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Ham&High letters: Ponds'cyngets, Abacus School, Met funding, antisemitism and Regent's Park

PUBLISHED: 16:30 18 July 2019

Sadly one of these cygnets growing up on Hampstead Heath has died. Picture: LOUISA GREEN

Sadly one of these cygnets growing up on Hampstead Heath has died. Picture: LOUISA GREEN

Louise Green

Letters, contributions and comments sent in from Ham&High readers this week.

Sad to report cygnet's death

Louisa Green writes:

Readers may recall a piece I wrote in early spring regarding our record-number of cygnets on Hampstead Heath this year.

I am devastated to share news that we are now down to nine cygnets, after little Number 10 sadly died last weekend.

All was well on the Saturday when I visited, but 24 hours later I noticed there were only nine cygnets with mamma and pappa swimming on Pond No 2. A few frantic phone calls later and some regulars joined me in searching for the missing cygnet. Eventually we found him alone on Pond No 1 looking very unwell but together we soon managed to reunite the family. We stayed watching them all until long after the sun had set but sadly, that was the last time that anyone would see all 12 members of the family alive. The body of the cygnet was found a few days later and was taken to The Swan Sanctuary for investigation.

I have conducted a large amount of research since mamma awan laid her eggs in April and, as far as I had been able to determine, our Hampstead swan family had the UK record this year for the largest number of eggs having hatched and cygnets survived. Every cygnet death is tragic, but this one feels particularly tough and for now, we will have to settle with being joint-top with a swan pair in Cambridge who also have nine. I have fallen in love with this family over the past few months and people on the Heath who see me each day during my lunch breaks from my work at The Royal Free often tell me that the swans are so lucky to have someone who feeds them every day and looks out for them so attentively. But, in my opinion, we are the lucky ones.

Our fight for education means Abacus School relocation must prevail

Linda Grove, local campaigner and former head mistress, writes:

It is with sadness and distress that I read Todd Berman's letter about the community initiative of Abacus School, a project where the community came together in Belsize Park to solve a problem of no primary school for our children.

The team were made up of concerned grandparents, Tom Simon - Liberal Democrats, Leila Roy - Conservative, as well as parents who had nowhere for their children to go to school as they were out of any catchment area.

The situation had been the same when, my now grown up children, were of primary age. So when my grandchildren came along I saw the situation hadn't changed. My husband Malcolm and I joined forces with others parents to try to solve the problem.

Incidentally, our grandchildren never benefitted from Abacus as my daughter and family moved to Hong Kong.

Our first port of call was with Camden Council. We spent two years talking with them trying to get them to address the problem with no result .

We found an ex-hostel site belonging to the council which could have been turned into a school by Camden for the Belsize children but again, the Fitzjohn association fought against it as there where too many schools in their hood, all private I might add!

At that time the only school was Brecknock, the other side of the borough, so instead of our children walking up to Fitzjohn or any other Hampstead Primary, we were expected to take two buses out of the area to get our children to school. All Hampstead schools were out of our catchment area.

We all know how important it is for small children to walk to school with their families and socialise as they go, this makes communities and prepares our children to pass that onto the next generation. A time not to miss and as families you make friends with folk that may carry you on through your life time. In fact, the situation was so bad that Camden had to open a temporary school in Corthorpe Road in a church hall kindly rented to them by Andrea Taylor from Hampstead Hill school, to house our Belsize children for a year.

Then the free school option came along, a Conservative initiative, so we as a team, had no choice but to pursue this option for our children, which we did, taking us another three years.

As you can imagine with no support again from Camden Labour councillors. Our team was none-political, we just wanted a school. Meanwhile, we kept looking at every available site that could house our school. One of the failings of free schools was that it was up to communities to find sites, not an easy task in NW3.

So open we did, with a good teaching team headed by Vicki Briodi in the WAC town hall with a full intake of five-year-olds supported by the educational charity CFBT to make sure there was an overview of our school as it wasn't, sadly, under the umbrella of Camden although they agreed that Abacus was a Camden school and would add it to the Camden application for school places at the start of each year.

I would also like to mention that there is another free school in our area, St Luke's, which is outstanding and housed in the church's grounds and we don't hear about the residents in their street complaining about traffic!

Another year on, that lease was up so yet another move for our school, this time to a school site in King's Cross, and the school was full and outstanding due to Vicki and her team.

Do look at their website and see how they use London and all that it has to offer. Marvellous! The school has formed an excellent parent group who work with the school to do all those extra things making a close community .

Might Todd Berman and his objectors think it important to go and visit Abacus in King's Cross to see the small primary school they are trying to destroy?

I'm sure Vicki and her team would be delighted to show them around and to meet some of the parents. I offered to meet him to tell the Abacus story last year but sadly he declined.

The Old Hampstead Police station is sold for the use of Abacus school. It is no longer on the market, no one else wanted the building due to it being listed and, therefore, of no profit to a developer.

The police will never come back to that building, it doesn't suit modern policing and has operated for years from two rooms inside it, with the rest empty.

Abacus is and always was a walk to school school, it's written on our website. There is no parking allocated for staff or parents on the new plans.

The money allocated for free schools is out of a different pot and would not end up, sadly in our state schools. It doesn't work like that.

I am in total agreement with Todd Berman about pollution in our neighbourhood so may I suggest he joins the NW3Green group to promote school buses, walk or scoot to school? I have joined them, another community group of parents who have got together to try to solve the pollution in our area caused, mainly from the private schools, delivering their children to school by car from outside the area.

Might I encourage parents from Abacus school to write to the Ham & High telling how they couldn't find places in a primary for their children and that they are committed to walking to Hampstead from Belsize, something we all do locally.

Why would you go in a car when you can't park and we live in a lovely area like ours?

Tweet for positive messages too, I am! Everyone please write to Camden planning in support of the wonderful little school, it's not a gem and too good an establishment to destroy.

All information re planning can be viewed on the website abacus-cfbt.org/

'Deeply unjust' to deny Abacus plan

Cllr Tom Simon, Liberal Democrat, Belsize ward, writes:

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It seems to be "open season" on Abacus primary school, with it being blamed for everything from falling intakes at Camden schools, cuts in education funding, pollution, congestion and goodness knows what else.

And yet in the same breath some of its critics describe it as a new proposal, as if it was a theoretical project or an abstract idea, instead of an actual, real state primary school providing an outstanding education to around 150 Camden children.

Let's get some facts straight.

1) Camden schools are indeed facing a serious problem with falling school rolls, caused by a demographic shift that has taken everyone by surprise. This shift is driven by lower than expected birth-rates, a shortage of affordable housing for families and by Brexit, among other factors. Abacus is not the cause of this problem anymore than any other state school in Camden. It is a problem that needs to be addressed by a pragmatic, borough-wide approach, not an attack on one high performing, popular school.

2) Schools are suffering from reduced funding. It is a disgrace. Blame this shambolic Conservative government. Incidentally, the Liberal Democrats would reverse the government's education cuts, guarantee teachers proper pay rises and invest more in their continued professional development.

3) Critics of the school's planned move into the former police station complain about the prospect of increased traffic and pollution at the school run time. But the school run problem in NW3 is overwhelmingly caused by the large number of private schools in the area, which serve a highly privileged section of society from all over north London. By contrast most children at Abacus will walk, cycle or scoot to school, being local. It would be deeply unjust if this state school, which serves local children, was denied its permanent home because of the existence of the private schools. Note, your local Liberal Democrats are supporting the highly commendable NW3 Green School Run campaign, which should help reduce the traffic problem.

4) The former police station is the only viable permanent home for the school and it will make a very good home. Yes, the location is not perfect. A home within the catchment area instead of just outside would have been preferable. But the area has been scoured exhaustively for years. It is a densely populated area with high levels of conservation controls. It is very rare to find a building that is large enough and can be adapted as a school.

Whatever one's views of the free school policy, the fact remains that Abacus is an excellent state primary school serving 150 plus Camden children. Those children need a permanent home for their school and that home has to be the former police station.

Government can boost Met funding

Andrew Dismore, London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden, writes:

I am writing in response to Jessica Learmond-Criqui's latest letter, (Mayor still has time to help Met) in which she makes a number of nebulous claims and accusations.

However, it has been encouraging to see that Ms Learmond-Criqui acknowledges the role that the government has played, in what she colourfully refers to, as the "demise" of the Metropolitan Police.

It is also refreshing to hear, that to her credit, Ms Learmond-Criqui has lobbied the government as well as City Hall for the Met to be properly resourced. We should not have reached the stage where keeping the public safe has become a politically partisan issue, but I live in a perhaps idealistic hope, that our cross-party calls for more funding will be taken seriously by the next prime minister.

In her letter, Ms Learmond-Criqui is keen for me to directly address her criticisms of the mayor's decision to allocate money to the Dock Beach event in Newham and earmark funds for the Rotherhithe Bridge.

To clarify, the £462,794 budget for the series of community events taking place at Dock Beach is funded entirely through the business rates income generated within the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone. The rules dictate that this money has to be ringfenced for use in this specific area of the capital. In addition, the mayor has recently cancelled the Rotherhithe Bridge project.

It is important to underline, that these arguments pose as unhelpful distractions away from the cold-hard reality of the insuperable scale of the government cuts that the Met are facing- set to run over £1 billion by 2023.

Let's be clear - it is within the government's power and remit of responsibility to put this right.

On the subject of taking responsibility, the mayor has publicly asserted that the buck stops with him when it comes to violent crime. This is why he has invested hundreds of millions of pounds of additional funding into the police, introduced a specialist Violent Crime Taskforce aimed at removing the most dangerous criminals from our streets and set up the Violence Reduction Unit public health approach model, supplemented by a £45 million Young Londoners Fund to support early intervention initiatives.

More recently, Sadiq Khan has also quite rightly reiterated that there is an indisputable link between violent crime and poverty, against the backdrop of almost a decade of government austerity that has plunged so many of the most vulnerable families in the capital below the breadline.

The ever-urgent question is: will the government take responsibility for this, or continue to remain coldly indifferent to the consequences of their abysmal legacy?

Finally, Ms Learmond-Criqui's closing remark which implies that I am some sort of marionette controlled by the mayor is a crude and baseless attempt at an insult. Over the last seven years, I have invariably done my duty as an Assembly Member to hold the previous and current mayor, robustly to account, representing the needs and interests of my constituents.

Leaders must call out antisemitism

Kirsty Allan, Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson, Hampstead & Kilburn; Stephen Crosher, Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson, Holborn & St Pancras; Cllr Flick Rea, leader, Liberal Democrat group, Camden Council; Cllr Luisa Porritt, MEP and Liberal Democrat group chief whip, Camden Council and Cllr Tom Simon, deputy leader, Liberal Democrat group, Camden Council, write:

We, as representatives of Camden Liberal Democrats, are seriously worried about the latest evidence of antisemitism in the Labour Party and its failure to tackle it. We are particularly concerned by the way this national scandal is featuring in Camden life.

As the Panorama programme on antisemitism within the Labour party aired last week, a questionnaire to members of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) was circulated at a meeting of the Hampstead and Kilburn Constituency Labour Party. It included questions such as "what is the relationship between JLM and the Israeli embassy in London?"

Tulip Siddiq, Hampstead and Kilburn's Labour MP, has been silent on the latest problems within her own Constituency Labour Party (CLP). Officers of the CLP have condemned the material, but it is not clear that any action has been taken against those who circulated it.

All Camden residents deserve to know that they will be represented by their councillors and MPs, regardless of their heritage or faith. Tulip Siddiq MP and the leader of Camden Council, Georgia Gould, must make their positions clear on these issues if they are to begin to rebuild trust with the community.

Camden Labour must stand up and be counted - their inaction on these issues cannot continue.

We can all share Regent's Park

Jessica Learmond-Criqui, local campaigner, writes:

In response to Sam Volpe's article in last week's paper "Regent's Park cyclists and pedestrians campaign over dangerous traffic at Outer Circle corner", everyone would welcome the law being observed inside the park. We would all, also, welcome any illegalities being dealt with promptly by the police.

That applies not only to errant cars, but to errant cyclists. There are many users of the park who have bad things to say about cyclists riding without consideration and breaking the law.

I was appalled to witness last week, a racing cyclist barking at pedestrians who were crossing the road on the Outer Circle of Regent's Park, to get out of his way as he failed to slow down.

The fact remains, as stated by Justin McKie at the CS11 hearings, that the park is the safest place in London for cyclists to ride in, which is one reason why it attracts so many and massively over indexes on cycling movements compared to any other London road.

What is consistently unfair, is that the cyclists wish to claim the park for themselves, in particular for sports cyclists who use the park as a velodrome, the most irresponsible and aggressive of whom, are particularly unpopular with law abiding pedestrians and motorists alike.

Is that a reason to ban all cyclists? No, and for the same reason, illegalities by a very few motorists should not be used as a reason to ban cars, leading to huge traffic displacement to all the surrounding areas around the whole of Regents Park.

Many users of the park, be they drivers or cyclists, are law abiding citizens and act with consideration and responsibility.

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