Ham&High letters: Nazanin Ratcliffe, Highgate Library, police, the Heath Fortis Green, Abacus school, Brexit and worms

Richard Ratcliffe wakes up outside of the Iranian Embassy during his hunger strike. Picture: LINDA G

Richard Ratcliffe wakes up outside of the Iranian Embassy during his hunger strike. Picture: LINDA GROVE - Credit: Archant

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

Hunger strike for Nazanin

Linda Grove, community campaigner, full address supplied, writes:

Richard Ratcliffe is now on stage three of his hunger strike (as I write this letter) in front of Iran's Princes Gate Embassy in sync with his wife Nazanin who is still imprisoned in Iran.

After three years of being unfairly incarcerated in Tehran jails, repeated appeals, retrials and continually dashed hopes, Nazanin has resolved to embark on a hunger strike to endure until her unconditional release. Tough stuff from a family blown apart as theirs has been.

The atmosphere on the embassy pavement on Monday was remarkably civilised given the nature and duration of the injustice. During my time there, Richard's tent site and basic supplies were surrounded and obscured by embassy staff who erected huge metal barricades and attempted to move off Richard's supporters.

The embassy personnel were unwelcoming but not threatening. The response was stoic. The police officers moderated with patience and skill.

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With luck and endurance, the result might be the sort of attention to secure Nazanin's long-awaited return home.

We wond the campaign, now have say shaping our new look library

Tamara Cincik, chairwoman, Friends of Highgate Library Shepherds Hill, writes:

Thank you firstly for so many in the community for being a part of the campaign I started two years ago to save Highgate Library from a relocation into Jacksons Lane Arts Centre, which proved not only wholly unsuitable, but also utterly unpopular.

Haringey Council has commissioned some plans for works at the library which are being shown at public meetings - on Saturday, June 22, 3-5pm and Wednesday, June 26, 10am-12pm at Highgate Library, 2 Shepherds Hill, London N6 5QJ.

I utterly support the concept of a lift to the first floor (and basement) in line with the Equalities Act 2010, which the Friends of Highgate Library Shepherds Hill have campaigned on and now have the support of the Highgate Neighbourhood Forum for, since we won the campaign to keep the library where it is in its beautiful purpose built Edwardian library building.

But the concern with each of the plans currently proposed is that in each plan there is less space for books and, therefore, peaceful learning - surely the key ask of any public library users?

Also, there is not a clear outline of the upgrading of computers and the lift plans have not been given the same attention as the four other plans, all of which seem to block light between the two ground floor library spaces. This would impact on natural ambient light in the library space, all despite our meeting with Haringey Council several times.

Therefore, I am asking as many local community members to please attend the meeting: architects, local groups, residents, families and library users, to give their feedback and to have their say.

Haringey say that they are open to ideas and we urge you all to attend these meetings, have your say and please ensure that we do not lose book shelves, learning space and light in the process.

I look forward to seeing you at the meetings.

Fight to reverse policing cuts

Andrew Dismore, London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden, writes:

I see Jessica Learmond-Criqui (last week's letters) has woken up after a seemingly prolonged period of silence on the same issue of police numbers. However, it will not surprise readers that I completely disagree with all the main points of her letter.

Ms Learmond-Criqui knows all too well that the drop in police officer numbers we have seen across the capital is the direct result of the swingeing and reckless Conservative government cuts (£1 billion by the end of the current public sector funding round) on top of those implemented by the then Mayor of London Boris Johnson. This went even further due to his refusal to increase the police precept.

It is disappointing, but perhaps predictable that Ms Learmond-Criqui underplays this root cause of fewer police officers in her published letter.

At least she is honest enough to admit to the abject failure of her petition to encourage Camden residents to sign-up to the substantial council tax precept increase that would be needed to plug the gap in police funding. This is important, because any council tax rise beyond that introduced by the mayor in the current financial year (and which is all going to the police, with a small share for the fire brigade) would require approval in a referendum of Londoners.

The failure of her petition shows there is no prospect of that being achieved and all that would result is the waste of the millions such a referendum would cost - and which I hope she would acknowledge is better spent on front line policing.

I would suggest Ms Learmond-Criqui might be more successful if she started a petition on the government website to lobby the Conservatives to drop their plans to inflict yet more cuts to the Met's budget, reaching over £1bn by 2023 and to restore cuts that have already been made with such difficult consequences.

Halfway through her letter, after expressing her dismay at the Donald Trump blimp, Ms Learmond-Criqui veers further off-track to complain about transport funding in London. She says the mayor should pay for Hammersmith Bridge repairs: but where does the money for that come from?

The £50 million Boris Johnson wasted on the Garden Bridge could have funded this, but that money has already been wasted.

Sadly, Transport for London (TfL) funding follows a similar story to policing, with the Conservative government having axed £700 million a year from TfL's budget since 2018. TfL has now become one of the only transport authorities in the whole world not to receive any central government funding for day-to-day running costs.

Her suggestion that the mayor should do away with his staff budget and funding for other projects to pay for police numbers lacks substance. If the mayor were to adopt this strategy, investment in vital work such as improving air quality, planning and delivering more desperately needed affordable homes and preparing London for Brexit - and given how the Conservative leadership election is shaping up a reckless no deal and unwelcome Brexit - would disappear.

Moreover, even if all these and many other vital services and projects were cut, the total amount that would be freed up for policing would still be a small fraction of what would be needed to replace the cuts caused by the scale of government underfunding.

We have suffered almost a decade of austerity, with the Conservative government passing on its duty of care to Londoners to our poorly funded and beleaguered public authorities and third sectors. It's high-time the Conservatives, and their new leader whoever it turns out to be, started to take responsibility for their actions.

Heath guardians deserve thanks

John Beyer, chairman, Heath Sub-Committee, Heath & Hampstead Society, writes:

We would like to commend the swift action by the City of London to remove eight caravans which found their way onto the Heath on the evening of June 11.

The City has proved a good guardian of this magic piece of countryside since it took over the running of the Heath 30 years ago.

Thank you to the rangers and other staff involved.

'Bizarre' decision over Fortis Green

Roanna Benn, Grove Avenue, Muswell Hill, writes:

As one of the presenters to the planning committee, I found the decision to approve the controversial application for the demolition and replacement of 1-9 Fortis Green Road bizarre and disappointing.

Local Lib Dem councillors fought hard to have this application declined but councillors from the east of the borough waved it through.

Sadly, the planning system - ie the planning inspectorate - only allows rejected applications to be appealed but does not allow affected individuals or businesses to appeal against a successful application that will adversely affect their livelihoods. How unfair is that? For that to change, parliament would need to pass new legislation.

In the meantime, fellow campaigners and residents could look at potential grounds for a judicial review - but that is neither easy nor cheap.

Our council has managed to triumph over common sense and public opinion, and preserving the character and nature of Muswell Hill.

Abacus school is no longer needed

Dr Kim Issroff, address supplied, writes:

It is interesting that the head of Abacus Free School defends her school as responding to a need identified 11 years ago.

Things have changed. There are excess places in secular schools in Camden and rolls are falling across the borough.

And their proposed building is not located in an area where there is no need.

Linda Grove, Abacus' chairwoman of governors, is appalled at New End governors. I am the chairwoman of governors at Fleet Primary School. I and my governing body were subject to similar attacks - both publicly and privately - from the governing body of Abacus when we objected to their application for a two form entry school in 2016.

Governors are volunteers who give their time freely to support schools and families in their communities.

I regularly meet with chairpeople of governors at other schools and we respect one another and provide support and advice. We do our best to understand each other's schools and their context and cultures.

It is telling that Abacus' governors are unable to recognise the positions of other schools and governors, the inequity in excessive amounts being spent on a building for their school outside of its catchment, enabling them to have additional income at the tax payers expense and creating an uneven playing field for Camden schools.

Why not rally round Abacus?

Linda Grove, community campaigner, full address supplied, writes:

As a local resident I find it quite extraordinary the lengths that the Downshire Residents Association have gone to by posting fliers into the doors of NW3 households against Abacus School housing the redundant Hampstead Police station that no developer wants.

What a wonderful use of a building to come alive with the sound of children rather than sitting there rotting for years to come.

They have made false, negative claims about Abacus including mentioning there are other sites in Belsize Park, which I would like to know about .

Likewise Linda Davies, governor of New End School says they, "have nothing against Abacus." But how can that be when they have canvassed all their parents to object to the development?

The birth rate does go up and down, do we close schools when the birth rate is low and then fight to get them reopened when the numbers increase?

I have seen school playgrounds and Victorian school buildings sold for flat development all over London decreasing spaces where schools can stand.

That's why the use of the old Hampstead Police station will make a marvellous home for Abacus Free School - a real community walk to school.

People's Vote climb down

Cllr Liz Morris, Highgate ward and opposition leader (Haringey, Lib Dem Party), writes:

The leader of Haringey Council, cllr Ejiofor, used his column in your previous edition (Labour must back a second Brexit vote) to argue that Labour "should be supporting a second referendum" and should "campaign for remain".

Yet as recently as October he moved an amendment to a Liberal Democrat motion that called on Haringey Council to support a second referendum, so it no longer mentioned "a People's Vote" or remaining in the EU.

This was then unanimously supported by his Labour councillors.

Haringey Labour clearly put their party's shambolic Brexit policy before the residents in Haringey - 75 per cent of whom voted to Remain in the 2016 EU referendum.

Only now after the European Elections where the Lib Dems beat Labour in Haringey, and Labour came a weak third nationally, is Cllr Ejiofor supporting voters being given the option to stay in the EU.

What an unedifying climb down.

Worms are vital for biodiversity

Will Atkins, London Essex and Hertfordshire Amphibian and Reptile Trust, writes:

The lead headline "Worms and bats thwart development" (Ham&High) fails to do justice to the ecological importance of the Gondar Reservoir site and the duty that local councils have to maintain their local patch of biodiversity.

The "worms" in question are slowworms, harmless slug-eating reptiles that are in decline nationally and which are found nowhere else in Camden.

Their loss from the borough would - in a small way perhaps - have been representative of one of the greatest threats we face globally, namely the loss of biodiversity.

We are all inextricably interconnected with the "web of life", even in London. The inspector's ruling against the development is a timely and welcome reminder of this.