Ham&High letters: Heath’s swans, disappearing shops, Dr Bill Smith, 100 Avenue Road, Abacus, libraries and antisemitic graffiti

A cygnet being rescued by volunteers on Hampstead Heath. Picture: RON VESTER

A cygnet being rescued by volunteers on Hampstead Heath. Picture: RON VESTER - Credit: Ron Vester

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

Pictured on Sunday

Ron Vester sent in this picture

This was the fourth cygnet to be rescued on Hampstead Heath as the parent swans run them off ready for mating season.

Newly-trained rescuer Louisa Green. Watching on is Jack Taylor, kneeling, and his parents, visitors from New Zealand

So sad to see shops disappear

Margaret Low, Belsize Grove, Belsize Park, writes:

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I am horrified to hear that the launderette on England's Lane is threatened with closure when they don't even want to close.

I have lived in Belsize Park since the 1980s and have been so sad to see the character of the area whittled away as vital shops and services disappear.

In the last year alone we have lost the beloved toy shop and hardware shop on that street.

I understand that internet threatens live retail income and I wish the landlords would be more long-sighted about the rents because, in the end, if all the shops close down then Belsize Park will be a much less desirable area and the prices will crash.

But this should not affect something like the laundrette which is useful for all of us.

You can't do laundry online!

The place is always busy. It is part of the heart of the community.

Please, please could you sign petitions and lobby the council, help support the laundrette not to close.

Even if you have a washing machine at home, please recognisee the value of a community location like this in keeping the spirit of Belsize alive.

Bill will be missed

Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, writes:

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of my friend Dr Bill Smith on January 4.

I met Bill during the fight to save the A&E at the Whittington Hospital some years ago, but I know that he was a committed and loyal advocate for the NHS, young people's mental health and family therapy for many decades before that and he undoubtedly formed a valued and trusted part of the community in Muswell Hill, where he was known by so many.

Although Bill will always be remembered for his tireless work as a family doctor and his campaigning around the NHS, he had a varied and fascinating life before he found his vocation in the health service.

Spending the Second World War as a pilot in the RAF, Bill went on to work as a sculptor (a passion he never abandoned) before training at the London Hospital in the late 1950s, making Muswell Hill his home in the late 1960s with his family and serving the community for the rest of his life.

I will miss Bill, as I know his friends, family and the wider Muswell Hill community will.

On Avenue Road

Cllrs Tom Simon and Luisa Porritt, Belsize ward, write:

The old building at 100 Avenue Road may have been demolished, but many local residents remain unhappy about the new development on the site.

The question facing Camden Council - whether to approve the latest Construction Management Plan - has unsurprisingly attracted a high degree of public interest, with a significant level of engagement in consultations around it and via the local press over recent months.

It is therefore wrong for the council's director of planning, an unelected officer, to make the decision behind closed doors himself.

Instead this should go to the planning committee, made up of elected councillors.

This is particularly so as the 'members briefing' sub-committee, led by councillors, recently voted that the decision should go to full committee.

Although this vote is non-binding, it is usually respected by officers.

The public scrutiny that a decision at planning committee level would bring is essential for residents to play their part in the process. To do otherwise risks undermining local democracy in Camden.

Edie Raff, chairwoman, Cresta House Residents Association, former chairwoman, Save Swiss Cottage, writes:

It turns out that unelected employees at Camden Council can not only ignore with impunity the needs and wishes of the local community but they can ignore decisions taken on the community's behalf by their democratically elected councillors.

In her comment in the Ham&High (January 2) the chairwoman of Save Swiss Cottage shockingly pointed out that Camden's director of regeneration and planning (David Joyce), who is an unelected employee of Camden Council, took the unilateral decision to reject the democratically arrived at decision by the elected Member's Briefing Panel to refer an extremely controversial 100 Avenue Road construction management plan to a full council planning committee for a public hearing.

How can this happen? These unelected employees do not necessarily have any connection to Swiss Cottage: they do not need to live here to work here and they are certainly not chosen by the local electorate. Yet it appears that it is just such individuals who are - in the end - allowed to make the crucial decisions that deeply impact the quality of life of local residents.

How indeed can local democracy prevail when even our elected officials (not to mention local residents who by now are used to being disregarded in the 100 Avenue Road process) count for very little, if anything, in this openly undemocratic process.

On Abacus

Darla Hocking, Belsize Park resident, writes:

I'm writing in response to "Abacus appeal threatens other schools" published December 19, 2019.

The author suggests that if Abacus Belsize Primary school is relocated to a permanent site at the former Hampstead Police station then this will threaten the viability of other schools.

The fact is Abacus is already a school, it has been for seven years and it will continue to draw students from its catchment area, which does not overlap with the Carlton catchment area.

What the author seems to suggest is if Abacus didn't exist then Carlton's enrolment would receive a boost. I would suggest that we take a look at a map. The centre of Abacus's catchment to Carlton is twice the distance from the centre of Abacus's catchment to the former Hampstead police station; these are separate catchment areas serving separate neighbourhoods.

Please stop suggesting that Abacus is to blame for falling numbers at Carlton, it is a complex problem undoubtedly, but highly unlikely that Abacus takes any significant blame. The writer suggests that Carlton is at risk for less applications from new pupils, and transfers of existing students and staff because of the threat of closure.

It may seem surprising, but even with the continuous uncertainty of Abacus's future there has never been a problem with applications or retaining staff.

It is also important to correct the suggestion that Camden would pay for renovations of the former Hampstead police station if it were ever granted the site, in fact it is the Department of Education that would cover the costs.

So Abacus will carry on trying to prove that its a valuable school in the community, while on the journey to getting a permanent home.

If Abacus were to choose a mascot it seems most fitting for it to be a scapegoat.

Our libraries

Keith Martin, Friern Park, North Finchley, writes:

One side effect of the general election on December 12 was the postponement of two discussions on Barnet's libraries planned for November 2 and 7.

My letter 'Fighting for a fair library system' was published in the Ham & High on October 31. The discussions have been rearranged for January 16 and 18.

A second side effect to the election is that the culture minister Nicky Morgan has given up her seat as an MP and been elevated to the House of Lords, retaining her post as culture minister and finding that she now has more time to implement policies on the statute book such as the 1964 Libraries Act, which is what Barnet's discussions are all about. Barnet, you will remember, have for the last decade been systematically running down the public library service, ostensibly to save money, and the two discussions are asking us, the public, to say what should be done.

The discussions are led as a public relations exercise for the council by Activist Group. The public is invited on January 16 to Chipping Barnet Library at 7pm and on January 18 to Colindale Library at 2pm.

I have invited Nicky Morgan to the discussion on January 16.

It is part of her job as culture minister to monitor the compliance of local authorities with the 1964 Act, and I have invited her too to visit some of Barnet's unstaffed libraries, where a single security guard fills the role previously carried out by librarians.

It is Nicky's duty to monitor the extent to which the security guard is providing a comprehensive and efficient public library service.

There is an increasing unrest nationally towards authorities such as Barnet, who are arguably in breach of the law, as well as acting against the educational interest of schoolchildren, by denying them access to libraries unless accompanied by an adult.

Upon her decision depends how public libraries are run in future, all over the country.

I hope you will be able to discuss this with the culture secretary and Barnet staff and councillors on January 16 or 18.

No place for antisemitic graffiti

Marc Hutchinson, chair of the Heath & Hampstead Society, writes:

The recent daubing of antisemitic graffiti on shops in Hampstead and Belsize Park and on the South Hampstead Synagogue is horrifying.

The society, which represents the multicultural residents of Hampstead, extends its support to the Jewish community and to other groups that might be similarly targeted

It also wishes to congratulate and to thank the councillors and officers of Camden and the Metropolitan Police for their swift reaction to the event.

Racist vandalism, and antisemitic graffiti in particular such as that perpetrated, is an important matter.

Fascist and antisemitic activity was significant in Hampstead in the mid to late 1940s; it must not be allowed now.

We are confident that the police will identify and arrest those who committed these acts of hatred.