H&H letters: The Heath, teachers and Brexit, schools and community, air pollution, Grenfell, Brexit and police funding

A couple walk through Hampstead Heath. Picture: KEN MEARS

A couple walk through Hampstead Heath. Picture: KEN MEARS - Credit: Archant

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

Freedom of Heath adds to beauty

Robert Sutherland Smith, chairman, United Swimmers Association, Widecombe Way, Hampstead Garden Suburb, writes:

Will McCallum, your newly appointed columnist of the Heathwatch column, refers to the merits of that rare Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh. Well done!

Hampstead Heath was once the place to find world beating, penniless poets but they are all fled. A versifying corporate lawyer is no substitute, I fear.

With regard to the importance of Hampstead Heath, may I promote the merit of William Wordsworth (who once used to visit the drugged, non-athletic Coleridge in his Highgate Village attic). He summed the whole thing up briefly and well: “One impulse from the vernal wood, May teach you more of man, Of moral evil and of good, Than all the sages can!”

Had the great William McGonagall written a line about Hampstead Heath I imagine it would have sounded a bit like this: “It was in the year 1871 that Hampstead Heath was first statutorily begun, With an Act of Parliament that meant; It was ever free to everyone; Man, woman, child, dog and cat! So that is that!”

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The only thing that Will McCullum regrettably missed out, is the freedom. The natural beauty is worth less, without the freedom to walk and swim it unsupervised.

Teacher recruitment will suffer alongside health sector because of Brexit

Dominique Welbank, Pond Street, Hampstead, writes:

Hampstead and Highgate’s schools and pupils depend on our excellent teachers who also happen to be EU Nationals.

It’s clear Brexit is going to make our challenging teacher shortages worse.

Not only that but it looks like the Brexit effect extends to limiting the international exchanges pupils benefit from.

Similar to the impacts with medical staff at the Whittington and Royal Free Hospitals, Brexit causes issues in recruiting new teachers from European countries and retaining European teachers who are already here.

Some 85 per cent of modern foreign language assistants and 30pc of modern foreign language teachers are European Nationals, so, clearly, pupils studying European Languages and French and Spanish in particular stand to lose out the most.

One of the government’s post Brexit proposals is that non-EU citizens need to earn above £35,000 to remain in the country. This would also mean that teachers recruited from outside the EU would become more expensive.

For private schools this inevitably means higher school fees for parents.

For other schools, getting government and local authority funding will be more difficult for their already squeezed budgets.

Moreover, research for the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union in the UK, shows that half of teachers fear that Brexit will distract the government from dealing with the real issues the country faces including pressing education issues.

This Saturday, June 23, the March for a People’s vote on Brexit is a chance to help this from being an inevitability.

The March for a People’s vote starts from noon Saturday with people assembling in Pall Mall.

You can then follow the route through Trafalgar Square, down Whitehall and on to Parliament Square.

Details can be found on the internet at peoples-vote.uk/march.

Community does not always benefit

Anthony Kay, Hall School Opposition Group, Crossfield Road, Belsize Park, writes:

Following its recent £30 million redevelopment of its senior school, as you have reported Hampstead High School for girls is now planning a two year redevelopment of its Junior School in Netherhall Gardens.

Earlier this year the Hall School, the exclusive prep school for boys in Crossfield Road, Belsize Park obtained planning permission for its £20 million two year redevelopment project involving the demolition and rebuilding of its main site including a new double basement (on the basis that the policy ban on double basements in an otherwise wholly residential area was aimed at domestic developments, so an exception could be made for the school.)

In order to retain charitable status, educational establishments should also nowadays be able to show some extra public benefit.

Roads around Hall School are clogged up during the school run, and now the school wishes to press ahead with its two year building project oblivious to the concerns of and havoc this will cause its neighbours.

While in the past many pupils lived locally (and objections to their current plans have included former pupils that still do), going by the number who are delivered and collected by car every day this is becoming much less.

Also a substantial proportion of the parents come originally from abroad and are working at present in banking and finance; and one gets the impression that the redevelopment is really intended to enable the Hall School to appeal to an even richer ultra high net worth international clientele.

Having lived in the same road as the Hall School for more than a dozen years and in the area for 40 years, one hardly gets the feeling that the school wants to have anything to do with its immediate neighbours.

My wife and I are members of quite a number of community and local groups, so we have attended meetings in a large number of different schools, churches, libraries and community centres, but we have never been invited to any such meeting being hosted by the Hall School and taking place in any of its premises.

Apart from private schools being able to take advantage of their tax free charitable status to carry out large building projects, which are usually strongly opposed by the local community, it seems even more questionable that in doing so given the tax rebates available on the donations, that they are in effect being subsidised by the general body of taxpayers.

School run traffic pollution a priority

Nam Cllr Adam Harrison, Bloomsbury ward, cabinet member for improving Camden’s environment, writes:

Today (June 21) is national Clean Air Day. I began my day with parents in the Fitzjohns Avenue part of Hampstead to see first-hand the impact of the school run, creating congestion and polluted air.

NW3 contains a high number of schools which see an above-average proportion of children travelling to school by car instead of walking, cycling or public transport.

Citizen science by Camden residents revealed how poor the air was in parts of Hampstead, which surprised some. As a result Camden is investing funding in a Schools Low Emission zone in this part of the borough.

But there is a lot more to do, and we want to establish many more Healthy School Streets across the borough.

Our exemplar schemes include keeping traffic away from St Joseph’s school in Covent Garden at drop-off and pick-up time. We have also recently invested in the roads outside Acland Burghley school to introduce a timed closure as well as widened pavements and easier crossings.

Earlier this year this council administration set itself the ambitious but necessary target of achieving World Health Organization air quality standards. Anything less means simply putting up with continued dirty air. Keeping traffic away from schools and travelling in a greener way from an early age is an important part of this.

If you are a parent – or a pupil – then ask your school if they are on the STARS programme (stars.tfl.gov.uk), which encourages healthy travel. Netley School in Regent’s Park last week shared with me how the number of children cycling to school has mushroomed from just a couple to 40.

Netley is very active on this front: it is also taking part in a new study with King’s College London to understand the impact of air pollution on children’s lung development.

But even while we await the results we know the health risks are real: let’s act now to improve the health of all of us.

No justice a year after Grenfell fire

Danny Briottet, by email, writes:

Just over a year ago I woke up to the news of the Grenfell fire.

Like many local people, as soon as I could I made my way towards the block to see if I could help.

This atrocity, for it is that, not a disaster, as disasters come out of the blue and can’t be prevented, brought out a swelling of empathy, grief and anger from our community, and showed that these emotions know no social, ethnic or religious boundaries any more than does fire.

I don’t believe in any of this social cleansing nonsense – it was not that.

The fire is endemic of the incompetence, arrogance and negligence of Kensington and Chelsea Council.

It’s not a class issue – there were barristers, city traders and yummy mummies there trying to help alongside dreads, market traders, boxers, MCs and Imams. The vibrancy and creativity that comes from the area has always been the result of this mixture.

I would have hoped that, a year on, at the very least, those council members that received warnings from residents of the dangers at Grenfell and not only ignored them but replied with cease and desist orders, would have been held to account.

Instead we have the disgusting spectacle of the fire service having to employ lawyers to defend themselves.

Very sad and emotional day for West London.

People’s Vote on Brexit essential

Marx De Morais, Jonathan Livingstone and David Stansell, People’s Vote Supporters, write:

Boris Johnson told a private gathering of 20 members of Conservative Way Forward this month that he believed that should Brexit go ahead it “will be irreversible” and that “the risk is that it will not be the one we want.”

This is precisely why we need a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal - to ensure that the deal is one which we can all embrace and not just those who negotiated it.

When we campaigned on a recent Friday outside Finchley Road Tube station it was unsurprising that local feelings are as intense as ever.

We urge anyone concerned about the rapidly approaching Brexit cliff edge to follow the example of a man we spoke with who will be marching for the first time in his life on Saturday, June 23 by joining us on the People’s Vote march.

Taxpayers cannot fund more police

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

Jessica Learmond –Criqui again raises the issue of crime and her obsession with blaming the mayor for the increase in crime (even though the increase in London is less than in the rest of the country).

Firstly, of course, the real blame for rising crime attaches to the criminals themselves, an obvious fact on which she has not commented.

Secondly, Ms Learmond –Criqui yet again fails to recognise the real reason why police officer numbers have gone down across London. This is due to the £1,065 billion cut in the Met’s grant imposed by the Conservative government from 2010 lasting to 2021. It is not surprising that the Met’s senior officers have raised the consequential drop in officer numbers as a contributory factor to the problems of crime in the capital.

However, Ms Learmond –Criqui has not said a single word of criticism of the Conservative government about this cut in funding.

Perhaps this is because at one time she was no. 34 on the Conservative Party ‘top up A list’ for parliamentary candidates, according to the ‘conservtivehome’ website: her Conservative sympathies seem not to have been acknowledged in her correspondence so far.

It is clear from her last article that she has produced her own extrapolation of the mayor’s London-wide budget so as to infer a ‘diktat’ from the mayor about police cuts for Camden.

Setting a balanced budget is hardly a diktat: it is a legal requirement- and there is no reference to Camden’s police officer numbers in it anyway, as I think Ms Learmond –Criqui acknowledges.

The mayor has already raised council tax and the police precept within it by 5.8 per cent, the maximum he can lawfully do, without a referendum.

Her argument is the mayor should hold a referendum on increasing the council tax to pay for more police: but she has always failed to say by what percentage the tax should go up: she now says it is for me to say what she wants. Whilst I am not a mind reader, I have done some modelling to see what the outcome would be of restoring the cuts on tax levels.To go back to the number of police officers we last had under the Labour government and previous Labour mayor, the precept increase would need to be over 39pc.

That figure gives the same number of warranted constables, but would actually need to be higher as a proportion of those extra officers would need to be in the supervisory ranks of sergeants and inspectors. Moreover that would not replace the lost PCSOs and civilian Met staff.

The cut in government funding has led to the loss of a third of police staff posts – down from 14,330 to 9,985, and two-thirds of PCSOs– down from 4,607 to 1,591, as well as the closure of 114 police station front counters and 120 police buildings, with borough mergers also needed to save costs too.

If Ms Learmond Criqui wants to fund the police at a level to restore these other cuts too, then what has to be modelled is the increase that would be needed to replace the lost central government grant of £1,065 billion. The answer is an increase in the mayoral policing precept of a whopping 123pc.

Bearing in mind Jessica Learmond –Criqui’s rather more modest scheme for crowd funding extra officers for Hampstead a little while ago fell flat, I wish her good luck with her referendum that asks people to pay more than double the precept they currently pay.

• What do you think? Send your views, comments or letters to letters@hamhigh.co.uk