Ham&High letters: Save our NHS, cycling and walking, fly-tipping, Camden Council website and Barnet Council

People marched in central London to mark the 70th anniversary of the NHS. Photo: JOHN STILLWELL/PA

People marched in central London to mark the 70th anniversary of the NHS. Photo: JOHN STILLWELL/PA - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

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

Save our NHS while we still can

Tulip Siddiq, member of parliament for Hampstead and Kilburn, writes:

After the celebrations of the NHS’ 70th year, 2019 must mark the year that MPs truly face up to the scale of the challenges facing the service.

This January, A&E waiting times hit their worst level in 15 years. Only 84 per cent of A&E patients were seen within the target of four hours and thousands were left waiting in ambulances.

Though a significant cause of pressure on our NHS is the result of an aging and growing population, the government must take decisive action to address the recruitment and funding crises.

NHS providers have pointed to the pressures on staff as a matter of priority. Pay restraints, cuts to the training bursaries and hostile immigration policies have all made it more difficult to recruit. The 100,000 vacancies, compounded by the 10,257 staff who have left due to unsustainable hours, make it harder for the NHS to provide the world-quality service patients depend on.

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The other challenge is funding. The independent Institute of Fiscal Studies is clear that the NHS needs a 4-5pc annual budget increase to alleviate the crisis. The government’s 3.4pc rise is inadequate, with think tank The Health Fund saying it will simply entrench problems of waiting times and deteriorating equipment.

Throughout my recent pregnancy, I spent a considerable amount of time with local medical professionals. Most shared the fundamental truth that the NHS cannot run on willpower alone. It is time the government offered our doctors, nurses and technicians with the policies and funding that they need to thrive.

Embrace cycling and walking to save lives

Marcus Shields, full address supplied, writes:

Along with many others, I was dismayed by the recent news that the proposed CS11 Swiss Cottage cycle route has, through an arduous appeal and planning process, been cancelled or at the very least shelved until TfL advances a more appropriate scheme.

Regardless of your stance, the key question is not about individual loss, perceived procedural misdemeanours or political gain. More importantly, it’s about the type of city we want to live in.

As a supporter of CS11 living in Kentish Town, I often pass through Swiss Cottage by foot and bicycle with my family. The transition from Eton Avenue past Hampstead Theatre towards Swiss Cottage is a seismic change, transgressing from a positive civic environment with schoolchildren, students, market stalls and theatregoers, to a hostile polluted transport interchange, with six lanes of sedentary traffic pushing public life to the periphery.

Working with TfL, other city areas are embracing cycling and walking to alter outmoded transport interchanges and create positive community space: Archway and Elephant and Castle, to name a few. Even New York has managed to purge Times Square of vehicles and give the space back to people.

Abundant evidence confirms vehicles and resulting pollutants are the “cigarettes of our generation,” causing innumerable early deaths from air pollution with high mortality rates for children, serious injuries and fatalities.

In the publication called “London 2000”, which was a vision for London written by Peter Hall in 1963, the author proposed that traffic “speedways” be built past schools and the Finchley Road replaced by a new M1 motorway.

Thankfully these recommendations were not built. Many of these ideas were old-fashioned over 50 years ago and have no place in cities today. Then as now, they demonstrate how ideologies fixated on vehicles are detrimental to city life.

It appears that Westminster City Council and certain local community groups cannot see beyond this to the bigger picture and are determined to grasp onto an out-dated road and infrastructure system. Time and valuable resources have been expended on CS11 and I’m sure simple mitigation measures based on the current scheme will safeguard the surrounding streets from additional traffic.

We all need to adopt changes in the way we work, live and travel in cities. Embracing positive behavioural change and alterations will ensure city life thrives. I certainly know which side of the conversation I am on.

Fly-tipping fine increase welcome

Hamish Hunter, Nassington Road. Hampstead, writes:

I was delighted to see Camden Council has doubled fines for fly-tipping to £400.

This increase will add give extra teeth to the deterrent against this unhygienic and unsightly habit which has become all too common in Camden.

I have campaigned for a long time for the council to take tougher action on fly-tipping and I was glad when the governing party made this commitment in its manifesto.

In January last year I tweeted my intention to “campaign for Camden to introduce £400 fines for fly-tipping, which blights our neighbourhood” with #CleanUpCamden and #MyPromisetoHampstead.

It has now come into effect and this will benefit all residents across our borough.

Frustration at the new Camden Council website

Mick Farrant, Kentish Town, full address supplied, writes:

Being nearer to 80 than 70 I am rather pleased with myself that I am fairly internet savvy. Alas, many of my age are not and are thus digitally excluded.

Now that Camden Council is driving to have the vast majority of its services online, this becomes a very serious issue.

We know already that the new (it cost £260,000) council website is having “teething troubles”. My latest foray was to try to order garden waste bags, a service which I pay for separately. No joy. What was mystifying to me was a pop-up picture that asked me to identify the squares containing bicycles. The pictures were so small that I was unable to do so and was thus unable to proceed.

Apparently, though nowhere explained, such a device is used to prevent robot users flooding a website.

The council’s rationale for digitalisation is that it will save on customers having to talk to real people and thus cut costs. What it does is to exclude people from accessing services. I suggest this device is removed immediately.

Please do not print a response from the council that customers can ring the contact number as that is whole other story.

Time to ban harmful spray

Kirsten de Keyser, Green Party parliamentary candidate, Holborn & St Pancras, writes:

In this land there is a body of politicians who make no decisions. A proposal is put before them and they don’t know what to do. So they dither and kick the can down the road.

Some of the politicians, from all sides, are very unhappy about this, and gather together to seek a solution. When they find one, they put their idea to their leaders, but their leaders refuse to listen.

So the unhappy politicians go away and work on a different solution. Again, their leaders close their eyes, cover their ears, shake their heads. “Go away!” they say, “We don’t want your solutions.”

Which politicians are we talking about? And what is the proposal they’re debating?

Did you say our Parliament in Westminster? And Brexit? Sorry – nul points!

No, we’re talking about Camden Council and a different kind of poison – glyphosate. The nasty stuff sprayed about by chemically besuited, booted and face-masked council contractors, in order to rid us of a class of foliage, loosely described as “weeds”.

Glyphosate, the main ingredient in weedkillers like RoundUp and Weedol, has been pronounced “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organisation.

Law Courts in the US have sentenced the manufacturers of RoundUp to pay out many millions of dollars in compensation for failing to warn of the devastating effects of exposure to the chemical.

In October 2018, Camden Council was presented with a 1,000-signature petition asking for a stop to the use of glyphosate and a switch to safe, mechanical methods of weed control. It wouldn’t listen.

In January 2019, the council was presented with a cross party motion, backed by councillors from all four parties on the council, suggesting a way forward. There “was no time” to hear the motion, so it was kicked into the (liberally sprayed) long grass.

This week, at the February 25 council meeting, the motion was again put on the agenda.

The Labour group had, by now, cobbled together an amendment to the motion, practically rendering it worthless.

In the event, however, there was again “no time to debate the motion”.

So, from around March 29, Brexit doomsday, the chemical brothers will again start spraying their toxic mix on our parks and gardens. They won’t be spraying in Hammersmith and Fulham or in Croydon or in Lambeth, Bristol or Brighton. These are only a handful of local authorities that have stopped using glyphosate.

But if Camden Council, for some peculiar dark reason, refuses to be dragged into a cleaner 21st century, we demand that it publicises clear timetables for the dates on which it will be spraying, and the locations where it will be spraying.

That, at least, gives ordinary citizens the opportunity to avoid these areas, or, like the men-with-sprays, don their chemical suits, boots and face-masks when they take their children and dogs out for a walk.

Holding Barnet Council to account

Keith Martin, Caroline Powls and Tirza Waisel, members of Barnet Alliance for Public Services, write:

As part of Barnet Council’s consultation on the future delivery of some public services, it held focus groups with local residents, run by Opinion Research Services, an independent research organisation.

We were among a group of 11 known activists who were invited to one group, and we were informed that a second group of “the general public” would be invited the following day.

Our session lasted two hours, was recorded and facilitated by a researcher, and we were given free rein to air our views on the performance of the outsourcer Capita in the two contracts, Customer Services Group and RE, compared with that of in-house council employees.

We questioned the segregation of the two groups of invited participants, which inevitably avoided each group hearing the views expressed by the other one, thus negating an essential ingredient of consultation.

We want to hope that Barnet Council has consulted its residents on the failed outsourcing to Capita in good faith, and will genuinely listen to the outcome of the consultation and act accordingly.

We hope that the segregation of vocal critics of the council’s outsourcing policy from less active residents does not imply otherwise.

The researcher assured us that all our views would be included in her report to the council.

We told her that we relied on this, principally because we felt strongly that the council clearly needs guidance from experienced experts in the local community, such as is routinely received by enlightened councils like Camden, which co-opts advisers to its committees.