Published: 11 May, 2012
by PETER GRUNER and ANDREW JOHNSON
THE row over the “ill-thought-out” re-naming of historic Islington Green became mired in a legal controversy this week after the Town Hall’s environment chief stood up and said: “I’m the man who made the decision."
But the council was forced to backtrack after the Tribune pointed out that Labour councillor Paul Smith did not have the authority to make the name change.
Opponents of the controversial name change accused councillors of trying to “pass the buck” and wriggle out of a decision they wrongly thought would be a vote-winning crowd-pleaser.
The saga began in March when a meeting of the full council voted unanimously for a motion calling for the name of Islington Green to be changed to Islington Memorial Green.
But the move sparked anger from residents, including CND vice-president Bruce Kent and Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn.
They objected to the lack of consultation over changing the name of one of Islington’s most significant sites, saying the change had come out of the blue with no prior warning.
The objections caught the Town Hall by surprise.
Councillors had expected the change to be uncontroversial.
The motion passed in March read: “Council resolves to ask the Executive to consider changing the name of ‘Islington Green’ to ‘Islington Memorial Green’...”
This wording implies that the council’s official decision-making body – the executive of ruling Labour councillors – should formally take the decision.
The full council does not have the power to change the name of pieces of land on its own.
However, an email to one objector from the council’s legal department, seen by the Tribune this week, says: “Kevin O’Leary... will be taking the formal decision in respect of the proposal to change the name and... will take into account the views you and others have expressed.”
Mr O’Leary is the unelected official who runs Islington’s environment department.
But Cllr Smith, executive member for the environment, said he had personally taken the decision to go ahead with the name change and had instructed Mr O’Leary to implement it.
“I’m the executive member responsible and as far as I’m concerned the decision has been made,” he said.
“There was a consultation. It’s called an election. The full council made its views known and I’m happy for that to stand. It was a clear decision.
"Kevin O’Leary is the staff member. I’ve asked him to implement it and it’s going to happen.
"I’m very happy with the decision.”
He added that the costs of the change would be “no more than a couple of thousand pounds”.
The Town Hall’s constitution, however, says that individual members of the executive are not allowed to take decisions on their own “as these will be taken by the Executive as a whole”.
A Town Hall spokeswoman said: “Under the council’s constitution there are some functions which only the council can exercise, some which are executive functions and some which are a matter of choice.
“The issue of the name given to council land is an executive function hence the full council could not make a decision in respect of it and referred the question to be considered by the executive.
“Under the constitution, corporate directors can take decisions on executive functions unless they are specifically reserved to the executive itself.
"This function – the renaming of a piece of land – is not.
“The fact that the council referred the matter to the executive does not override the constitutional arrangements as to who can take which decisions.
The Lib Dems, who supported the name change, declined to comment.
The re-naming game
THE Town Hall says Labour officials have the power to change park names at will, without asking the public. The Tribune has come up with its own suggestions:
Highbury Fields – Barbecue Park.
Finsbury Square – Tahrir Square (in honour of the Occupy supporters there).
Bunhill Fields – Bunfight Fields.
Whittington Park – Dick’s Dell.
Caledonian Park – Gateway to Europe Green Space.
Clerkenwell Green – Red Square.
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