Ham&High letters: Walking/cycling, NHS, Covid breaches, mental health, road safety and public parks

Pre-lockdown cycling in London. Picture: TfL

Pre-lockdown cycling in London. Picture: TfL - Credit: Martin Breschinski

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

Walking and cycling now vital to all

Cllr Maria Higson, Conservative councillor for Hampstead Town, writes:

Whilst the number of Covid-19 daily infections might be thankfully decreasing, we now need to turn our attention to how we safely reopen our communities.

The first part of this must be a focus on socially-distanced travelling, as people begin to spend more time outside of the home. This is critical not just for residents but for our key workers getting to and from work.

The UK government has announced a £250m fund for local councils to complete urgent active travel plans. This funding is being released now in recognition that work is needed in a matter of days and weeks, not months or years, if we are to keep people safe. As home to the Royal Free – one of London’s largest teaching hospitals and one of the UK’s foremost hospitals in the fight against Covid – Hampstead must surely be one of the areas most ripe for such immediate investment.

Although the scheme is specifically for Covid-related support, it’s important to see this as part of the wider strategy for Hampstead. Prior to Covid, Hampstead was plagued by traffic: most of it generated by commuters and the school run, not local residents, who just bear the brunt of it. The Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan clearly sets out public support for measures that reduce traffic congestion.

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Councillors have already received a raft of emails generally supporting action to encourage walking and cycling – alongside electric vehicles, which are vital to reduce pollution, too.

However, what we need now are the specific schemes to achieve this. As councillors we are working with local residents, associations, groups, and businesses to make sure every good idea is brought into the mix. Speed is of the essence, so please get in touch today via maria.higson@camden.gov.uk, so that we can co-create a Covid transport response.

Plans to restart NHS services

Siobhan Harrington, chief executive, Whittington Health NHS Trust, writes:

As rates of new Covid-19 infections begin to fall I wanted to write to provide some reassurances about using NHS services.

I also want to thank our local community for their support and understanding over the past eight weeks.

To concentrate on our response to the pandemic we took the decision to suspend all but the most urgent operations and treatments. We also changed the way that many of our services work to ensure that we could provide services such as outpatient appointments safely. This included transferring over 20,000 face-to-face outpatient appointments to take place over the phone.

We are now looking at how we can begin to restart some services and are working with NHS organisations across North Central London to ensure that patients who need us can receive the safest care as soon as possible. We continue to innovate how our services are provided, for example some outpatients are now able to choose to have a video appointment.

Whilst staying at home whenever possible remains vital, we understand that some people are avoiding using NHS services such emergency departments and GP surgeries when they are unwell and not attending pre-booked treatment and important face to face appointments. Some people may worry about being a burden at a busy time and others may be scared that they may catch Covid-19.

I want to take this opportunity to reassure everyone that across your local NHS we have put in place a number of safeguards to ensure that all of our patients and colleagues are kept safe. So whilst I thank you for staying at home, your NHS is still here for you and if you need medical advice or treatment visit nhs.uk, call NHS 111 or your GP (or visit their website to book an appointment) or come to our Emergency Department if you need to. Don’t wait: it is safe to see us, when you need us.

Report health and safety breaches

David Prince, Chalk Farm, full address supplied, writes:

At a time of national crisis we look to our elected representatives for support and provide effective leadership.

I should point out that I’ve been a Labour voter all my life so this isn’t a political disagreement, it’s about truth, honesty and social justice.

Camden has a multitude of construction works going on around the borough. We have six within a 500 metre radius. Residents witness infringements of new Covid regulations on a daily basis. This increases the risk of transmission and puts the lives of both workers and residents at risk. London Borough of Camden and Cllr Danny Beales (cabinet member for planning and regeneration) says there is nothing they can do but negotiate with the contractors. The rules are not “mandated”. I contacted the Health and Safety Executive and that isn’t true. They are mandated and they are enforceable. The council should be escalating infringements to them and they can enforce. For the HSE, this is not a time for negotiation, but a time for action.

For the safety of workers, your family and yourself, I suggest people bypass our ineffective local council and report infringements of Covid regulations in the workplace to the HSE, because we can’t rely on Camden Council and Cllr Beales to protect and support us.

Making mental health a priority

Catherine West, MP for Hornsey & Wood Green, writes:

I have long been backing calls for more funding for mental health services across the UK, and this will be particularly important for health and social care workers in the coming months as we slowly start to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

A recent report published by YouGov found that 50 per cent of the healthcare workers surveyed said that their mental health has declined in the last eight weeks.

The government has a responsibility to look after those who have put their lives at risk for us, and this must come from funding and supporting successful local schemes such as those already introduced by north and central London CCGs (NCLGGGs).

During a recent call with the NCLCCG I was pleased to hear that dedicated mental health services are already being offered to healthcare workers in Haringey, with Haringey’s talking therapy service, Let’s Talk, prioritising staff in the health and care sector.

The NHS have also launched the Together in Mind project, which connects and supports their staff in north London during the coronavirus outbreak. As a patron of Mind in Haringey I was also glad to see that, as well as continuing to offer excellent mental health support virtually to Haringey residents, they are also delivering bereavement counselling to frontline staff. We owe it to health and care workers to ensure they receive proper support, and as your MP I will call for this to be a priority for the government in coming months.

Change roads to help save lives

Gudrun Parasie and Adrian Gilson, Crescent Road, Alexandra Park, wrote to Haringey Council leaders, MP and councillors:

Last Friday the secretary of state for transport issued new statutory guidance for local authorities, effective immediately.

Councils are expected to make “significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians”.

This new statutory guidance instructs councils “in areas with high levels of public transport” (Haringey has the third highest public transport use per capita of any authority in England and Wales) to “take measures to reallocate road space to people walking and cycling”.

Furthermore the measures “should be taken as swiftly as possible, within weeks”.

The “urgent need” for appropriate measures includes the installation of physically segregated cycle lanes and closing roads to motor traffic, for example by using modal filters such as planters or large barriers, or bus gates, as set out here.

As this guidance is statutory, with funding provided by government, it is the law that local authorities must comply with when carrying out their duties.

Therefore, filtering through-traffic from our area and giving us a safe cycle route with modal filters on Crescent Road, Station Road, Alexandra Park Road, Durnsford Road and Bedford Road (with bus gates in Bedford and Alexandra Park Road), is not only expedient for the protection of our health and wellbeing, it is a statutory obligation.

Not doing so will lead to more deaths, not only from the usual culprits of air pollution and road danger but from increased risk of the effects of Covid-19.

We trust that Haringey has now prepared emergency plans to carry out these new statutory obligations within weeks, before vehicle traffic reverts to such high levels that the increased used of cycling and walking becomes impossible .

We look forward to the detailed lifesaving emergency measures to reallocate road space that Haringey is going to implement in Alexandra Park and neighbouring areas such as Crouch End and Muswell Hill.

Respect social distancing rules

Mark Camley, executive director, Parks and Venues, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park; Shaun Dawson, chief executive, Lee Valley Regional Park Authority; Tony Leach, chief executive, Parks for London; Andrew Scattergood, chief executive, The Royal Parks; Richard Parry, chief executive, Canal & River Trust and Colin Buttery, director, Open Spaces Department, City of London, write:

As those responsible for some of London’s key open spaces we are not surprised that during these difficult times our parks, green spaces, towpaths and riversides have become a vital part of our national response to coronavirus.

When for many years London’s world-beating open spaces have been taken for granted, it is the challenges of a pandemic which have made many people realise just how precious our open spaces are for the millions who live in the capital.

We wrote to Londoners at the start of April asking that you do everything you can to help us keep the spaces open. It has not been easy, but the vast majority of those going out and about have followed the rules and played their part – along with our dedicated staff – in making sure that there have been places where people can go out for their daily exercise.

Now we have reached a new phase and from today some elements of what you can do outside will change. However our message remains the same – please respect any regulations in place at the open spaces you visit – we can only keep our parks and green spaces open if you continue to help us.

Social distancing remains – keep two metres apart from people outside your household. Sitting outside is allowed – but again keeping your distance from those not in your household. It might be that on occasions those working hard to keep these spaces open will ask people to move on as areas are getting too crowded, please respect that and be kind in your response as they are only doing their job to keep open spaces safe. We ask you to support us so we don’t risk losing these opportunities.

Try to stay local if you can. If you do need to travel to enjoy open space then consider if it is absolutely necessary, it could put unmanageable pressure on our car parks and public transport if sensible choices are not made. Finally, at the places you visit look out for information on what facilities are open and closed and how they should be used, such as those that might allow limited sports activities.

It is not difficult to help us – it is a question of being alert and sensible, looking out for information, listening to advice and doing the usual responsible things such as taking your litter home and keeping your dog under control. Please also respect those living next to our open spaces and alongside our rivers and canals.

Our teams are working hard because we know how important it is for everyone that the great outdoors is accessible to everyone in London – and we are proud to be part of that effort.

For more information on using London’s open spaces please visit.