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Islington Labour has announced radical plans to take on the scourge of homes in the borough being bought-up and left empty, a practice known as 'buy-to-leave'. 

Buy-to-leave is adding to the housing crisis facing Islington and London, and is making it even harder for local people to find an affordable home. According to council research, as many as a third or more of homes in some new developments are potentially vacant.

Under plans the council has drawn-up and is currently consulting on, new homes could not be left unoccupied or unused for longer than three months. If a property is left unoccupied for more than three months, legal action could be taken and those persistently breaking the rules could be fined or face going to prison. 

Cllr James Murray, Executive Member for Housing and Development, was interviewed on BBC Radio 4's 'Today Programme' about the proposals. You can listen again below - 

Cllr Murray commented: "It's wrong when new homes sit there empty purely to as investments, when Londoners are desperately trying to find somewhere to live. Our new proposals would make sure that all new homes in Islington occupied - we want to send a message that 'buy-to-leave' is unacceptable."

You can respond to the consultation before 30th January 2015 by clicking here.

Islington Labour is delivering the biggest building programme in a generation of affordable homes and homes for social rent. The Council will build 2,000 new affordable homes by 2015, and is committed to delivering a further 1,500 new homes for social rent by 2019. 

We are also committed to making a difference to residents who live in private rented accommodation. We are soon to open a not-for-profit lettings agency that will offer private tenants and landlords a trusted and affordable alternative to expensive or rogue lettings agents.

Taking on the scourge of 'buy-to-leave'

Islington Labour has announced radical plans to take on the scourge of homes in the borough being bought-up and left empty, a practice known as 'buy-to-leave'.  Buy-to-leave is adding to...

New rules that make it easier for local people to have their say had their first outing at last night's (4th December) Islington Council Meeting.

Unprecedented changes to the Council's constitution put forward by Islington Labour now mean that members of the public can ask questions without submitting them in advance.

The Youth Council also now have a chance to ask questions directly to their elected representatives, and five members of the Youth Council took the chance to grill councillors on issues that matter to young people in the borough. 

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Further changes to allow the views of local people into the heart of the Council have seen restrictions on petitions rolled back. Cllr Olly Parker (Mildmay), pictured above, submitted a petition of over 5,000 signatures to save the Buffalo Bar at Highbury Corner. The petition calls for the leaseholders and freeholders of the building, which has been home to the Buffalo Bar at Highbury Corner for almost 15 years, to work with the bar to keep it alive. 

The Council Meeting also agreed to renew the Council Tax Support Scheme, which helps some of the most hard-pressed residents in the borough with the cost of council tax. The scheme also includes a £125,000 welfare provision fund that provides more support for the most vulnerable residents. Despite the savage cuts imposed on Islington by the Tory-led Government, which will see the council's funding cut in half by next year, Islington Labour has committed to provide this support and to continue the £100 older person council tax discount. 

An important part of Council Meetings is the opportunity for councillors to bring motions about key issues. At last night's meeting, motions on cuts to the fire service, tax-dodging and air quality were debated. 

Fire Cuts Makes Islington Less Safe - 

In January 2013, the Tory Mayor of London announced plans to cut £45million from London’s fire service. Islington Labour, along with the local community and trade unions, ran a campaign against the closures and passed a motion at the Full Council Meeting in January 2013 opposing the closures. 

Despite the huge opposition of the community, firefighters and evidence which showed that the closures would put Islington at risk, the Tory Mayor’s cuts were implemented in January 2014 and saw 10 fire stations closed, including Clerkenwell and Kingsland stations that serve Islington. Firefighters from Clerkenwell were the first on the scene of the 7/7 terrorist attacks.

As Islington Labour warned would happen, the latest figures released by the London Fire Brigade have shown that fire response times have increased in wards across Islington and London.

After passionate speeches from Cllr Paul Convery (Caledonian) and Cllr Alice Donovan (Clerkenwell), the motion was passed calling on the Tory Mayor to reconsider his decision to reduce the number of fire appliances and firefighters in light of the worsening response times. 

Tackling Tax-Dodging Businesses, Locally and Globally - 

Public services rely on funding from central government and other sources, such as the business rates that local companies pay. The Tory-led Government has imposed savage cuts on Islington, meaning that the Council's funding will be cut in half by 2016. In the face of these disproportionate and unfair cuts, collecting business rates has never been more important. 

The vast majority of local firms do the right thing and pay the tax that they owe. Sadly, some businesses are going to ever more extraordinary lengths to avoid paying their tax. Some companies are inventing 'ghost tenants' to avoid paying; others are creating 'shell' companies and using liquidation rules to dodge their bills. Others are even using charities to try and get away without paying their fair share of tax. 

The Council uses all the powers it has to collect the tax we are owed and will continue to pursue companies and landlords that avoid their tax. 

Tax-dodging also hits developing countries across the world. Research by Christian Aid has found that the money that developing countries lose each year because of the tax arrangements of big business is very nearly one-and-a-half times what they receive in aid. 

Following speeches by Cllr Andy Hull (Highbury West) and Cllr Marian Spall (Hillrise), the Council Meeting supported the motion unanimously and welcomed the campaign by Action Aid to highlight the impact tax-dodging has on public services in this country and across the world. 

Air Quality - 

We take air quality in Islington very seriously and are already doing much to tackle the problem - including becoming the first local authority in the country to introduce a 20mph zone on all Council managed roads and fighting a campaign asking the Tory Mayor of London to make all buses at Holloway Bus Garage hybrid models. 

As a Council, we also have the greenest fleet in the country and have put in place measures to tackle engine idling.

The Tory Mayor of London has proposed that an area covering the Central London Congestion Charging zone become an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). The proposed ULEZ would be introduced in 2020 and would mean that only the cleanest vehicles would be able to drive through the zone, or older vehicles travelling in the area would have to pay a daily charge. 

At last night's meeting, all Labour councillors supported a sensible amended motion that agreed any future consideration of whether to extend the proposed Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), should be evidence-led and put the impact on local residents at the heart of any decision. Sadly, this amended motion was voted against by the opposition councillor at the meeting.

In order to learn more about where the pollution in our borough comes from, an Air Quality Source Apportionment Study has been commissioned. We already know that TfL buses, coaches and HGVs are the biggest contributors to poor air quality, but a better understanding of where the hotspots are will help the Council to make the right policy choices.

A second report will also be completed in the New Year that will look at the cost-benefit analysis of any expansion of the ULEZ.

At the moment, we know that expanding the ULEZ to cover the whole borough would see 20,000 people forced to change their cars or be forced to pay a daily charge. There are also no clear modelled exemptions in the Tory Mayor's proposals for disabled residents or small businesses. 

Speaking on the amended motion, Cllr Claudia Webbe, Executive Member for Environment, commented: "Until we see clear commitments from the Mayor with modelled data to support them, it would be premature to demand the current boundaries of the ULEZ be expanded and the introduction of the scheme brought forward.

"It cannot be right for us to demand that the ULEZ be expanded when we have little knowledge of how the thousands of our residents that would be affected would be supported through the change.

"That isn't the sensible thing to do, nor is it the right thing to do by our residents."

The next Council Meeting will take place on 26th February 2015, when councillors will consider the Council's budget for the year ahead.  

 

 

A more open Council tackling the issues that matter

New rules that make it easier for local people to have their say had their first outing at last night's (4th December) Islington Council Meeting. Unprecedented changes to the Council's...

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Islington Labour is committed to making our borough a fairer place and tackling one of the major drivers of unfairness in Islington, unemployment, is the focus of a radical report published today. 

The Islington Employment Commission - the first of its kind in the country - has spent the last nine months gathering evidence about why, despite there being 1.34 jobs for every working age person in Islington, almost 40,000 local people are not in work. 

Despite the image some people choose to depict of Islington as a wealthy borough, the reality is that there is a huge divide between rich and poor and we actually have one of the highest rates of child poverty in the country. In fact, a higher proportion of our children grow up in households where no adult works than anywhere else in the country.

Lifting people out of poverty by getting more people into work will do more than anything else to improve lives of the poorest in our borough.

Our report makes it clear that action is needed to tackle unemployment in Islington, including better help for those who need it most and more local control over employment services. 

In creating this report, the Commission visited job centres, job clubs, businesses, charities, and schools, and spoke to unemployed people directly to gather evidence about what needed to change. 

The Commission has made many observations and three core calls to action about what must be done to help tackle unemployment: 

  • Targeting support for those who need it most, especially those who aren't well, are disabled, or who have been out of work for a long time. There are lots of services and resources, but they are not always well co-ordinated, and we need to work better together to radically improve the employment support system.
  • Employers need to be given a single place where they can easily recruit the people they need locally. There are many benefits to working locally for employers and employees, and employers should work with local services to create real change for the community.
  • The best support to help young people find the careers they deserve, including creating a stronger link between employers and schools to make sure that all Islington young people get the high quality careers education they need

The Commission also found that employment services commissioned and managed by the Government are simply not delivering for local people.

The report calls on Government to devolve employment services to the local level, instead of funding many different agencies separately. This would help areas like Islington target resources where they are needed most, and make sure that services work for local areas and the types of opportunities on offer.

Cllr Robert Khan, Co-Chair of the Islington Employment Commission, said: "Islington has long-standing problems around unemployment, which is far higher than it should be and a major cause of poverty. We've spoken to a huge range of people, from unemployed residents to local business owners, about the issues that stop people getting into work.

"Today, we are calling for radical change to help get local people into jobs they can keep and ultimately enjoy."

Cllr Richard Watts, Leader of Islington Council, said: "Islington has an unemployment crisis, with more kids growing up in households where no adult works than anywhere else in the country. I welcome the Commission's report, and as a council we're committed to making this vision happen.

"The success of the Commission will be judged not just by how much we can reduce unemployment, but by how much of the drop is those currently excluded from the labour market. The better off residents of our borough enjoy the benefits of an economy that is, for them at least, thriving. I want all of our residents to enjoy a part of that success."

You can read the Commission's full report here or a summary of the main findings here. 

Pictured: Islington Labour councillors at the launch of the Islington Employment Commission.  

 

Radical plan to tackle unemployment

Islington Labour is committed to making our borough a fairer place and tackling one of the major drivers of unfairness in Islington, unemployment, is the focus of a radical report...

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A blog by Islington Council’s Armed Forces Champion, Cllr Gary Poole (St Mary’s ward) – 

The beginning of November marks a poignant period in the civic year for our borough. This year, as we mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, the remembrance events of the past week have an added significance. 

The crowds that have flocked to the Tower of London to see the magnificent and powerful poppies demonstrate the importance to people of remembering those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for us.

Here in Islington, 9,400 army personnel and residents lost their lives between 1914-1918. That’s almost equivalent to the entire population of one whole ward of our borough. 

The fields of France and Belgium, the sands of Egypt and the beaches of Gallipoli, all saw ordinary people from Islington fall in service of their country. 

To emphasise and remember that it was ordinary people from Islington that went to fight in the First World War, but never returned home, Islington Council has established the ‘The Streets They Left Behind’ project.

Today, we have launched the next part of the project – an interactive map which shows where each of the people who died during the First World War lived. Each soldiers’ former home is marked by a poppy on the map, and when clicked displays details about their military action during the war, and their last resting places. 

The locations have been compiled from the Islington Book of Remembrance, which commemorates the 13,000 men, women and children of Islington who died as a result of war from the beginning of the Boer War (1899), to the 1950s.

You may have already seen some of the plaques that have been placed on streets across our borough, which commemorate the men who lived in those streets and lost their lives in the First World War. 

Here's a piece BBC London did about the plaques - 

This project aims to highlight the impact on the communities back home of the loss of so many Islingtonians, and to remember the soldiers’ great sacrifice. Communities, families and workplaces were torn apart by the loss of so many and we hope that It will be an invaluable resource for schools and other groups wishing to study the impact of the First World War on their communities. 

There are many events and exhibitions taking place as we mark the centenary of the First World War and you can find details of these here, including information about the ‘Islington during the First World War’ exhibition at Islington Central Library. 

I am proud that the people of our borough won’t forget the sacrifice of those that fell in the Great War, and the sacrifice of so many others in conflicts that came after. 

We will remember them. 

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Pictured: Islington Labour councillors at Spa Green Memorial on Sunday 9th November 2014. 

The Streets They Left Behind

A blog by Islington Council’s Armed Forces Champion, Cllr Gary Poole (St Mary’s ward) –  The beginning of November marks a poignant period in the civic year for our borough....

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Cllr Joe Caluori, Executive Member for Children and Families, writes about the latest GCSE results - 

All Islingtonians should feel really proud of our students and their teachers, as yet again they have beaten both the national and Inner London averages for the percentage of young people gaining 5 or more A*-C grade GCSEs, including English and Maths.

GCSE results released by the Department for Education show that 59.4% of students achieved this key measure in Islington.

This compares to 52.6% and 58.4% in inner London. Our students continue to excel in English and Maths with both subjects well ahead of national levels. This fantastic performance has come whilst our secondary schools grappled with changes to assessment nationally that led to major falls in results elsewhere.

These results show that Islington schools are continuing to provide our students with a really first class education.

We set very high standards for our schools and the fact that we are beating both the national and inner London results shows that this is paying off.

Since Islington Labour were elected to run the Council in 2010, the borough’s GCSE results have seen us climb from 143rd out of 152 local education authorities to 34th.

In 2006, less than a third of young people gained 5 good GCSEs – we are determined never to go back to those dark days.

It’s worth remembering too that all of Islington's secondary schools are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, which puts them in the top 10% of all secondary schools nationally. 

These were strong results and are a real testament to the hard work undertaken by the teachers and pupils at all of our schools. I’m proud of the difference our Labour administration has made - we've set high targets for our secondary schools and it's paying off.

Follow Joe on Twitter here @Croslandite

Making a difference for young people

   Cllr Joe Caluori, Executive Member for Children and Families, writes about the latest GCSE results -  All Islingtonians should feel really proud of our students and their teachers, as...

Islington Labour is committed to fighting for fair pay, not just at the Council, but across our contractors and in the private sector.

Cllr Richard Watts and Cllr James Murray were proud to support staff at homelessness charity St Mungo's Broadway in their dispute with management over outrageous proposals to cut their terms and conditions, when Unite members were on strike in October (pictured below).

After successful negotiations between the union and management, agreement has been reached to avoid a second strike and will mean that new employees will receive the fair pay they deserve. 

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After joining the strike in October, Cllr Murray and Cllr Janet Burgess wrote to the Chief Executive of St Mungo's Broadway demanding answers about the disgraceful proposals that threatened employees' terms and conditions. 

Islington Labour would like to wish a huge congratulations to the St Mungo's Broadway staff and Unite for their successful campaign.

Cllr Murray spoke on Wednesday as news broke that management had seen sense and agreed to Unite's proposals - 

 

Getting a fair deal for St Mungo's Broadway staff

Islington Labour is committed to fighting for fair pay, not just at the Council, but across our contractors and in the private sector. Cllr Richard Watts and Cllr James Murray...

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Blog by Cllr Andy Hull, Executive Member for Finance and Resources - 

Too many people go to work but come home without the fair pay they deserve.

That's why Islington Labour has been at the forefront of the campaign for the Living Wage ever since we were elected to run the council in 2010. We've been working hard with our partners in community groups, the trade unions and others to tackle the scourge of poverty pay.

In 2010, we launched the UK’s first Fairness Commission (there are now more than 15) to tackle poverty and inequality in our borough. In 2011, its top recommendation was that we should lead the way on the Living Wage. In 2012, we became the first council in the country to become accredited as a Living Wage local authority, paying all our own 5,000 staff the Living Wage. This included cutting our Chief Executive’s salary by £50,000 to secure the Living Wage for our cleaners. In 2013, we guaranteed the Living Wage for 92 per cent of our contractors as well. In 2014, we have extended this to 98 per cent of those working on a council contract. 

Next week is Living Wage Week and we are delighted that Shadow Minister for Care and Older People, Liz Kendall MP, will be joining us to celebrate the fact that Islington is now the first council in the country to ensure that all its 500 home care workers receive the Living Wage. These carers who look after elderly and vulnerable people on our behalf are doing some of the most important work in our society and deserve nothing less. What's more, last week the council’s Executive decided to secure a contract for a residential care home where all staff will be paid the Living Wage as well. We're the first council in the country to do this and it's something of which Islington should be really proud.

But there is more to do. Our borough is home to the second highest number (75) of accredited Living Wage employers of any area in the country, but that is still too few.

As we mark Living Wage Week from Monday, flying the Living Wage flag from the roof of the Town Hall, let's celebrate how far we've come. But let’s also recommit ourselves to campaigning to make Islington a place where no-one has to do a hard day’s work for less than they can live on.

Cllr Hull has also written a blog for the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network and for the NewStart website

The work Islington Labour has done to champion the Living Wage also featured in this weekend's Observer newspaper. 

Pictured: Cllr Hull with Islington Council cleaners who all receive the London Living Wage. 

Leading the way on the Living Wage

Blog by Cllr Andy Hull, Executive Member for Finance and Resources -  Too many people go to work but come home without the fair pay they deserve. That's why Islington...

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BLOG - Islington Labour's Cllr Alice Perry writes about the housing challenges facing the country and how the Labour Party is planning to tackle them. 

This week Vince Cable warned of “inequalities caused by the housing crisis”, fuelled by government policies like Help to Buy and Right to Buy. Yes that’s right, fuelled by government policies. His government’s policies. The policies of the government which he is a part of.

If attacking the inequality caused by your own government seems a bit ridiculous (as the Lib Dem’s own former press spokesman recently said “if the Lib Dem’s didn’t exist, who would invent them?”), talking about ways to tackle the UK’s housing crisis makes perfect sense. For many voters housing is a key issue for next year’s general election.

Labour’s National Policy Forum in Milton Keynes agreed some really strong policies on housing. This included a commitment to building at least 200,000 homes a year, a commitment to replace each council house sold under Right to Buy by with a new council house in the same local area, removing Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap for councils, stopping retaliatory evictions and reinforcing tenants’ rights in the private rented sector.

We all know the story. For parts of the UK experiencing the housing crisis most acutely, a combination of high private rents and high house prices mean owning a home seems like an impossible dream many young people are giving up on. Meanwhile those unable to buy, or access affordable social housing, have little choice but to rent privately. Some private landlords are good. Others are not so great. The same goes for letting agents.

The current government has shown little interest in regulating the private rented sector. In contrast, Labour have a range plans to make the private rented sector work better for tenants.

It is hard to emphasis enough how important it is that Labour now gets the importance of sorting out the private rented sector. For too long mainstream politics neglected the issues faced by transient communities of predominately young people in the private rented sector (particularly as they did not always vote in elections).

As a founding member of a local private tenants association, we were constantly asked by potential funders and other voluntary sector organisations “if you can’t afford to live in the area, why don’t you just move somewhere cheaper? Why does it matter that you can’t afford to live here any more?”

I am from the place where the term “gentrification” was first coined. Parts of Islington today are totally unrecognisable from the borough I grew up in. These days of course the same goes for most of central London, as well as many other parts of the UK.

There is nothing wrong with an area improving – quite the opposite. It is a good thing for an area to become a nicer place for its residents to live. In local government Labour continuously works to make life better for our local communities.

The problem with gentrification, however, is that it displaces people, forcing one group out to make way for another, more affluent group. This can be very corrosive and can significantly contribute to a range of complex social problems.

The NPF commitment to replace homes sold under Right to Buy with new council houses in the same local area is an important recognition that Britain doesn’t just need brand new garden cities. When we are building those hundreds of thousands of new homes, we need to make sure we are building them where people want to live. We need to be building some of the new homes in areas where long-term residents are being priced out. By doing this we will strengthen our communities and keep families and support-networks together.

Of course every local area has a different housing need. Various housing initiatives should match the requirements of their local communities. The key thing is that Labour now gets it on housing. We have policies that can positively and dramatically transform our communities. All we need to do is win next year’s general election and get on with it.

Cllr Alice Perry is a St Peter's ward councillor and represents local Labour councillors on the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party. 

This article also appeared on LabourList.

Labour now gets it on housing

BLOG - Islington Labour's Cllr Alice Perry writes about the housing challenges facing the country and how the Labour Party is planning to tackle them.  This week Vince Cable warned...

Influential Guardian writer, Dave Hill, has praised Islington Council as being "considered by many to be the capital's most radical local authority" in tackling the housing crisis facing London.

Writing earlier this week, Mr Hill identified how Islington Council, "is fostering support for intensified council house building by using its local lettings policy to ensure that local people benefit. It is also succeeding in avoiding introducing new, higher "affordable rent" levels brought in by the government, and proposing to use planning policy to impose penalties on 'buy-to-leave' owners."

Three years ago, Islington became the first council to reject the government’s plans to raise so-called ‘affordable rents’ to near-market level.

Since taking power in 2010, the council has been building new council homes as part of the biggest affordable homebuilding programme for a generation.

Earlier this year, Islington became the first local authority to announce plans to tackle the scandal of 'buy-to-leave' - where predominately-overseas investors buy properties and never occupy them, simply to benefit from ever-rising property prices.

The Council has also taken enforcement action against private landlords who are letting out homes that are unacceptably small for people to live in, and that often flout planning rules.

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Cllr James Murray (pictured), Executive Member for Housing & Development, said: "We desperately need more genuinely-affordable homes in London. That’s why we’re building a new generation of council homes in Islington and why we are robust in demanding that new ‘affordable’ homes are for social rents that people can actually afford. 

“The housing crisis in London is hitting people across the board. 

“We’re helping private renters too by going after rogue landlords and setting up a new council-run lettings agency. We’re also are taking on buy-to-leave investors with a bold new planning policy, since it’s an insult to the housing crisis when new homes are snapped up and left empty. 

"Londoners need radical solutions to the housing crisis. We need national change and a Mayor who understands the problem, and in Islington we are showing we can make a difference."

Islington the 'most radical' in tackling the housing crisis

Influential Guardian writer, Dave Hill, has praised Islington Council as being "considered by many to be the capital's most radical local authority" in tackling the housing crisis facing London. Writing...

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In our continued efforts to make Islington’s roads safer, Islington Labour is working with the police to keep motorists’ speeds down.

Last year, Islington Labour campaigned to become the first London borough to introduce a 20mph speed limit on all roads the Council manages.

From this week, police enforcement action will begin – making Islington the first borough in London where motorists flouting the 20mph limit could face penalty action.

Cllr Claudia Webbe, Executive Member for Environment (pictured above), said: “It has long been known that people living in inner city boroughs like Islington are at a greater risk of being hit by speeding motorists.

“Islington Labour is committed to tackling the scourge of traffic accidents and our pioneering introduction of the 20mph limit on all of our roads is part of addressing this problem.

"Most motorists stick to the speed limits, but those who don’t can now expect to be prosecuted and risk losing their licence.

“We’ve worked closely with the police over the past 12 months to target hot-spots where drivers frequently speed, and together we’ve stopped more than 900 motorists to remind them to keep within the limit.

“With continued injuries and fatalities from speeding, the time is now right to start enforcement action and I welcome the action by Islington police.”

All roads in Islington are covered by 20mph restrictions, apart from those managed by Transport for London (TfL) and Islington Labour is campaigning for TfL to see sense and adopt 20mph limits on the roads they control.

Cllr Webbe, added: “We’ve had lots of interest in our pioneering scheme from other Councils that are interested in following our lead. The missing piece in Islington is the TfL managed roads and I want the Mayor of London to join us in making their roads 20mph as well.”

Since November 2013, Islington Council and the police have carried out 24 targeted ‘stop and advise’ speed reduction operations on our borough roads. The 13 different locations chosen have been ones that have been identified by the public and community groups as of concern and by the police or council as having high casualty rates.

Islington Labour is also doing more to make cycling easier and safer on the borough’s roads. You can read more about a £2m scheme to deliver new cycle routes here.

Making our roads safer – 20mph speed limit enforcement action

  In our continued efforts to make Islington’s roads safer, Islington Labour is working with the police to keep motorists’ speeds down. Last year, Islington Labour campaigned to become the...

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