Islington Council is facing legal action following months of protests against what residents describe as “draconian” new traffic restrictions implemented during lockdown.
A pre-action protocol letter, which has been sent to Islington Council, is the first step in a Judicial Review process that could lead to High Court action to have the measures quashed.
The protocol, seen by Reaction, claims that the creation of a mile-long cycle lane on Liverpool Road in central Islington – the southern phase of “Cycleway 38” – did not undergo the proper consultation process or receive proper internal authorisation.
Erik Pagano, who lives on Liverpool Road, co-ordinated the legal action. He told Reaction: “Islington Council has made major changes to how the road will operate which will have a significant impact on all residents and local businesses. We have not been consulted on this scheme and we should have been”.
“On Saturday afternoon the whole street had full access to the road with residents parking bays outside their houses. But by Monday morning there were double yellow lines, a cycle lane and bollards. This means no parking or access to our houses at any time, and all without any notice or consultation.”
In a letter circulated to affected residents, also seen by Reaction, Mr Pagano says the change to road use constitutes a “draconian” imposition on the local community.
The legal action follows months of protests in the north London borough over traffic restrictions implemented by the Council since lockdown, which residents claim are causing traffic mayhem and disruption for homeowners and local businesses.
Islington councillors, however, argue the changes are designed to “improve the amenities of the local area for cyclists” and improve air quality. They follow national government guidance to councils to make provisions for greater social distancing for cyclists and pedestrians.
Mr Pagano is challenging the use of an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO) to authorise the changes. “We suspect the Council has deliberately used ETROs because they believe this allows for consultation at the end of a 12-month period after the works have been installed, and not prior to them starting, as is normal.”
“We also believe the council hopes that once the cycleway has been installed, the works will be harder to remove, whatever the subsequent consultation response says. This is a cynical and disappointing way of introducing such far-reaching measures and shows contempt for local residents. However, even ETROs require prior consultation, and this is where we claim the Council has made a legal error.”
But Rowena Champion, the Labour-controlled council’s executive member for Transport and Environment, told Reaction that the changes will allow for consultation in a year’s time, and are necessary to reduce “unnecessary car journeys, pollution, and congestion”.
“Local people know their streets better than anyone, and we’re listening to their feedback”, she said. “That is why the southern section of the Cycleway is being implemented as an 18-month trial, giving local people the opportunity to have their say on whether it should remain in place permanently.”
The Council also stressed that an online consultation process for its traffic regulations is available through its “People Friendly Streets” website.
Since July, however, hundreds of residents have been demonstrating outside Islington Town Hall in opposition to a range of new traffic regulations which they claim have illegally and undemocratically disrupted local life.
Jody Graber, head of the campaign group We Are Islington, told a recent demonstration earlier this month: “I’ve never protested anything in all my life, but seven weeks ago, when this Council decided to implement an undemocratic road closure program which affected the ability of the emergency services to reach my family quickly, I thought I could not stand on the side-lines anymore”.
Campaigners claim that the new restrictions prevent children, the elderly and disabled from accessing residential streets and increase congestion on main roads, while blocking routine access to driveways for homeowners, deliveries and the emergency services. Some of the changes are potentially dangerous to cyclists.
This month The Telegraph reported that Graber and a handful of other locals plan to contest seats at next year’s local council elections, prompted by what they see as the undemocratic process by which councillors have imposed “Low Traffic Neighbourhoods”.
Meanwhile, in Wandsworth the Council has been forced to reverse recent changes to road use due to similar public protests. Short-order traffic regulations are also being protested in Ealing, Lambeth and other boroughs.
Protesters across London have turned their anger to the Streetspace for London scheme, a Transport for London funding program which provides incentives for councils building new walk- and cycle-ways to maintain social-distancing.
Some, however, believe the recent changes to be politically motivated. A keen cyclist himself, Mr Pagano adds: “This is not about bikes versus cars, quite the reverse. The planned cycle route is neither green nor functional.”
Labour London mayor Sadiq Khan has also faced criticism in the Daily Mail over the creation of new pedestrianised zones in the city centre.
As of Friday, Islington Council had 14 days to respond to the pre-action protocol letter.
17:55, 29/09/20: This article was updated to clarify the contents of the letter circulated to residents by Mr Pagano.