Leader’s Question Time at the Vibast Community Centre earlier this week (11 February 2020) may have been billed as a night for Islington boss Richard Watts to answer questions, but for those living in EC1 it was one of many councillors in the audience, Phil Graham of EC1’s Bunhill ward, who stole the show. Given that Graham lives right on Islington’s border with the City of London, it perhaps isn’t surprising that he’s very focussed on cross-borough issues and the enormous wealth and power of his municipal neighbour.
Pollution inevitably came up as an issue at Leader’s Question Time and there was mention of Graham and other Islington councillors meeting with Transport for London in a few weeks to deal with how the new Old Street roundabout will redistribute traffic on neighbouring roads including Bunhill Row and around Beach Street. The later is, of course, in the City and the council are promoting it as a vanity project/flagship first zero emissions road in London. There was anger among locals (in both the City and Islington) that they were not consulted on the proposal and in particular the way it would significantly add to traffic and pollution in neighbouring streets – especially Golden Lane, on which part of the City/Islington border lies – unless measures were put in place to prevent this. The City of London Corporation doesn’t appear to have considered this issue until confronted with the matter last month. A few weeks ago we posted some of Cripplegate councillor Sue Pearson’s critical work on the zero emissions scheme. Islington council has now agreed to close Fortune Street to all vehicles except buses, which will solve the problem at the south end of Golden Lane but there will still be issues elsewhere.
At Leaders Question Time, Phil Graham brought up a proposal to extend Fortune Street Park. Although Graham didn’t provide details, we assume this would mean extending the park onto at least the west end of Fortune Street itself and the closure and erasure of some or all of this side street. Buildings between Fortune Street Park and Whitecross Street make an extension to the east unlikely, and to the west Golden Lane marks the Islington/City boundary and for a variety of reasons – including access to the Barbican Exhibition Halls and Richard Cloudesley School – seems unsuitable for an extension of the park. Likewise the Golden Lane Campus to the south of Fortune Street Park is a relatively new and well-functioning building, so it would be stupid to demolish it. There was a historical proposal to extent Fortune Street Park onto Fortune Street a few years ago but this was rejected at the time because it would become harder to access the services that run under that street. Hopefully those issues have been resolved and extending the park is now possible.
Turning all or at least much of Fortune Street into an extension of the local park is a fantastic idea. There is a shortage of green space in the City and south Islington, and Fortune Street Park is clearly stretched to capacity especially at lunchtimes and immediately after home time at local schools. That said, even with an extension to Fortune Street Park more public recreation space is required in both south Islington and the City.
A related issue is the long running dispute between residents on Golden Lane Estate and the City of London council over the former having to pay for the upkeep of communal areas which the City say are private but which are heavily used by office workers both at lunchtimes and during smoking breaks. It isn’t clear where all these white collar workers come from but a good number are employed in the UBS Building at 1 Golden Lane; large groups of smokers also sometimes congregate outside this office making it difficult for pedestrians – particularly those with small children and/or disabilities – wanting to get in or out of the Barbican Estate to navigate their way down the street. UBS smokers also make their way onto the Golden Lane Estate, particularly in bad weather, where some of those who shelter under the east entrance to Bowater House are rude and treat tenants and leaseholders accessing their own flats as a nuisance. One is left with the impression that UBS and the rest of the financial industry don’t give a damn about City residents because 80% of councillors in this local authority are elected by the undemocratic business votes given to companies like UBS.
The Golden Lane Estate Residents Association has a relatively recent thread on non-resident use of its supposedly ‘private’ communal recreational areas. This starts by addressing the area at the back of Bayer House but goes on to highlight some of the problems on other parts of the estate. While on the Barbican Estate there are keys and gates to prevent non-residents accessing communal recreational areas, the City seems unwilling to prevent non-residents – and in particular white collar workers from the square mile’s financial industry – from abusing the amenities on Golden Lane (while expecting council tenants and leaseholders to cover the costs incurred). So while we need more than just extra space in Fortune Street Park – including but not limited to sufficient smoking shelters paid for by UBS for its employees – extending the park is a really great plan. Regardless of whether or not Phil Graham runs with this proposal if the issue of the services beneath Fortune Street has been resolved – and Graham apparently reviving the extension plan makes it look like it has been – we should all be demanding the enlargement of Fortune Street Park.
Incidentally, we understand that Bunhill is awash with S106 money due to all the new developments in this part of EC1, so the mean greens to extend Fortune Street Park to the north should be readily available in Islington even if relocating the services that run beneath it will be expensive. Nevertheless, in our view the super-rich City of London council should at least chip in for an upgrade to this amenity, and perhaps Taylor Wimpey whose unwanted ghost flat development The Denizen now overshadows large parts of Fortune Street Park could cough up some readies to cover the costs too. Then instead of being used on Fortune Street Park, Islington Bunhill’s S106 money could be well spent on upgrading the Finsbury Leisure Centre, without any need to diminish this popular sports facility by building flats on part of its site to raise money for the refurbishment.
The Finsbury Leisure Centre redevelopment plan as it currently stands is a disaster, not only will we lose sports provision if it goes ahead unaltered, the planned block of flats intended to finance it would overshadow St Luke’s Garden. Alongside Fortune Street Park, which The Denizen now steals huge amounts of sunlight from, this is another small but really heavily used piece of green space just off our part of Old Street. Many are also unhappy that the proportion of private housing in the proposed block has been edging upwards since the plans were announced – we’ve been told in order to finance the entire redevelopment. Given the amount of S106 money washing around from newly built ghost home apartment blocks that could be spent on these sports facilities, the last thing we need is more safety deposit boxes in the sky to pay for an upgrade. We do want more social housing in EC1 but the edge of St Luke’s Garden is not the right place to build it. If some of the current sports facilities must be given up for social housing it would be much more sensible for this to be on the football pitches up against Central Street and immediately opposite Dance Square; or even more preferably on the isolated 5-a-side pitch further up Central Street towards City Road. Likewise, it would be a better use of the money and more environmentally friendly to repair and upgrade the current leisure centre than to build an inferior new one.
Islington Bunhill councillor Phil Graham. He appears to be reviving a historical plan to extend Fortune Street Park onto Fortune Street.
And to finish, if City of London council boss Catherine McGuinness and Lord Mayor of London William Russell were elected by residents, then those who live in the City could expect to have regular question times with them (just as residents in Islington do with the leaders of their council). But in the City’s undemocratic system neither McGuinness nor Russell were elected by residents and so it appears neither they nor the council as a whole feel as if they need answer to those who have the misfortune to live under their feudal form of local government. This is one of the many reasons why it is imperative that the City is democratically reformed and the business vote is abolished.
The header shows the very busy Fortune Street Park. Beneath a shot of office workers in Fortune Street Park. Many buy their lunch from the wide range of food stalls in Whitecross Street Market and then consume their food in Fortune Street Park or on the Golden Lane Estate (despite signs telling them it is private and not a public amenity).