London Mayor candidate Rosalind Readhead: The Islington artist who wants to ban cars
- Credit: Archant
Sophie Inge meets Rosalind Readhead, a Barnsbury textile designer standing for Mayor of London on a controversial ticket – that of banning all private cars from central London
To most people, the idea of banning private cars from the streets of central London probably sounds unrealistic.
But according to 54-year-old anti-car campaigner Rosalind Readhead, who lives in Barnsbury, it’s something we should all be seriously considering.
The mother-of-three, who is heading a campaign to ban all private vehicles from the city centre, is now planning to stand as an independent candidate for Mayor of London.
“My sons thought it was a bit nutty at first, but now they are really behind it,” she admitted.
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Textile designer Ms Readhead said she first began developing her campaign when she downsized to a flat two years ago after her three sons left home.
“I’ve never really been somebody who has driven a car and I didn’t realise until I lived on my own for the first time ever that it was actually a much more important part of me than I had thought,” she told the Gazette.
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“I’ve never been a member of a political party and have always been interested in environmental issues, politics and economics,” she added. “And, actually, my campaign is a lot to do with space economics in a sense: how you use space best for the economy, for the community and for society as a whole? The more I read about it, the more I realised cars are the most illiterate use of space in the environment.”
Owning a car in London, she believes, is not a necessity. In Islington, for example, 69 per cent of households don’t have one – and she’d like to persuade people to get rid of the rest.
Would she make an exception for electric cars?
“I think it was [Friends of the Earth campaigner] Jenny Bates who said there’s no such thing as a clean car. If you look at them on any more than a superficial level, electric cars are very environmentally costly and they congest the roads the same way as any other cars.”
Redundant car parks and garages could be redeveloped to provide housing for workers at reasonable rents, linked to their jobs in the vicinity, she suggests. As for the roads themselves, they’d be freed up for safe cycling routes.
“There are 6.8million car parking spaces in London, which take up a minimum of 78.5 km sq,” she said.
Closer to home, Rosalind is a keen supporter of TfL’s plans to pedestrianise Highbury Corner – a proposal she hopes will be considered in other areas around the capital.
“The problem with Highbury Corner is that it was bombed, so it has this crazy system of so many roads leading into one. When you come out of Highbury & Islington station, it’s like a hell-hole of traffic and incredibly polluted.”
The ultimate aim of her campaign is for children to be safe on the roads – walking and cycling to and from school and playing outside in their free time.
Other European countries, like Norway, are already embracing the idea of car-free cities, she added.
“I really believe people who cycle and walk are contributing so much to society,” she said, “not just by cutting air pollution but also in terms of space. By being active, they are also lifting the burden on the NHS. One of the stats I found out about Islington in particular is that every time there’s a high pollution spike, there’s a 14 per cent spike in hospital admissions.”
As well as banning private cars from the congestion charge zone, Rosalind also wants to see changes to housing. “I think we actually have a lot of space,” she said. “It’s just the way it’s been allocated that’s unfair. It’s certainly not unreasonable to go the same way as Denmark, and say you have to have five years’ residency before you can buy a property.”
That way, she says, you would get residents who are actively contributing to the community and the economy.
Rosalind accepts she probably won’t become mayor, but hopes her campaign will at least open up the debate. “Politicians are scared of the car lobby, and cars are one of the things they do not want to discuss,” she said. “I felt if they weren’t discussing something that is seriously affecting people’s lives and curbing people’s ability to naturally evolve in London and use space better, then I need to talk about this – and do it at a level where I can really make a change.”