Ham&High letters: Royal Free volunteers, Finchley Road, Heathside Prep, dogs on the Heath, Swiss Cottage, Brexit, Barnet Council, trees and climate emergency

Volunteers enjoying a deserved break at the Royal Free Hospital garden. Picture: LINDA GROVE

Volunteers enjoying a deserved break at the Royal Free Hospital garden. Picture: LINDA GROVE - Credit: Linda Grove

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

Thanks for digging in

Linda Grove, garden organiser at the Royal Free Hospital charity, writes:

Big thanks to our wonderful team on Saturday for all the planting which is so exciting to see.

Charlotte, you have put a lot of work into the planning of your garden and placing your order – that’s marvellous and we thank you. You were so calm waiting for the delivery and placing your plants.

Thank you to Tim who turned up to do the heavy digging – we really do appreciate it.

Remember, you can donate by either giving your donation to the Royal Free charity office which is on the ground floor by the car park at the front or to a garden volunteer on Saturday morning. Volunteer gardeners are also welcome – please contact the Ham&High who will send your request onto me. Alternatively phone the Royal Volunteer Team on 020 7830 2306 or email alix.temple@nhs.net.

Living in the Finchley Road

Most Read

Harvey Sanders, Finchley Road, Hampstead, writes:

It is obvious that the Finchley Road, on which I live, carries a great deal of traffic contributing to unacceptable levels of pollution and noise.

However, I didn’t realise quite how much traffic it carried until one of the illuminated advertising signs that litter the streetscape informed me that “one million people see me every two weeks”.

Enough said?

Fond memories of our children at Heathside Prepatory School

Eugenie and Brian Rosenthal, Scarsdale, New York, USA (formerly of Gayton Road, Hampstead), write:

Our children both attended Heathside Prep for three-and-a-half years before we had to move back to New York for work last year.

The hardest part of leaving the UK for our family was departing Heathside Preparatory School. Heathside nurtured our children’s creativity, confidence, intellectual curiosity, and sense of belonging and a great deal of that positive energy springs from the seemingly endless font of energy, love of children, and passion for education of head Melissa Remus.

We will always be grateful that our children had the chance to grow at Heathside and hope that children for decades henceforth will be riding the wave of Melissa Remus’ passion and creativity, conquering chess tournaments, performing Shakespeare before audiences in Year 3, and enjoying forest school and daily recess on the Heath at Heathside Preparatory School.

Not the Heathside I’ve experienced

Laurent Ruseckas, Belsize Park, writes:

I am writing to express my dismay at the article about Heathside Preparatory School (HPS) (“Council tries to shut down Hampstead private school denounced as a ‘circus’”.)

The article suggests that Heathside Preparatory School is at risk of being closed down by Barnet Council, without making a clear distinction between the High School (located in Barnet) and the Lower School and Middle School, which are located in Camden and not under the jurisdiction of Barnet Council [see editor’s note at end of subsequent letter]. The piece mentions Camden Council later but does not make it clear that this means that any issues with Barnet related to the high school only.

The misleading suggestion that the lower school and middle school face any sort of official sanction is damaging and hurtful to many parents, students, and teachers at the lower and middle schools.

I have two children in the middle school who previously studied at the HPS lower school. The characterisation of HPS in the article bears no connection to my experience as a parent of students in the lower school or the middle school. I have only seen HPS as a loving and protective environment, with a leadership and teaching staff who are deeply committed to the education of students in a vibrant, fun and by all means safe environment. I would guess that the reporter did not speak to any lower school or middle school parents (certainly the article contains no evidence of such contacts), which is inappropriate in an article meant to condemn the entire school.

I would also note as an even more straightfoward matter of fact that it is inaccurate that the application to make use of Jack Straw’s Castle would make it a “seventh premises” as alleged in the article; this would be a consolidation that would bring the total number of school sites from six to five.

I have often enjoyed reading Ham&High but I was deeply disappointed with this article.

Upset by coverage of Heathside Prep

Lindsay Sloan, full address supplied, writes:

I am writing in response to the investigation of Heathside Preparatory School.

Barnet Council has absolutely not applied for “an injunction to stop Heathside Preparatory School from running as a day school.”

The application for the injunction applies only to Heathside High School, which is the only part of the school located in Barnet and which serves only a minority of the student body. Heathside Preparatory School (lower and middle school) is located across five sites, all within Camden. The prep school serves children in nursery through Year 6.

Your failure to draw a distinction between Heathside High School and the lower and middle schools was careless and harmful to the parents, students and teachers of Heathside Preparatory School.

In addition, the article states that “the school is trying to expand to a new site in Hampstead”. Heathside is trying to consolidate Year 6 into one building (Jack Straw’s Castle), rather than being housed across two sites. This is most certainly not an “expansion”.

As a parent of two children who have attended Heathside Preparatory School for the past six years, I am extremely disappointed that this paper would publish such an inflammatory piece without consideration for the large community that will inevitably be harmed by your failure to make a distinction between the prep and high school. It is hard to believe that this oversight was not intentional, as this information is readily available on the school’s website.

Moreover, your article failed to quote even one teacher or parent from the middle and lower schools. Had you sought out their opinions you would most likely find many happy parents and teachers, quite a number of whom have been with Heathside for many, many years. If your intention was to shine a light on the problems with Heathside High School, that is most certainly your right. What is inexcusable, though, is to paint a false picture of the whole school operating as a “circus”.

[Editor’s note: No school called Heathside High exists. The upper school is part of the legal entity known as Heathside Preparatory School and recognised as such by Ofsted. We spoke to a wide variety of sources and stand by the content of the article, and the way that Barnet Council has been quoted, but we certainly welcome feedback from readers on both sides of the debate.]

Heath etiquette for dog walkers

A Hampstead Heath dog walker, full name and address supplied, writes:

While I have no comment to make regarding the claims of your correspondent about walking their dog on West Heath, could I mention that it is my experience – after 45 years of walking dogs on the Heath – that if a dog is hampered in some way from interacting with people and other dogs, the results can be disturbing.

Your correspondent mentions that another dog “stole” their dog’s ball. The purpose of letting your dog run off-lead is to allow them to wander around at their own pace doing all of the things which are normal for a dog, including having an enjoyable exchange with other dogs. Nowadays there are a number of customs that interfere with this normal behaviour.

If you are in the habit of taking a ball on a dog walk then clearly you run the risk of the dog guarding the ball from another dog – or possibly a small child. It hardly seems worth the risk, surely?

Another newish development is for runners to have their dogs on-lead whilst exercising. They are obliging the dog to run at their pace and solely where they wish to go. It is the equivalent of forcing a human to keep up with someone on a motorcycle regardless of the speed or terrain and I would love to see it outlawed.

All of the instances quoted above concern individual dog owners and not people with groups of dogs, whether they be friends walking together with their dogs or professional dog walkers.

There are plenty of irresponsible dog owners too.

‘Monster’ forced on Swiss Cottage

Roland Grimm, Hilltop Road, Hampstead, writes:

In Swiss Cottage open space spring is being spoiled by thunderous crashing and hammering.

A famous photo springs to mind of a tall chimney being demolished by a bulldozer suspended on chains from a giant crane slowly hammering the structure to the ground.

Every day demolition bulldozers, high up, very well hidden from public view, are being driven all over the roof of 100 Avenue Road, presumably licensed for safety by Camden Council. High above the busy tube station entrance, protected by 3/4 inch plywood attached to scaffolding.

Seeing the difficulties encountered by contractors to demolish this strong, well constructed building should make people think. It is clear that to get rid of the planned monster tower, forced on Swiss Cottage by a short sighted minister in disregard of local democracy, will in future require total evacuation of a very large area for a very long time. If this monster construction does get forced on Swiss Cottage, imagine the nightmare problem future generations will have to solve.

Don’t deny Brexit is a Camden issue

Kirsten de Keyser, prospective parliamentary candidate, Holborn & St Pancras Green Party, writes:

I am completely mystified at the row about whether, or not, Camden councillors should debate Brexit or even voice a view altogether (Ham&High letters).

Last October, the Lib Dems demonstrated outside the temporary council chamber in order to be allowed to debate Brexit. The council’s Tory leader had declared that the full council meeting, about to take place, should not be distracted by foreign policy.

Such utter nonsense frankly beggars belief. Eurostar lives in the borough of Camden and its management is crucially dependent on what happens with Brexit.

The HS2 project is currently progressing at pace in Camden. Whatever your thoughts about that, the project was, in no small part, designed to improve the access from continental Europe to the north of Great Britain. So where goes Brexit, so goes that idea.

Camden’s brand new Crick Institute relies hugely on seamless, superfast transport of isotopes from the continent and will be massively impacted by any disruption caused by Brexit.

According to the council’s own figures, there are 24,000 residents in Camden who were born in EU countries, as well as 36,000 EU citizens who work in our borough. They rent, shop, pay tax, volunteer and generally contribute significantly to Camden’s quality of life.

Now, come again and claim that Brexit is not a local Camden matter. Of course it’s a Camden matter! Denying that is a total abdication of our councillors’ responsibility as our elected representatives.

Councillors stifle constructive talks

Keith Martin, Friern Park, Finchley, writes:

Accompanying our Barnet Council tax demand was a message from Richard Cornelius, congratulating his administration on keeping costs down.

As a resident, my impression of the record of the council has been far removed from his.

In every department it has failed. Potholes are deplorable. Library services fail to provide the comprehensive and efficient services that are their statutory duty to provide. The same goes for other public services, from care for the elderly to support for schools and children’s services. Failure to build council housing is a scandal.

Most dispiriting is the complacency of the councillors. At council meetings they go through the motions of democracy while actively stifling constructive debate and refusing to invite the advice of local experts, which other councils encourage.

Councilspeak thrives. New meanings are given to words like consultation, comprehensive, and the public interest. If George Orwell were to write Animal Farm in 2019, the writing on the wall would be mysteriously changed from “putting the community first” to “putting the community out”.

End of term report? Could do better.

Poor record on trees exposed

Cllr Oliver Cooper, leader, Camden Conservatives, writes:

I was astonished to read the revisions to Camden’s Clean Air Plan, including the gratuitous addition of a whole page arguing that trees are bad for air quality.

Yes, that’s right. Trees. Bad. For air quality.

In writing this new section, Camden’s administration outsourced its entire thinking to a single study, which it then proceeded to misquote. Although it is true the study says that trees can “lock in” some pollution, it states that the positive effects outweigh the negative over an area larger than “tens to hundreds of square metres”, i.e. an area much smaller than a London borough.

This qualification has been mysteriously edited out, but it is vital. The author cited by the council wrote another paper that found that across cities the size of Camden, trees reduce air pollution by 9 per cent. Other studies find that the reduction is up to 24pc. So trees are no silver bullet, but this reduction is not to be sniffed at or dismissed, as Camden’s Clean Air Plan does.

Perhaps the reason they’ve been dismissed is Camden’s poor record on tree maintenance. Camden has fewer street trees, chops down more street trees per year, and has weaker benchmarking of tree maintenance standards than any of Westminster, Islington, and Hackney.

And despite having a worse record than these comparator boroughs, Camden has the largest tree maintenance budget of the four councils, too.

To write a page on how trees cause pollution shows how much of this Clean Air Plan is bogged down in defensively claiming everything the council does it perfect, rather than addressing what it could do better.

It’s vital that Camden takes greater care of our trees, and spends less time making excuses for not doing so.

Focus on climate and young people

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

At Camden town hall this week I declared a climate emergency and set out three next steps in our journey in Camden to carbon neutrality by 2030.

First, the next themed debate of the full council will be dedicated to climate change, or climate catastrophe as perhaps we should properly call it. There we will bring together key figures who can help cut carbon locally; and we will ensure there is a strong international aspect to the debate. As a truly international borough, Camdeners can forge and strengthen links we have with communities across the globe, many of whom will be even worse affected by the climate emergency than we will be here.

Second, the council will convene a citizens’ assembly on the matter this year with a special focus on ensuring the voices of young people are heard. The recent meeting of Sustainers, the new schools sustainability forum, saw huge energy and enthusiasm on display. We need to welcome and encourage this.

Finally, we will agree a new environment plan to replace Green Action for Change, Camden’s decade-long dedicated plan first devised back in 2010 when Cllr Angela Mason became the council’s first ever named sustainability portfolio holder. This long-term view has enabled us to keep on track to cut carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2020.

I am grateful to Green party leader Sian Berry for raising this important matter on the floor of the chamber. I am also grateful to Holborn and St Pancras youth officer Matt Cooper and Swiss Cottage councillor Nayra Bello O’Shanahan for sharing the idea of a citizens’ assembly.

With all these elements combined, I am confident that together we can play our part here in Camden to do what we can to avert climate catastrophe.