Ham&High letters: Abacus Primary school, Magdala pub, ladies pond, bin collection, patients in care, EU thanks, air quality and fly-tipping

The former Hampstead Police Station which Abacus Belsize Primary School want to turn into a school.

The former Hampstead Police Station which Abacus Belsize Primary School want to turn into a school. Picture: HARRY TAYLOR - Credit: Archant

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

Importance of Abacus

Linda Grove, retired deputy headteacher, Royal Free Hospital gardener and community campaigner, writes:

As a founder of Abacus Primary school, I would like to point out to the Heath and Hampstead Society that this outstanding school has always been and always will be a community that walks to school.

The only reason the school has taken time to rest in its final home is the fact that it was impossible to find a suitable space in the "black hole" of Belsize Park. Camden were first approached to make a school for our children at a time the birth rate was high and our children had to be taken to the other side of the borough to secure a place. We, as founders, only went down the free school route when Camden refused to provide schooling for our children. A small team of us worked solidly for five years in order to make and establish this school and then appointed an excellent team lead: Vicki Briody. Vicki has worked so hard and stuck with the founders' vision throughout all the difficult situations of moving and not having a permanent site.

The police station will become the permanent community site for Abacus and engage with the local children and community. They have been influential in walking to school and busing the children to the temporary site in King's Cross, something which the NW3 Green School Runs group is successfully doing now by engaging with all the private schools in Hampstead to stop the ever-increasing pollution in our area. NW3GSR is a truly influential team I have joined in order to protect our children from pollution. You can read about it on Twitter: @NW3GSR or Facebook: NW3 Green School Runs.

Magdela was saved by campaigning residents - not the Conservatives

John Stephens, Parliament Hill, writes:

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Many Hampstead, South End Green residents are furious that Conservative councillors are triumphantly producing misleading publicity implying the imminent re-opening of The Magdala Tavern is largely due to them.

Shortly after the licence was granted, residents received flyers from local Conservative councillors suggesting that they were responsible for this success.

The reality is that, since 2016 when the pub closed, a group of residents has been quietly working behind the scenes to achieve the re-opening of the pub. This was done without any involvement of the councillors. One councillor recently attended just one meeting with residents and the future landlord and then, after the license hearing, declared a victory (for the Conservatives!).

Recent press interviews with the councillors reiterating this success and where they "thanked local residents for their support", was particularly galling.

It's disappointing to think that the quiet work by residents to bring about the pub opening should be hijacked by opportunistic politicians to feather their own nest.

When local residents helped defeat the application to turn the function room into a flat, with their huge number of objections, the councillors were nowhere to be seen. But this latest involvement was clearly such an opportunity to fly the Conservative flag just before an election.

In fairness, residents, through the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum, asked one of the councillors to write in support of the re-application for ACV (Asset of Community Value) as they had done so for other pubs, which they did.

'Selective' intake at Abacus unfair

A Hampstead resident, full name and addres supplied, writes:

It is interesting to see that CfBT has once again applied to Camden for permission to change the old Hampstead Police Station into a school - this time with business premises attached.

It is astonishing that a company with over £96m worth of assets (according to their accounts at Companies House) is being handed a building that the DfE used taxpayers' £14m to buy and presumably will be refurbished at the taxpayers' expense. We do not yet know where the income from the business premises will go, but somehow we can be sure it won't be to other local schools.

Abacus Free School was inspected by Ofsted five years ago when it had fewer than 20 children and was given an "outstanding" rating without any national exam results - it will not be inspected again under the current regime. The school's current admissions criteria do not match with Camden's and give no priority to children with social and medical needs. It is the only school in Camden to have a catchment area that avoids high density social housing and includes neither its current nor its proposed new location.

According to DfE data - compare-school-performance.service.gov.uk/school/139837/abacus-belsize-primary-school?tab=absence-and-pupil-population - last year, Abacus was undersubscribed with only 121 students, 12.4 per cent are disadvantaged (national average 24.3pc) and only 1.7pc have special education needs (national average 3.1pc).

At a time when Camden has significant problems with falling rolls and is consulting on closing a primary school and has asked several schools to cap their intake, there is no need for an expensive school with a selective intake to be funded by taxpayers.

Camden has little control over this - it is national policy that has had and will continue to have a significant impact on our local schools, but residents of the borough deserve to know the facts.

Fortunately Camden does have the power to reject this application, as it did two years ago. This proposal to locate a school outside its own catchment area will mean parents are more likely to bring their children to school by car in what is already a heavily congested and polluted area at the peak times of 8am to 9am and 3.30pm to 4.30pm.

Misogyny greater than ever at pond

Jane Jones, Kentish Town, full address supplied, writes:

I grew up in the '50s and '60s when, like most of the women of my generation, there was blatant sexism and prejudice against women.

However, many of us managed to deal with these obstacles in our own way and struggle and weave our way through the prejudice, going on to have successful lives and careers. One of the refuges for me was the Ladies' Pond on Hampstead Heath - a quiet place away from the judgement of men and I have swum there for over 50 years.

I had thought that things were getting easier for women with more equality, so I feel an overwhelming sadness to learn that the opposite is true. Misogyny is greater than ever but in the sinister disguise of so-called liberalism. When did it happen that my privacy and "rights", along with other heterosexual women, little girls, lesbians and the orthodox Jewish and Muslim women who seek the haven of the ponds, were superseded by those of a small group who "self-identify" as women? Can someone please tell me how that can be right?

Make all three ponds 'mixed'

Barry Fox, Holmefield Court, Belsize Grove, writes:

Surely the time has come for all three ponds to be designated "mixed".

Then if any woman wants to brave the men's pond they will be welcome to do so, and any man who yearns for the (we hear) grassier slopes and warm showers at the women's pond will be welcomed to sample these pleasures. And those who have for years preferred the friendly and easier-to-get-to mixed pond can continue to enjoy it.

I have now asked Heath managers the City of London Corporation to kindly explain how it justifies continuation of sex discrimination against bog standard male swimmers, given the Equality Act 2010.

No thought for other pond users

Fiona McAnena, full address supplied, writes:

People swim with their bodies, not their gender identities.

Most women don't care what gender identity is in someone's head. They do care about the male gaze, and about male violence. Ministry of Justice stats show that trans women in UK prisons have a male pattern of violence, and are more likely to have committed a sex offence than the rest of the male prison population. [editor's note: this is based on a BBC FOI which the BBC itself has heavily caveated - you can read more at bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42221629]

You argue (Editor's comment) that trans women should be allowed into the women-only pond to protect them from humiliating and potentially dangerous situations. You give no thought to the many women this affects. What a shame that when the Hampstead Ponds women's only pool was established, no one thought to define what they meant by woman. They must have thought it was obvious.

Rubbish system needs a rethink

David Reed, Eton Avenue, Hampstead, writes:

Like most of your readers, I received the small booklet from Camden and Veolia, its rubbish-collection partner, telling me what I can recycle, where and how.

Sadly, though, the main issue remains: demanding that all bins are placed "within a metre of the access point to your property" puts an unnecessary burden on every Camden resident: young or old, healthy or struggling.

The large wheelie bins are hard to move even when empty, and when full are almost impossible for many older people. And, over the last couple of years, the Veolia operatives have routinely failed to return our bins even that metre.

The alternative instruction "if you don't have space then put your bins on the pavement" is even worse: this makes whole neighbourhoods look like rubbish dumps for the whole of collection day.

Most homes in Camden are multi-occupied, with no one in charge of the bins and, since most people are working, the end result is that, all over Camden, bins are left out on the street most of the day, making the whole of Camden look like a rubbish dump!

Camden Council must develop a new contract providing a collection service from properly designated areas, such as the one at the side of our house, rather than making residents do half the work. Where such readily accessible areas do not exist, discussions with those property owners should identify a suitable alternative.

The house I live in is over 120 years old, with nine flats, and has had a sensible and efficient rubbish collection service for all that time, but not any more. This must be changed. The new system is not a service, it's an imposition.

Failing to address patients in care

Martin Hewitt, Save Autism Service, Haringey, writes:

Last week's national news was dominated by the plight of adults with autism and learning disabilities (LD) living in special homes and hospitals, culminating in BBC Panorama's undercover expose of the abuse meted out on adult patients in Whorlton Hall, County Durham.

Readers will want to know if Haringey and other north London Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are funding residents in this establishment and others run by Cygnet, the private company providing care for NHS-funded patients with autism, severe LD and mental illness. Not only should Haringey and other CCGs confirm this, but they should state publicly what they are doing to safeguard these patients.

North London CCGs have progressed slowly in implementing the government's transformation of care programme since 2011 to ensure patients were discharged into supported living accommodation in their local boroughs - the programme introduced in the wake of the Winterbourne View scandal. But many patients incarcerated in hospitals and treatment units in 2011 remain there eight years on. Since 2011, 15 official inquiries and investigations, reports and reviews have failed to put an end to patient abuse and return patients to their local communities. It would be unacceptable if local CCGs accept Cygnet's assurances that these patients' welfare remains safe, when the Care Quality Commission inspected Walton Hall two years ago and declared its care "good". CCGs must take direct responsibility for the patients' welfare and speed up the transfer of their care into local communities without further delay. Government paralysed by Brexit must fund a full raft of social care policies to support these patients.

The 10 years of austerity cuts in social care provisions, implemented by councils and especially by Haringey Council, mean that councils and CCGs have failed to address these critical needs for social care whilst LD patients languish in institutional care at risk of staff abuse.

Thanks for EU election support

Alasdair Hill, Barnet Liberal Democrats, writes:

To the 27,423 Barnet residents who voted for us in the European Elections last week, a huge thank-you for your vote of confidence. Your support really matters.

As the Tories and Labour continue to look inwards and fight amongst themselves our country has been left listless. Investments have frozen, industries are closing and jobs will be lost if we continue to allow Brexit to happen.

Here in Barnet our three Conservative MPs, sitting on small majorities, must now stop ignoring the legitimate concerns that all residents of Barnet, not just the 62 per cent who voted Remain, have over the damage Brexit is doing to our economy and society. With the Leave vote merely switching from the purple of Ukip to the cyan of the Brexit Party the call from residents to Stop Brexit is now loud and clear.

Ban our most polluting vehicles

Peter Rutherford, Pandora Road, West Hampstead, writes:

Correspondent Andrew Dismore, London Assembly member, ("Nominate electric charging points") has missed some points.

Charging points for electric cars are essential. Why does he not direct or incentivise councils to put two charging points at the base of every street lamp? There might be amperage issues but they can be worked on.

If there is such concern for the health of Londoners, why are the worst polluting vehicles, as judged by engine type and actual tail pipe emissions as notified by their recent MOT, not summarily banned instead of being allowed to pollute so long as they pay him to do so?

How we plan to tackle fly-tipping

Cllr Seema Chandwani, Haringey Council cabinet member for neighbourhoods, writes:

Sadly, our beautiful borough has been under attack from people who believe it is acceptable to dump and fly-tip.

As your council, we need to combat this growing problem alongside you as residents.

I am not under any illusions about the scale of the problem nor the levels of frustration amongst residents.

All councillors across the borough share your frustration - we all care about our community and it's disheartening when we see dumped rubbish ruining where we live.

For the next few weeks, I will need time to have a handover from council staff and Cllr Hearn to understand what is in place and the proposed plans.

I welcome feedback on alternatives we can try. I will be searching for ideas from other boroughs with similar factors to learn where they have had successes.

I appreciate all the residents who take time out to report fly-tipping: you help us keep our streets clean. That said, I know more has to be done to feedback how we, as your council, have responded.

It is clear from the public discussions taking place and feedback from residents that clearing up dumps and fly-tips is all well and good, but as residents, you want to see more consequences and enforcement against those who commit these offences.

That you also want more preventive measures including education and ensuring residents understand how to dispose of waste properly and be informed of different ways to recycle and reuse, such as Clearabee.

It is also clear you want assurances that what we currently do is not inadvertently creating problems and you want more clarity about who is responsible for the different spaces (parks, housing estates, etc).

Dumping and fly-tipping have annoyed me for years, long before being a councillor. I am privileged Cllr Joseph Ejiofor has appointed me into a position to do something about it and I am committed to doing my best.

I love this borough - it's been my home for 37 years, and I want the dumping to stop.

Listening and being part of those discussions and comments have given me a constructive list of changes I can get to start with.