Ham&High letters: Local media, Abacus School, 100 Avenue Road and general election

The News Media Association is asking campaigning political parties not to imitate newspapers in camp

The News Media Association is asking campaigning political parties not to imitate newspapers in campaign material. Picture: NMA - Credit: Archant

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

Please respect role of local media

News Media Association wrote an open letter from local media publishers to Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson and Jo Swinson:

We write to you on behalf of local news brands, in print and digital, which reach 40.6m people a month.

During this election, politicians and candidates from all parties have gone to great lengths to praise local media and its important role in communities.

You have applauded local media's investigative reporting and powerful campaigns and celebrated its vital role in championing local communities.

And you've acknowledged that local news brands are an essential part of the democratic process by holding power to account and providing high-quality news.

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It is widely known that the news media industry, particularly the local media sector, is facing significant challenges caused by changing news consumption habits and tech platforms' dominance in the digital advertising market.

So you would understand our amazement when election campaign material imitating local newspapers from the three major political parties started to appear through people's letterboxes.

To discover that local media is under attack by those who had purported to be supporters is extremely worrying.

Why are political parties passing off their fake newspaper propaganda as trusted local news?

Not only are you taking advantage of our highly trusted credentials, you are also actively undermining our business models.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but this has to stop. The News Media Association and its members are calling on all political parties to immediately end this damaging practice which harms and undermines our democratic society.

Furthermore, we urge you all to help ensure the sustainable future of journalism.At a time when trust in politicians and institutions is so low and fake news on social media is rife, why not instead be properly held to account by the journalists who write for our papers and websites?

Whichever party wins the election, we call on you to implement the recommendations of the Cairncross Report, move government advertising spend back into trusted news media channels and protect press freedom. We look forward to your assurances that these measures will be taken promptly and the damaging effects of your campaigning materials will stop with immediate effect.

Right to refuse Abacus bid

Andrew Neale, on behalf of HCRD (Hampstead Committee for Responsible Development), writes:

Abacus parents have expressed natural disappointment at Camden's planning decision.

However, that fully considered decision for refusal, was made on sound planning grounds and with great concern for the well being of primary school children and the educational suitability of the proposals.

It is most unfortunate that more appropriate buildings that have come forward in the catchment area were not properly evaluated and progressed. This was a result of the stance of the Department for Education, and Abacus were powerless to influence the process. It should be noted that Abacus publicly rejected the Hampstead Police Station as unsuitable, at the outset.

Camden is now totally oversupplied with primary school accommodation, as a result of long term demographic changes. Even Abacus is only at 80 per cent occupancy.

Despite having an exemplary track record on primary school provision (all categorised as good or outstanding), Camden is having to cap and close existing schools.

St Aloysius is closing at the end of this year and Carlton's existence is threatened, as was reported in this paper. Along with Rhyl it is currently capped at 1 Form entry (1FE) compared to its 2FE capacity. Kingsgate is capped at 3FE compared to its recently built increased capacity of 4FE. New End is undersubscribed which directly affects its operational budget.

This dire imbalance of provision is of ongoing concern, and Camden are expected to carry out a strategic review to address this problem.

Irrespective of this context, Camden Council have correctly refused the Abacus proposal at Hampstead police station.

Having carefully weighed the legitimate planning considerations and policies, the planning committee unanimously concluded - for the second time in three years - that Hampstead Police Station is the wrong location for a primary school.

It is wrong for the local community and wrong for Abacus children

Clear winner at election hustings

Linda Grove, Free Nazanin campaign, a founder of Abacus School and local campaigner against pollution, writes:

There was only one candidate who stood out in their beliefs and commitment to the residents of Camden on Monday evening at the UCS hustings.

Someone who looked the part and has a good track record, Tulip Siddiq. Shame about her leader Jeremy Corbyn. Why on earth did the Labour Party not rid themselves of this man and select one of the many talents amongst the MPs?

Tulip spoke like a true professional, not ducking a single question unlike the three men, Jonny Luk (Conservative), shame about his leader, Davis Stansell, (Green), shame about his leader and Matt Sanders (Lib Dem), shame about his leader! What a mess we are in when we can't believe Boris Johnson and have experienced lie after lie, Corbyn who avoids answering any questions on antisemitism and the Lib Dem candidate who scoffs at the other two parties but says little about what she would do to fix our divided country.

Sadly, my questions were not chosen on the night so I am hoping that the candidates will still answer them.

I would like to know what they intend to do about pollution caused in NW3 by parents delivering their children in cars to the private schools, we know it's them because in the school holidays and at weekends when there is no school traffic we have a respite from pollution. Will they be supporting the NW3 parents group who have tried to do the councillors jobs by working with the schools and parents to solve this problem?

After years of searching for a site for Abacus Free School (all free schools have had to find their own sites) people may not realise that Abacus has had one temporary site after another. This campaign was started by the community for the community to solve a problem for our children in Belsize Park who were not eligible for school places outside our catchment area, and now the EFA have secured the old Hampstead police station, will they support its application?

Lastly but not least, Tulip has done a great job in keeping Nazanin's story alive and pressing for her release, what will the other candidates do? They could all learn a from Tulip on how to stand up and speak to the community. Thank you Tulip for keeping the flame alight for Nazanin.

Many reasons to reject school plan

John Stratton, Thurlow Road, Hampstead, Village, writes:

Like many other individuals and local societies, I objected to the proposed move of Abacus school to the closed Hampstead Police station for many reasons.

Amongst others, there are already far too many schools in Hampstead with their attendant noise, disruption and traffic pollution plus the proposed alterations to a Grade II listed building, and insufficient play space for the children, as well as the undesirability of exposing them to pollution at one of the busiest junctions in Hampstead. School run and peak hour traffic there is usually at a standstill with engines running.

Furthermore I strongly object to the sarcastic comments from Linda Grove and others implying that it is only the residents of Downshire Hill who objected. I am not part of "a small group of privileged and wealthy residents living in proximity to the former police station" but I live locally and object to what is a most unsuitable proposal for a listed building plus the effect on the local streets, residents and traffic. Note also the number of local amenity societies who consider the idea impracticable and undesirable.

Thanks to Cllr Steven Stark's excellent letter, the cat is now really out of the bag. Apart from the obvious reasons for objecting, the planning officer and team involved are shown up as shockingly incompetent being unable to answer many of the questions put to them, not having done their research fully.

We must fight to uphold democracy

Janine Sachs, chair of Save Swiss Cottage, writes:

The most recent 100 Avenue Road construction management plan (CMP) allows for a huge increase in heavy traffic, a new construction route and changes to lorry numbers and sizes entering the construction site using the Swiss Cottage green space.

Camden officers agree that this would be a material amendment to what is currently approved. As a result, this amended CMP has been submitted to the council for its consideration.

Following the well attended consultation meetings, the large number of objections to the this new plan and its novel nature, the members' briefing panel recommended that the new proposal should be heard and decided by the planning committee as was the case last time round. Yet, we understand that this recommendation has just been overturned by Camden's director of planning and regeneration who wishes the decision to be delegated to the officers.

We are astonished and disturbed that in such a high profile matter a non-elected official decided to overturn the members' decision and instead found reasons to take the final decision himself to avoid full public scrutiny. This precedent would be extremely dangerous to the whole planning process.

As the packed meetings on every occasion this CMP demonstrates, there is a substantial level of public interest in this matter. It is important that everyone has a chance to scrutinise any new information so this is not merely a rubber stamping operation. Whether or not public consultation is a legal requirement, if it is embarked upon there is legitimate expectation it be carried out properly.

In his reasoning, Camden's director of planning and regeneration appears to be willing to sacrifice the democratic process in favour of the developers' interests.

His argument that "the council does not monitor NOx through the CMP process" flies in the face of the dire health consequences of NO2 poisoning - with levels in the Swiss Cottage Open Space - our only green lung in the area, already being well over the EU limit. Yet planning guidance for development advises "NO2 will be determined on a case by case basis by the local planning authority (LPA)".

The perception that Camden Council is a place where unelected officials can overrule elected councillors is worrying and very harmful to public confidence in Camden's decision making.

We urge democracy to be upheld in Camden and the decision to be reconsidered.

Society supports decision on school

Marc Hutchinson, chair of the Heath and Hampstead Scoiety, writes:

As your readers know, the Heath & Hampstead Society has always opposed the relocation of the Abacus school to the old Hampstead Police Station.

So the society congratulates the independent-minded councillors (of all parties) on Camden's planning committee for unanimously refusing the latest planning application.

The sorry fiasco of these unsuccessful applications derives from the reckless decision of the Department for Education to purchase the old police station after its decommissioning.

The Edwardian purpose-built - and now listed on that basis - offices, prison cells, courtroom, narrow passages and small high windows - with an overarching design to prevent the escape of prisoners - is the worst possible choice of a functional and safe building for a 21st-century primary school.

And that is to leave aside the traffic and pollution increase that the school would unavoidably bring to its relocated site.

This lavishly government-funded school needs to find new suitable premises within its own very large Belsize catchment area.

Abacus refusal a 'wasted' chance

Daniella Leon, Hampstead, full address supplied, writes:

I was really disappointed to hear that the application by Abacus Belsize primary was rejected by the planning committee on November 14.

What a wasted opportunity. For years, the Belsize Park community lobbied for a local state school. When our daughter started primary school there was simply no state secular school for her to attend in the local area.

It was too late for our daughter to benefit from the opening of Abacus in 2013 because she was too old but we were still pleased that our friends and neighbours' children would benefit.

I do hope the school appeal this ridiculous decision.

Lib Dems should not target Tulip

Joan Munro, Goldhurst Terrace, writes:

I cannot understand why the Lib Dems are trying so hard to win the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency when our sitting MP, Tulip Siddiq, has been a staunch remain supporter.

She one of very few MPs who voted against Article 50.

If the Lib Dems truly want to stop Brexit then why stand against Ms Siddiq, potentially splitting the remain vote, and letting a Tory win the seat?

Please don't run down our schools

Angela Mason, cabinet member for best start in life, writes:

I sometimes wonder if Cllr Cooper, our local Conservative leader, has ever visited a Camden school or talked to a Camden headteacher or pupil (View from Chamber 28 Nov).

He knows full well that the education debate was cancelled this month because of Purdah rules around the election and that it will take place in January.

He hasn't apologised for attacking Camden schools a few weeks ago when he simply misunderstood the data and confused 'A' results for Camden schools by including the results of every college located in Camden.

Performance at 'A' level over the last years has remained steady, broadly in line with London and national.

Now he is at it again, running down our schools and arguing for academisation and exclusive selective education.

Yes Haverstock, a secondary school in one of our poorer areas, had a dip when the former charismatic head left, but under the new young head it is powering ahead.

We are, of course, delighted when UCL academy does well, but very recently the school was judged to require improvement and Camden worked closely with the school on that journey.

The great thing about Camden Learning is that all our schools are members, whatever their status, working together to ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed and that no child gets left behind.

Cllr Cooper disingenuously fails to recognise that our primary school results this year mean we are fifth top in London and seventh nationally.

Our secondary school results improved too, which puts us at 39th nationally out of 152 local authorities. We are determined to do even better.