Ham&High letters: Newtown Community Centre, BID, remember Barnet, pensioners group, King’s Cross pictures, surprise at Cllr Ejiofor, Belsize latest and Camden’s Peoples’ Vote

Protesters outside Highgate Newtown Community Centre at the beginning of October. Picture: FRANK CHA

Protesters outside Highgate Newtown Community Centre at the beginning of October. Picture: FRANK CHALMERS - Credit: Frank Chalmers

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

Community hall is unique

Sally Donati (community centre user) and Tamar Swade (pilates teacher), write:

Regarding the article in the Ham&High, “Pilates group’s heartbreak at plans to demolish Highgate Newtown Community Centre”.

We should like to emphasise that the proposals for new community facilities as part of the redevelopment of HNCC can only partially replace the existing community centre in terms of space, equipment and facilities. There are, we would suggest, very strong reasons for retaining the original gospel hall.

• It was donated to the local community by a wealthy benefactor (Elizabeth Coutts) along with the rest of the HNCC site.

• It is listed by Camden.

• It offers unique facilities – has a stage, a screen, exceptionally good acoustics, a parquet floor, and is airy and spacious. It is thus perfect for drama, music and dance activities as well as for activities such as gym, pilates, yoga, training/study courses and community functions.

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• It is in excellent condition.

• It was recently rebuilt by Camden in its current form at considerable expense to Camden taxpayers.

For those wishing to support our petition to retain this gospel hall as a community facility, please visit this link:

change.org/p/luke-joyce-camden-gov-uk-save-highgate-newtown-community-centre-facilities or alternatively send objections to luke.joyce@camden.gov.uk.

Bin the BID – most of us didn’t want it, and it was badly explained

Emmanuel “Mustafa” Goldstein, editor of the Hampstead Village Voice, writes:

Recent articles in both the Ham&High and Camden New Journal regarding William IV landlord Jim McGrath and his refusal to pay the Hampstead Village BID Ltd’s (BID) contentious levy were most welcome, but neglected to point out one or two crucial details.

Firstly, Camden’s stance that “a clear majority” of businesses backed the BID is based on 73 businesses voting in favour of it and 38 against – a very misleading picture because, of the 243 businesses asked, only 30 per cent actually voted in favour of the thing: some 70pc either voted against it or at least didn’t vote for it.

After the ballot, several businesses complained of not being properly informed that all 243 businesses would be forced to pay the levy whether they voted or not.

Hampstead Village BID Ltd claimed it informed every business of this. But the manner in which it did so was questionable: it mailed out a 28-page business plan that made no mention of the mandatory nature of the levy’s obligatory nature until the very last paragraph of the very last page – and then only in small print. So hardly surprising very few businesses were aware of it.

The BID’s plan also failed to properly inform anyone about charities, state schools, NHS surgeries and local community centres being forced to pay it for services they’d neither requested nor required.

So the majority of businesses, 132 to be precise, did not turn out to vote because they simply weren’t made aware of the facts. That’s a reality Camden and the BID choose to ignore. We hope you won’t.

Several businesses who didn’t vote have since claimed that, had they known about the above, they would most definitely have turned out to vote down the BID and several of those who voted “yes” to it have since confirmed they would never have done so had they been aware others were to be forced to pay it against their will.

As for the legitimacy of the ballot itself. This was the first ever vote of its kind in Hampstead. Naturally, everyone took it for granted that no business need ever pay another business a penny if it hadn’t first agreed to do so. After all, this has, up until now, been the default setting of doing business in Britain. It’s called freedom and contract law but seems somehow to have been swept aside by this peculiar manipulation of both the ballot system and the Localism Act of 2011, intended for local neighbourhood forums not extortion rackets.

Surely, in the free world, if 30pc of 243 businesses pop off to vote in favour of some private limited company charging a fee for a scheme that 70pc don’t want, it shouldn’t result in those in that 70pc being forced to pay it? After all, none of them agreed to it and no contract was ever signed.

As far as we can see, the Hampstead BID is not only an abuse of contract law, but also a rather sinister manipulation of democracy, because Camden’s ballot system, which the BID used in order to get its way, is the same one used for general elections and referenda. That is, it is designed for polls accommodating more than one campaign as in the Reds versus the Blues, Yes’s v No’s, Ins v Outs – that sort of thing. Yet there was only one campaign in the run up to this Hampstead BID ballot. It was called The Road to a YES Vote and the only information anyone received came directly from one source: Hampstead Village BID Ltd.

Tulip Siddiq has told us she will raise this in parliament and challenge the legislation that has allowed a private limited company to use a council to enforce payment on its behalf from unwilling third parties: not least charities, NHS surgeries and state schools.

My guess is we’ll have to wait till the next ballot to be rid of it. But the BID will receive a well deserved elbow at the next ballot (in two year), because at least 170 businesses, charities, state schools and NHS surgeries in Hampstead can’t wait to deliver it the Spanish archer. It can’t come soon enough.

Glad to see you focusing on Barnet

Keith Martin, Friern Park, Barnet, writes:

Sam Volpe’s accurate report of Barnet Council’s financial performance and contracts committee (October 18) tells us of the council’s continued resistance to allowing the whole truth to be told about its dire financial plight.

In fact the reports presented by council staff to the meeting still showed only half the true facts. My questions, submitted in good time to be on the agenda, were deemed “out of order” because they asked for information the councillors found unpalatable, so they chose to hide them from the press and public.

What is the forecast total cost of reversing staff redundancies and structural changes to 14 libraries?

What is the forecast timetable for implementing the restorations envisaged?

With the probability of a public enquiry “soon”, the culture minister wrote in August, into the legitimacy of Barnet’s action in contravention of the 1964 Libraries Act, this information should have been part of the officers’ report.

Given that the Grant Thornton report will be discussed in public on November 22 at a council audit committee meeting, and action confirmed at the council meeting on December 11, at which decisions on staff redundancies will be taken, the truth needs to be told with no further delay.

The stifling of the truth is no small matter. Parents must decide on their choice of countries in which their children will be educated: countries that allow the publication of the truth or those who stifle it in the public interest? Barnet Council, you are not above the law. You have this on your conscience.

Latest from local pensioners’ group

Janet Shapiro, on behalf of Hornsey Pensioners Action Group, hornseypag.org.uk, writes:

October has brought a whirlwind round of events for pensioners in Haringey. On Older People’s Day, October 1, Hornsey Pensioners Action Group (HPAG) handed out leaflets outside Hornsey Central Neighbourhood Centre. These celebrated the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) campaign Unite the Generations. The NPC opposes any phoney war between the generations and we join with young people to stand up for better public services.

A People’s Day event took place on October 9 at the Learning Centre, Tottenham Green, that was heaving with voluntary groups and local services of all sorts. This was organised by the Haringey Pensioner Action Group affiliated to NPC based in Tottenham and brought many groups together.

Haringey Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) held two public meetings on October 11, also at the Learning Centre. Local groups, Haringey Keep Our NHS Public (HKONP) and pensioners were very vocal at both the afternoon and evening meetings.

We objected that the CCG had neglected to include some very important contentious issues on the agenda. These included the consultation being carried out by NHS England on a draft contract for Integrated Care Providers (ICPs) that would represent an enormous upheaval in the way the NHS is organised. This is very important: being unaccountable, with non-NHS organisations on track to get contracts to run NHS services for half a million people across a whole geographical area, for 10 to 15 years.

It is totally unacceptable that consideration of such an important proposal be conducted though a brief little known consultation that ends tomorrow (Fri)! There should be parliamentary scrutiny of ICPs. Everyone is urged to sign the online petition at keepournhspublic.com/news/scrap-the-icp-contract-rally-and-petition-to-save-the-nhs/.

If you can, please join the petition hand-in to parliament at 10.30am tomorrow at Old Palace Yard, Westminster.

On October 1 local pensioners also publicised the HPAG meeting on October 17. The topic was the crisis in social care with speakers Cllrs Peray Ahmet and Gordon Peters. The question addressed was how Haringey Council was going to cope – how could statutory social care duties be effectively delivered while severe cuts in funding continued? The government’s failure to fund public services adequately, both the NHS and local authorities, was acknowledged. But there was a notable determination that the community should work together. It was clear that residents have ideas to confront the challenge. Cllr Zena Brabazon called for submissions to the Fairness Commission on a range of local services and announced a public meeting on November 1.

Activities in October show pensioners are a vibrant section of the Haringey community.

Why no older pics of King’s Cross?

June Gibson, Chandos Way, Hampstead, writes:

Regarding your article on the King’s Cross story (October 18).

In seeing articles and photos of King’s Cross, or any area come to that, the photos shown are never of the post-war period to very recent times. Did no one photograph scenes of areas in 1945 to 1995?

Although truly historical pictures are interesting, later photos are relevant to those alive today who enjoy seeing scenes from their younger days.

Not many people had cameras at one time so they could not record their environment.

Surprised to hear Jo back EU friends

Mikolaj Stoma, Lordship Lane, Wood Green, writes:

I was surprised to read an article in the Ham&High (View from the chamber) by Cllr Ejiofor, titled “Showing friendship to our EU nationals”, where the councillor states that he “firmly believes Britain’s future is best within the European Union”.

The debate he refers to is the one where I made a deputation to the council in the hope it would support a people’s vote on the final EU deal with an option to remain. I spoke of the impact the referendum result had on me and others as EU citizens.

Both at the meeting and in the article, Cllr Ejiofor made sympathetic reassurances regarding his commitment to support EU nationals during the transition period.

Yet he and his fellow Labour councillors made major changes to the Lib Dem motion being debated and voted against a people’s vote.

How can he claim to believe our future is best within the EU when he voted against people having any say in our future within or outside the EU?

An update from Belsize Village

Linda Grove, Belsize Village, full address supplied, writes:

We in Belsize Village are delighted, after our “no to the Co-op” campaign, to welcome Olivier Bargues and Cyril Hanrival as the new owners of Belsize Kitchen.

We may have lost XO but they managed to acquire the beautiful yellow sofas from Will Ricker, XO owner, and have rolled up their sleeves to renovate the restaurant themselves. If we want Belsize Village to survive, we need to support our local traders.

Cllrs Adams and Higson are working with me to improve the pavement and the rubbish, which is in a poor state, and St Christopher’s School are going to sponsor a flower planter which they will maintain with the girls. This is all good news for our little piece of heaven.

Angela King from Heywoods estate agents continues to serve the Village by organising the Christmas lights and flower baskets, all of which cost money, so please call into her office and help with a donation however small that is.

If anyone has any links to businesses about a business that might be interested in the XO site, please make contact with me.

Which side will Camden be on?

Michael Romberg, Tottenham Street, Camden, writes:

Seven hundred thousand people, including many from Camden, marched on Saturday for a referendum on the terms of Brexit with the option to Remain.

On November 12, Camden Council will debate whether to call for a people’s vote with a Remain option. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats put forward supportive motions for the last meeting, which ran out of time.

But Labour’s support was then conditional on a general election not being available. Whatever the arguments for or against a change of government, it would not affect the realities of Brexit. We should have the chance to vote on the deal whoever is sitting in Downing Street.

Bromley rejected the motion. Haringey backed a people’s vote only if there is no general election and with no commitment to Remain being an option. Eight councils, the London Assembly and the mayor of London have backed a people’s vote with no general election pre-condition and with a Remain option: I would urge your readers to contact their councillor and tell them which of these lists they would like Camden to be on.