Ham&High letters: Housing, Holocuast restitution, council tax, NHS, air quality and green space

Micahel Silliton and John Cousans from The Flower Seller in Muswell Hill. Picture: MICHAEL SILLITON

Micahel Silliton and John Cousans from The Flower Seller in Muswell Hill. Picture: MICHAEL SILLITON - Credit: Archant

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

Are you backing people or developers?

Justin Hinchcliffe, Sakina Chenot and Cllr Viv Ross, Fortis Green’s Liberal Democrat Focus Team, N10, write:

It is a good idea for those who care about the architectural fabric of our community to sign up to Haringey Council’s weekly digest of planning applications by emailing planningsupport@haringey.gov.uk

Haringey Council used to widely notify households of any planning applications in their area.

In recent years, this has been curtailed to the ‘adjourning’ properties and those ‘directly affected’ at the front or rear of the development site.

And all too often those who meet even those narrow criteria only find out after the consultation period has closed!

A huge number of residents have objected to the controversial application on the site of valued local businesses including the Flower Seller (1-9, Fortis Green Road) - and rightly so.

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Even more people would have objected had they known about this controversial application which, if approved, would radically alter the appearance of our area.

Liberal Democrat councillors, local residents’ groups and civic-minded individuals will, though, continue to highlight new applications and encourage people to have their say.

In the meantime, we urge the council to come clean before May’s elections and tell us who they are backing - property developers or local people?

Stop homes crisis becoming catastrophe

Chris Roche, architect and founder, 11.04 Architects, writes:

The editor’s view (H&H March 15, 2018) makes a timely argument for the introduction of greater regulation of the construction industry in light of Camden’s anticipated bill of £50m+ for failings in the safety and construction of the five tower blocks which form the Chalcots Estate.

As an architect, I have long advocated the need for a more holistic view of standards within the construction industry to include apprenticeships and trade associations; the introduction of rigorous site inspections (once the role of the clerk of works); and a post completion bi-annual health and safety check – a property equivalent to the MOT check on vehicles.

Properties like vehicles deteriorate over time, are often modified by their occupants who are unaware of safety requirements, and are often furnished with fixtures (fridges) or furniture (sofas) which are not safe and which put the lives of not just the occupants at risk. The editor’s wiew also draws attention to the perils of appointing contractors on the basis of lowest price which is a risk for both the home-owner and the government, as the recent collapse of Carillion has proved.

The associated article ‘Chalcots window plan is muddled’ suggests the final bill for essential repairs, to what is a recently refurbished housing estate, could be as high as £80m – a cost which could provide for the construction cost of 800 new homes.

These are significant societal issues which require a major shift in political will to avoid our current housing crisis becoming a future housing catastrophe.

Bring Holocaust restitution claims forward now before it’s too late

Andrew Dismore AM, Barnet and Camden, writes:

It is not often that I agree with Theresa Villiers MP, but I wholeheartedly support her efforts to amend the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009.

When I was MP for Hendon, I was responsible for the original private member’s Bill, which I piloted through parliament to become this Act. Inevitably, when trying to get a Bill passed into law, compromises to neutralise expected opposition become necessary, so I had reluctantly to agree to the original ‘sunset clause’, limiting the Act’s restitution powers to 10 years, in the face of concerns from museums and galleries who might be affected and who sought ‘closure’.

I am pleased that 10 years on, as the Act has worked well, those concerns no longer apply and Mrs Villiers’s Bill to extend the duration of the Act indefinitely is very welcome.

However, like all private member’s Bills, there can be no certainty that even with the best will in the world, this amendment will be successful. So my advice, as things stand, must be to remind anyone who may have a claim to restitution of Holocaust looted art or other objects not to delay, but to bring that claim forward now, because unless it is removed (as Mrs Villiers and I wish to see) the sunset clause will take effect next year and no further claims can then be countenanced.

Make public promise to ring-fence three per cent council tax hike

B J Cairns, Victoria Road, Muswell Hill, writes:

Few people will question the decision of the council to take advantage of government’s suggestion that three per cent be added to council taxes to help cover the cost of adult social care although a great many will question, in a very wealthy country, the necessity for such an impost.

The problem for me is that the money raised has not been formally ring-fenced by government. In theory there is nothing to stop any council using these monies for other, doubtless deserving, needs. I would therefore welcome a formal public commitment by the Haringey Council and its Leader that,whatever the outcome of the May Elections, money raised by the three pc levy will be used only for Adult Social Care.

Stage set for ‘scandalous exploitation’ of NHS resources

Sharon Lytton, Cromwell Avenue, Highgate, writes:

Chronic NHS underfunding and other health policies are leading to a possible land and property grab worth tens of millions of pounds at The Whittington Hospital and its community health venues.

It involves Rydon of cladding ‘fame’, currently under police investigation over the Grenfell fire. Rydon has installed the same dangerous cladding in Camden and also has an abysmal reputation in Islington social housing.

The Whittington management’s choice of Ryhurst, a Rydon subsidiary, as its development partner is unethical and could be disastrous if the contract is finalised. Two other NHS Trusts pulled out of deals with Rydon after the Grenfell tragedy. It would not be surprising if this secretive deal which is supposedly a “pilot” for the rest of London, comes from the very top of the political tree and NHS England.

As presented with limited facts available, the Whittington/Rydon cum Ryhurst deal is far too good to be true. It is well known that subsidiaries such as Ryhurst of Rydon are set up to eliminate liability for the parent company when things go wrong and partnerships or projects go bust.

The strategic estates partnership (SEP) model for the contract and the procurement process (OJEU) are controversial and not what they seem. SEPs are specifically designed by the very property companies such as Ryhurst/Rydon seeking access to extremely valuable NHS real estate. They are meant to get round the objections to PFIs and entail highly complex financial arrangements. The companies hire costly specialist consultants such as BDO to help them win the bid in a secret “Competitive Dialogue”. Public bodies don’t have the resources, experience or expertise to be on top of this. It appears only two SEPs have been tried in public NHS Trusts so they are in the experimental stage, thus a model even more hazardous for The Whittington.

SEPs go hand in hand with The Naylor Report which recommends selling off invaluable NHS real estate to help fund major deficits, one off developments and upgrades of health facilities. Normally, these would be managed and funded by a publicly accountable NHS. Now the push is for big property companies to take over this function via commercially ‘in confidence’ deals or SEPS, with big risks for the local NHS and huge rewards for private investors. To pretend this is a safe and sensible choice for the future of patient care defies experience and logic. To pretend that property companies, international management consultants and banks are not first and foremost after lucrative public NHS resources is ridiculous and dangerous. The NHS as a whole has already been bled of many billions of pounds through the market in health services.

Though discredited and unworkable the top down five year NHS plan or STP remains behind the scenes of the Whittington and Rydon/Ryhurst deal as a powerful threat and coercion. It means that a £876million funding deficit across Haringey, Camden, Islington, Enfield and Barnet has to be dealt with by the most frightening and extensive loss of health services yet.

NHS Improvement which is the regulator, has supposedly not yet approved the 10 year Whittington/Rydon cum Ryhurst contract - and should not - for many reasons including ethical and financial ones, and a lack of genuine public consultation. The regulator is responsible for protecting patients and taxpayers against just such unknown, unacceptable and foolish risks. Community concern is mounting as the stage appears to be set for another big, scandalous and tragic exploitation of public NHS resources.

There is still time to call a halt to the Whittington and Rydon/Ryhurst SEP deal and put in its place a NHS run transparent and publicly accountable Whittington estates strategy - in which all the benefits would go to our hospital and community health. No NHS resources or assets need go to property investors, banks, private “partners”, etc. There is a better way for those who rely on our still great Whittington hospital and other local health facilities. Politicians and NHS leaders need to realise the greater good and wider benefits of publicly funding essential refurbishments and upgrades in our hospitals and clinics. Stop putting hundreds of millions of pounds worth of NHS resources into the marketing of health services and use the funds for medical staff, maintenance and development needs instead. The choice is to create a virtuous circle of social and economic wellbeing not a vicious circle of commercial exploitation of our public NHS.

Show leadership on air quality, Camden

Cllr Oliver Cooper, Conservative, Hampstead Town, writes:

I was pleased that the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on electric cars was welcomed to Belsize Village on Saturday to endorse Camden Conservatives’ plan to install 2,000 electric car charging points across Camden.

As an environmentalist, this is a subject that I’m passionate about, and a policy that Camden Council is in desperate need of adopting. It’s great to have the backing of Dame Cheryl Gillan, the MP leading on electric cars (she also happens to be the MP leading the opposition to HS2!).

The UK government is hosting an international summit on zero-emission vehicles in the autumn. This shows real global leadership: using technology and diplomacy to move the whole world towards a low-carbon future.

Since 2010, the UK has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by a quarter: twice as much as France and six times as much as Germany. Nonetheless, air pollution is stubbornly high in urban areas like Camden, and that’s down to vehicle exhausts. It doesn’t need to be this way.

The government gives a 75 per cent grant towards installing charging points for electric cars: which produce no carbon dioxide, no nitrogen oxides, and less than half as much particulate matter. But instead of bidding for funds to install hundreds or thousands of charging points, Camden sadly has plans for just 33.

As notable as the government’s summit is Conservative-run Wandsworth Council’s announcement that they’re looking to install car charging points for residents’ use in every lamppost in the borough. By using lampposts, they reduce costs to just £250 per charger: allowing them to install thousands.

That’s real leadership on air quality from a local council, and a lead that Camden should follow. That’s why Camden Conservatives set up a petition at MakeCamdenElectric.com to call for more charging points and are pushing to install 2,000 in lampposts across our borough.

I’m pleased that the prime minister wants to take the world with us towards a low-carbon future. But as the Friends of the Earth slogan goes: think global, act local. We need to take Labour-run Camden with us, and so far, they’ve not shown the same leadership as Conservative-run Wandsworth.

Conservative Party behind development threat to Green, not Labour

Lisa Pate, Anne Clarke and Nigel Young, Labour candidates for Childs Hill, write:

As long-term residents and community activists in Childs Hill, we were shocked to read the misinformation in the latest publication from the Conservatives in Childs Hill.

Under an article in the leaflet titled “Protecting Cricklewood Green Space”, we are told that Cllrs Ryde and Zinkin have “supported residents in making the Green a community asset”. It goes on to say “we will resist any Labour plans to put housing on the site”.

Firstly, the Green has been under threat of development from the Conservative council for years and it was only the local residents, led by Anne Clarke that fought back and finally managed to list the Green as an asset of community value.

Secondly, as Cllrs Ryde and Zinkin know full well, Labour have never suggested any plans to develop this site. It is one of the few green spaces in Cricklewood and is a valuable community space where events such as the Cricklewood Festival are held each year.

A Labour council in May would mark a complete change in Barnet council and people would finally be listened to and represented rather than being misled and ignored.