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We will close and move schools, Tory council hopeful for Islington tells hustings

The Conservative party's Ed McGuinness says moving schools would be part of a 'medium-term plan'

17 April, 2018 — By Emily Finch

From Left to Right: Ed McGuinness, Lib Dem Kate Pothalingham and Green Caroline Russell

THE Conservatives would close schools in highly polluted areas and move them to less congested parts of the borough, it was revealed at the first hustings in the run-up to May’s local elections.

Around 50 people watched the debate at Christ Church in Highbury on Monday night as the political parties laid out their vision of how they would make the borough more environmentally friendly if elected into the Town Hall.

The Tories have not held a majority in Islington since 1968 but have put forward a full slate of candidates to go up against the Labour-dominated council. The Town Hall currently has one opposition councillor who is from the Green Party.

Ed McGuinness, a Tory standing in Highbury West, said improving the health of the borough’s children was “the most important thing” for him.

He said: “Our medium-term plan, a cornerstone of the manifesto, once we are in the council, is that within the first week we will start an audit of the pollution around all of our primary schools. We would move the primary schools in the most polluted areas to areas which are less polluted.”

When later questioned by an audience member how he plans to finance the policy, he replied: “It’s part of our medium-term plan. We start by finding out which schools need to move. Clearly it will cost a lot of money.”

The hustings, organised jointly by campaign groups Cycle Islington and Islington Living Streets, saw four candidates from across the borough answer questions on traffic reduction, air pollution and cycling.

A pre-tabled question put to the candidates asked if they would consider closing traffic around schools during their opening and closing times to reduce air pollution and make it safer for children to walk to school.

Cllr Claudia Webbe speaking at the hustings on Monday night 

Cllr Claudia Webbe, who is executive member for transport and environment and is looking to retain her Bunhill seat for Labour, told the crowd that she was already making plans to stop such traffic.

She said: “We are closing roads. We have about 20 schools identified as the top polluted schools in Islington and we are going to target those school for air pollution. Yes we are going to close roads when schools are opening and closing. The top most polluted school is Central Foundation School in my home ward of Bunhill.

“We are working with Hackney and we are closing [roads]. We’ve already consulted. We’ve got significant support. We are already going to close that road [around Central Foundation Boys’ School]. With a Labour Mayor and Labour council it’s not words it’s deeds and action.”

Central Foundation Boys’ School sits in Cowper Street, which is a stone’s throw from the highly congested Old Street roundabout.

Cllr Caroline Russell, from the Green Party, who is looking to retain her Highbury East seat come May 3, backed the plans for stopping traffic at schools’ opening and closing times.

“I’ve seen it around schools in Waltham Forest and it is absolutely transforming. It really could make a real difference and would discourage parents from using a car to get to school. I am only too aware of the bad air around our schools,” she said.

Representing the Lib Dems, Kate Pothalingham agreed with the Green and Labour candidates but added: “We have to think more than just walking to school. It’s important our parks and open spaces are easy to access and safe to use. Lib Dems would support the banning of barbecues in our parks. Picnics are a much less polluting way to enjoy the open space.”

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