Monday, 28 October 2013

Council mustn't shirk it's public health responsibilities on air pollution

Highbury Greens are delighted to see that Richard Watts, the new Council Leader, recognises the harmful effects of air pollution on Islington residents’ health but was worried by his claim at the recent Air Pollution meeting that "Islington can not go any further on its own".  He was certainly right to say that the Mayor of London should do more to remove diesel vehicles from our roads, but there are plenty of actions that Islington Council can and should take, and his new administration should not shirk its own responsibilities.

A number of possible actions were outlined at the self same meeting by Public Health expert, Lucy Saunders of the Greater London Assembly, who described physical inactivity and air pollution as two of the top things the council could address to deliver the best health outcomes for residents on a range of issues from cancer, lung and heart diseases to obesity.  Summing up her workshop, she described  Islington's streets as "our biggest public health asset" and listed the following actions suggested by residents to increase physical activity levels by encouraging walking and cycling for local trips:

  • managing the borough's roads for the movement of people and not just traffic
  • reducing on-street parking year on year
  • running a "streets for people" health-check on all council policies 

The negative health impact from pollution and traffic danger is worse for those with underlying health conditions and people with low incomes, who often live on the most polluted roads. I'm glad Islington Labour have at last woken up to the health implications of air pollution and look forward to seeing action on this basic issue of fairness.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

All the fun of the fair comes at a price

So what do you think about events on Highbury Fields?  The Islington Tribune recently featured residents concerned about extensive damage to the Fields caused by compaction of the soil by heavy lorries, leaving deep cracks in the ground. I could see what people were concerned about.  It would be easy to twist an ankle if you stepped awkwardly on one of these cracks, which could clearly be dangerous to people running and playing on the grass.  

Highbury Fields is Islington's largest open space and is valued and enjoyed daily by residents across Islington.  Is it ok to close off large sections of the Fields for paid for events like funfairs which appear to cause long term damage to the park?  Fairs are enjoyed by many but limit the space available for children and adults to play and relax for free without pressure to spend money.

Whenever the council has consulted on events on Highbury Fields there's been a strong vote in favour of community activities like the Gillespie Festival rather than commercial events with huge lorries.

This weekend a funfair is due to arrive.  A funfair is an easy option, will presumably make money for the council, and almost by definition will be fun for some, but a cost of £10 for ten tokens, with some rides charging more than one token, will price many families out of the enjoyment. If Highbury Fields is "a resource for all those in the borough with no access to green space", as Cllr Richard Greening says in the Tribune 6 Sept, then perhaps the council could look into more affordable and inclusive options for next year?

Example of the deep cracks opening in the grass showing compaction damage.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Highbury needs more people-friendly streets not this Council "innovation"

Update 25th April letter of the week in the Islington Gazette.  Not online so content below.

The controversy surrounding the Drayton Park width restriction layout exposes  Islington Council's muddled thinking about managing our roads  and an apparent lack of any consideration for the safety and convenience of residents (Controversial Holloway road layout branded illegal – leaving Islington Council facing £1million payout. Gazette 18th April).

The Council's continued insistence that the layout was put in at "residents’ request" for safer roads is baffling.  There was no prior discussion with residents of the proposed measure either at the Highbury West ward partnership meetings or with the representatives of pedestrians and cyclists.  The council initially described the width restriction design as "innovative" and insisted "it would bed in" and "people would get used to it".

Ernestas Jegorovas, caroline Russell & Charlie Kiss at the Drayton Park width restriction.

Drayton Park is a wide sweeping and increasingly residential road.  A massive opportunity has been missed to upgrade the public realm, reclaim road space for residents and manage  the very real danger  presented by large lorries using residential roads with a lorry ban enforced by a camera rather than the current width restriction that makes cars swerve dangerously from one side of the road to the other, flipping over with alarming regularity.

The council need to decide if they want a speed control measure or a way of preventing large lorries from cutting through residential streets or both.  The current design does neither effectively and has been to the detriment of the amenity and safety of residents. It is hard to conclude other than that the Council wanted a revenue stream from confused motorists rather than a better designed street. Lorry bans can be enforced without width restrictions by erecting a camera to monitor lorry movements, fining any lorry drivers who ignore the ban.  Speed can be controlled by redesigning streets to feel like places for people rather than highways dedicated primarily to fast moving vehicles.

Islington has the least public green space in London, our streets should be valued as precious public space and every opportunity taken to widen the pavements to deter speeding and make space for planting trees, transforming the roads into a more pleasant place to walk and cycle for the 65% of residents who have no access to a car or van.  This has been a shocking and avoidable waste of council resources.  Highbury needs more people-friendly streets and less of this wasteful "innovation".

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Solidarity with the PCS Union Strikers!

I'm just back from the picket line at Euston Tower, joining representatives of the PCS Union and Unison on their budget day #M20 strike to protest against Government attacks on civil servants' pay, pensions and working conditions.

The strikers' demands are simple:  fair pay for all civil servants now, and no privatisation of key public services.

I was a civil servant myself for some years, as were others in my family.  People don't become civil servants to get rich - they do so because they want to serve the public and play a part in providing key public services.  Civil servants do hard work for less money than the private sector - 5 to 10% less pay for the same jobs, in fact.

The last government, under Blair and Brown, sought to undermine public servants at every turn.  They suggested that the private sector was in some way superior to the public sector.  That's an insidious, damaging and wrongheaded idea that, together with Ed Miliband's failure to support the strikers, does continuing damage to the public sector.

Now public sector pay and pensions, and working conditions, are under attack from the Con-Dem coalition.

At the PCS Euston picket line, 20 March 2013
We in the Green Party are clear: the private sector - acting for profit, lining the pockets of directors and shareholders - can never match up to the public sector, acting for the common good and in the public interest, when it comes to the delivery of key public services like running the NHS or providing welfare benefits advice to vulnerable people.

So today we say:  shame on this Government.  Shame on Ed Miliband for failing to support public sector workers.  We stand with the strikers in standing up to the Government and demanding an end to its failed austerity measures which threaten to send us into a triple-dip recession.  As the PCS Union has pointed out, a rise in civil service pay this year to keep pace with inflation could be more than paid for by serious action against wealthy tax dodgers.  

Good luck and solidarity to all the strikers today.  We hope that the Government - and the Labour party -are listening.