Posts Tagged Islington

Make your mark on Islington’s history

Islington Council are currently asking the public for nominations for historical people, places or events to be commemorated with new Islington People’s Plaques.

Nominations can be submitted until 6 December 2010 online.

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Will Islington Council take on RBS’ Angel offices?

The Royal Bank of Scotland is looking to move out of its offices at the Angel, Islington. The offices – controversial from the start because of the ‘dead space’ at street level – were built for the bank but then sold and leased back, according to The Scotsman. Their report goes on to say that RBS are trying to get out of the lease – and expecting Islington Council to take it on. RBS obviously like taxpayer bailouts.

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Boris promises Wi-Fi blanket for London

That’s the headline from ZDNet, reporting the Mayor’s promise of free wifi across London by the 2012 Olympics.

As the article goes on to point out, it does not say how this will be acheived, nor how it will be funded. So far, so Boris.

There is a happy precedent here in Islington. The ‘technology mile’ of free wifi along the Upper Street corridor is an initiative that I promoted for Islington – one of the first of its kind.

In an age before people could get online on their phones, we wanted people to be able to get online in the park or at the bus-stop, or in an independent cafe.

A similar scheme has since been introduced by Peabody on some of its estates around Whitecross Street in EC1.

I think this community wifi is a great idea. However, it’s exactly the kind of provision that’s under threat from the Digital Economy Act.

Having led the opposition to the Act within the Liberal Democrats, I was delighted we voted again to urge repeal of its worst provisions at our special conference on the coalition agreement last Sunday.

Now we need Boris to put similar pressure on his Tory colleagues in the coalition, if there is to be any comfort from his blanket.

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Another busy week – Amnesty, Oxfam, the Packington, and more

Once again, I’ve been too busy to update my blog for a bit. Not for lack of news or views, but lack of time to share them.

So here’s another quick roundup:

I’ve been busy lobbying away on the Digital Economy Bill, including signing a letter to the Guardian and speaking to the Open Rights Group anti-disconnection rally.

I spoke at a public meeting on asylum and immigration issues, organised by the local Amnesty International group. I am a longterm supporter of Amnesty International – I used to host letter writing groups in my home – and I am a Friend of the Refugee Council. During my time as deputy leader of Islington Council, and one of my most enjoyable roles was carrying out the citizenship ceremonies to welcome new citizens to the borough and hearing their very different and often moving stories. So I am keen to support the Let Them Work campaign.

It’s shameful that asylum seekers are kept in poverty, even criminalised, instead of being allowed to work; meanwhile the dehumanising bureaucracy takes years to process their cases while costing us all a fortune. By working asylum seekers, many of them highly-educated, could support themselves and their families, put their skills to service in society, and pay taxes. Jeremy Corbyn MP, who spoke as well, completely agrees with the LibDems on this: unfortunately his Government does not.

I’ve continued my programme of visits to locally-based charities with a interesting meeting with RNID; several members of my family live with hearing loss, and I suffered severe (thankfully temporary) hearing loss for some months a few years ago, so RNID’s work is close to my heart. They do excellent, practical work championing hearing tests, and pressing for sensible access measures, like ensuring that inductive loops actually work. More dramatically, research they are funding could lead to a cure for noise-induced hearing loss.

This week I’ve been popping back and forth to Westminster too. On Saturday I was at the Scout Association’s ‘Virgin Voters’ event, meeting first-time voters and young citizens to hear their views. Top priorities were affordable transport and student funding, as well as concerns about cleaning up politics, climate change, and jobs, that voters of all ages might well share.

On Wednesday, I started the day in Westminster, chairing a meeting for Oxfam on climate change. It’s easy to despair in the face of the challenge of climate change. Communities in some of the poorest nations are already living with droughts or floods – or, in the case of Pakistan, both. Oxfam’s projects there show how you can tackle poverty and work with the grain of local people while tackling climate change too: very inspiring.

There have been celebrations this week, a welcome chance to unwind after canvassing: on Saturday, I joined the Zimmers party for lead singer Alf Carretta’s birthday. On Tuesday we were marking 50 years of the Islington Society. On Wednesday night, the party was for Bob Gilbert, the much-loved green guru of Islington, who is taking early retirement from the Council to be a fulltime Dad and writer. And on Thursday I was celebrating the completion of phase 1 of the Packington estate. Beautiful canalside flats, all for local tenants from the old Packingon Square, a great achievement by the residents in partnership with Hyde Housing and Rydon.

Thursday also marked the end of an era, with the last Islington Council meeting before the local elections on 6 May. There are many good councillors retiring, including my colleagues Lucy Watt, Ruth Polling and former leader James Kempton. But the real sadness is the death of Councillor Donna Boffa, just a week ago. She was an amazing woman, who, in her short life, did what all politicians should aspire to do: make a difference. My tribute to her will be online soon.

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Marching for the Whittington

As LibDem campaigners, we are used to pounding the streets in all weathers for a cause we believe in. Still, yesterday’s Whittington march was something special.

It might have, literally, been a damp squib given the heavy rain that started pouring just as people were due to assemble at Highbury corner. Add in Archway tube being closed and Arsenal playing (albeit away) and there were plenty of excuses for people not to turn up. But that would be to underestimate the passion local people feel about the Whittington, and the way the campaign to save it has gained genuine across-the-board support.

That support is something we’ve certainly found on the doorstep. On Monday I was at Downing Street handing in the first 2,000 signatures from our Save the Whittington petition. The petition is still open for signatures, and given the 5,000 folk on the march, there’s plenty more to come.

The people I met on the march were an amazing range. Yes, there were some of the usual suspects, ‘rent-a-trots’ who go on a different demo every week. Much more there were ordinary folk from Islington and beyond who use the Whittington and don’t want to see it downgraded. There was David, currently a cancer patient at the Whittington, poorly, but determined to march. There was Pat who has had three generations of her family get treatment there. And Julie who works with health charities and can’t believe the powers that be could ever consider running down our hospital.

Liberal Democrats were out in force, from Lynne Featherstone MP and Islington Council leader Terry Stacy at the head of the march, to local teams from Islington, Camden, Enfield and Haringey marching behind them. So many communities will be affected if the Whittington plans go ahead.

The local Council, the cross-party Defend the Whittington campaign, and some amazing publicity from the Islington Tribune (who were on the march with a bus and a band) made the march happen. The passion and anger of ordinary people made it huge.

But what none of us can do is make it clear who who decides the fate of our hospital. We only know the Whittington is under threat because of leaked documents. Despite a decade of talk about the new localism and making public services more accountable, the opposite seems to be happening with our NHS. Community Health Councils were abolished and a complicated quangocracy reports only to the Secretary of State.

As the Save Finsbury Health Centre campaign notes, “What our campaign has really been up against, however, is an entirely unaccountable system of healthcare governance…. Worse still, even after our elected local representatives have investigated an NHS decision in such detail they have no direct power to change it. Perhaps if they did and the non-execs on the PCT board were themselves directly elected, the executive officials would not feel so free to ignore public feeling, population trends, geography, transport and real costs.” That’s equally true of the Whittington.

All local politicians claim to want to save the Whittington. What Labour MPs won’t say is that their colleague, Andy Burnham, is the one politician who could do that tomorrow, if he wanted. Instead all we get is buck-passing from his juniors.

Only the Liberal Democrats are pledging to change the system to give us the locally accountable NHS that would improve our local services, not undermine them.

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Building for the future

More evidence that despite optimistic Government pronouncements, the long tail of the recession is still affecting us.

Shelter have published figures showing a fall in house-building, mortgage lending is down, and unemployment in London is the worst since Labour came to power in 1997.

Last week I met with the National Federation of Roofing Contractors, based in Finsbury. They do great work cracking down on cowboy traders, and promoting green roofs, in partnership with the inspiring Dusty Gedge. But like many in the construction industry, their members are facing a downturn in orders, with knockon effects on suppliers and retailers across the country.

There’s a stronger case than ever for the kind of green jobs programme that the Liberal Democrats are promoting, including plans to bring quarter of a million empty homes into use. These are jobs that help communities with better housing and transport, while fighting climate change; and as hands-on jobs, they can’t be exported. That’s good news for the roofers too.

The recession may have caused a fall in new building, but Islington remains one of the most densely populated parts of the UK, so getting the right planning policies is vital. As I’ve blogged before, most of us only get involved in the planning process when a particular proposal comes up that affects us; but by then the planning policies have already been written. Islington’s planning policy framework, the core strategy, is under review.

Now the Council has produced a useful summary of the latest changes proposed following input from various groups in the borough, plus outside agencies like English Heritage. They range from stronger support for independent shops to providing sites for travellers and gypsies.

The core strategy is out for consultation now. Have your say by writing to Freepost, RSEA-CUHA-YYAS, Planning Policy, Islington Council, Upper Street, London, N1 1XR, or via email. Any comments must be received by 5pm on Monday 22 March and will then go on to the Planning Inspector who has the final say on the Islington plans.

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Down the tubes

North Londoners are facing some big public transport challenges over the coming months.

First the London Overground is being shut completely through Islington for upgrading from 20 February 2010 until 31 May 2010, with weekend closures for longer. That’s bad enough but just about bearable on its own. But now the Northern Line is facing regular closures too.

Incidentally, quite apart from messing up all those existing journeys, this makes a real mockery of the idea that it’s in any way easy for Islington residents to get to the Royal Free instead of Whittington. At least we have a direct, 24 hour bus to A&E at the Whittington, even if the trains aren’t running.

Tubelines are the surviving partners in Gordon Brown’s big idea for financing tube improvements, the Public Private Partnership or PPP. Like the other PFI deals, it was set up as a fixed-price, longterm contract, that would ‘outsource risk’ to the private sector by setting financial penalties if the job wasn’t done to time and on cost. So how has that worked in practice?

Metronet found they couldn’t deliver as agreed, so first asked for more money and more time – and then walked away from the job. Tubelines, still with us, are relatively-speaking, the good guys. They’ve completed their projects so far by playing a more cautious game: but that involves charging more money over a longer timescale than many commentators think is necessary. Londoners are literally paying the price, in taxes, in fare rises and in disruption. So much for outsourcing the risk.

These are points my feisty female colleagues Susan Kramer, Lynne Featherstone and Caroline Pidgeon have also made. Who says transport is a male issue? And who still thinks the PPP was a good idea?

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