This is what democracy looks like

This is what democracy looks like


Congratulations to Peter Smorthit and his merry band of residents, who worked tirelessly over a very short space of time, and showed Hackney’s political establishment what genuine democracy looks like.

From a standing start – no money, no party organisation or resources, no brand recognition, infrastructure, advisors or team – in less than three weeks he managed to win 1,382 votes,  nearly four per cent of all cast.

Peter and pals had to raise more than £1000 in a few days, simply to enter the electoral campaign. They went out flyering, speaking to residents, shopkeepers and businesses. Peter spoke to local media, including BBC Radio and News. And they pulled off a hugely successful and sold-out candidates’ hustings the week of the election. The hustings – generously hosted by the Premises Studios on Hackney Road – was the third and only fully open discussion where residents were free to ask whatever was important to them.

Hackney Cycle Campaign, who were paid thousands of ££ in ‘consultancy fees’ by the last mayor and helped plan the borough’s LTN chaos, actually excluded Peter from their hustings. To her credit the Green Party candidate Zoë Garbett attended the Premesis hustings, and the socialist trade unionists sent along a deputy after their candidate fell ill.

This is what real democracy looks like. People disagreeing but discussing and debating their ideas and disagreements. This is how civil society is built. Neither the mainstream parties nor those well-funded campaign groups such as London Cycling Campaign seem to understand this. They can’t stomach genuine public involvement and self-organisation. They prefer back-door deals, well away from public scrutiny. But we, the public are not going away. Peter’s campaign has put down a marker for the future. Hackney deserves better! We deserve better.

The No-mandate Mayor

The No-mandate Mayor


A Labour councillor has been declared Mayor of Hackney, replacing the last one who was forced to resign, in shame.

In last week’s election, the councillor received just over 18,000 votes, a staggering 50 per cent drop in support for Labour from a year ago. Out of an electorate of around 180,000, almost 90% did not vote for her.

Some eighty per cent of electors in Hackney did not vote at all. In short, the new mayor has no mandate and no legitimacy. Still, this councillor holds executive power and plans to use it.

So what does this new mayor stand for, if anything?  She refused to attend all three of the election hustings debates so it’s safe to say she’s not interested in explaining or debating her ideas with the electors of Hackney.

In an interview conducted in the ‘presence of Labour press officer’, the councillor explained proudly to Hackney Citizen that she “learnt how to become a cabinet member” during Lockdown – i.e. when our democratic rights and freedoms were suspended. So, she has plenty of experience of riding roughshod over the views of the electorate.

She freely admitted also that the imposition of LTNs Hackney were “brutal”, but offered the explanation that “something had to be done”. Forget evidence, stats, congestion, air pollution, forget democracy, consultation and due process. Something had to be done!

She’s right about one thing, something does have to be done, that is something has to be done about the poor excuse for democracy and leadership in our town hall. A referendum on abolishing the post of Mayor would be a good start, but we need a revamp of how we run things and who is in control. At the moment it sure isn’t us and it doesn’t look much like a heathy democracy.

Come the next election we need to have figured out how to convince our fellow citizens that we can get rid of them and replace them with something better.

To borrow Peter Smorthit’s campaign slogan…


Fiery Clash at Hackney Town Council Meeting Over LTNs

Fiery Clash at Hackney Town Council Meeting Over LTNs

At the end of last month – Monday 26th of July – Hackney’s Labour-run Council finally did what they have been trying not to do for more than two years. That is, the simple act of discussing, at Full Council a petition by local residents calling for the removal of LTNs, meaningful public consultations and a proper Town Hall debate.

According to Hackney Council’s own constitution, if a residents’ petition “hit(s) the threshold of 750 signatures” that “triggers a right to be debated at Full Council”. The ‘Hackney Road Closures’ petition totalled nearly 17.5 thousand signatures and ran to some 600 pages. 

Yet for more than two years the council rejected, ignored or dismissed various attempts by residents and an opposition councillor to get them to fulfil their constitutional duty and debate the LTN petition. 

Crucially, during those two years of delay, Hackney Council’s Extinction Rebellion supporting Labour Mayor Phillip Glanville, made ‘permanent’ 19 LTNs, thus sidestepping public scrutiny, and ignoring the results of their online consultations, in which large majorities of residents still gave a resounding no to every LTN in Hackney. 

Just to recap – the origin of Hackney’s LTNs lay in central government’s unprecedented emergency Lockdown powers, introduced in response to Covid. With these powers, Hackney Council was able to impose its draconian road closure programme, without consulting residents or business owners in advance. 

From 2020 the council closed off some 55% of our roads, without public agreement or democratic mandate and without even consulting disability or age-concern groups (they claim they consulted these groups, but they evidently did not). 

The council even overturned previous consultation results from 2017 where the residents of London Fields had already said no to their roads being closed. Not surprising then that tens of thousands of residents signed the petition in an attempt to have their voices heard. 

 If not for the tireless efforts and persistence of retired Hackney teacher Ruth Parkinson, the Council might have succeeded in shelving the 17.5k strong petition altogether. It was fitting then that Ruth was finally invited to present the petition to Full Council on Monday. Ruth was joined in the council chamber by two other petition supporters, myself included, and many other supporters in the Public Gallery. 

Any hope of a proper democratic debate were quickly dashed when the council’s  Electoral Services Department set out the parameters for the discussion. 

“Timings are up to:

  • 5 mins – Lead Petitioner(s) introduction
  • 10 mins – Debate/Councillors consider the petition
  • 5 mins – Lead Cabinet Councillor  response”

Petitioners were given a total of five whole minutes to put our case to councillors, which really only allowed time for one of us to speak. And after our five minutes, that was it – were not allowed to respond to anything that was said or discussed by councillors following Ruth’s introduction. We were expected to sit in silence, no matter what was being said. Some public debate.

However it wasn’t just petitioners who were effectively gagged in this ‘debate’. “I’ve been whipped.” Confessed one apologetic Labour Councillor as she passed by to get to her seat. What she meant was that Hackney Labour had instructed its councillors they must toe the line and it forbade from speaking freely during the debate. Indeed, nearly all of the Labour councillors in the chamber sat twiddling their thumbs or looking bored, glum or down at their smartphones throughout the discussion. 

Undeterred, when her time came Ruth took to the floor and introduced the petition. And what an introduction! In just under five minutes, Ruth delivered a devastating attack on Hackney’s LTNs, highlighting how they clearly contradict many of the council’s existing policies, aims and values. Quoting council’s own policies and reports, Ruth showed how the imposition and enforcement of LTNs systematically contradict their own aims and recommendations on discrimination, pollution, schools, road safety, disability and age-discrimination.

“Hackney Council knew that pollution levels were met on side roads BUT NOT ON MAIN ROADS so this deliberate policy to force traffic onto already highly polluted roads is ignoring the effects it has on those living on main roads and using main roads to walk to shop and to go to school.” 

You can read the whole of Ruth’s introduction here. 

Hackney residents and business owners are well used to Transport Chief Mete Coban (Cllr for Stoke Newington) ducking questions, responding with platitudes, half-truths, dirty tricks and slurs, popularly known these days as ‘gaslighting’. Cllr Coban’s immediate response to Ruth and to the 17.5 thousand signatories was very much business as usual. Mete’s first response:

“the “horrific images” of wildfires in the Greek island of Rhodes showed how concerning the climate emergency is.” followed by “Every road is accessible.”

“Our direction of travel is bold,”

Quite how closing Middleton Road is supposed to help tackle seasonal fires in the Mediterranean wasn’t made clear, but this off-the-wall response was about as close as he got to actually answering any of our questions.  In truth, not once did Coban or anyone else on the Labour benches address a single concern or point raised in Ruth’s introduction.

The Mayor remained silent throughout the LTN discussion, which was unfortunate, given that he, along with Jon Burke, was a principal architect of this insane social experiment inflicted on the public. Maybe the Mayor had been whipped into silence along with most of our Labour councillors? Or maybe he had other things on his mind? 

And throughout this farcical excuse for a debate we the public, and those presenting the petition were expected to sit and listen in silence. 

The only opposing voice from an elected representative came from Cllr Steinberger, Conservative representative Springfield Ward, who has been a consistent and staunch critic of the council’s war on driving. It was he and former colleague Harvey Odze who had helped try to get the petition onto the Full Council agenda a year earlier.  “These LTNs are a load of rubbish. Listen to the people…” demanded Cllr Steinberger, but as ever, Glanville’s administration are not interested in listening to anyone, unless their name begins with Hackney Cycling Campaign.

The remainder of Coban’s response was not aimed not at addressing any of the public’s concerns or Ruth’s points and questions, but in party point-scoring against the two Green councillors in the chamber. Did they not support the council’s road closure programme? 

Green Cllr Alastair Binnie-Lubbock sprang to his feet to claim that of course Hackney Greens supported LTNs. Further, the Greens wanted to get fat people out of their gas-guzzling 4x4s and he personally was in favour of ‘people’s assemblies’ to help them do that. Presumably the only people he wants in his ‘people’s assemblies’ are the ones who agree with him? 

For many of us this was our first time in the council chamber. Call this writer naive, but it ought to be the beating heart of our local democracy. But really it’s an empty shell, ruled by remote career-bureaucrats. They pay lip service to democracy and public engagement, but really the hold the public in contempt and use every trick in the book to keep us at arms length. 

They have reduced politics and democracy to unfathomably tedious and obscure procedure in an attempt to bore us all to death. And when that doesn’t work they attempt to slur and gaslight the public and anyone who opposes them. But the public is made of sterner and smarter stuff and we will not go away and we will not be dismissed and pushed around. Watch this space. 

Are councils and political leaders ignoring consultation results? 

Are councils and political leaders ignoring consultation results? 

The short answer is yes. Councils like Hackney in East London are overriding clear majority verdicts and making permanent a raft of road closures introduced as emergency temporary measures during Lockdown. Hackney alone has imposed 19 LTNs using Lockdown measures, and to date every single consultation has shown majorities of more than 60% of respondents want them removed. So far the council has ignored every result and made each LTN permanent. 

In 2021, the Telegraph pointed out that “in the consultations made public so far, 18,314 people have expressed a negative view of the active travel schemes, vastly outnumbering the 7,020 residents who expressed their support.” Since then the pattern has continued – the public says no but councils push on regardless. 

Some councils are withholding consultations results altogether, and residents are having to resort to Freedom of Information Requests (FOIs) to obtain information. In the London borough of Brent, for example, resident Sarah Rollinson, forced her council to disclose consultation results for two LTN areas. She found that in Olive Road Area 787 to 198 majority against the road closures. And for the Dollis Hills Area 41 respondents were in favour and 287 were against. 

However, online consultations are increasingly designed to avoid altogether questions that show clear majorities or give clear answers. London Cycling Campaign (LCC) which has played a large part in lobbying for, and designing LTNs, advises councils to “avoid questions that elicit yes/no answers”. Instead, they suggest using “sliding scales of approval” and other methods that help to diffuse and deflect public responses. Little wonder that councils like the London Borough of Hackney have paid these cycling campaigners thousands of Pounds in ‘consultancy fees’. 

With many LTN consultation results reports, you might be forgiven for wondering if the aim appears to be to deflect and confuse the public with mountains of information. Multipage documents for each individual LTN, present responses to a myriad of micro-questions. ‘Do you spend more time in the area?’ ‘Is it easier to cross the street?’, ‘Does the street look nice?’ ‘How many people run or jog?’, ‘Is there more space for cycling?’, ‘Are car trips inconvenienced?’ And so on.

This wealth of information is then usefully broken down by religion, ethnicity, gender – ‘2% of respondents describe themselves as ‘non-binary’ – reports one of Islington Council’s Amwell People Friendly Streets report – sexual orientation, age, cyclist, single car-owner, multiple car-owner, car passenger and so on. Information is broken down again and again until it’s nearly impossible to make sense of. No wonder Islington’s Amwell report-back comes with some 17 accompanying documents. 

Of course, informations can be a good thing, and we might want to know what kind of people are responding. But with so many of these consultation exercises, they are designed deliberately so as to find it almost impossible to find clear yes or no as to whether residents want LTN barriers to be retained or removed from their streets. 

And so, instead of consultations being a process whereby the public gets to decide on projects and proposals, they become one great big ‘conversation’. “We host open digital conversations that are easy to participate  in and representative of the whole community.” Says Commonplace, the pro-LTN organisation behind many of today’s online consultancy programmes. The impression given in these reports is that the public is a diffuse mass of people, all talking at cross-purposes with one another. Everyone has an opinion. All of them, and consequently, none of them are valid. And so the councils, officers and their experts get to decide everything on our behalf. 

Another interesting shift is that councils are moving away from using professional market research companies to conduct quality, in-depth consultations, in favour of activist-organisations such as Steer, Commonplace, Sustrans, and Systra who publicly advocate and campaign around issues like cycling, ’active travel’, Green issue and ‘sustainable cities’. 

In 2016 Hackney Council engaged market research company BDRC to design and manage a consultation on proposals to close or restrict car access to the London Fields area of the borough. Residents and business owners were presented with a set of clear proposals and alternatives. 

After more than a year of real-world community consultations,  a clear majority overwhelmingly rejected LTN-style road closures. However, many did opt for less drastic proposals some of the traffic issues of the area. It was a good piece of research carried out over a period of more than a year. 

As a result of the consultation, Hackney Council dropped plans to close off roads in the area. That was until Lockdown measures allowed them to disregard the views of residents and close their roads anyway. 

Government ‘guidance’ under Lockdown severely restricted the public’s democratic say in local and national affairs. Councils were now allowed to implement a project without any prior consultation or notification, and the public were then allowed to express an opinion on what had already been done to them. This meant that councils like London Borough of Hackney could revive projects already rejected by residents, such as the London Fields closures, and simply impose them. 

It is debatable as to whether pre-Lockdown style consultations were really a satisfactory way of conducting local democracy and taking major decisions. Today’s post-Lockdown ‘digital conversations’ masquerading as democratic participation are really a wake-up call. Our democratic voice is being seriously eroded and it is time for citizens to return to the real public square and take back our democracy. 

Are we witnessing a re-awakening?

Are we witnessing a re-awakening?

Last Tuesday (15 November), Islington Council attempted to hold its first public meeting in a 12-month-long consultation over its planned ‘liveable neighbourhood’ in its Barnsbury Ward. What caught officials by surprise was that, in addition to those who are for the scheme, many anti-LTN campaigners had also turned up.

The tiny library space was overwhelmed forcing Rowena Champion, Islington Council’s Executive Member for Environment, Air Quality and Transport to abandon the meeting amid chaotic scenes.

The issue wasn’t just that the venue was too small that left many stranded outside in the cold, unable to attend. It was that the council had assumed few people would be interested in such a contentious (and divisive issue) over their local neighbourhood’s future plans. How wrong they were.

A few miles north in the London Borough of Haringey, the same thing happened again one week later. On a similar cold evening, last Monday anti-LTN protestors marched to their council offices to be told by councillors that the meeting was cancelled.


Why? Having seen the numbers of people who had turned up in protest about yet more LTN schemes, its organisers who were plainly unprepared for an actual debate, made their excuses and left apparently via the backdoor!

A surprising knock-on effect occurred back in Islington. A planned Finsbury ward partnership planning meeting in Islington to discuss another liveable neighbourhoods scheme (organised by Clerkenwell and Bunhill Labour councillors) was quickly postponed with just one day’s notice. An email sent to residents cited an earlier public meeting’s cancellation as the excuse.

What can we draw from the events of the past couple of weeks? There are three new aspects to this that could work in our favour.

First of all, unlike during Covid — where councils could rely upon emergency powers including traffic orders to run roughshod over public opinion — now, they are mandated to go through a much longer consultation 12-month process.

The corollary effect in a post-Covid era is that they are now considerably more exposed, and forced to be more transparent in how they consult with the public. More public meetings, more opportunities to hold them to account.

Second, until now we could have assumed that the public was largely demobilised, especially after this May’s local elections which appeared to consolidate many councils’ pro-LTN mandates.

Plainly, if these past few weeks’ events are anything to go by, both Islington and Haringey councils have been put on the back foot, having to quickly recalibrate how they go about their controversial LTN and liveable neighbourhood schemes.

The third point is that whatever councils try to push through will be made much harder by the double-whammy effects of the aftermath of Covid and the ensuing impact of the cost-of-living crisis.

Both are forcing the public and local businesses to make tough choices. Not least, about how to move about, whether for work, family commitments, or to support others in the wider community.

The reaction against London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s announcement to expand the Ulez zone to all of London is a case in point. Its impact is a direct attack on working people who are being further targeted and penalised with more charges.


There can be no doubt that every existing and planned LTN (and related scheme) will add further pressure on any chance of local economic, or wider community recovery. Instead, they will strengthen public anger and opposition to them, and remain divisive at best.

With more lengthy consultation processes to go through, councils will likely be faced with more angry scenes like we’ve seen in Haringey and Islington over the past few weeks. Are we witnessing a re-awakening of opposition to LTNs? It certainly feels like it if recent events are anything to go by.

They’ve got us over a barrel

They’ve got us over a barrel

They’ve got us over a barrel

A local businesswoman explains how Hackney Road closures are threatening the very existence of the family business.

We have worked on the Islington-Hackney border and have lived in Hackney for 25 years. We have a small family-run wine business selling boutique wines to restaurants. We also now have an online service, as all our restaurants closed in March for Lockdown and are still operating at minimal capacity.

The road closures in both boroughs, along with the closure of London’s bridges and the taking out of bus lanes to make cycle lanes has meant that the time taken to pick up our wine in Barking and Tilbury -where it is kept in a government bonded warehouse – has trebled. (We pay all the duty on it when the wine leaves the warehouse – currently £2.24 per bottle for still wine and £2.86 for sparkling). We collect this tax for the government and pay it immediately, whether or not we ourselves have been paid – which means that we cannot store it long-term in a non bonded warehouse.

Our driver is in pieces. Delivering locally is becoming almost impossible. On top of this we pay £30 per day to Transport for London for the privilege of driving in London, which sometimes makes it absolutely not cost effective. Our van is Diesel. It is the one recommended by TfL about three years ago and fitted to Euro 5 emissions standards. Last year we were informed that we now needed Euro 6 fittings but that it is not possible to upgrade our van to this. The only alternative would be to buy a brand-new van. They had a scheme in place for micro businesses to get  help with this but we , like most, were over the threshold so lost out again.

After three years of Brexit uncertainty, followed by Covid-19, we are not in a position to buy anything at all, and certainly not in a position to employ more than one driver and more than one smaller van. Police checks ensure that we must use a two-tonne van for weighty deliveries to remain legal and safe.

A new electric 2t van at £75k will only do 30 miles before needing an eight-hour recharge. Only the very wealthiest companies such as DHL can afford this option.

Everyone in our office cycles, walks and uses public transport to work and at the weekends. Far from being anti-cycling or anti-walking – we have always been champions of both – and  our business depends on supporting the many farmers who may not have  survived without us and our support for  their environmental endeavours.

Currently we are only one of thousands of companies who find themselves in a similar position. We are demonised, referred to as ‘rats’ on rat-runs (i.e. the only routes available since, previous road closures deliberately set out to create havoc), then asked to effectively pay to pollute. TfL are not honest about the revenue-raising they are enjoying from making people who are already in trouble, pay more for less, while doing nothing to decrease the emissions. In fact, emissions are far higher along the roads where one lane ensures endless idling. Journey times have almost trebled across London, and Hackney is now at a standstill.

As ever, the biggest companies will find ways to absorb the costs, pricing smaller London based businesses out of the market. This also comes at a time when business rates have never been higher and the whole hospitality sector is struggling to survive. If things do not change, we are all looking at a city run by the very rich for the very few. We will lose our small independent restaurants, bars, retailers and businesses – not in a matter of years, but in a matter of months. The idea that we should live in zones from where we do not venture, is contrary to everything that is great about London. It is a huge, wonderful melting pot of cultures and communities, villages and centres of excellence. The attitude of the small group of salaried fanatics, with no experience or knowledge or appreciation of business is threatening our existence. They will not stand the test of time, but in the interim, they are damaging the infrastructure of our great borough and our city

Of course, we all want to find ways of lowering pollution fast – but we need joined up thinking and proper investment if small businesses are to survive. We also need consultation and fresh ideas. Simply punishing the very heartbeat of the city is not a solution, either for the environment or for the population.

A few suggestions:

To get this into context, we are fully supportive of finding ways to lower emissions and are constantly making suggestions – such has helping business to make changes in the way of grants or interest free loans to change their vehicles, to operate street sharing and night delivery incentives, or setting up delivery hubs which are government bonded allowing us to use smaller vehicles or even bikes for local deliveries.

It falls on deaf ears. They have realised that it is all too little too late and feel they have no choice in order to protect our planet.