Local leaders clash at hustings ahead of council election

Key local issues debated by leaders of the Labour and Conservative groups in Enfield, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

At the Jewish community hustings in Southgate were Conservative group leader Joanne Laban (left) and Labour group leader Nesil Caliskan (right), the current council leader
At the Jewish community hustings in Southgate were Conservative group leader Joanne Laban (left) and Labour group leader Nesil Caliskan (right), the current council leader

Political leaders in Enfield went head-to-head on key issues affecting residents during an election hustings in Southgate.

Council and Labour group leader Nesil Caliskan and her Conservative opponent Joanne Laban were grilled on council finances, low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), crime, large-scale development and other topics during the Jewish community hustings event on Monday.

The event, held at Cockfosters and North Southgate Synagogue, came less than four weeks ahead of the local election, due to take place on 5th May. All 63 seats on Enfield Council will be contested, with the Tories hoping to overturn an eleven-seat Labour majority.

At the start of the hustings event, the two leaders set out their policies and priorities for the next four-year council term.

Cllr Laban outlined pledges she claimed would make the borough “cleaner, greener and safer”, including protecting the Green Belt from development, bringing back weekly waste collections and introducing more ‘school streets’ which protect children on their way to and from school.

Cllr Caliskan began by saying she was sorry for the antisemitism that had “stained the Labour Party” in recent years, adding that she was proud to have stood in solidarity with the Jewish community and proposed the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) guidelines on antisemitism, which were adopted by the council in 2019. Cllr Caliskan also said Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer was committed to rebuilding trust, and she could now proudly ask the Jewish community to support the party during the local elections.

Moving on to policies, Cllr Caliskan said the Labour group had frozen core council tax this year to help residents facing the cost-of-living crisis, would build “thousands” of affordable homes, plant a million new trees, and create a new enforcement team to tackle antisocial behaviour.

On council finances, Cllr Laban warned the authority was £1billion in debt and that this was “going to £2bn” in years to come, adding: “The more you borrow, the more it impacts on frontline services everyone in this borough wants, deserves and needs.”

Cllr Caliskan said the money would be used to fund affordable homes, long-term investment in town centres and other council services within the context of “tough choices” that needed to be made because of funding cuts from central government.

When quizzed on the LTNs in Bowes Park and Palmers Green, the Labour leader said they had been implemented because “people wanted something done about the number of cars on the roads for short journeys”. She admitted there had been some disruption but said that with the population of the borough projected to grow by 50,000 in 15 years, people needed to “think twice” about taking short journeys by car.

Cllr Caliskan said the schemes were being amended in response to feedback from residents and pointed out that the Conservative government had provided funding for LTNs. “We have to find a way to make schemes work so we have healthier ways of being able to make short journeys,” she added.

Cllr Laban claimed that when consulted “the majority of people” were against the LTNs. She added: “The Department for Transport is clear [that] not every scheme works […] and they have not worked in Enfield”.

The Tory group leader added: “I want lots of people to take up cycling – but people also use a car, traffic needs to flow, and LTNs have not worked”. She pledged to “listen to the people we serve” and remove both schemes if the Conservatives win control of the council in May.

Responding to concerns from the audience that LTNs cause traffic jams and lead to longer journey times for buses, Cllr Caliskan said the council was considering reopening Meadway, one of the roads within the Fox Lane LTN, to alleviate congestion. She added that there needed to be a “long-term solution for Southgate [Circus] roundabout”, which would involve working with Transport for London.

On policing, crime and antisocial behaviour, the Labour leader said her group had pledged to create a council law and enforcement team to deal with antisocial behaviour, adding that she had spoken to the police about providing additional officers, paid for by the local authority.

Cllr Laban said her group had pledged to set up an antisocial behaviour task force and also fund extra police officers. Both leaders promised to review street lighting levels after residents raised concerns that dim LED lights were posing a safety risk, particularly within LTNs.

Moving on to the topic of housing, Cllr Laban said London mayor Sadiq Khan had opposed housing development on the Green Belt, which the council had proposed last year in its draft Local Plan. In response, Cllr Caliskan said there would be another phase of consultation on the document, adding that failing to produce a Local Plan would lead to the council losing its planning powers.

Cllr Laban and members of the audience raised concerns about several large-scale developments that had been approved by the planning committee in recent years, including large tower blocks at Colosseum Retail Park in Southbury. The Labour leader said she agreed that the borough should not have skyscrapers but claimed the consequence of not looking at Green Belt sites would be “sky-high buildings all over the borough”. She added: “You go up or you go out. You’ve got to find a balance between the two.”

A full list of the candidates standing for election on 5th May, in every Enfield ward, is available here: enfielddispatch.co.uk/find-out-whos-standing-for-election-in-your-ward

A full preview of the local election is available here: enfielddispatch.co.uk/the-battle-for-control-of-enfield-civic-centre