Louise Round: London Borough of Islington

The London Borough of Islington is one of London’s most culturally diverse areas. And although Islington is one of the smallest boroughs in London, it is also one of the most densely populated. Until the 1960s, Islington was poor, run-down and separated from Central London. Today, the main high street is flooded with bars and restaurants. And because of its proximity to the square mile and London’s West End, the borough is now inhabited by City types and media workers.

Louise Round, the council’s director of law and public services, deals with issues arising from some of the borough’s poorer neighbourhoods. Round describes Islington as an area where “social renting is placed next to houses worth millions,” which makes her task a challenging one.

Before joining Islington four-and-a-half years ago, Round spent 10 years at the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham in a number of roles. She started off as a childcare lawyer and ended up as Hammersmith’s legal head.

Round’s current brief is extensive and includes legal, human resources, electoral services, scrutiny and democratic services, births, deaths and marriages, as well as community safety. Commenting on her day-to-day responsibilities, Round says: “The higher up you are, the less law you do. At some point you have to decide whether you want to be a manager. It’s been a dilemma.”

Her 82-strong team handles around 80 per cent of legal work in-house. However, larger projects are farmed out to external lawyers. Round outsources work to Bevan Brittan, Devonshires, Eversheds and Pinsent Masons.

Although Islington does not have a formal legal panel, the borough has strict procurement rules, meaning Round typically invites four firms to pitch for work. However, she says that when the current pace of work slows down, she may explore the possibility of creating a formal legal panel.

Islington has around £120m to spend on rebuilding or revamping its schools thanks to the Government’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) initiative. “The Building Schools for the Future initiative is a chance to make a big difference to a lot of kids,” says Round.

Islington has brought in Bevan Brittan to advise on the private finance initiative documents relating to the project after the firm participated in a beauty parade. Other firms invited to pitch were Addleshaw Goddard, Eversheds and Norton Rose. Round says: “They [Bevan Brittan] weren’t the cheapest, but they were certainly the best.”

The BSF is the biggest single project going forward in Islington, but there are a number of other regeneration projects taking place all over the borough, including the revamp of the A1 corridor, which runs through the borough.

The borough is currently attracting attention with the building of the Emirates Stadium, the new home of Arsenal FC. The project, which is one of the biggest regeneration schemes in Islington, raised a number of complex legal issues including a judicial review of Islington’s decision to grant planning permission for the 60,000-seater stadium at Ashburton Grove.

The judicial review at the High Court in 2002, which found in favour of Islington, was launched by two local pensioners on the grounds of excessive noise and traffic levels. Islington’s chief planning lawyer, who was then Deborah Cluett (now Rachel Lee), led the team. Eversheds’ Leeds-based consultant John Bennett led on the property aspects of the Arsenal redevelopment.

With planning permission granted by the court, Islington then pursued the compulsory purchase order (CPO) issued by the council in 2002 to acquire properties for the 220,000sq ft residential, retail and leisure project at the old Highbury Stadium, and in Lough Road and Ashburton Grove. The CPO, however, proved another major obstruction for the development after five small businesses challenged the move, arguing that it had been made for an improper purpose.

The High Court upheld the CPO at the start of the year. Mr Justice Collins dismissed the challenge to the CPO, which had been confirmed by the First Secretary of State. He said: “I understand and have considerable sympathy with the claimants’ concerns… but the council was entitled to make use of [Arsenal’s] desire to have a new stadium.”

Islington’s legal team has definitely had its work cut out in recent months and it looks as though things will remain busy in the future. Nonetheless, Round seems energised by her role. “When all this work is done, Islington should be a cleaner, safer and greener place to live and work,” she concludes.

Louise Round
Director of law and public services
London Borough of Islington

Statistics
Organisation London Borough of Islington
Sector Local government
Employees 3,000, excluding teachers
Legal capability 82 (60 are legally qualified)
Director of law and public services Louise Round
Reporting to Chief executive Helen Bailey
Main law firms Bevan Brittan, Devonshires, Eversheds and Pinsent Masons
Annual legal spend £6.9m