Ham&High letters: Carers, hospital bus, 100 Avenue Road, London Mayor and democracy, leaseholders and save delivery office

Community march to protest against cuts in Haringey's Budget.

Community march to protest against cuts in Haringey's Budget. - Credit: Nigel Sutton

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

Skilled carers feel ignored

Vida Black, full address supplied, writes:

I am writing about your story on the Haringey cuts to support for vulnerable people. I am the chairman of the Haringey Carers Forum (learning disabilities and autism).

The council has never listened to family carers.

They ignored us when we raised our concerns about the impact of cutting the day centres.

Many people who are autistic or have learning disabilities were sent to out-of-borough day centres. But what is the sense of closing down all the day centres in Haringey and sending these people to other borough if there is no need for day centres?

Haringey had some very experienced care workers, skilled staff with expertise in supporting people with autism.

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But some of these out-of-borough day centres cannot cope with autistic people who have challenging behaviour.

We know about cases where autistic people have been expelled from out-of-borough day centres, which is very distressing and puts stress on the family carers.

If only Haringey Council could understand what these carers are going through, they would make the right decision and bring back the day centres in Haringey.

During the council elections in May all the candidates promised to restore the day centres and review adult social care.

But now they have been elected, adult social care is not their priority any more, which is very sad.

Dedicated bus service between hospitals now essential for vulnerable

Mick Farrant, Gospel Oak, full address supplied, writes:

There is an equally serious issue about the management of the Royal Free Hospital (Royal Free’s £66m backlog of repairs).

This is the transfer of a raft of services, including planned surgery to the Chase Farm Hospital.

Basic Transport for London (TfL) research shows that to travel from, say, the Royal Free itself takes by the quickest route (69 minutes each way) two buses , two trains and a 40 minute walk. Alternatively, there is a two hour bus ride by two buses. A taxi will cost you at least £30 each way.

When I heard about this transfer some 11 weeks ago, I wrote to the chairman of Camden’s health scrutiny committee, Alison Kelly, asking that the committee address this issue as a matter of urgency. This request was ignored.

The Caversham Patient Participation Group then wrote to Sir David Sloman, the CEO of the Royal Free, pointing out that travel would be very problematic for the elderly and mobility impaired and that if, as is the practice at other hospitals, all patients for planned surgery on a given day had to arrive by 7.30am, this would be impossible.

We also pointed out that given the problems of transport, outpatients would find it difficult to arrive on time for an appointment in other transferred services.

In his response, Sir David ignored the issues of transport, merely stating that patients could still decide to have their planned surgery at Royal Free. In a case known to me such a request resulted in a further delay of the operation of three months.

I asked at the information desks at the Royal Free if there was a leaflet advising on how to travel to Chase Farm and was told there was none and also that there had been a minibus service but this no longer existed. It is unclear why this service was discontinued but surely this is essential for some patients, even if not a free service. I should add that there has been no public consultation on this important issue whatsoever.

Most recently Cllr Kelly has suggested that the way in which the issue can be raised in the council is by making a deputation to her committee; this after some 11 weeks of having been informed of the problem.

My concern is not just that a problem exists for some of the most vulnerable and poorest people in Camden but that it is apparently brushed aside by both the hospital management and the council. The solution is surely simple, the provision of a dedicated bus service.

Surely, it is not beyond the wit of Camden Council, the Royal Free and TfL to work out the funding for this, requiring patients who can afford it to pay for travel if necessary.

Wrong to reject full scrutiny

Kate Fairhurst, Swiss Cottage Conservatives, writes:

Along with Swiss Cottage and Belsize Park residents, I am disappointed that the proposals to amend the plan for a 24-storey tower at 100 Avenue Road will not be subject to full scrutiny by councillors.

Camden officials decided that the plan would not be considered by the planning committee – which rejected 100 Avenue Road back in 2015 and, more recently, also rejected the skyscraper’s Construction Management Plan (CMP).

Alongside the short time period being given for the consideration of the revised CMP, this significantly reduces how much control the community has over 100 Avenue Road.

So how did this happen? The Members’ Briefing Panel is the stage before reaching the planning committee and is composed of one Conservative, one Labour, and one Liberal Democrat representative. Together, they give feedback on applications and recommend whether the full planning committee should hear them.

By two to one, the panel recommended that the full planning committee should scrutinise the application, with the Labour representative being the only councillor to oppose referring it to the committee. Despite this, the plans were pushed through by Camden Council officers.

This is the first time in two and a half years that the Members’ Briefing Panel has been ignored by the council.

This decision essentially renders councillors powerless as a filter and judge of applications, and removes the last element of democratic control from the planning process.

Residents in Swiss Cottage and Belsize Park have been valiantly battling this development for years now to protect our local area.

Making decisions behind closed doors and cutting elected councillors out of the planning process does nothing to restore residents’ faith in the process.

Help us protect open space

Eric Peel, Goldhurst Terrace, South Hampstead, writes:

Camden Council and Essential Living held a “drop-in” session at Swiss Cottage Library on the October 11 about the 100 Avenue Road licence request, which I was unfortunately not able to attend.

Unfortunately, the two page flyer advertising the proposal and “drop-in” session was not displayed well and also rather economical with the truth, not to say misleading, about what is actually meant by “temporary use of an area of Swiss Cottage Open Space during the construction of the neighbouring 100 Avenue Rd development” and the severe impact it will actually have on users of the much-loved and used Swiss Cottage Open Space over a very extended period.

It did not even once mention the fact that the developer intends to drive a large number of HGVs across, and immediately adjacent to the open space, every weekday for a period of up to about three and a half years! How can three and a half years of such disruption be accurately described as “temporary”?

In one of the many recent additions to their latest Construction Management Plan (CMP) only published by the developer in early September, the true scale of the proposed three and a half years year imposition of HGVs on the much-loved Swiss Cottage Open Space has become clear:

Depending on which appendix of the Essential Living CMP is examined, the number of HGVs proposed to access into the Open Space from the A41 Avenue Road across the pavement just north of the large plane tree bordering the carriageway of Avenue Road could be in excess of 50 HGVs per day for much of the period of the works. These diesel HGVs will advance north up the site right next to the public path, spewing their large volumes of a cocktail of lethal NOx gases and PM10/PM2.5 particulates, and then turning around somewhere near the Hampstead Theatre to exit via the same route.

This cocktail of noxious fumes and the considerable noise will be blown across the entire open space site by the prevailing SW/W/NW winds, blighting the whole area for up to three and a half years, and making its use by children and families, very unpleasant, not to say dangerous.

If this licence were to be granted, these users would either risk extended and significant exposure to all these pollutants and noise, or would have to go elsewhere for their recreational needs for an extended period.

In addition, the developer is proposing to remove at least 13 relatively mature trees from both their own land and Camden Parks land for the duration of the works. Any replanting of replacement trees after the construction is complete will scarcely compensate, as the new trees will inevitably be much smaller than those removed many years previously.

With the indefinite postponement (following the September Judicial Review verdict) of the Cycle Superhighway 11 (CS11) along Avenue Road, there is no reason why the developer, in negotiation and agreement with TfL, cannot now make even greater use of an extended A41/Avenue Rd pit-lane for unloading and loading of HGVs servicing the site.

Indeed the developer was asked to examine exactly this by the Camden Planning Committee in July 2018 when the then-current version of the CMP was reviewed, and agreement to it by Camden was withheld pending a further investigation into how the capacity of the A41 “pit-lane” could be increased so as to minimise use of Winchester Road/Eton Avenue and the Open Space by HGVs.

I would also please like to invite Cllr Adam Harrison, as cabinet member for improving Camden’s environment, to carefully consider whether Camden will not be seriously betraying the best interests and health of its local residents and the many users of the Swiss Cottage Open Space and its amenities by allowing such desecration of the precious Open Space by this threatened HGV traffic for up to three and a half years.

If any licence were to be granted, it must only be done once EL have finalised a revised plan in agreement with TfL to extend the capacity of the A41 “pit lane” such that the vast majority of daily HGV movements for 100 Avenue Rd are restricted to the A41/Avenue Rd, and once this has been adequately documented in the CMP to be submitted to a future meeting of the Camden Planning Committee.

Please join the local opposition to this loss of our valuable green space and request “No lorries through the Swiss Cottage Open Space” by emailing: parks@camden.gov.uk and Adam.Harrison@camden.gov.uk

Sadiq meddling with democracy

David Cheeseman, Menelik Road, Hampstead, writes:

Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor, has let many Londoners down with his shocking campaign against the democratic vote of UK voters to leave the EU.

He asks the EU to delay the final stages of article 50 when 498 MPs voted to implement it; says that Labour MPs must vote down any final deal that Theresa May puts before parliament, as Caroline Flint Labour MP says, if it’s a good deal for the country, why would you want to do that?

He says the London march shows there’s a shift towards remain; wants the Labour Party to back another referendum with remain on the ballot ticket. He needs to look at some facts.

The number of Londoners who voted leave (1,513,232) is twice the number said to be on the march. The number of people who did not vote remain in London (1,641,830) when added to 50 per cent of those who did not vote (829,915) gives a total of (2,334,147) which is more than the number (2,263,519) who voted remain.

Sadiq Khan should remember that he cannot claim to represent all Londoners on Brexit because clearly, he does not. His arguments on Brexit are full of holes and his efforts to persuade the EU to reject the democratic vote of the British people make me (50 years a member of the Labour Party and one of the many Brexiteers living in London) very sad.

Leaseholders are unfairly punished

Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, writes:

The tribunal system is not working for leaseholders. It is no longer a low-cost, informal means of dispute resolution.

An unfair costs system means that landlords are able to employ significantly more resources and funds and this presents a real barrier to justice for leaseholders.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has recently been considering various legislative reforms to protect leaseholders from predatory practices.

These include restricting ground rents, making it easier to extend the lease, and even reduce the costs of buying the freehold. While welcome, this cannot be the full extent of reform.

If we want to see a fair system for leaseholders, then we need to take a long look at the property tribunal system.

Tribunals are meant to be a means of informal dispute resolution, in which representation by a qualified legal professional should not be necessary. However, this is not the case. Increasingly, we see barristers and even QCs making the case on the part of the landlord, while the leaseholder is left to represent themselves in the vast majority of cases. Something has gone badly wrong.

In the vast majority of cases, a landlord will approach the tribunal with the knowledge that they can pass on the legal costs, including but not limited to those of the barrister. In stark contrast a leaseholder sets out knowing that even if they won, they would likely receive no costs.

This has deeply damaging implications for our justice system. With the knowledge he/she will not be able to recoup the costs even if successful in their case, a leaseholder will have no choice but to represent themselves. Armed with the knowledge that they can almost certainly recover the costs, the landlord has no such restrictions. What should be a low-cost process to resolve disputes – with minimal or no legal representation – now sees leaseholders representing themselves against professional barristers. This can result in extraordinarily inflated costs for the leaseholders.

A constituent of mine has found this to her detriment. Agnes Kory, 74, initially approached the first-tier tribunal regarding a dispute over a sum of £5,537. She has represented herself throughout the process against a barrister and has become a victim of the costs system. Agnes tells me she is now liable for legal costs in excess of £30,000 and stands to lose her home of 44 years. This is a drastic jump from the original sum.

You can read more about Agnes Kory’s story on her GoFundMe page.

Something has to change to make this system fair. The failure to remove such iniquity will continue to mean that leaseholders, like my constituent, are forced to make their case in the face of expensively trained, legal professionals acting on the part of their landlords. What’s more, they’ll do so with the knowledge that they’ll be the ones paying.

I have written to both Department for Housing Communities and Local Government and the Ministry of Justice, demanding answers over how they will reform tribunals to be fairer to leaseholders.

Leaseholders need overarching change, and this will require an interdepartmental strategy to deliver.

I will be pushing for an end to the current unfair system in the weeks and months ahead.

Join fight to save delivery office

Catherine West MP (Lab), Hornsey & Wood Green, writes:

More than 1,000 local residents have already signed my petition opposing Royal Mail’s short sighted plan to close Muswell Hill Delivery Office.

I will be holding a drop-in on Friday, November 9, between 3pm to 4.30pm at the Birchwood Centre, 171 Fortis Green Road, N10 3BG for constituents to talk to me in person about their thoughts on these proposals.

I’m appalled that Royal Mail don’t intend to carry out any public consultation, despite the impact this will have locally.

Since the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government privatised Royal Mail back in 2013 there isn’t the direct control any more to challenge these decisions and over 140 delivery offices have already closed their doors across the country.

I don’t want Muswell Hill to be the next.

I’ve called a meeting with senior Royal Mail bosses later this month and want to hear from as many residents as possible so I can make sure your views are fed in. If you can’t make my drop-in, please sign the petition at catherinewest.org.uk.

Muswell Hill residents need a delivery office that’s local and convenient. That’s what I’ll keep fighting for.