Gazette letters: Safer roads, housing, People Friendly Streets, an old song book and Dixon Clark Court

The old song book which inspired Walter Roberts poem.

The old song book which inspired Walter Roberts poem. - Credit: Walter Roberts

One part of lockdown life I’m keeping is active travel – walking, cycling and scooting, writes Nicola Baird, Islington Green.

Actually, I haven’t tried an e-scooter yet, that’s because they are only legal to ride if you are renting them.

Can you think of anything else that is illegal to use if you own it, but not if you rent it? Probably not! That’s why the e-scooter law is a huge win for the circular economy – e-scooter hire eliminates waste, cuts pollution and encourages reuse and sharing, just like bike hire.

The one hiccup is that in Islington there’s nowhere we can rent e-scooters yet, and the Santander bikes are only in the far south of the borough.

Dockless, rentable bikes do make it up to Archway though.

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The good news is that ways of actively getting around using porridge power (or whatever you like for breakfast) can change fast. Over in Paris during lockdown, the newly re-elected mayor, Anne Hidalgo, who’d already banned air-polluting diesel vehicles from 2024, has speeded up the opening of new pedestrian streets and widened pavement and cycle paths, stating that “it is this which will make our city resilient… capable of overcoming health and climate crises”.

Switching to pricey electric cars would reduce emissions, but they don’t solve the problem of making our clogged-up roads feel safer for anyone, whatever their age, to use. The cheaper and healthier alternative, suitable for most of us, is to make active travel trips feel safer.

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As a bonus exercise slashes cancer rates, heart disease and premature death.

At a time when the poorest members of our community are under such stress they have to choose between food and fuel – last week 280 Islington residents used the Elizabeth House food bank and volunteers gave out 137 food parcels – we need to be actively backing all efforts to make Islington’s external spaces, especially roads, safer to use. That’s why Anne Hidalgo’s environmental and humanist solutions should be an inspiration for all of us in Islington.

Barnsbury Housing Association is supporting Homes at the Heart, a campaign and coalition calling on the government to put social homes at the heart of its plan for social and economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis, writes Susan French, chief executive, Barnsbury Housing Association.

The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the need for secure, high quality, affordable homes and, for many people, support to live in them. This is especially true in Islington, where the council waiting list is long, families are stuck in overcrowded conditions, rough sleepers continue to be housed in temporary accommodation and social housing is difficult and expensive to develop.

It is also the case that the NHS and key workers that have steered us through this crisis continue to be priced out of living in Islington and the communities they serve so well.

Investing in social housing, in all its forms, will undoubtedly help London recover from this crisis by boosting the economy, creating jobs and improving people’s lives when our nation needs it most.

Without action, we are likely to see many people’s housing situations get much worse in the weeks, months and years ahead, as the economic impacts of the crisis are felt across the country.

For more information on the #HomesAtTheHeart campaign visit:

With fewer than 30 per cent of Islington households owning or having access to a private vehicle, equity alone demands nothing less than ‘People Friendly Streets’, aka LTNs - low-traffic neighbourhoods, writes Meg Howarth, Ellington Street, Islington.

So it’s to be hoped that the LTN announced for St Mary’s and Barnsbury wards is introduced before a KSI - killed or seriously injured - event occurs on Thornhill Road’s “neck of the bottle” stretch between Barnsbury Park and Offord Road. Here, in defiance of all road-safety sense, parking is permitted.

It’s almost exactly three years since then-ward councillor, now-transport boss Rowena Champion acknowledged “that stretch of road is increasingly busy and that is causing some safety concerns”.

Alas, the only outcome of that email correspondence has been silence.

The council is to be applauded for its intention to introduce LTNs across the borough but it would do well to substantiate that commitment immediately by removing this dangerous parking now, no consultation required.

Walter Roberts, Brecknock Road Estate, found an old song book and wrote this poem:

An old song book lay covered in dust

Amongst keepsakes moulding in rust

Scribed by someone gentle and kind

Time was when it had served the mind

To serenade all that was held most dear

In harmonious melodies truly sublime

Exquisitely cadenced in lilt and rhyme

Lyrical cascades from the distant past

For the music died when they didn’t last

Those melodic evocative songs of yore

Never to be heard on the radio no more

I’ve seen patronising social media posts on Twitter recently by an Islington Councillor who is accusing local activists of nimbyism because they are trying to save seven beautiful mature trees at Dixon Clark Court, Highbury Corner, writes Alex Hofford, Highbury, full address supplied.

These arrogant tweets from an elected official are offensive to ordinary Islington citizens who care deeply for the respiratory health of school children attending the nearby Canonbury Primary School.

It’s a fact that large healthy trees mitigate the worst effects of air pollution. Despite claims from our elected officials, a tiny mitigating hedge offered by the council to ring the school in lieu of the seven threatened mature chestnut, sycamore and Norwegian maple trees at Dixon Clark Court, will do little to protect children from the worst effects of the toxic airborne respirable particulate matter that drifts through the air at busy Highbury Corner. In fact, a recently-planted council hedge near the entrance to Highbury and Islington tube station at Highbury Corner has already died. The crisp and dry brown leaves of that dead hedge do not bode well for the health of children and staff at Canonbury Primary School.

Most citizens urging the council not to destroy the trees also care deeply about the deteriorating state of the global climate. According to the scientists compiling the next assessment by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC), recent modelling data suggests the climate is considerably more sensitive to carbon emissions than previously believed. Simply put, that means we have to act now, and like it actually is the “climate emergency” that Islington Council declared it to be last year, and not mere empty words that sounded fashionable at the time.

I find it deeply disturbing that whilst the council contemplates massacring our “Little Forest” of Highbury Corner, it is simultaneously consulting the public for its views on the council’s Biodiversity Action Plan for 2030. Such cognitive dissonance is astounding, especially for a progressive London borough such as Islington. It’s almost as if the right hand doesn’t know what the chainsaw in its left hand is doing.

As regards housing, it’s clear that creative solutions are urgently needed. Brownfield sites and ex-prison sites for social housing exist in the borough. Other solutions for social housing may exist outside the borough. The public should not be forced to make a binary choice between housing or trees, rather it should be housing and trees.

In this post-pandemic world, we assume that each of us, including our elected officials at Islington Council, have learnt the humble lesson that we should not be messing around with Mother Nature. The awful outbreak has taught us the devastating consequences of that. There should be absolutely no going back to “business as usual”, no more tree slaughtering and no more indiscriminate concrete spreading, especially in a heavily urbanised place like Islington. Business-as-usual behaviour from the council entails great risk to residents and to hundreds of millions of people in coastal communities around the world. Moreover, cutting down trees runs counter to many UN sustainable development goals.

To return to those offensive tweets. I’m a resident of Islington Borough, and I don’t live in the immediate vicinity of Dixon Clark Court. But even if I did, so what? After all, what is wrong with safeguarding natural heritage on one’s own doorstep? As children are constantly being reminded in school, we need to “think globally, act locally”.

Of course it will be embarrassing for the council to cave to public pressure and lay down its chainsaws. But now is the time for the leader to be bold and show strength and leadership by making tough choices. By invoking climate emergency powers, Cllr Richard Watts should make an immediate U-turn. Surely we Islington residents – including the air-pollution-vulnerable children of Canonbury Primary School – deserve nothing less?

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