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Highbury Corner: A history of attempts to improve notorious junction

PUBLISHED: 09:07 19 August 2016 | UPDATED: 14:10 22 August 2016

Highbury Corner work in 1958. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

Highbury Corner work in 1958. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

Archant

A majority of people have backed plans to improve the traffic blackspot that is Highbury Corner. But, as James Morris finds, Islington has been here many, many times before...

Highbury Corner in the 1980s. Picture: Islington Local History CentreHighbury Corner in the 1980s. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

“Work will start in December on the improvement of the junction of Holloway Road, Upper Street, Canonbury Road and St Paul’s Road.

“Highbury Corner – where traffic from Shoreditch [comes] via Canonbury Road and traffic from Hackney via St Paul’s Road – is very congested, particularly at peak hours, when the traffic density is about 2,000 vehicles an hour.”

You would be forgiven for thinking this newspaper excerpt was from last week, when Transport for London (TfL) and Islington Council announced a “majority” of the public had supported its redevelopment plans for Highbury Corner.

In fact, the article was published in 1957.

Highbury Corner in 1987. Picture: Islington Local History CentreHighbury Corner in 1987. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

The £88,000 work, completed in 1960, saw the construction of a central island that acted as a one-way roundabout – the system still in place today.

In May that year, the Gazette reported the results were “very worthwhile”.

But by 1973, traffic jams were again a problem. A zebra crossing outside Highbury & Islington station was replaced by a pelican crossing further up Holloway Road, we reported.

In 1996, Highbury Corner was attracting 3,000 vehicles an hour and Islington Council was taking suggestions from the public about how to make it a “more coherent place”.

Islington North MP and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said problems at Highbury Corner go as far back as he can remember. He is pictured at Saturday's Hillrise Summer Festival with Sue Daley, who takes zumba classes for over-50s at Caxton House Community Centre in ArchwayIslington North MP and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said problems at Highbury Corner go as far back as he can remember. He is pictured at Saturday's Hillrise Summer Festival with Sue Daley, who takes zumba classes for over-50s at Caxton House Community Centre in Archway

Notice a pattern emerging?

“It’s amazing,” Islington North MP and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the Gazette on Saturday. “There have been plans for Highbury Corner as long as I can remember.”

The veteran MP of 33 years was speaking after last Wednesday’s TfL announcement regarding its plans to pedestrianise part of the junction, make its roundabout two-way, introduce segregated cycle lanes and create new public spaces.

Out of 2,823 responses to the consultation, 71 per cent thought it would make Highbury Corner safer for pedestrians.

An artist's impression of the proposed Highbury Corner changes. Picture: TfLAn artist's impression of the proposed Highbury Corner changes. Picture: TfL

Meanwhile, 67pc thought it would be safer for cyclists, and 59pc thought it would be safer for those using Highbury & Islington station.

And Mr Corbyn is one of them.

“I am absolutely in favour of the changes to end the gyratory,” he said. “It’s a product of 1960s road planning, the idea being a gyratory improves movement of traffic.

“That’s true, and cars have a role to play. But we should be reducing traffic and encouraging use of public transport and cycling.”

Andy Gardner, chairman of the Islington Archaeology and History Society, agrees: “It’s not working. Something has to change.

“Before the roundabout, Upper Street went up to the Famous Cock and Canonbury Road up to the Hen & Chickens.

“The 1950s orthodoxy was that roundabouts work. It looked good on paper, but constantly failed.”

For now, TfL is “carefully reviewing” responses to the consultation.

Meanwhile, Islington transport leader Cllr Claudia Webbe said: “It is encouraging that the majority agree that these ambitious plans will improve Highbury Corner, which is badly congested and difficult for pedestrians and cyclists.”

The proposed changes to the roundabout would not start until 2018.

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