Ham&High letters: Nazanin Ratcliffe, Heathside School plan, housing crisis, road sign fine and Corbyn

Nazanin's garden - YoungKyung Hahn, who was visiting from Korea, helped plant spring bulbs. Photo:

Nazanin's garden - YoungKyung Hahn, who was visiting from Korea, helped plant spring bulbs. Photo: LINDA GROVE - Credit: Linda Grove

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

My excitement at Hunt’s Nazanin announcement

Linda Grove, volunteer gardener for the RFH charity and campaigner for Nazanin’s release, writes:

So Jeremy Hunt will give Nazanin Ratcliffe diplomatic immunity!

My heart missed a beat as I heard the news. It’s taken our Foreign Office three years to reach this decision and three years of campaigning by Richard Ratcliffe to get his wife and daughter, Gabriella, released and returned to West Hampstead.

I can’t imagine that the Iranian authorities will suddenly have a change of heart and send Nazanin home, but it will open more doors to get support on the world stage through the UN.

For the past few years I have created a garden for the memory of Nazanin and this year I have planted it with daffs and seeds for wild flowers, helped by a friend, YoungKyung Hahn, who was visiting from Korea.

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On good days, weather wise, folk come and sit by the garden and can read up-to-date news about Nazanin, hopefully transmitting their support and love for this local family. I have some painted memory stones on the garden and it would be marvellous if families could paint a stone for Nazanin and add it to the garden.

Nazanin’s garden is on Hampstead Green.

Scrap Heathside plan and build new school

John P Graham, Hampstead Village, full address supplied, writes:

The thought of Heathside School applying for planning permission to take over and use Jack Straw’s Castle (Ham&High) for yet an additional school location completely beggars belief and, as such, I have had no hesitation in submitting to Camden Council my objection to this foolhardy proposal.

I cannot think of a more dangerous or worse location for a school. It would be immediately adjacent to a busy traffic intersection with highly-dangerous levels of air pollution, major traffic congestion, exacerbated further due to the twice-daily school runs; both of which coincide with the morning and afternoon commuter rush hours.

In addition, this would also involve children having to frequently cross busy roads on which some motorists demonstrate scant regard for safe speed limits.

Furthermore, there would be no on-site provision for children’s play since the former pub’s rear courtyard is now given over solely for use by the lessees of the first and second floor flats as their shared outdoor space; this being incorporated within their leases. Whilst the west heath is nearby, nonetheless off-site playgrounds are not the best of solutions since children would then be away from the school during both lunch and playtimes. The legal terms “duty of care” and “in loco parentis” spring to mind here.

Looking to the future, surely it is now high time the Heathside School’s board of governors and Ms Remus looked at consolidation?

Currently the school operates out of six separate sites within Hampstead Village, necessitating pupils, staff and parents having to move from site-to-site. If this latest application is granted then it will have seven and, in fullness of time, maybe even more sites.

Surely it is now time to look at the bigger picture and give serious thought to bringing all of these separate disciplines together on one larger site; maybe a new, purpose-built facility or to take over a suitable-size vacant property. If this is not possible in the immediate area, then a nearby area would certainly be worth consideration.

School expansion is not the answer

A local resdient, full name and address supplied, writes:

I read the Ham&High article about Heathside potentially moving in to Jack Straw’s Castle last week.

I live in the midst of Heathside’s many locations, and there is evident local opposition to the untrammelled expansion of Heathside School, as you surely must know.

There has been a long running campaign to save the White Bear pub, which the school has prevented. Heathside’s takeover of a building in West Heath Road as a “boarding school” is potentially in breach of planning laws.

Camden Council are currently surveying local residents on plans to introduce traffic control measures to mitigate school run congestion problems in the area. The Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum is objecting to the plans for Heathside to move into Jack Straw’s Castle due to a number of very valid concerns, primarily the increase in traffic, and the fact that there is already considerable air pollution in that location.

Heathside has expanded from just over 100 pupils in 2010 to 554 in 2018. No other private school in the area has been able to expand like this, and the school’s policy seems to have been to move into premises first, and seek planning permission for change of use later. Is this really what Camden Council want to encourage?

There are plenty of excellent private and state schools in the area who have to obey the rules in terms of pupil numbers and use of space – Abacus School being the most obvious example.

Thatcher to blame for housing crisis

Cllr Patrick Berryman, Bounds Green ward, Haringey, writes:

Last week you pointed out how the pressure on council finances is so severe since the 2010 Con-Dem coalition began austerity that local authorities are now forced to sell off assets to make ends meet.

I agree entirely with the main point being made – that councils have been starved of the funds needed to survive financially and meet residents’ needs – but I want to add a bit of context around the figures.

The piece states Haringey has made £122m in capital receipts since 2014/15. It is important to note that the majority of these capital disposals are Right-to-Buy receipts, something the council has no control over. Under this a tenant can apply to buy (at a large market discount) a unit of the council’s housing stock with the proceeds being ringfenced to replace the housing with such severe restrictions imposed by the government that it’s almost impossible to use.

Of the £122m you mention, only £50m is money the council could use under the government’s “flexible use of capital receipts” scheme. As you rightly point out up to £8m of this has been used by Haringey to meet the cost of staff redundancies… but I want to be clear that these are redundancies we are forced to make as funding is removed for services: eg last year the government stopped funding school improvement services.

Right to Buy has led to nearly 9,000 council homes being lost in Haringey since its introduction under Margaret Thatcher (with over 40 per cent of those falling into the hands of buy-to-let landlords) which is one reason this Labour council want to begin to build at least 1,000 more by 2022. It’s also why, since being elected mayor, Sadiq Khan has made provisions to hold RtB money for London councils to prevent it being lost to central government.

It’s clear that there have been some tough choices to make as a result of brutal and continued austerity.

I hope this letter shines a spotlight on the complexity of the issues facing the council, the limits we face but also the ways Labour are trying to find to improve things.

‘Inappropriate’ road sign fines

Peter Prebble, Hampstead, full address supplied, writes:

I notice the very many parking suspension notices in Highgate at this time are because of tree works and probably some motorists are receiving notices referring to out of normally restricted hours parking.

You might be interested to learn that a year or so ago I appealed against a parking notice re South Grove, Highgate, and won. The reason being that I was parking outside the 11am to 1pm restricted hours but the council’s notice used the word “suspended” on the assumption its control extended beyond these two hours.

I appealed on the basis that the use of the work “suspended” could not apply outside the restricted hours as the council had nothing to suspend. I won on appeal because of the use of inappropriate wording. Despite this they still use the same wording.

False accusations against Corbyn

John McPartlin, Creighton Avenue, Muswell Hill, writes:

Haringey cabinet member Noah Tucker was quite right to remain steadfast in his backing for Labour MP Chris Williamson, who had been a consistent critic of Israel and a supporter of justice to the Palestinian people (Labour councillor defiant).

The orchestrated false accusations of prejudice against Jeremy Corbyn are intended to keep him from attaining office and of bringing around some much needed change, and as was rightly said has everything to do with an attempt to promote the power, the privilege and the huge wealth of a tiny minority and of shoring up a corrupt state such as Israel.

No concession should be made to these attempts in either respect, and Williamson had been right in stating that too much ground had already been given to them. Corbyn’s argument that the essential utilities should be taken back into public ownership when their contracts run out and that the wealthy must pay their proper share for the benefit of everyone else alarm the Labour right and they have seized upon his views on the subject of Palestine in order to see him defeated. That is why this must be recognised for what this really is.

At 1pm on the 30 of this month there will be a Rally for Palestine Exist-Resist-Return outside the Israeli Embassy that everyone who hopes to see Jeremy Corbyn in office should support.