16 October & Paul Convery's response
Cllr Paul Convery (Islington Council)
Oct 16, 2020, 4:35 PM to me, Rowena,
I am sorry that I had not replied to your previous email. I've very recently switched from using a personal email address to using the Council's system so I am sorry it may have been overlooked for that reason.
I should say firstly that I am a backbench member of the Council representing a ward in which experimental road measures have not yet been proposed or implemented.
I have read s122 of the 1984 Road Traffic Act. It is one of many powers and responsibilities which the Local Government Acts and other legislation give to unitary authorities and it's our responsibility to strike a balance between them especially where there can be apparent conflicts or tensions between them.
I appreciate and understand your concerns about the impacts of the experimental road measures. You say there are adverse consequences such as "access for emergency service vehicles" has not been considered and the "the exceptional needs of the elderly, infirm and vulnerable, and the increase in crime." It is my understanding that these potential consequences have indeed been considered prior to the experimental measures being implemented and, in particular, emergency services have not objected to the current measures. I understand that the guidance requirements have been followed.
I disagree that there are significant adverse impacts caused by these measures. Access to homes is not prevented and only minor changes have been made to parking arrangements. I also consider that the main premise behind these experimental orders is justified: the pollution levels in many parts of our Borough do indeed exceed what are considered to be a legal maximum, in particular NO2 emissions.
I completely agree with you that much energy has been wasted arguing on social media. Some of it has been fairly abusive. So, I try to avoid this. And I agree that this matter may indeed be descending into a form of "culture war" which is depressingly negative. But it's quite wrong to say the Council is "fomenting" such a division. After all, it is a particular group of objectors who have resorted to assertions such as "the Council is at war with Islington's working class".
In my view, the current problem is quite evident. The arrival of wayfinding apps such as Waze and Google maps has had a significant adverse impact on our streets in the past few years. This has also had the effect of under-cutting the black cab trade and given an electronic equivalent of the Knowledge to almost anyone with a PHV license. The wayfinding apps are almost certainly a factor behind the evident change in vehicle behaviour which is underpinned by data from the DfT. This shows that, between 2009 and 2019, the volume of traffic on urban side streets has risen by 72% whilst traffic on main roads has actually reduced.
Furthermore, in Islington we have the legacy of many historic traffic schemes that rather selectively closed-off some residential streets but not others. There is undoubtedly an unfairness in having cut-through traffic funneled onto (for example) Offord Road because most of the other east-west streets to between Cally and Upper Street have been filtered over the years.
I do acknowledge that, for some people, a vehicle is necessary - especially if their job requires it. But we are nonetheless a Borough in which the overwhelming majority of residents do not have a vehicle. Depending on how you measure it (whether by household or individual) it's up to three quarters of the adult population do not own or have access to a vehicle. And, whilst the bulk of traffic in our Borough is coming from somewhere else, going somewhere else, a majority of vehicle use made by Islington resident car owners are very short journeys indeed.
I think it is better for Islington if we can reduce the cut-through traffic and reduce the ultra short car journeys and put traffic back onto main roads which were designed for such traffic. If we can do this, increase walking and public transport, then overall road traffic will reduce and we shall benefit from calmer, safer side streets (which were not designed for through traffic in the first place).
Perhaps I'm too nostalgic. But when I was a kid, the streets were pretty safe. They were a place to play. True, nowadays we recognise other risks to kids outdoors but vehicles on the roads are undoubtedly the one single biggest factor which has resulted in kids staying indoors. We sued to play football and cricket int he street. If a car came into sight, it was usually doing 20mph (if that) and you stepped out of the way and the driver went past with a friendly smile on his or her face. Why are we denying the latest generations of children that kind of life?
Maybe you'll read these last sentences and say "what a sentimental fool". But I do think that, if we reduce vehicle danger from the streets we can maybe start a process to really improve the quality of life in our Borough. Perhaps that will (as you rightly say) "unite the electorate to deal with the far more important issue of the economic and social ramifications of Covid upon the future."
Finally, I should reiterate that the process of using an experimental traffic order is indeed experimental not permanent I have spent much of my life speculating about the possible consequences of road schemes. In this case, we're able to see exactly what happens, look at the evidence, assess the costs, benefits and disbenefits over a 6 to 18 month period. And, as it happens, that will happen in a context where the public ultimately can express their judgement in votes for the Council in about 18 months time. That seems pretty fair and democratic to me.
With best wishes
Labour Councillor for Caledonian Ward, LB Islington
94 Gifford Street, London N1 0DF 07768-117120
Town Hall, Upper Street, London N1 2UD (Labour Group office 020-7527-3389)