it gives us to “build back better” in implementing a green recovery.
So I would like to ask how, in tackling the climate emergency, the Council plans to learn from the Covid crisis and exploit the many behavioural, awareness and policy changes it has brought us - from community self-help and homeworking, to massive state intervention and support by government.
I agree that we can be very proud of our borough’s record during the Covid-19 pandemic but we can’t let our guard down now. It is through the dedication of local people, our key workers and health partners that we have been able to keep Covid-19 cases low. Islington residents have kept to the guidelines, keeping themselves and everyone else safe, despite conflicting and confusing guidance given out by the Government.
I completely agree that we must not return to the status quo and the society we had before the pandemic. We know that things will not return back to, so-called, ‘normal’ anytime soon, if ever, and we must make changes now to ensure our borough is in the best place possible to succeed going forward.
The Covid crisis has brought more public attention to what Islington Labour already knows: that our country has deep inequalities and unfairness hardwired into it. The recent PHE report on the structural inequalities in Covid impact – including the disproportionate impact on BAME communities – highlights this. Our mission since 2010 has been to make our borough a fairer place. The need for this has never been clearer.
A key part of our approach to building back better is taking forward our plans for a green, sustainable economy that that both promotes jobs, skills and economic opportunity while taking us towards a net zero-carbon future.
The council’s initial response to the climate emergency is set out in our Net Zero strategy, which is currently out for consultation on the council’s website. The final version will take into account any comments received, and we will also use the consultation phase as an opportunity to review the strategy in light of the COVID crisis, which will include looking at how we can make permanent any temporary changes that have been beneficial from an environmental perspective.
A key element in terms of, as you say, “building back better in implementing a green recovery” is the Council’s people-friendly streets programme, aimed at creating more space to make it easier to walk safely, cycle as part of everyday life, use buggies or wheelchairs, and crossroads. Our people-friendly streets programme will see measures to reduce through-traffic in residential areas, accelerate the delivery of School Streets and new cycleways we plan to implement will change the face of our borough for the better, making Islington a safer, friendlier and healthier place to live, work and travel.
We will learn from this crisis, and continue to work to make Islington a fairer place for all, but this is made increasingly harder by this government’s failure to support local councils like Islington. I couldn’t agree more with you that to achieve a better Islington, we need massive state intervention and support from government, which is why I’m pleased to be bringing a motion later this evening, calling on the government to do just that.
Question (k) from Rachael Swynnerton to Cllr Champion, Executive Member for Environment & Transport
Islington is a densely populated urban location with the least green space of any borough. At this time we are seeing huge pressure on those vitally important green spaces for the whole community. With playgrounds and many schools remaining closed until the end of term, followed by a long summer break, what measures are the council putting in place to allow for more playstreets across the borough to allow children access to car-free areas to play safely?
Thank you for your question. As you rightly point out, Islington is a densely populated borough, and many of children and their families living in the borough do not have access to private green space.
As a Council, we are committed to making Islington the best possible place for all young people to grow up, and that must include ensuring all children have the space to play.
That is why we fully support and welcome applications for Play Streets in the borough that allow communities to close roads to traffic and create a space for play and community interaction on a regular basis, whether that be on a weekly basis or monthly. There are currently 17 Play Streets in Islington and you can find more information about Play Streets and how to make an application through the Council website.
Unfortunately, in line with current COVID-19 guidance, Play Streets have been suspended on a temporary basis. However, we are processing applications for the future so that communities can hold Play Streets as soon as the restrictions are lifted.
As you will hopefully be aware, central government has issued revised guidance on the re-opening of playgrounds, including safety measures to minimise the risk of spreading the virus, which council staff are working hard to implement, to provide more space for all our children and young people to play.