Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville has spoken out in defence of the directly-elected nature of the borough’s council leadership in the face of calls for change from campaigners.
The Horrendous Hackney Road Closures group (HHRC), which has been a vocal opponent of the introduction of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in the borough, accused the Town Hall of a “top-down, we-know-best approach” in a recent statement celebrating the departure of former transport chief Jon Burke.
Referendums are to be held in May in both nearby Tower Hamlets and Newham to seek residents’ views on whether they should retain their mayoral systems, while a campaign in Croydon recently reached the required threshold to hold a vote on whether to introduce one.
In a statement last week, HHRC spokesperson Niall Crowley said: “The feeling amongst our 7,000 members is that the council is interested virtue-signalling about its Green credentials and appealing to healthy, young, affluent cycling advocates, and those of us who have lived here all our lives or who don’t fit the picture can go to hell.
“We need a change of approach, not just a change of face. Many of our members are beginning to ask if the mayoral system is right for our borough. Hackney has been chaotic for months.
“The people of Hackney are rapidly losing faith in this administration and are looking for more democracy, more of a say.”
Glanville is currently one of only three directly-elected mayors of a London borough, along with Tower Hamlets, Newham and Lewisham, with all four councils currently set to re-elect their next representatives in 2022.
Quizzed on the calls by the group in a recent interview with the Citizen, the borough leader argued that the mayor and cabinet system in Hackney provides a measure of accountability in having a single “visible and available” individual to hold to account.
This, he said, contrasts with what he argues is a less transparent “‘Who’s up, who’s down in the Town Hall?’ system, where you like the leader of the group who you vote for, and then they’re voted out”.
Glanville revealed that he has discussed with mayors of neighbouring boroughs the “challenge” that, in his view, legislation currently gives his role large amounts of power and relies on the individual in the role to give that power away, leading him to argue for a mayor and cabinet system less tied to the “goodwill” of the people who occupy the position.
He said: “Mayoral systems should be with the grain of the places they seek to represent, and that is both the individual and the system. Our mayoral system in Hackney over the last 20 years has been very different to some of the others across London. It was always a mayor and cabinet, and I enhanced that when I took over, making sure that decisions were taken collectively and in public.
“My understanding is that there were systems where the cabinet effectively met to watch the mayor making the decision in some of those other places, and that never sat comfortably with Jules [Pipe, Glanville’s predecessor], and certainly never sat comfortably with me.
“The scheme of delegations shows that there are very few decisions that I do, or could, take alone, and that is absolutely right. The Hackney mayoralty, and if it was a Conservative mayoralty I’m sure it would be the same, sits firmly within the Labour Party decision-making processes as well, so I serve with the support of the Labour group and take all decisions through that process, which conforms with Labour Party rules.
“Ultimately, the people of Hackney decide either way and I’m comfortable with that. This does not belong to any one individual, and that is absolutely right. It also allowed you to take long-term decisions. The track record and turnaround of Hackney under the mayoral system compared to the previous 20 years speaks for itself, whether on education, physical infrastructure, financial management, policy ambition. It is a stable system, and an equally democratic and accountable system to any others out there.”
The HHRC group’s founding issue has been the radical roll-out of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) throughout the borough, fronted by outspoken former transport chief Burke, who following his resignation from Hackney Council announced his aspiration to run for Mayor of Liverpool.
Along with a referendum on Glanville’s post, the HHRC group is also calling for the rollback of LTN schemes across the borough, and the cancellation of any fines issued as a result of them.
Quizzed on whether Burke’s departure would signal a change of direction from the Town Hall on the policy, Glanville, who is temporarily running the portfolio before a successor is appointed, was emphatic in his intention to stay the course, with more safe cycling infrastructure in and around Green Lanes to be announced before the end of the month to honour a commitment made in 2016.
Glanville added: “If you look at the 2018 manifesto, what Jon was able to do was work really hard to make that the most ambitious manifesto on sustainability anywhere in the country and exceed it.
“On trees for instance, we committed to 1,000 new trees in that manifesto, and we have committed to 5,000 street and park trees, never mind the whip planting and other things that underpin that. That ambition and pushing of boundaries absolutely continues.
“I certainly want to make sure that any decision to replace Jon has an equal level of ambition to take these projects forward. The style will inevitably be slightly different because whoever takes on this post will not be Jon, but the policies remain the same.
“They are publicly available in our sustainable procurement plan, our main and emergency transport strategies, they are in all the documents on rebuilding a greener Hackney and in the corporate plan, and that is what we will work to.”
EDIT: This article was updated at 12:43 on 12/01/2021. The former version incorrectly included Watford in the list of London boroughs with directly-elected Mayors.