The impact of Hackney’s controversial low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) and business rates are big concerns for Independent mayoral hopeful Peter Smorthit.
He has been a familiar face at anti-LTN protests outside the Town Hall and has racked up several fines for driving through them on his way to hospital appointments.
Smorthit said: “I am all for improving air quality and everybody has a right to clean air, but I do not think LTNs are the answer. They are driving traffic somewhere else.”
He added: “I am not saying I have all the answers. I think we have to come together to work with residents.”
Many residents were upset by what they felt was a lack of “prior consultation” before LTNs were introduced, Smorthit said.
He thinks work is needed to encourage people to switch to greener transport, such as vouchers to “incentivise them to switch” or a local scrappage scheme.
He backs other green policies, such as more hangars for people to safely store their bikes, cycle lanes where suitable, and phased traffic lights.
He is against the council’s parking charges for motorcyclists.
Whilst out campaigning, he has heard about the headache high business rates are causing firms recovering from the pandemic.
Business rates are set by central government but are one of the biggest sources of income for local councils, which collect the money and keep half of it.
Smorthit said: “At the moment, businesses in Hackney are absolutely crippled by them. A lot of people are struggling.
“I went to Church Street in Stoke Newington, and they are literally crying for help.”
He plans to push for more support for businesses, adding: “A thriving high street is a vital part of the community.”
Smorthit said not belonging to any political party puts him in a strong position to challenge bureaucracy that “rides roughshod over people”.
He backs calls to scrap Hackney’s directly elected mayoralty.
Smorthit said the £87,000-a-year role “does not really serve a purpose. Power should be returned to the people.”
He said the mayor’s salary could be better spent on services.
Hackney is also facing the challenge of high demands for social housing.
Smorthit wants to ensure any new housing development includes a high amount of social housing.
He praised the Save Morning Lane campaign for finding out what residents want on a key town centre site.
“It’s’ a community-led project, which is absolutely brilliant. We need to work with the residents.”
Smorthit is a wheelchair user after he was seriously injured.
He has since embarked on a series of long-distance endurance challenges.
If elected, he plans to have a position in his cabinet dedicated to equalities.
“I believe disabled people need to be represented on the council,” he said.
Cuts are predicted given the challenging climate for councils, and Hackney is currently looking at a £13m overspend.
Smorthit said any cuts would have to be weighed up and their impact on residents considered carefully.
Public safety has been brought into sharp focus, with increased patrols in Hackney following the recent outbreak of violence in Gaza and Israel.
Smorthit wants to see neighbourhood patrols boosted to reassure vulnerable communities, and in LTNs, which he said have become quieter.
“We need to step it up in the borough as a whole,” he said.
The mayor holds regular meetings with Hackney’s police borough commander.
Smorthit said he would not shy from holding the police to account in the wake of the Child Q scandal, where a Black teenager was strip-searched at school.
“As a resident, my sole purpose would be to hold the police to account,” he said. “Police need to improve.”
He added: “I would just be a resident for residents. Someone truly impartial, truly independent, holding people to account.”
The candidates standing for election on Thursday 9 November are: Zoë Garbett, Green; Caroline Woodley, Labour; Peter Smorthit, Independent; Simon de Deney, Liberal Democrat; Simche Steinberger, Conservatives; and Annoesjka Valent, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.