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Agenda item

Questions from Members of the Council


Question (a) from Cllr Gilgunn to Cllr Ward, Executive Member for Finance, Planning and Performance:


The current Tory cost of living crisis is having a severe impact on working people in Islington, with prices and bills rising but wages stagnating. Could you tell me what the Council is doing to help people during this difficult time?




Thank you very much for your question. The cost of living crisis is having a real impact on the lives of local people. We see it constantly in our inboxes and when we are out and about talking to people. This is the result of years of neglect from the government, including pay stagnation, austerity and failure to invest in renewable energy.


I was proud to join you at the trade union demonstration in central London a couple of weeks ago to say that We Demand Better in Islington and call for a proper pay rise, as well as help with the cost of living.


Despite the government failure to tackle this issue, the council provides an extensive range of support to tackle poverty and reduce inequality in Islington.

This year, we have put further investment into our Council Tax Support Scheme of £700,000 and childcare bursaries of £160k to help people save on their bills and get back into work.


Our Council continues to provide free school meals to all primary school children, saving families money every week, as well as protecting the School Uniform Grant and the Older People’s discount on Council Tax.

We have distributed grant funding to help low-income households, we are currently distributing the council tax energy rebate and household support fund that will provide approximately £2.2m of support, to help residents with cost of living issues. Our IMAX team are helping residents claim over £5m of annual benefit entitlement in 2021/22 and we hope to achieve a similar figure in 2022/23.


While we will continue to do all we can to help, government austerity means we can’t do as much as we would like. That is why we must keep the pressure on the government to deal with this crisis and stop local people having the make a choice between heating and eating.


Supplementary question:


Thank you. The cost of living crisis is going to have a huge impact on local authorities across the country. Families are facing increases, especially in heating bills, and as we approach winter the crisis is going to bite hard. How do we as councillors respond to these demands from casework in relation to the cost of living crisis?




All members in this chamber will have inboxes full from families asking for help who are being asked to choose between heating and eating. We have a proud history of fighting austerity and producing budgets that keep our frontline services open. We have continued our household support scheme, continued our childcare bursary, continued free school meals for all primary school children, and we will keep up that fight. I look forward to working with you on this.


Question (b) from Cllr Hamdache to Cllr Ward, Executive Member for Finance, Planning and Performance:


Does the Council agree with me that it is an outrage that the Planning Inspectorate have allowed a new housing development at Highbury Quadrant that only provides 28% affordable housing?




Thank you for your question. Yes, it is a complete outrage. We have 14,000 households on the housing register. Every councillor in this room has inboxes full of emails from residents who need a safe and genuinely affordable home. For the past 12 years, we have been focused on building safe, secure genuinely affordable homes for local people wherever we can, and we’ll continue doing that for the next four years.


I agree that it is scandalous that the new development on the Highbury Quadrant has been waved through by the Planning Inspector acting on behalf of the Secretary of State. This has rode roughshod over our very necessary planning policy which requires 50% affordable homes on every development of ten units or more. We’ve been all the way to the High Court to ensure the development at Packhorse Road was 50% genuinely affordable housing, and I’m very happy with everyone in this room who was involved in the campaign to ensure we got 60% affordable housing at the Holloway site.


Despite the Council’s best efforts, the Inspector did side with the developer, which is a travesty, but we will seek provide as much affordable housing as we can across the borough and tackle this housing crisis. I hope we can rely on you to support us every step of the way.


Supplementary question:


As a private renter who lives around the corner from the Highbury Quadrant estate, it’s really disappointing to see such a prime part of land be consigned to luxury housing rather than the housing we know that local people desperately need. It is an outrage the government have allowed this to happen. Can we work together to call out the government for letting us all down on this development? Can we mobilise residents on this issue, as the government have made it so much harder to deal with this issue.




Yes, and let’s go even further. Find me sites in your ward where you want to build affordable housing. We can talk to our New Build Team and make it happen.


Question (c) from Cllr Russell to Cllr Champion, Executive Member for Environment, Air Quality and Transport: 


With the benefit of hindsight, does the energy contract signed with SSE represent value for money?




Thank you for your question. The rising cost of energy prices is having a significant and detrimental impact on the lives of local people and organisations. We fear there is worse to come, and I think we can all agree that the government response has been totally inadequate.


Going back to the contract that you raise, the contract was a flexible arrangement, so the Council purchases its energy directly and continues to do so from the open market. At one time, that was recommended by central government as a way of saving money. In fact, in 2020/21, it saved over £2million.


As the contract ward criteria was 100% price, and based on the supplier providing the lowest fixed costs profit margin, it was considered a good deal at the time.  As you would expect, there is a real focus on looking at what we can do now and council is developing revised purchase strategy. Building Managers are actively working to reduce the Council's energy consumption at the same time. I can promise you, we are very seriously looking at what we can do, and trying to work to reduce energy consumption at the same time.


Supplementary question:


Thank you, it is good to hear you are looking at reducing energy consumption. My supplementary question is related to communal heating systems, where tenants on estates are now having heat meters installed. What is the council doing to protect residents in the worst insulated blocks from rocketing energy bills now that there is an element of individual heat meters?




I think at the moment it’s a relatively small number of people, I think it’s something like 600, and it’s something the government has required us to do. I have had a number of conversations about this, but I think it would be best for a written response to come from someone who has more detailed knowledge than I do.



Question (d) from Cllr Jegorovas-Armstrong to Cllr Champion, Executive Member for Environment, Air Quality and Transport: 


Both Camden and Hackney councils have switched to fortnightly non-recyclable waste collections. Does the council see any benefit to following suit?




Thank you for your question. Yes, you’re right. Both Hackney and Camden have switched recently. As I said before, we will continue to look at all the ways to increase our recycling rates in Islington, we have a commitment to increase our recycling rates to at least 40% by 2030.


Officers are looking at what's happened in neighbouring boroughs to see what to see what lessons can be could be learned. We are doing everything we can and will continue to look at all the options. At the moment the major focus is rolling out food waste recycling to estates and to improve communal recycling facilities on those estates, working with residents to do that this.


If we are to do this, we need to increase our resident engagement, which is why we're investing in a new dedicated recycling team as part of our Thriving Neighbourhoods programme. Not only will there be the infrastructure, but there but there will be the conversations, and support for behaviour change.  


Supplementary question:


I remember standing here around ten years ago as a member of the public, congratulating Islington Council for their recycling rate of 33%, reaching that level for the first time ever. Ten years on, we are at 32%. I’m pleased that we have new ideas, but do we have a clear path towards 2040, and how soon can we increase this?




We face many challenges, including an increasing population and churn of population. Yes, we do have a recycling rate lower than outer London boroughs; this is not simple and does require a considerable investment in council services to improve. We have experienced cuts over the past ten years, which is perhaps why we haven’t made the progress we would have lived. But we do have a very dedicated recycling team and I do think it is an achievement to keep it at those levels given the circumstances. We are absolutely not complacent, we need to do something differently, and we are looking at all the options.


Question (e) from Cllr Russell to Cllr Champion, Executive Member for Environment, Air Quality and Transport: 


Is £28 a year too cheap for parking a Tesla?




I think the question really is, do I think we are correct to pursue a policy whereby more polluting vehicles pay the most for parking. And the answer is yes, I really do. I think the policies like ours, and of course the Mayor’s ULEZ, has made a significant difference across London, but there is still a long way to go.


However, we have now seen a growth of larger electric vehicles, and these do come with other downsides; their size, tyre and brake pollution, and whole life emissions, which cannot be ignored.


We will look again at our policies, and look through the prism of Net Zero Carbon. The service is currently reviewing parking and permit changes.


Supplementary question:


Thank you. I'm really glad to hear that the council is reviewing the parking charges. CPRE London have done some really thoughtful work on parking policy for local authorities and they suggest that it should never be cheaper than £150 a year to park a car; that's £3 a week, which is less than 50p a day. They suggest that is the level that is needed to  start to address the social and environmental and health consequences of parked cars in our city. Will you please look at work of CPRE London?  




Thank you. While I agree we need to consider the environmental impact, we do need some balance in considering the financial impact on some people who are perhaps lower-paid and rely on older cars, which unfortunately do tend to be more polluting as well. We will take this up and look at this.


Question (f) from Cllr Hamdache to Cllr Champion, Executive Member for Environment, Air Quality and Transport: 


At the current rate of building cycle hangars, in what year does the council project they will meet demand?




Providing safe and secure by bicycle storage is important in enabling people to cycle more, that's why we've rolled out a large number of hangars. I’d like to thank the officers who have rolled out some 170 cycle hangers over the past year or so. It’s a tremendous amount of work.


We have street hangars, but also a number of free places on our estates and that's also something that we need to continue to develop. We think our 400 bike hangars on the street are one of the highest number of bike hangars in London. Coming back to your question, we have committed to accelerating the current programme to make sure that demand is met. Officers are looking at what we can do to achieve that, and of course securing capital funding which will be necessary to put the hangars in place.


Supplementary question:


My understanding, based on the current speed, is that we will not meet projected demand by 2030, and that’s without a single extra person requesting, so something has to change quite dramatically if we are to meet those targets.


I see empty spaces and places hangars could be located in Highbury Vale, and I do think our prices are some of the highest in London. I think there are opportunities for us to meet our targets and generate revenue and I’d urge us to meet that ambition, rather than the pace currently being delivered.




We are looking at this, however it does require a lot of capital expenditure. One reason we charge what we do is because it is cost neutral, which means we are in a better position to roll out hangars more quickly. We are looking at this, so watch this space. We are also investing in a computer system that will help to make this more efficient.



Question (g) from Cllr Jegorovas-Armstrong to Cllr Ngongo, Executive Member for Children, Young People & Families:


Why were Islington Boat Club premises temporarily shut?




Thank you for your question. Following concerns for the condition of the building, the council organised a survey to understand the issues with the building. For health and safety reasons, we cannot open the building until these issues are fixed. In the meantime, we are trying to put together a temporary solution so people can access the club, while longer term options are being explored.


Supplementary question:


Are you open to working with other boroughs to get this back up and running as quickly as possible? It is a very popular club that teaches people to swim, to canoe, to paddle, and this is important for the next generation.




We are trying our best to put a plan in place for this summer, and at the same time develop a long term strategy. Health and safety is important and we can’t put our young people in the building at the moment, but I can assure you we are working to resolve it as quickly as possible.  


Question (h) from Cllr Hayes to Cllr Ward, Executive Member for Finance, Planning and Performance:


I was delighted to see Fiona Monkman of Islington Architects shortlisted for the MJ Long Prize for Excellence in Practice 2022 award recently, for the wonderful new social housing on Centurion Close in Islington. We are so proud of our social housing in Islington, can you tell me what the Council is doing to make sure we not only have as much social housing as possible but that it is on the highest possible standard?




Thank you for your question. I was really pleased to see Fiona Monkman win the MJ Long Prize for Excellence in Practice 2022, recognising her contribution to delivering high quality affordable homes for our residents over many years. We are very proud to have in-house council architects. We are one of the few boroughs to retain that, but it is something we will continue.


Social housing is something we care about deeply in Islington. We are the third largest public landlord in the country and we are focused on making sure our new council homes, as well as our existing ones, are the best they can be.

In May, we were elected on a landslide majority yet again, with a promise to build 750 brand new council homes for local people in desperate need over the next four years. We are in the midst of a severe housing crisis and our residents need that now more than ever.


We have continued to build throughout the pandemic, despite the challenges we have faced, and I look forward to our residents moving into excellent new homes at Telfer House, Charles Simmons and on the Wedmore Estate later this year. I was proud to take members of the Council on a tour of our wonderful new homes at Telfer House last week.


High quality council homes is of so much importance. Our homes are designed to meet our net zero carbon emissions commitments, helping keep our residents fuel bills down, and go beyond the requirements of new stringent fire safety regulations, as well as ensuring good space, height, daylight and ventilation. Fiona’s award shows that you don’t have to choose between quantity and quality of social homes in our borough. We can have both.


Supplementary question:


Would you agree that in a male-dominated field, it is particularly pleasing to see an in-house woman architect win an award for her excellent work?




Absolutely. Islington Council was proud to host the Tradeswomen Building Bridges delegation from North America a couple of weeks ago, and that visit was all about encouraging young women into construction. It is 1% of the entire industry I believe, and that is a disgrace. I am proud of our work on good quality apprenticeships. We have ensured 51 good quality apprenticeships on the Holloway site, 30% of which must be allocated to women.


The Mayor announced that the time permitted for questions had ended and the following questions would receive a written response:


Question (i) from Cllr Craig to Cllr Champion, Executive Member for Environment, Air Quality and Transport: 


The particularly hot weather over the last couple of weeks has affected us all, with less well-off residents often feeling the greatest effects, living in less well-insulated homes, and more likely to be in work that involves greater physical strain, and more time outside. The Mayor of London recently issued a map of cooler places that Londoners could take shelter, and we know that these long spells of intense heat result in poor health and excess deaths.

As the frequency and severity of hot weather increases, what steps is the Council taking not only to tackle the climate emergency, but also to mitigate its impacts on those set to suffer the most?




I agree that the global and local rise in temperatures, and increased frequency of hot weather episodes is incredibly concerning. We know that it is vital we are focused on tackling the climate emergency, becoming a net zero carbon borough and improving air quality. But without that work being matched nationally and globally, we will still see increasing temperatures. So it is equally important that we put measures in place to place to protect local people.


Although Vision 2030 is focused on achieving a net zero carbon borough by 2030, many of the activities being delivered will contribute to mitigating the impacts of climate change for our residents.  For example, as part of our programme to deliver more than 750 new council homes, our new homes include measures such as solar shading where necessary and mechanical ventilation.


In our manifesto we were elected on in May, we committed to spending £10 million per year on retrofitting our councils homes, including improving the insulation of properties, so that we are keeping them warmer in winter and addressing fuel poverty, but also seeking to minimise the impacts of excess heat.  It is also important we include our local environment, to cool temperatures and provide shade where needed.


Trees also have a cooling effect, which is important due to projected future temperature increases as a result of climate change, and have a positive impact on drainage and flood risk. We are going to plant at least 600 more trees than we lose every year, increasing Islington’s canopy cover, and through our Greening the Borough initiative we are working to protect our green spaces and develop new ones such as a network of pocket parks in the public realm, and identify opportunities for new trees and/or sustainable urban drainage systems to alleviate flood risk. Our Council will continue to look at ways we can reduce temperatures, as well as mitigating the effects of the climate emergency.


Question (j) from Cllr Poyser to Cllr Khondoker, Executive Member for Equalities, Culture and Inclusion: 


With six years having now passed since the Brexit referendum, the Leave campaign’s promises of prosperity, cheaper food, cheaper fuel and a fair migration system seem a very long way away. The latter is particularly striking, with the Government talking airily of ‘Global Britain’ in the aftermath of the result.


But what we’ve got is a migration system that’s progressively crueller, more hostile and more deliberately difficult to navigate than ever before – whether for people in our own community here in Islington, or those fleeing persecution and conflict in Ukraine, Afghanistan and beyond. What steps is the Council taking to welcome those seeking a place of sanctuary in our borough, and to campaign for a migration system underpinned by fairness, compassion and humanity?




Islington is a place of sanctuary and welcome for all.

We are proud of the Council’s work we have been doing to welcome migrants, refugees and asylum seekers to the borough.  In contrast to the failings of this government, we take an inclusive and compassionate approach to meeting need.


Islington is leading by example by delivering:

-                        An end to rough sleeping that includes targeted interventions for people facing immigration-based exclusions to services

-                        Use of statutory safeguarding duties to alleviate destitution faced by adults with care and support needs and families who have ‘no recourse to public funds’

-                        Resettling 35 households / 180 people from Afghanistan in Islington

-                        Making the Homes for Ukraine scheme work, with up to 200 hosting arrangements expected in Islington and over 350 people to be welcomed through this programme

While the Brexit campaign and this Government have tried to make leaving the EU about sovereignty and a ‘fair’ immigration system, the disgusting, racist proposal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda shows Brexit for what it is. A plan to make Britain poorer, less welcoming and more isolated from the world. In Islington, we will continue support migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who wish to make our borough their home.


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