Ham&High letters: Pond Street gardens, Hampstead Heath, cycling, Keats Grove, Boris Johnson, boundary changes and libraries

A volunteer's dog enjoying the Nurses Garden. Picture: LINDA GROVE

A volunteer's dog enjoying the Nurses Garden. Picture: LINDA GROVE - Credit: Linda Grove

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

Can you help keep our garden alive?

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

Help in watering the Pond Street gardens is needed for the summer.

I know that the gardens have brought a lot of joy to families over the past few years as much as they have to our dedicated community volunteers.

You may not be able to volunteer to work on the garden but you could help with watering a small patch during the summer.

I would meet you and show you what to do.

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All the garden volunteers are either unwell or away on holiday so if you could spare a small amount of time in the evenings to water a patch that would be grand.

The charity have been very generous with the grants they have provided for buying plants and we don't want our plants to die and the efforts of our team be wasted.

Please email me if you can help: grovelinda@yahoo.com

Hampstead Heath can't be used as a cash cow for the City of London

Robert Sutherland Smith, chairman, United Swimmers Association, writes:

Responding to recent reports, it is unfair and partial of the City of London Corporation to treat Hampstead Heath as its north London cash cow, to be milked to cross subsidise new spending in the "Square Mile" - even worse to suggest charging for the use of its ponds for swimming and bathing, when the fundamental purpose of the 1871 Hampstead Heath Act is to ensure that the Heath remains freely open to all Londoners and unenclosed by gates or charges.

In some 150 years, no corporate body managing the Heath (for much of the time the LCC) other that the City has ever proposed charging - contrary to the terms and objectives of the Act; not during wartime, peacetime, good times or times of severe economic depression.

Do they seriously expect people to forget history and a famous Act of Parliament?

Naturally, it is to be expected that a proposition like charging and gates will meet with strong, reasoned and articulate opposition. Many swimmers who can afford it already volunteer regular charitable donations specifically for the ponds.

What is wrong with the City Corporation's planning? Why do they not "cut their cloth" according to their means?

Do they not know how to forecast or budget? How to prioritise existing needs and obligations in relation to new City expenditure of the kind now cited as justification of cost cuts and charging impositions on Hampstead Heath - which exists for the benefit for all manner of Londoners, rich and poor alike?

The City enters new commitments and then pleads poverty, expecting Londoners, many ordinary, unprivileged and hard pressed, to forego statutory rights and then, help pick up the tab as financiers of last resort.

The operating team running the Heath have done an admirable job in bringing conservation and rusticity to this wonderfully preserved stretch of old Middlesex countryside.

Many congratulations to them! Unfortunately, myopic and hapless book keepers and others in the Guild Hall lack the vision to understand an existing obligation from a new one; the relative importance of the legacy of Hampstead Heath to the greater community of Londoners and the significance of the 1871 Hampstead Heath Act.

Stationary bikes are the least of our concerns

Angela Humphery, Willoughby Road, Hampstead, writes:

I understand that Camden's attempts to bring in a new by-law to control dockless hire bikes blocking the pavements could take a year!

At least when these bikes are blocking the pavements they are harmless.

Our pavements have become ever more dangerous to pedestrians, young and old alike. We have push-bikes flying past (whatever happened to bicycle bells? I have two friends who have been seriously injured by cyclists on our pavements), children on plastic scooters, parents on bigger scooters and now we have the threat of e-scooters. My first encounter with one of these dangerous beasts was on Hampstsead Heath last week.

Is nowhere safe for us to wander without being run over?

Developments are disfiguring Grove

Diana Delbridge, Hampstead, full address supplied, writes:

Keats Grove used to be a tranquil, bosky lane with cottage gardens and pretty houses, a relaxing walk down to the Heath.

Now it is being disfigured with huge ugly black gates hiding the houses, and some gardens are being concreted over.

How has this been allowed by the planning committee?

Thousands of visitors from all over the world come to visit Keats House every year.

Surely the street should be protected from this insensitive development.

What are the inhabitants scared of? I ask myself.

What do others see in new PM?

Eugene Myerson, Annington Road, Fortis Green, writes:

A catastrophe has occurred - a charismatic clown has been "elected" (by less than 3 per cent of the electorate) to be our Prime Minister. The Guardian's headline is "An ambition fulfilled. But what next for Britain?" (July 24). Well, let's examine the evidence.

On the debit side, Mr Johnson is "a serial liar, philanderer and shirker.

He was fired from The Times for making up quotes as a reporter, and as an opposition spokesman for lying to his leader about an affair; a spendthrift mayor of London who relied on his deputies while he played to the gallery with vanity projects (eg £43million spent on a "Garden Bridge" that was never built).

He was incompetent beyond belief as foreign secretary; a provocateur of racism and hate crime through his casual insults of our ethnic minorities; and was said to have deliberately misled the public on the post-Brexit economy by sponsoring an advert on London buses claiming that the NHS would get back £350million a week if we left the EU (George Pitcher, parish priest and former secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Guardian, June 18, 2019).

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian June 13, 2019: "Boris Johnson spoke: you can't trust a word." "Barely a word he spoke was true, trustworthy or even faintly plausible, yet he brandishes his charlatanry with bravado." "A man without qualities, devoid of public spirit or regard for anyone but himself, consumed by lifelong ambition, needy for acclaim and irritable when it's denied, willing to swing dangerously in any direction to be loved, a man to shame the country as its figurehead." "His blundering laziness (as foreign secretary) helped to keep a distraught mother stricken in an Iranian jail." "His tax plan gives £10 billion to the rich [...] and he would refuse to pay the £39billion we owe the EU for past debts [which] will render us a pariah state."

On the plus side? Polly Toynbee again: he is a winner (having beaten Ken Livingstone twice for the post of London mayor when the Tories were behind in the national polls); he has charm, "magic" and charisma, and radiates (fake) optimism which "outshines his rivals and dazzles anyone willing to ignore everything we know about his rotten-to-the-core-character." Was this (qualified) positive list enough for Tory party members to vote for him in droves, or have I missed some vital ingredient that they know and I don't?

Do you or any of your readers have the answer? Boris Johnson made an amusing TV guest host of Have I Got News for You many years ago, but Prime Minister material? You're having a laugh, aren't you? (If only.)

Boundary changes would split our community, too

Linda Williams, chairwoman, Netherhall Neighbourhood Association, Maresfield Gardens, writes:

Following on from your lead article (We are Hampstead' urge residents whose homes will come under Gospel Oak in boundary proposals), the proposed ward boundary changes for our area will also split our small neighbourhood in two.

The NNA is a residents' association which covers Maresfield Gardens, Netherhall Gardens and Nutley Terrace.

With the closure some years ago of Netherhall Way, these streets are a virtual cul-de-sac with only three exits/entrances onto Fitzjohn's Avenue.

The area is self-contained and does not allow through traffic for non-residents apart from drop-offs to the schools in our streets.

The published plans of the LGBCE show this area being split between the proposed Belsize and Frognal wards.

The boundaries split the area in half, with Maresfield Gardens north of Nutley Terrace being in the new Frognal ward and the southern half of the street being in the new Belsize ward. Netherhall Gardens is completely taken into the Frognal ward. This makes no sense at all.

The residents' association is very strong, and the area has a coherent character, primarily residential with a few institutions, like South Hampstead High School and the Freud Museum.

There is a strong sense of community within the Association, with social events happening as much as dealing with planning problems, liaison with the local police, school run/pollution issues etc.

There is even a proposal for our three streets to be one of the pilot schemes for the Neighbourhoods of the Future initiative.

To split the community as proposed would have a very detrimental effect.

Our ward councilors are supportive of the local issues we have to deal with and regularly attend residents' meetings.

If we were to be split between the two wards, this would become impossible to manage.

A red line seems to have been drawn by officers of the LGBCE with no understanding of the communities on the ground.

We hope that sense will prevail and that we will either be within Belsize or Frognal, but not both.

An unstaffed library is not a library at all

Keith Martin, Friern Park, Finchley, writes:

Barnet First is a free magazine distributed at public expense to householders. It is described as "the council magazine bringing you news and community information".

The July 2019 issue (number 78) begins with the leader's column.

Dan Thomas tries to put a brave face on what he can do to rescue Barnet from the current spiral of descent. He correctly states that there is more to be done on the council's reporting systems. I suggest:

(1) Convert Barnet First into what it purports to be: the council magazine bringing you news and community information. The July issue continues to publish misinformation. The August issue can begin to put this right, with a special issue explaining what is set out clearly in the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. This act, routinely flouted by many local authorities in the UK including Barnet, imposes on them a statutory duty to provide comprehensive and efficient public library services.

The danger of delaying publication of this fundamental truth is that the council's promised independent review of its policy on public libraries may reinforce the current spiral of decay, instead of heralding a policy change towards becoming compliant with the law. What is at issue primarily is the contentious decision for some branches to become unstaffed. This has been shown to be a contradiction in terms. An unstaffed library is not a library and should not be described as such. The unstaffed libraries in Barnet do not match up to the requirements of the 1964 Act.

Despite repeated invitations to the culture minister to visit some of Barnet's unstaffed libraries to determine for herself the extent to which a single security guard provides a comprehensive service as required by the Act, she has yet to accept the invitation. It will be good to read in Barnet First her views and impessions.

(2) Dan Thomas writes of "young people who dream of owning their own home". He knows that their aspirations remain unrealisable dreams precisely because the prices of new housing in Barnet are not affordable to them.

(3) The nub of Dan Thomas's argument lies in his choice of priorities for the council. This is basic. One thing which he states will not change is his focus on value for money and the need to spend every pound wisely and fairly. Important as this is, his order of priorities is questionable if he gives customer service as only a second area of focus. Come on, Mr Thomas, what it says on the tin is "putting the community first". Any council purporting to serve the electorate must put serving the community as its first priority, and value for money an important second.

(4) So the verdict at this stage is: "Can do better."

I look forward to reading the special August issue of Barnet First, explaining the actions in progress to comply with the 1964 Libraries Act.