Interview: Cllr David Poyser at Islington Council
Thu 21st May 2015, 4:19 pm
Islington's newly-elected councillor and long-time local, David Poyser, speaks to Sitematch London about how the borough could be improved, the authority's administration and the people he has been inspired by.
Which projects are you most proud of being involved in?
I’m a new councillor, so the improvements are down the line. I am most proud of the many improvements to the Archway. I am a small, teeny weeny part of a huge team, but the area has been centred around Jeremy Clarkson and the internal combustion engine for too long. After endless years of dithering, the area will be a place to stop at for all the residents as they use the transport link.
What developments or enhancements would most benefit the borough?
Clearer parking signs – not a planning issue but it makes us mad when we try and obey the law and we get fined. I don’t mind being fined abroad where I may not speak the language, but why should I end up paying fines (most recently to TfL) because of them being unintelligible to most people?
My borough, Islington, would benefit from more social cohesion. We now have the very rich as our house prices shoot to the stratosphere, private rented which can take up over half the incomes of the young and social housing. We need more people in the middle of the ‘wealth sandwich’ but we get along and have a sense of community. I think safer cycling – especially on trunk roads or through more cycle routes – would make our borough a better place if we can manage it.
Which developments outside the borough do you most admire and why?
I love the Marylebone area. The local owners must have worked well with planning to keep the atmosphere and architecture of the place. Much of London is far too higgledy-piggledy and inconsistent, which makes it ugly. I think the London Eye was a fantastic, brave idea that has really worked, and the o2 centre was slated at the time, but now it is great. Most of the area around Kings Cross, which is transformed, is in Camden, but a small part is in my own borough, and it shows how well local government can totally transform an area.
What was your first impression of the borough when you started out working there?
I arrived in 1979. It was still the East End, which was great, and a few forward-thinking progressive people that made it ‘different’ – there was a women only feminist cafe which would not be that odd now, but all the press used to get very excited about it!
What things have surprised you about working in the borough?
Before I was a councillor, there seemed to be loads of arbitrary decisions taken by the council. Now I know the reasons, and they usually make sense. Frequently councils do not explain their decisions well, and councils seem arbitrary and distant. Let’s hope we can communicate a bit better in Islington over the next four years.
What makes developers good partners?
Ones that are sympathetic to the aims of the council, and where architects enjoy the project, rather than simply aiming for a quick profit.
When people find out you work in the borough, what are the most common things they ask?
[They ask about] trees and parking, and they often used to complain about the previous Labour leader. I really rated him, and I told them, but there you go!
If you could change one thing about working in the borough, what would it be?
More officers living here, houses are so expensive here that the officers can’t live here, which must make it more of a job, and give less of a sense of working for the community. Most do a fantastic job in difficult circumstances, despite this. We used to have some of the worst schools in the country, and now they are some of the best, which is great and something for us all to be proud of.
Which three people have inspired you the most – either at work or in your personal life?
Catherine West, the new MP for Hornsey and Wood Green is brilliant with people, and everyone smiles after seeing her, even if she has been forced to give them unwelcome news.
The MP, Mary Creagh [now running for the Labour leadership], was my ward councillor a zillion years ago, and she showed me what fun it is to be keen, and part of a community hub.
I also love Denis Healey – he could have followed any career – soldier, photographer, university teacher, linguist – and he writes brilliant books. He had more brains in his big toe than most people around him, but he usually didn’t let it show. His books make you want to dedicate your life to politics and helping people.
If you could visit any country in the world, where would you go and why?
South Africa has changed a lot since I used to boycott all their exports because of apartheid.
Which book, film, piece of music or sporting occasion has had the biggest influence on your life and why?
Denis Healey’s autobiography is great. Even though at the time I disagreed with his views – in retrospect he was right and I was wrong – he has a great mix of applying intelligent academic understanding of a problem and the art of politics in how to deliver it.
What is your favourite gadget and why?
The iPhone is practical. Perhaps my hob as I enjoy cooking.
What is your biggest professional achievement?
Working in TV, helping people to understand HIV. We got 11 million views for a programme that was in newspapers all over the world.