On 25 February, Islington Liberal Democrats put five simple questions to Islington Council concerning Low Traffic Neighbourhoods(LTNs). Simple but seemingly difficult to answer.
Ours were only some of a large number of questions tabled by members of the public on the subject of road closures. Cllr Champion, the Executive Member for Environment and Transport, sounded increasingly frustrated as the evening wore on.
And well might she be frustrated. The 2018 Islington Labour Manifesto promised there would be full engagement with local residents before any new road closure schemes were put in place. But when Cllr Champion’s predecessor, Claudia Webbe, who was elected to the House of Commons in 2019, handed over the Transport portfolio just before the COVID outbreak started, it became embarrassingly clear that none of the promised planning and community engagement had taken place. It’s no wonder that the roll-out of LTNs across the borough has been so contentious.
Islington Liberal Democrats support properly-designed Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. They reduce overall traffic, improve health and safety, and lead to better air quality. But proper engagement with residents before implementation is essential so that LTNs can work to the benefit of all. Labour missed its chance to do this, and is paying the price now.
And the answers to our questions?
Will you commit to proper engagement with residents before new schemes?
Well, the good news is that Labour seems to have belatedly recognised that they need to do a better job of listening to residents in future, starting with the proposed new LTN in Mildmay. We are sceptical that they are ready to embark on the sort of in-depth engagement, e.g. using local Citizens’ Assemblies, that we have been calling for. But it’s a start.
Will you publish all the data about LTNs?
Will you commit to consult disability groups?
There were also vague promises to do a better job at publishing data and consulting disability groups. Again, it’s difficult to know whether this will mean any improvement in practice. After all, Islington Labour has a track record of only talking to community groups that it considers to be its friends.
Will you allow residents and disabled drivers access through camera filters if they ask for it?
Cllr Champion showed no understanding that many of the problems with current LTNs could be addressed by using number plate recognition technology to allow residents and disabled road-users to pass through camera filters, as Islington Liberal Democrats have proposed. We don’t understand why Labour can’t commit to implementing practical solutions like this if that’s what residents want.
Will you improve infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians?
Sadly, we still haven’t had an answer to our question on cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
Under Islington Council rules, we were not given a right to reply on the night. But don’t worry. We will continue to ask the difficult questions and demand proper engagement with residents on all the big challenges facing Islington. Right up to the next Council elections in May 2022.