‘What a load of ****’: Heckler interrupts council meeting as residents and politicians clash over LTNs

Anti-LTN protesters outside the Town Hall. Photograph: Julia Gregory

Frustrations over controversial traffic-calming schemes erupted at the Town Hall last week – prompting the Mayor to threaten to hold the rest of the full council meeting in private.

Like other boroughs, Islington Council extended its network of low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) as emergency measures during the pandemic.

The schemes won Transport for London funding and are designed to cut traffic and improve air quality by reducing harmful nitrogen dioxide and carbon emissions.

The council wants to keep the LTNs, but they have proved polarising, with some praising the cut in pollution and others saying it penalises motorists and pushes traffic elsewhere.

Islington also has 34 school streets – where motor vehicles are banned near schools at drop-off and pick-up times.

Mildmay could become the next liveable neighbourhood – the new name for an area with LTNs – with the council currently consulting with locals on the plans.

Resident Rebekah Kelly said two years on from the launch of LTNs, residents are still frustrated by the controversial policy.

She told the full council meeting: “Living in an LTN feels [like we are] slightly forgotten – our bins haven’t been taken away, our streets are not swept, the pavements are broken.”

She said the council is spending money on new trees but claimed “existing trees are not being maintained”.

She was adamant that “we don’t want People Friendly Pavements, or Safe Haven schemes, or Liveable Neighbourhoods or anything with a catchy slogan. We just want our basic services.”

Kelly added: “You want to promote active travel. Walking is going to be the best. We all walk, whether we’re going to walk to our car, we walk to get our bike out, walk to the bus stop or walk across the borough. Pavements have got to be the highest priority here.”

Cllr Rowena Champion, executive member for the environment, air quality and transport, said there has been 250-metre of new paving and it will be matched by April. Other steps include clearing pavement clutter but also providing benches for those with mobility issues. The council has looked at 44 per cent of pavements as part of its People Friendly Pavements scheme, launched last year.

She said “absolutely I would” like to spend more on pavements but said the council was starved of funds through government austerity measures.

She defended the LTN scheme.

“We knew when we started LTNs that people who are walking would benefit more than people who are cycling.”

She said feedback included people delighted they can hear birdsong.

“It’s brilliant to go out into our streets. We can hear the birds sing. We can walk along the pavements, we can talk to our friends, we can walk into the road if we need to do that.”

She told residents packed into the council chamber: “We absolutely know that if you reduce the traffic you benefit people who are walking. You particularly benefit people with mobility issues.”

One campaigner called out “what a load of ****” and some others heckled.

Mayor Marian Spall threatened to clear the council chamber and hold the rest of the meeting behind closed doors if campaigners continued to shout out.

“I am not going to have this in my chamber, can you please be quiet,” she said.

Cllr Champion continued: “I am frankly baffled that people can stand here and tell me that reducing the amount of vehicles going past on the street does not help people who are walking and people who are cycling, people who are trying to cross the road standing on the streets.”

Prompted by chief executive Linzi Egan, the mayor decided to move on to the next public question.

It comes after the council was forced to apologise for not getting a large enough room to discuss plans for a liveable neighbourhood at Barnsbury last month. The meeting was cut short and police were called.

People who could not get into the meeting at West Library were left frustrated.

Outside the Town Hall, Zak Vora, who has contested the Bunhill and St Peter’s wards for the Conservatives, said: “LTNs are not equitable as they create high transport neighbourhoods.”

He said boundary roads nearby can suffer from extra traffic and the schemes have hit business, transport and disabled motorists.

“The council is myopic about what residents want.”

Update: this article was amended at 1pm on 13 December 2022. The original article stated that Mildmay was already a liveable neighbourhood.