Questions (a) from Luke Howard to Cllr Ward, Executive Member for Finance, Planning and Performance:
How will the council ensure their green credentials and commitment to expanding and protecting the current lack of open space in the densest area and borough in the U.K, the Islington St. Luke’s area, and in keeping with their sustainability commitment, how will you re-utilise the surplus of unused office space and flats in the St. Luke’s area to address Islington’s housing need?
Our Council is committed to building more council homes for local people and providing more green space for residents to enjoy. That’s why, in our manifesto for the 2022 Local Elections, we committed to providing 1.5 hectares more green space over the next four years, this is the equivalent space to Paradise Park. Further to that, we were incredibly proud that recently, a report by the University of Sheffield found that Islington is the second greenest urban centre in the country. An amazing achievement for one of the most densely populated boroughs in the country.
With regards to the Bunhill and St Luke’s area, there is no evidence of surplus office accommodation in St Luke’s or indeed in any part of the borough. Demand for high quality office space remains strong across Islington but particularly in the south of the borough. If anything, we are seeing an increase in the number of planning applications to refurbish existing offices and build new offices. In line with the council’s planning policies, we expect new and refurbished offices to be more sustainable and energy efficient contributing to the council’s Net Zero Carbon 2030 ambition and our wider environmental policies.
It is of course shocking and disgraceful that there are empty private homes in Islington at a time when the borough is facing a greater than ever unaffordable housing crisis. Action is urgently needed from central government to ensure that investors do not buy homes in our borough and then leave them empty. I have also been very proud to work with Labour Councillors from right across this Chamber on the campaign to get the Ministry of Justice to bring the 28 empty three and four bedroom flats at Wilmington Square back into use.
The council already has strong planning policies in place to protect and improve open spaces and increase biodiversity. We are strengthening these policies through our new Local Plan. In this year alone, we have secured a new public park on the Holloway Prison site and investment into three parks and open spaces in Barnsbury.
There is of course a careful balance to be struck between providing affordable homes, an inclusive economy and social infrastructure that Islington needs and ensuring that our open spaces and biodiversity are protected and improved. This balance is particularly complex and challenging in high density areas such as St Luke’s. I am confident however that the policies set out in the council’s existing and emerging Local Plan strike the right balance between enabling inclusive growth to take place whilst protecting and enhancing the local environment.
Islington is the densest borough in the UK according to the most recent census. When in 2011 Islington became the densest borough the Leader of the Council at the time said the council were ‘determined to protect green spaces. However, we don’t believe the existing plans of the St Luke’s area will protect green spaces. The Council plans to reach Net Zero by 2030 will be impacted by the knocking down of buildings in the area and we urge the council to rethink these plans and redevelop these spaces instead. There are already many existing unused buildings that the council can use to redevelop, and we urge you to do so.
I appreciate your candour and I would like not work with you and ensure your views are heard. I will make no apology for 100 new council homes in the Finsbury Leisure Site area. The council has a mandate to house people and homeless families and overcrowded families are on the rise and in dire need to be homed. I am very excited about the brand-new leisure centre, medical facilities, and brand-new football pitches that will also be built alongside the 100 council homes.
I would like to build 100% council homes but due to government funding this is not possible and a percentage of these need to be private property to be able to fund the project. I hope you all agree that with a register of 14,000 families we do need to build more council homes.
Question (b) from Rebekah Kelly to Cllr Champion, Executive Member for Environment, Air Quality and Transport:
At the councils executive meeting in October 2021, the People Friendly Pavements scheme was launched. Can you provide an update to what has happened since to improve pavement conditions in Islington since then?
Thank you for your question on pavement conditions. The delivering of pavement improvements has started this year. Since April of this year there has already been 0.75km of footway renewal completed which includes improvements such as decluttering of bollards, improved tree pit treatments, new cycle stands and 24 new and improved dropped kerbs for accessibility. By April of 2023 a further 0.25km of highway renewal will be completed with approximately 20 new or improved dropped kerbs. At present dropped kerb renewal is being prioritised on the main road network.
How do we make it most effective moving forward? The Council is in the planning stages of the people friendly pavements programme. When complete, the programme will improve local connectivity and enable sustainable modes of travel by delivering pavement and footway improvements to remove physical obstacles to accessibility. In order to ensure that the investment delivers value for money the locations for improvements are identified by carrying out an audit of streets in each ward, liveable neighbourhood or existing low traffic neighbourhood. So far, 44% of the borough has been audited or commissioned to be audited.
As well as this it is important to look at other areas to improve access and mobility around the borough such as benches along pavements for those with low mobility to be able to take a break while moving around. Climate change increasing temperatures mean people need shade. Street trees may need to be moved as these can break up the pavement.
Most importantly going forward we need to ensure we are using resources and money wisely and taking a holistic approach.
My original question was, it was ratified last October, for the People Friendly Pavements for 44% of the borough but we are yet to see any improvements despite pedestrians and cyclists being said to be a priority. Being in a low traffic neighbourhood it feels as though we have been forgotten and our bins have been taken away and the streets have not been swept. Existing trees are not being maintained. We don’t want whole new plans we want basic needs being met and pedestrians being a priority but there still has been no improvement to pavements around the area.
I understand your views on people friendly streets, as said last year there has already been 0.75km of footway renewal completed, and by April of 2023 a further 0.25km of highway renewal will be completed with approximately 20 new or improved dropped kerbs. As well as a whole manner of other improvements already stated.
As a council we would love to lay more pavement and make even more improvements to make areas more pedestrian friendly, but we do not have the resources or budget to do so due to government funding.
Speaking on low traffic neighbourhoods, more pedestrians will benefit than cyclists. They also benefit those with mobility issues as if you are trying to cross the road as if there are less vehicles on the street this becomes easier. We know less traffic means less danger on the roads and less risk to pedestrians.
Question (c) from Pete Gilman to Cllr Ward, Executive Member for Finance, Planning and Performance:
How much has central government funding to Islington Council been cut by the Tories since 2010, and what is the cumulative total; how has this impacted on Islington Council’s ability to provide essential services and its house building programme; how do these cuts compare with those made to wealthier boroughs like Richmond; can Islington Council give assurance it will press for a restoration of central government funding?
Since 2010, Islington Council’s total funding has been cut by £281 million. This has severely impacted on our ability to provide vital services at a time where demand is at an all time high. People are living longer and need more specialist support to ensure a good quality of life. People also need a decent home to enable them to thrive. This requires money and without it, the quality of lives for many here in Islington will suffer.
Labour councils have borne the brunt of government cuts for over a decade as a result of their austerity agenda. This has resulted in deep inequalities which we saw exacerbated during the pandemic.
Despite the government cuts, Islington Council have managed to make savings of £281 million while protecting front-line services. We have been able to deliver 550 new council homes since 2018, help over 4,000 local people into good jobs and keep council tax below the London average, extending the council tax support scheme. Even during this government imposed cost of living crisis, we have supported residents, distributing £2.2 million of ‘lifeline’ support.
However, with the recent Autumn budget announcement and the lack of commitment to invest in local authorities like ours, it is inevitable we will have to make tough decisions. No matter what, we will ensure that our services are delivered as efficiently as possible, rethinking how we design our services so that we meet our residents’ needs.
But we also won’t take these cuts lying down. As we’ve always done, we will campaign against this government austerity. We took our demands for cost of living help to the steps of Downing Street recently and we’ll do the same for our demands on council funding.
I understand the government mandated cuts but why do the people of Islington have to pay when we did not cause the crises. Despite an increase in profits corporations such as Tesco do not seem to be lowering prices or paying higher taxes. Shell and BP have projected profits of 52 billion pounds combined, they need to pay more tax. Tax avoidance and evasion costs the exchequer between £20 billion and £150 billion a year. We want that money back.
I am with you. We need to tax energy companies and those still using fossil fuels. We need a national homes programme funded by these energy companies. We need a general election to get rid of the chaos.
We know how hard the cost-of-living crises is on residents and we have produced a toolkit to help residents. Islington Council is fighting for you against the chaos of the government.
Question (d) from Steven Nyandu to Cllr Woolf, Executive Member for Community Safety:
Research by Be Gamble Aware has revealed one in ten (12%) women have turned to gambling in an attempt to supplement their household income. How can the council strengthen its collaboration work with VCS groups to help prevent vulnerable people becoming victims of gambling-related harm, particularly as the cost of living crisis has seen an increase in gambling as a means to resolve financial hardship?
Thank you for your question, Steven. I’d also like to express my gratitude for the work you and Bet No More have contributed to in the delivery of our renewed Gambling Licenses Policy.
The Council recognises that the current cost of living crisis is having a devasting impact on residents and the importance of ensuring residents are being supported, avoiding a situation where some feel they need to turn to gambling as a means to try and resolve their financial issues. After speaking to people in my ward and colleagues in the voluntary and community sector, they put it clearly ‘residents have a choice between food or fuel this Christmas’.
On 22 September the Council declared a “cost of living emergency” and pledged to do all it can to help the tens of thousands of residents likely to be hit hardest by spiralling energy and food costs and soften the blow for local small and medium-sized businesses. We continue to support residents through our ongoing delivery of our core offer of financial, food and other support including effective targeting and distribution of government grants to ensure residents are getting the support they are entitled to. We are working closely with the voluntary and community sector to support residents including setting up ‘warm spaces’, a warm, friendly place within the community offering support and helping with energy bills. We have 38 venues across the borough operating as warm spaces. To oversee this work, we have set up a new Cost of Living Board to ensure there is an effective and co-ordinated response across the borough working closely with VCS and partners. The board review data through a new a cost of living dashboard and use the data analysis to monitor the impacts to ensure we target support where it is most needed.
Council/Licensing Committee is mindful of the devastating impact that gambling can have on people who gamble beyond their financial means and the significant resultant harm to children, families and friends.
We have strengthened our Gambling Premises Licensing Policy and placed the need to protect all people from gambling related harm at the heart of our new policy for 2023-2025. The discussion with members has resulted in this policy realignment, in particular exploring the extent to which council may deal with any new gambling premises licence applications when its objective is to protect vulnerable people from gambling related harm, including those residents who may have a vulnerability due to economic and societal pressures such as the cost of living crisis.
I work for a charity, Bet No More, to help tackle gambling harm. Research by Be Gamble Aware shows 1 in 10 have turned to gambling in an attempt to supplement their household income, how can the council strengthen collaborations with its voluntary and community sector groups to reduce to risk of people turning to gambling as a means for income especially with the cost-of-living crisis.
Thank you for all your hard work in the borough, people like you are really the backbone of society and thank you for sharing your lived experiences as these are vital for helping others who may find themselves in these situations and in forming our response as a council to help those in need effectively.
The Gambling Act that frames this broader work makes no reference to remote or online gambling or saturation. This means as a council we have to be as robust as possible in our response to reducing this addictive inducing activity and recognising the public health impact that it has.
Moving forward there’s more we can do with working with the cost-of-living board and listening to our partners. As well as our advice centres and collaborating with organisations such octopus and SHINE. Also, there is the cost-of-living phoneline to seek advice for those that need it.
Thank you so much to you and Bet No More and all the work you do.
Question (e) from Sarah Jane Elvin to Cllr Ngongo, Executive Member for Children, Young People and Families:
Can the Council confirm and give reassurance to the local community that the Islington Boat Club site will remain a dedicated charitable community led boat club (on the site of 16-34 Graham Street as indicated in the Bunhill Ward plan 2019) for the provision of water sports for young people and community groups and will not be taken over by another high rise building and/or commercial interests?
As the questioner was not present, a written response was sent, as follows:
Islington Council is committed to providing safe, enjoyable and accessible leisure facilities for local people to enjoy.
Unfortunately, the Council was forced to close the Islington Boat Club site because dangerous structural and electrical health and safety issues were found on the site. This was necessary to protect the safety of club users.
The Council considers that City Road Basin is a unique and special resource. The Council wants to see it being fully used by local people for boating activities and is very disappointed that it has had to close the site.
Islington Boat Club is a Charity and is not funded by the Council. As an independent organisation with responsibility for the site they need to show that they are able to put right the problems that resulted in the Council having to close the site, and that they can prevent similar problems from happening again. The Council needs to have confidence that the site and the club will be safely and properly run.