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Ham&High letters: Abacus School, fly-tipping, mayor making, council responsibilities and first past the post

PUBLISHED: 16:30 04 July 2019 | UPDATED: 12:19 08 July 2019

The former Hampstead Police Station, in Rosslyn Hill, which Abacus Belsize Primary School want to turn into a school. Picture: Harry Taylor

The former Hampstead Police Station, in Rosslyn Hill, which Abacus Belsize Primary School want to turn into a school. Picture: Harry Taylor

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

Barry McKay: A correction

In this week's Ham&High, and on the original version of this web page, we published a letter that wrongly suggested bags of rubbish had been put out in the street by Barry McKay (Letters, p14-15 and online, "Dr Woolfson is not the guilty party").

In fact, Mr McKay did not put any of the bags out himself, and we understand that fly tipping by persons unknown had been a general problem in the street.

We are sorry for the error and are happy to clarify the situation.

Back Abacus relocation

Linda Grove, Hampstead campaigner and former headteacher, writes to Belsize Park residents:

When the old Hampstead police station was sold, it was bought by the Department for Education (DfE) and is now the subject of a planning application to convert the site into a permanent home for Abacus, which opened in 2013.

The reality of life before Abacus - a secular community school - was families paid for a private education, worshipped locally and hoped to get a faith school place, relocated out of the area, were offered a school place on the Islington border or Westminster, or faced no offer at all.

Our catchment area deliberately avoids any undue impact on the catchment of other state schools in the area.

We are an essential part of the established education landscape and have long featured in Camden's pupil place-planning.

Some have argued that Abacus isn't needed and talk as if it won't even exist until we move to the permanent site. In fact, it will be a full school of local children that will make the move. Everyone living in Belsize knows how hard it was to get a school place. Being close to the community we were established to serve is crucial. We have always been a "walk-to-school" school with a strong travel plan that promotes concern for the environment and sustainable travel.

In support of the school, could you please write to David.Fowler@Camden.gov.uk and comment at: planningrecords.camden.gov.uk/Northgate/PlanningExplorer/PLComments.aspx?pk=508538. For more information on the DfE proposals please visit isupportabacus.org/

Failure to secure future of outstanding Abacus would be a 'tragedy'

Tom Rhodes, former Washington correspondent for The Times and New York correspondent for The Sunday Times, writes:

With the stupor of Brexit leaving each of us paralysed in our daily lives in different ways - Godot-like waiting for a future that neither political side can predict - we are all searching for areas of predictability.

In my case, I have found particular solace in the oasis of calm and excellence that is Abacus Belsize Primary School.

My five-year-old daughter has attended the school for just one year but during that time she has learned to read and write to a high standard; she has performed a theatre-in-the round rendition of Shakespeare's The Tempest; she has even been taught a smattering of Mandarin Chinese. She is thriving socially and emotionally, and has a wonderful collection of fellow pupils as friends.

But now, for reasons that any parent will find hard to understand, the future of this idyllic school, with an Ofsted Outstanding record, and the second best results in Camden, is under threat. This is not the result of government cuts or any lack of requirement but rather because a vocal opposition is arguing strenuously that Abacus should not be allowed to move to the former Hampstead police station on Rosslyn Hill, a building designated by the Department of Education as its new, permanent home.

For nearly seven years, since its founding, Abacus children have been bused to "temporary" premises near Kings Cross with parents walking them to bus stops in Belsize Park and Swiss Cottage, a morning ritual that has cemented many friendships, and reinforced the strongest of bonds with the school and its superb teaching staff - and the sense that this outstanding educational institution will eventually have its own seat of learning at the heart of the community that it serves.

It was therefore with no small sense of pride that my daughter - and I - recently joined other Hi-Vis-jacketed forces to walk from the centre of Belsize Park to Rosslyn Hill where we congregated in what had been the police station's car park, and would now become a new playground for our children. Parents that joined the march - if such a well-ordered collective can be called that - wanted to simply reinforce the key fact that all Abacus parents always walk to the school bus, and will continue to amble their way to the new school when it moves. In my case, as for many others, the new premises will be closer than either bus stop.

Our efforts have done little to dampen opposition. Critics argue that Abacus is an unnecessary addition to the local community that will merely choke the roads with further traffic at times of drop off and collection. They suggest that, despite its survival for seven years, the school will not even exist until it moves to the permanent site - despite the fact that a full school of children in fact will make that move and that Abacus has long featured in Camden's pupil place planning.

Indeed, it was on the basis of both choice and need that the Department of Education gave the school the go-ahead to open in 2013. Not a single non-faith state primary school exists in the whole of Belsize Park; the reality before Abacus was that families paid for private education, worshipped locally and hoped to obtain a faith-based school place. Otherwise they relocated, were offered a place on the Islington border, in Westminster, or faced no place at all. Abacus is the local alternative to "pay or pray", and an increasingly popular and successful one at that.

Some nonetheless still argue that local families should travel the extra distance to New End Primary, where the few spare spaces are scattered across the school and not in Reception or Year I at all (so no good for my daughter), or to try Fitzjohn's, where last year's reception class was filled by 27 siblings of children already at the school (again such a policy is unlikely to work for those of us with only children).

At a time when unity, decency and compassion seem to be of such paramount importance to us all, there is something deeply unsettling about attempts to deny any child an education, and particularly one that is as caring and nurturing as that offered by Abacus. On a practical level, Camden Council will be left with a considerable headache if our efforts fail and support for Abacus is withheld. For those like me who, through the eyes of my daughter, have experienced the benefits of a first-class primary school, it would be little short of a tragedy. I hope my daughter will remember her walk to Rosslyn Hill, not as some strident early political protest, but as the first time she was able to walk from home to school.

Don't encourage park barbecues

Kirsten de Keyser, Green London Assembly Candidate, Barnet and Camden, writes:

Last weekend was another near-record scorcher, Planet Earth's way of prompting us to turn down the smoke volume. So what do we do?

We head off to the park with our barbies, to add to the scorch, searing mountains of meat and bundles of bangers on countless CO2 spewing BBQs.

You really couldn't make it up (Waterlow Park BBQs: New zones introduced, but campaigner wants them banned completely, Ham & High, June 28).

Camden Council were doing so well with their environment friendly anti-motoring policies, nudging us to reduce our carbon footprint by ditching our diesels and boarding the bus instead.

And then they go and spoil it all by setting aside actual areas in our public parks where we can go and pollute with impunity.

Now, I do love a good BBQ as much as the next carnivore, but I also loved the car I got rid of 10 years ago, when the impending climate catastrophe finally started dawning on me.

In climate damage terms, BBQs are right up there in the super league. Let's examine the evidence: One BBQ session emits six to seven times the permissible levels in emissions from public incinerators, or the same amount of CO2 as a small car driving 22 miles.

On top of that, literally, comes the meat cooked on the BBQ. The carbon footprint of 1 kilo of beef is a staggering 27 CO2 kilos or the equivalent of a 63 mile car journey.

During the weekend just gone, Waterlow Park was graced with around 30 separate BBQs. The arithmetic concludes that driving to Greece and back would have achieved the same carbon footprint as these 30 contraptions combined. And that's shocking.

And we're not even talking about the health impact on small park visitors with asthma or elderly patrons with breathing difficulties. We're not even mentioning the carcinogenic properties of charred meat. No, we're talking pure science here.

This is not OK Camden. We should be encouraging less meat eating, not enabling more of it. We should show park visitors that the delicious home-made picnic, consumed on a blanket in fresh air, and washed down with your favourite chilled tipple, is every bit as desirable as a BBQ.

Ditch the smoke-zones and let's leave the fresh air fresh.

Mayor's event not a 'lavish party'

Cllr Julian Fullbrook, Mayor of Camden 1985-86, writes:

What an ungracious and spiteful personal attack on Cllr Maryam Eslamdoust, the Mayor of Camden (Ham&High), compounded by a malicious cartoon of champagne bottles and the mayor, a known Muslim, allegedly quaffing alcohol.

The annual meeting of the council is always an excellent informal opportunity to meet councillors of all parties, council officers, and many community activists. As well as the 54 councillors, each able to bring a guest, this is also the chance to thank so many volunteers who work unstintingly to raise charitable funds in the borough, which accounts for the sizeable guest list.

Your readers should note that the outgoing mayor, Cllr Headlam-Wells, with her fantastic efforts on behalf of the Camden Music Trust, sets the framework and much of the guest list for this event. It is therefore really unfair to target Cllr Eslamdoust.

Additionally, the temporary move to Crowndale, while the town hall has its long overdue refurbishment, inevitably meant additional expenditure in uncharted terrain, and it is good to know that this trial run can assist on planning for future commercial hire.

Clutching my mineral water and eating some curry hardly seemed to have been what Tory Cllr Oliver Cooper characterised as a "lavish party".

Having once had the honour to be the mayor of Camden, and with a small child in tow, I know just how hard the job can be.

So I have nothing but admiration for Cllr Eslamdoust. As deputy mayor she displayed serious devotion to public duties throughout her pregnancy.

I would hope that all fair-minded Camden citizens, of all affiliations, would join me in wishing her well as First Citizen, and the resilience to withstand snide and churlish attacks from whatever quarter.

Lambasting of mayor is unfair

Alan Hovell, Kingsgate Road, Kilburn (London Borough of Camden), writes:

I was most suprised at your devisive and frankly rude reporting of the our Camden mayor's installation.

Not only have you insulted our mayor, but you try and report the whole affair as point of contention within the Labour Group, which is clearly untrue

As you yourselves have pointed out our historic town hall is being refurbished and additional expense would naturaly accrue with making do in the not totally suitable Crowndale centre.

Our mayor is an honoury post that involves a lot of work and fundraising for excellent local causes.

You know full well that Cllr Maryam Eslamdoust is a new mother.

Your report and pathetic cartoon are frankly unworthy of a local newspaper of your heritage and reputation.

The least you can do is to make a substantial donation mayor Maryiam's nominated charity for 2019/20 solacewomensaid.org/get-involved/give-now

The next charity Camden Tour Guides Association walk with mayor Maryiam Eslamdoust joining us is on Sunday August 11 from Whitestone Pond to St Augstine's Kilburn. Booking is essential by emailing Willhovell2@gmail.com

- See - Cllr Maryam Eslamdoust in the Ham&High: An apology

Outsource council responsibilities

Keith Martin, Friern Park, Finchley, writes:

Acute symptoms of stress are becoming apparent in the behaviour of councillors responsible for the administration of public services by Barnet Council. It is not a pretty sight.

1: Censorship

At the meeting on June 11 of the community leadership and libraries committee, chairman Reuben Thompstone tried to censor evidence given to the committee.

2: Fraud

An employee of Capita was convicted of £2.4 million fraud in obtaining council funds. The obtuse reaction of councillors was to overrule a council resolution to consider alternatives to renewing the Capita contract.

3: Scrutiny

The constitution and general purposes committee on June 25 debated a council resolution to curtail the public right to ask questions. The proposal is to further reduce scrutiny, which surely is a key role of councillors and is already dangerously truncated ?

4: Solution

I suggest the running of Barnet Council be outsourced to the London Borough of Islington for a minimum of one year, or at least until that council is satisfied that the situation is under control.

Reject first past the post system

Theo Morgan, Westminster North Constituency Labour Party, full address supplied, writes:

Last week, Westminster North Constituency Labour Party (CLP) overwhelmingly passed a resolution in support of proportional representation.

It was noted that Westminster City Council has a large Conservative majority, despite a small difference in vote shares between the two parties, leaving many Labour voters unrepresented.

First past the post forces Labour to focus on marginal constituencies - meaning that we neglect voters and party activists across vast areas of the country represented by safe seats. We cannot be a party "for the many" when we focus on a minority of voters. Opinion polls in the last year have projected Labour getting more votes but fewer seats than the Conservatives if replicated at a general election.

Our Constituency Labour Party therefore calls upon the Labour Party to reject first past the post, the voting system currently used for general and council elections, and to support the introduction of a form of proportional representation in which all votes count equally and seats match votes.

We also call upon the Justice and Home Affairs Policy Commission of the National Policy Forum - or the relevant body following the democracy review - to consult the party membership about their views on the above proposal in the next cycle of policy documents.

In fact, no political parties other than the Conservatives or Labour have ever won seats on Westminster City Council. The Conservatives have 68 per cent of seats (41) on 42.8pc of the vote, whilst Labour have 31.7pc of seats (19) on 41.1pc of the vote. At general elections, Westminster North was seen as a "marginal" seat in the past, which means it received more focus and resources compared to "safe" seats. Cities of London and Westminster is now a marginal seat: thus it will be the subject of concentrated activity and campaign spending. MP Mark Field was re-elected in 2017 with a minority of the vote (46.6pc), yet under our system, he represents the majority of voters. It is a similar situation for West Central on the London Assembly, which covers Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham. Tony Devenish was re-elected in 2016 with 44.2pc of the vote.

I am pleased that a move to a system of proportional representation (forms of which maintain a constituency link) is supported by Westminster North CLP, including our MP Karen Buck. Cities of London and Westminster CLP has also passed a similar motion.

In the current climate, in which no party is polling above 30pc, a voting system which accurately reflects people's views is urgently required.

For the first time, we have also seen opinion polling in which five parties are on double-digit figures. Brexit has starkly exposed the way that first past the post disenfranchises voters, leading to the sorry mess we are now in as a nation.

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