Ham&High letters: Police funding, super basements, support Palestinians, 100 Avenue Road, The Win, 268 bus route, Henrietta Barnet School and Kenwood access

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Met Police Commisioner Cressida Dick are under pressure to turn the t

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Met Police Commisioner Cressida Dick are under pressure to turn the tide of violent crime. Picture: PA/LAUREN HURLEY - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

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

Corporation tax should fund police

B J Cairns, Victoria Road, Muswell Hill, writes:

I have noted that police funding letters of Ms Learmond-Criqui have become longer and longer by simply reiterating well-known and accepted facts: that the Met, at all levels and grades, is underfunded and that this is responsible for the increase in all types of crime in and around the capital.

All this has been accepted for months yet Ms Learmond-Criqui has repeated all this coupled with the request for a “referendum”. What precisely the effect of a “referendum” would be, apart from costing a great deal of money is unclear. If she imagines that cash-strapped Londoners on zero-hours contracts, on basic minimum wages in the current gig economy would vote to pay some extra tax for a service which it is the duty of the State to provide then she is either very optimistic or very naïve. Or both. May I suggest the editor requests letters to provide solutions, in short and precise letters, avoiding personal attacks on London’s Mayor.

I am happy to start the ball rolling. In 2010 the rate of corporation tax was 28 per cent. It has since been reduced to 19pc and is due to be further reduced to 17pc by 2020. It is the lowest in the G20. If the rate were to be returned to the 2010 level of 28pc it would raise enough to fund the police and leave a considerable sum for the NHS. I am certain that if this was a referendum the response would be, from those who actually pay taxes, rather than those who take advantage of legal loopholes to avoid them, an enthusiastic “yes”.

Claims super basements are ‘a thing of the past’ treated with sceptism

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Anthony Kay, Hall School Opposition Group, Crossfield Road, Belsize Park, writes:

Neighbours of properties where Camden has recently granted permission for basements are entitled to be very sceptical with regard to Cllr Beales’ assertions in his article last week on Camden’s robust policy on basements and that “Super basements are a thing of the past.”

In January the Hall School, the exclusive prep school for boys in Crossfield Road, Belsize Park obtained planning permission for its £20 million two year redevelopment project involving the demolition and rebuilding of its main site principally to accommodate a new super double basement. Apart from the school, Crossfield Road is wholly residential, but the councillors on the planning committee, which included Cllr Beales, accepted the planning officer’s interpretation that the policy ban on double basements was aimed only at domestic developments.

At best only scant regard is given to the expensive reports obtained from basement construction experts by local residents, especially compared with the amount of time and discussion given to the applicant’s consultants. Even when, as is frequently the case, outstanding construction and engineering problems are identified; it is common for conditional planning permission to be granted with these items left to be dealt with in a basement construction plan and/or in an agreement with the applicant under section 106 of the Planning Acts. In practise it is extremely difficult then for residents to have any say or control to ensure these issues are dealt with properly. In view of this several representations were made to Cllr Beales that Camden’s policy should be amended to make it clear that ideally all construction and engineering issues should be resolved prior to grant of planning permission. He has refused to accept this, even though this change should help Camden in resisting appeals to the Planning Inspector from well funded and well connected applicants.

It is especially galling that a beneficiary of Camden’s current basement policy has been the Hall School, which even by the standards of private schools, is a very elitist establishment. Its current tax free charitable status enables it to contemplate these extravagant projects, although the extent of any public benefit to the wider community is very debateable, especially as the proportion of pupils living locally seems to be decreasing all the time.

Showing support to Palestinians

John McPartlin, Creighton Avenue, Muswell Hill, writes:

Barry Rawlings, the leader of Barnet Labour Party, could not be more mistaken in expressing his recent lack of understanding as to why the party has declined to accept the unsatisfactory IHRA definition of prejudice which it claims exists against Jewish people.

Everyone should of course always be treated in a fair and rightful manner, that goes without saying. The party accepted the general definition that was offered but refused the guidelines that accompanied it as to what this consists of, however, as these seek to prevent legitimate criticism of Israel and its policies - for instance, among other things, it will not be permitted to state that Israel is “a racist endeavour”. Since Israel was created by violently dispossessing the existing Palestinian people such criticism could not be more justified and has a right to be made. Israel was founded on a racial exclusivity that cannot be justified, and is today killing people in the Gaza enclave on a daily basis. Also, it will not be allowed to point out that Israel is in breach of UN Resolutions on its treatment of the Palestinian people and its illegal occupation of their lands, from which under international law it should withdraw but will not do so. With the present Netanyahu government seeking completely to deny the small number Palestinian people that remain not in exile but under occupation any rights at all such amendments are essential.

In any discourse on this question the injustices that have been done to the Palestinian people has to form a legitimate part of consideration but one that this definition on offer seeks to prevent.

That is why Jewish Voice for Labour has welcomed these changes, and wishes to show its support for justice to the Palestinian people and supports activities such as boycott, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel in order to achieve this.

The changes are to be welcomed as the original guidelines sought to prevent any form of support for the Palestinian people, and Cllr Rawlings could not be more amiss in his disagreement with them.

Wary of adapted application bid

Cllrs Luisa Porritt and Tom Simon, Liberal Democrat councillors for Belsize ward, write:

It is welcome news that the Construction Management Project (CMP) for the redevelopment of 100 Avenue Road has been rejected for now.

Residents in the surrounding area remain broadly opposed to the project taking place, and many have voiced their concerns about the CMP in its current form.

That an adapted version of this CMP could yet pass the planning committee stage is however worrying. We have repeatedly made enquiries to Camden Council officers and cabinet members alike about whether they are taking into the account the number of disruptive large-scale construction projects scheduled to take place simultaneously in the same area, to no avail.

With further major work to rectify past failures on the Chalcots Estate due to start early next year, as well as construction for the CS11 and HS2, we and the residents we represent feel frustrated that no individual is taking a holistic view of, and responsibility for, the impact of having these works coincide. Undertaken at the same time, these projects will create additional congestion and noise negatively affect our already poor air quality, and threaten the much loved and successful Swiss Cottage Market.

We reiterate our opposition to the redevelopment of 100 Avenue Road, which will be out of keeping with the area and produce none of the social housing that Camden so desperately needs. Given the unlikelihood that the project could be stopped altogether however, we ask the council at least take a pragmatic stance and delay this project until more important works on the Chalcots Estate are completed.

The Win offered sanctuary to all

Dr Michael Woolf, Tudor Close, Highgate, writes:

The Winchester Hall Hotel, affectionately known by locals as “The Win” on Archway Road remains closed despite the rejection of several planning applications to turn the pub into an apartment.

The rest of the building has been turned into “luxury flats” which as far as anyone can tell remain empty.

In view of the more earth-shattering cataclysms that afflict the politics of this country, this may not be a matter of great or urgent concern to most. However, as I pass the Win every day I am reminded of what we have lost. The Win, in the afternoons, offered a place of safety, warmth and friendship for many older people. It was a place in which women on their own could enter without any concern. They met only kindness and comfort.

I first went into the Win many years ago at a very low point in my life. The owners, Pat and Val, were welcoming and understanding of my own middle-age angst. Better than any therapist could, they offered a space for humour and reaffirmation. Many many others also benefitted from what I can only call a redemptive space marked by laughter and empathy.

The Win was also a place where on any evening you might find a novelist, bricklayer and bank manager chatting at the bar. It was an oasis in which the barriers of class, age, race or gender melted away. Without wanting to be sentimental or nostalgic, it offered an affirmation that what connects us as humans is more important than that which divides us. It was, in many respects , a microcosm of what living in our multi-racial, diverse city should be and how we might cross the hardest border of all to transcend: that which divides us, each from each.

This was for me a unique and special space in which I made dear friends who I would never have met in any other context. Since the closing of the Win the worlds that came together have been sundered and disconnected. My world and those of many of us who frequented the Win have been diminished and impoverished.

For many people, the loneliness that was alleviated in that space has returned.

This was only a pub, but it represented the possibility of communicating across class, race and gender: an idea of precious community. This has been lost. There is nowhere else to go, and friendships have been sadly sundered.

The closing of the Win represents a fracture in the potential to establish friendships and empathy across the boundaries that separate us.

This is too big a price to pay for the greed of property developers who have destroyed an important and rare community. It should not have happened.

Incompetence of timetable change

Derek Coltman, Hampstead, full address supplied, writes:

Suddenly what has always been a vibrant area of north-west London has taken on the distinct air of a remote country village, deprived of vital services.

The 268, a Transport for London contracted bus route, which commenced operation in 1968, provides a vital service for residents in NW11 and its surrounds, wishing to travel to Hampstead, Swiss Cottage and ultimately the Finchley Road 02 centre and vice versa. The buses operated on a timetable of a 10 - 12 minutes’ frequency ( five or six an hour) which was acceptable.

Recently the service, which has had a chequered career of contractors, reverted to its original operator, Metroline. Now we discover that the timetable has been changed to every 20 minutes, three buses an hour! Even then, the drivers are occasionally instructed to wait at various locations for up to five minutes to “even out” the service!

In February The Financial Times carried the headline: “Transport for London heads for £1bn operational deficit.” It looks like NW11 residents and others are being made to suffer for the London Mayor’s incompetence when overseeing TfL’s budget.

Consider school expansion costs

Carol Boulter, Hampstead Garden Suburb, writes:

I was at the hastily announced meeting on Thursday, July 12 to hear a presentation by the headmistress of Henrietta Barnet School (HBS) and their consultant architect of the school’s plans for the extension of numbers and additional buildings, as they wished to apply for a tranche of the Selective School Expansion Fund money currently on offer by the government for the possible “expansion” of selective schools in the UK.

I am a Suburb resident of 40 years, for many of these as a member of the Residents Association Council on its Conservation Committee, and one of its representatives on Barnet’s Conservation Area Advisory Committee (CAAC); also the parent of two daughters at HBS in the ’80s and ’90s from 1st form to 6th form, and a witness for the school in the court case against the Institute as an historian of the relationship between the School, the Institute, and the local authority.

We must consider the educational costs, financial costs, environmental costs, psychological costs and the inevitable unforeseen costs of the rush to a decision. All of these, in my view, militate strongly against any purported benefits to the school.

The educational costs include overcrowded classrooms: the proposed increase in the number of pupils will be from the present 776 to 1,050 - an increase of more than a third on the current numbers (the previous extensions in 2008-10 increased numbers by a mere 68, and that was with 12 new classrooms!) Even though this increase will presumably be over a period of (say) six years, it will inevitably lead to all pupils’ educational impoverishment. The re-instating of such subjects as art, music, and drama, so vital to a worthwhile education of the whole person, has not been stated as a possible potential benefit.

Secondly, have the future financial costs been adequately calculated? These must surely include the increased cost of upkeep and insurance of the school buildings, the cost of extra staff, the furnishing of the classrooms, and any all too likely unforeseen costs. How will the school finance these?

The environmental costs were vividly described at the meeting on Thursday, July 12 by concerned parents and residents. These include air pollution on the site and its surrounds during building and from the greatly increased volume of traffic during the building and especially after its completion.

Kenwood closures unacceptable

Michael Palin, Gospel Oak, writes:

English Heritage’s website justifiably celebrates the beauty of Kenwood House, ‘surrounded by tranquil, landscaped gardens’.

For several weeks this summer these landscaped gardens have been far from tranquil. Or indeed, even accessible. English Heritage have now decided that the best location for their concerts is slap bang in front of Kenwood House.

A terrific arena, no doubt, for some excellent music, but it means that for several weeks one of the most beautiful public places in London becomes an exclusion zone. Over several days, and behind high fences and high security, Portakabins, toilets, generators, cables, merchandising outlets and heavy scaffolding are trucked in on a fleet of low-loaders. When the concerts are over, all this equipment has to be dismantled and trucked out on again. This requires keeping the public out for several more days.

The Kenwood concerts are famous, and bring a lot of pleasure, and though I would prefer them to be less invasive, one knows it’s a tradition and once it’s over, all will be quiet until next year.

But not this time. Only a few weeks later, the security guards and the heavy haulage vehicles and the fences and the toilets re-appeared in front of Kenwood House and the public were once again banished from the ‘tranquil landscaped gardens’ at the peak of this superb summer.

The reason : A week-long possession for a one-day party for Soho House, a private members club.

That English Heritage, custodians for the public of some of our most beautiful locations, and partly tax-payer funded, should be keeping the public out for a week for a one-day private party seems unbelievably irresponsible. But it’s done now, and whilst English Heritage pocket the money (and doubtless plan a similar event next year) members of the public are allowed back to picnic as best they can in the rutted yellow tracks whilst their children roll down whatever grass is left behind.

Will someone from English Heritage please explain how they can justify degrading one of their finest resources, and come clean about the number of days in the year ahead when we shall be refused access.