Ham&High letters: Successful petition, antisemitisim, libraries, digital borough, budget, youth funding, painkillers and electric cars

Campaigners with their petition outside the Flower Seller.

Campaigners with their petition outside the Flower Seller. - Credit: Archant

Petition signatures send sign to council

Justin Hinchcliffe, Sakina Chenot, Councillor Viv Ross, Fortis Green Liberal Democrats Focus Team. N10, write:

How wonderful that 250 local residents and a further 1,000 in the form of a petition objected to Acemark Properties Ltd’s application to replace a much-loved local period building (home to our cherished and popular Flower Seller) with an over-sized and out-of-character monstrosity that could put our independent shops out of business through rocketing rents.

This superb community effort demonstrates that our community spirit is strong, as is our appreciation of the charming and historic built environment that makes Fortis Green and Muswell Hill such a special place in which to live, shop and work.

The clear message from local people is: ‘Don’t approve it, Haringey Council!’

Congratulations to those who went out in cold, wet weather to gather signatures, not least resident and campaigner Diane O’Sullivan.

This controversial application will probably go before councillors once the planning officer has reached a decision.

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If it does, those councillors on the planning committee must be under no illusion about how strong community feeling is about this awful proposal.

Recent antisemitism claims unfounded

Michael Coleman and Sam Weinstein, Brent branch of Hampstead and Kilburn Labour Party, write:

Cllr Phil Rosenberg has disrespected Party rules by writing publicly, breaking the confidentiality of internal party meetings.

Now he has, we must set the record straight.

We are Jewish members of the Kilburn (Brent) branch of the Hampstead and Kilburn Constituency Labour Party (CLP) that Cllr Rosenberg accuses of antisemitism. We authored the motions he refers to.

Cllr Rosenberg is an officer for the Board of Deputies for British Jews and a member of the Jewish Labour Movement, both organisations support apartheid Israel, and like apartheid South Africa they have little respect for the truth.

Cllr Rosenberg says that seven of the last nine meetings of the CLP our branch has singled out Israel. This is not true. In that time our branch has proposed motions in support of McDonalds workers, Rohingya refugees, Labour international, fire safety and housing, tenant involvement in regeneration, against Job Centre closures etc.

The CLP has discussed two (not seven) of our motions that relate to Israel/Palestine, a third, that Cllr Rosenberg mentioned, was withdrawn when our MP dropped her call for another inquiry into antisemitism, before Chakrabarti’s report had a chance to be implemented. Last week’s meeting did not, as Cllr Rosenberg states, reject a parliamentary report from our MP, but voted democratically to hear the Del Singh motion first. Of the two motions discussed in the last period, the first was combined with two other branches, a motion overwhelmingly passed by the CLP in support of Moshe Machover, a Jewish Israeli, expelled from (and later re-instated to) the Party following false accusations of antisemitism (did Cllr Rosenberg vote for or against?).

Second, last week’s motion in support of the Del Singh family whose wishes in the memory of the deceased, a young human-rights defender killed in Afghanistan, and founder of Labour for Palestine, were most disrespectfully trodden on by awarding an organisation that he would have vehemently disapproved – an Israeli-supporting organisation affiliated to the Labour Party.

Cllr Rosenberg’s accusation that we Jewish members are involved in “obsessional Jew-baiting” is unfortunately typical of supporters of Israel – whose organisations claim to represent all Jewish people and which patently do not.

We, like millions of others, many of them Jewish, are part of the Palestinian-led boycott movement, one of the greatest non-violent anti-racist movements of our time.

Libraries pledge needs scrutiny

Alan Templeton, Honeybourne Road, Chair of Camden Public Libraries User Group, writes:

So Cllr Simpson, the Camden Cabinet Member for Culture, has pledged that “there would be no [library] closures on his watch” (Ham & High). Is this reassuring for the borough’s library users? Not really.

The London local elections take place in a few weeks time and all commitments that are not in a party manifesto are considered to be aspirations, at best. One should always bear in mind that there are lies, damned lies and election pledges.

During Labour’s long reign as the dominant Camden political party, dozens of its councillors must have given similar pledges to that of Jonathan Simpson and yet the party has managed to reduce the number of borough libraries by almost 50 per cent. This humiliating achievement has occurred in the face of continuous, widespread public resistance.

It should not be assumed that the nine surviving Camden libraries have escaped the local Labour Party’s antipathy. All but one have had their staff, book stock and opening hours savagely cut. Here, the policy seems to be death by slow strangulation.

It is true that some blame for the sorry state of Camden’s library service can be placed on George Osborne’s over-enthusiastic austerity policy. Much of the damage predates Osborne, but he did provide a golden opportunity for the Camden clique that sees no benefit from public libraries to do its worst.

There are many local issues to consider in deciding how to vote on May 3. Unfortunately, the real facts strongly suggest that Cllr Simpson’s pledge cannot be taken as a Labour party commitment to support Camden’s libraries. On this issue, the party is on the wrong side of public opinion.

Digital aims exclude residents

Leila Roy, Conservative councillor for Belsize writes:

The idea of the Camden 2025 plan is fantastic, but some of our residents are still excluded from it.

I have the honour of being the champion for the visually-impaired. Through meeting with them, and during the Camden 2025 focus group they were invited to, it became clear that some in Camden are left behind. The new plan doesn’t address this sufficiently.

Camden’s obsession with everything digital assumes everyone can and wants to be trained to work online. Not all visually-impaired residents are online, reading software doesn’t read the bubbles and many graphs and illustrations that officers like to put in all our publications.

Residents say that supermarket staff have better disability awareness training than the council’s frontline staff. In one instance, housing repair staff repeatedly asked a blind person to describe what a leak looked like and that without a visual description, a plumber could not be sent over!

The recent change in bin collection in the north of the borough means that some people cannot leave their home on bin collection day. Visually-impaired people are taught to walk along the boundary walls of properties. The current clutter created by wheelie bins and flytipping is making it impossible for many to navigate Camden’s streets.

Alternative budget

Don Williams, Conservative councillor for Swiss Cottage writes:

Camden’s annual budget setting meeting took a surprising twist on the February 26, when the ruling party submitted an amendment to their own budget released only recently. For the first time in my 16 years on the Council, the administration adopted an Opposition point minutes before the start of the budgeting setting meeting but, sadly, refused to admit doing so.

The Conservative alternative budget restored weekly bin collection as part of our cleaner environment policy. It kept council taxes at a low level compared to Labour. And, when reviewing the last four years, our alternative budgets would now result in average savings of £84 per annum, per tax payer.

Most importantly, our budget invested more than £600,000 in 18 more policemen for the borough to combat rising crime levels in our community. The tragic loss of young lives in the borough recently is a case in point. It underlines the need for more policing and safety measures in Camden. Conservative took the lead in combating crime and building a safer community. This forced Labour to respond. Now, they will invest just over £500,000 extra in safety measures. No doubt this would not have happened had we, Conservatives, remained silent.

Now imagine how much safer Camden would be had we held the reins of power.

To-do list for Camden libraries

Peter Rutherford, Pandora Road writes:

Your article on the AGM of the friends of West Hampstead Library, (Camden culture boss: More library closures will be ‘over my dead body’) was useful but, as a daily user of it, I would take exception to the quotation: “Libraries are like churches in that they [people] don’t go there but they think they should be there”.

They do go there.

But frequently, I find every computer in use, except the one that has been defunct for 3 - 4 months. Frequently I find that a critical book is not in stock because the Head of Libraries, Mr. Sam Eastop, thinks it to be a good idea to give a bookseller £300,000 and tell them to send over what they want. Frequently I find that, because books are not rotated around the libraries, a required book is a long way off.

I filed a list of over a dozen issues, not only with Mr. Eastop, but also with FOWHL, and, to date, nothing has been done except for the lifting of bans on certain websites which should never have been banned in the firs tplace.

Both churches and libraries have usage which could be expanded. As far as WH library is concerned, a good start might be some attention to my list, beginning with the restoration of the comfy chairs, rotating books around libraries and buying books subject to user recommendations.

A fourth area might be some efficiencies in central library management. I understand from a most interesting freedom of information request that the central operating costs of the library service is £2,320,178.

Hopes for funds to engage youths

Sian Berry, Green Party councillor for Highgate, and London Assembly member writes:

My work as a Green London assembly member has shown that across London, councils have cut over £30 million from annual budgets for youth services in recent years. In Camden we have so far lost £1.3 million per year compared with 2011, with more cuts planned, while the council has been pushing these services out to the voluntary sector.

The awful violence in Camden last week is a tragic endorsement of warnings by community activists of the growing risk of knife crime. They have been concerned for a long time about young people around Queen’s Crescent, which has lost its youth Connexions office and its local police post.

A year ago the mayor of London told me it wasn’t his job to plug the gaps left by Government cuts in council youth services. But with campaigners I pressed on, gathered the evidence, and now we’ve won real new funds going into projects that will help repair some of the damage caused by these cuts.

I’m very pleased to have worked on this issue and convinced Sadiq Khan to change his mind. The new £45 million three-year fund in the mayor’s budget this month will make a difference to many young lives in London.

In City Hall last week, he told me that anyone with plans can start getting in touch with his team now, and I hope that organisations in Camden that have lost funding or have new ideas will apply as soon as they can.

Drugs don’t work

James Calmus, Labour candidate for Belsize writes:

A painkiller can be prescribed for a headache or antibiotics for a bacterial infection but medication for mental health isn’t quite so straightforward.

Last week Oxford University announced the results of its new, long-term study proving the effectiveness of antidepressants. However, it is also important to remember that our approach to treating poor mental health is most effective when it is holistic. While antidepressants may help to mitigate the symptoms of depression at the point of diagnosis, there are many scenarios where the prescription of drugs alone will not provide a solution for an individual.

On Monday carers, medical professionals, students and MPs came together at an event organised by the Labour Campaign for Mental Health, which I am involved in, to review the Government’s green paper on child and adolescent mental health.

We heard testimonials from parents whose children had been seen by mental health professionals but were not listened to; we read the figures that show, even with reported record levels of investment, that the promised sums of money for mental health services across the country are being spent in other places.

The drugs, we were told, did not work.

We are lucky in Camden that we have services like the Tavistock Clinic employing mental health professionals throughout our family of schools.

These vital services give the youngest that are dealing with poor mental health a variety of ways to be heard in an environment they are comfortable with. The government’s approach to the future of services must appreciate that mental health issues are many and varied, and our services must mirror that.

Following the event on Monday we, alongside Luciana Berger, will be presenting a submission to the government’s consultation on their green paper.

Charge up electric car points

Danny Freeman writes:

If Haringey are so keen on reducing car emissions – then perhaps they could do something to address the woeful lack of charging points for electric vehicles. Last time I looked there were just 13 in the borough (and some of those were broken). I don’t think there are any in Crouch End. I expect there are many people like myself who would dearly love to go electric but without access to private off-street parking have nowhere to charge a car. Maybe the council could work with residents to start installing a lot more reserved charging points.