Ham&High letters: Co-op, Henrietta Barnett, CS11, cut to buses, parking, Kenwood House, bins and weed killer

Residents and councillors outside the former XO restaurant that is set to become a Co-op in Belsize

Residents and councillors outside the former XO restaurant that is set to become a Co-op in Belsize Village. Picture: Linda Grove - Credit: Linda Grove

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

Councillors’concerns over Co-op

Cllr Steve Adams, (Cons) Belsize ward and Cllr Maria Higson (Cons) Hampstead Town, write:

We are very concerned by the news that the Co-op has purchased the lease to what was the restaurant XO in Belsize Village. Belsize Village is a small local centre with a community of independent shops which local residents have worked for many years to protect. With this in mind, we spoke to the Co-op last week to find out more about its detailed plans and to express our concern at the possibilities for real disturbance and damage to the local fabric.

Having campaigned against Tesco opening on the corner of Belsize Grove, we understand well the worries residents rightly have about licencing hours and lorry movements that can blight local streets. The ward already suffers regularly from the uncontrolled deliveries occupation of the road and pavement in England’s Lane. If the Co-op is not able to demonstrate that the store will be operated with minimal impact then there is a serious question about whether it should open.

We have already spoken to a member of the London Assembly, with experience in planning, to see what can be done to address these threats, since the Co-op does not require planning consent to open here.

If the new store cannot be stopped, it is vital Camden uses every tool to ensure that the Co-op operation is restricted to acceptable delivery arrangements, reasonable licencing hours, suitable design and general good neighbourliness.

Expansion of Henrietta Barnett is bad news for Garden Suburb

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Isabelle Ficker, Bigwood Road, NW11, writes:

Living close to Henrietta Barnett School as I do, I have always appreciated the way it advises neighbours of open days, exam days and interview days. I was therefore surprised and disappointed it did not extend the same courtesy in relation to the proposed expansion, particularly as this would have a significant impact on the local community.

I was unable to attend the public meeting (“Historic school has a fight on its hands”, Ham&High, July 19); however, having looked at the online survey, I note that it was structured to be very clearly biased in favour of the outcome the school hopes to achieve. No mention is made of the fact that the buildings were never intended for secondary schooling or that the rooms, some of which are very small, are not appropriate for secondary classrooms.

The main building in Central Square was designed primarily for adult education (the Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute) and its objectives were “to promote the mental, physical, social and moral welfare of the community generally and of those dwelling in the Hampstead Garden Suburb and the immediate neighbourhood in particular and to encourage learning, temperance and goodwill among all classes of the community and among individuals”. Note the “Suburb” and the “immediate neighbourhood” and then remember that local girls account for just 2 per cent of the current school population and Barnet girls just 30pc. The diverse size of rooms reflects the original purpose of the building which was to provide space for arts, crafts, music and meeting rooms.

In 1965 the school was offered land on the other side of the North Circular with purpose-built premises and the possibility of expanding. The school turned it down, preferring instead the “prestige” of the Suburb. Given this, the school has, in my view, forfeited the right to further expansion.

The current vogue for “teaching suites” means students who are still-developing physically have to carry heavy loads round the school from lesson to lesson. This is undesirable at the best of times but even more so in one of the top educational establishments in the country. Priority has to be given to getting the basics right for the existing school population.

More building will inevitably result in the loss of outdoor/green recreational space. The girls are already pushed academically and need outdoor “downtime” to let off steam and keep a healthy balance.

The school should be looking to improve “green” facilities on-site instead of building. This would be a wonderful initiative, enhancing the setting of the school, improving the view onto the school from neighbouring houses (the netball court on the corner of Bigwood Road and Northway is, frankly, a disgrace) and, most importantly, enabling the girls to engage with the natural world around them. Just for the record, the grounds at Henrietta Barnett used to be beautifully kept and full of rose bushes.

As for the site, it already caters for many more people than was intended and cannot cater for an additional 300 pupils plus the inevitable necessary increase in teaching, administrative, cooking and cleaning staff.

The survey does not consider health and safety (some classrooms are too small for the classes being taught); getting out in case of emergencies (the school is surrounded on four sides by roads; it also closed off the gates in Southway and Northway a few years ago that provided emergency access to and from the back of the buildings); the inevitable increase in traffic and parking (parents dropping off/collecting children; school buses; parking by yet more teachers, sixth formers, admin staff, food delivery lorries etc) that will also inevitably increase noise levels and air pollution; noise from girls screaming; litter (the girls drop empty bottles, sweet papers, crisp packets in the street); light pollution from security lights (the school’s lighting, particularly in the main entrance on Central Square, blinds anyone who walks past). All these issues are important and have a direct impact on the quality of life of local residents.

I am not necessarily against increasing grammar school provision; however, it is not suitable on this site.

A much more efficient alternative would be to “adopt” a satellite school; this would allow HBS to expand without the need for building. It would have the added advantage that it would create a broader geographic spread of educational provision and allow children who are currently bussed in to be educated closer to home.

As far as the financial side of things go, the school has already expanded at least twice in order to attract further funding. If that has failed to resolve its financial “difficulties” it rather suggests there is a more fundamental problem and that further expansion is unlikely to resolve them.

Outrageous for TfL to cut our buses

Sharon Lytton, Cromwell Avenue, Highgate, writes:

Transport for London, ever a law unto itself, is definitely traveling in the wrong direction over buses. Locally we have just had reduced service on the vital C11 cross link serving Both Royal Free and Whittington hospitals, plus the 268 and 31. Now the extremely useful, efficient and usually more pleasant C2 bus route is to be taken away.

Sadly TfL is notorious for ignoring and manipulating public “consultations”. Will councillors, MPs and the mayor of London do more to support bus travel and passengers?

TfL’s mantra that “every journey matters” to it is false when much needed bus routes are being undermined or lost. The network is being continually weakened. And then there is the Go Slow Policy where buses with passengers sit at stops or deliberately crawl along to fit some mythical schedule and punish bus companies for being over two minutes early or late – in a megalopolis!

And some buses are filthy because less cleaning is also a “saving”. All this only further discourages bus travel creating a downward spiral of decline and congestion. For TfL to pretend that buses cause congestion and thus need to be cut is absurd.

For “the greatest city on earth” as the mayor likes to call it, this is a lose-lose strategy for public transport fundamental to social, economic and human health.

Why not have some vision and imagination instead of a penny-wise-pound-foolish approach with phoney consultations to justify poorer bus services?

Why not keep or enhance bus routes and find ways to promote bus travel at the heart of London’s wellbeing and growth in the London Local Plan? Make using buses more convenient and pleasant rather than slower, more difficult and grotty. When Fares Fair was brought in on the buses it cut traffic congestion by 11 per cent almost overnight. But this didn’t suit the dominant ideology of the times – which although bankrupt hasn’t changed for decades. We need a modern vision for buses, not a graveyard.

The mayor is the boss of TfL. Electors will hold him to account over the ease of travel on much loved bus routes. It’s about time he stepped in and stopped the rot on the bus network. And it’s long overdue that government genuinely worked with the mayor to properly fund a first class bus system for all in London. Finally, put people in charge who love buses and listen to bus passengers and staff – to change the direction of travel.

CS11 won’t solve safety problems

Clara Weiss, Hampstead, full address supplied, writes:

I recall my own close-call collision on my bike with a car near Swiss Cottage Gyratory, and, thankfully, have only a broken shoulder to show for it. So of course cycle safety is paramount; everything should be done to ensure cyclists are protected from motor vehicles.

But why are cycle superhighways being heralded as the one and only solution?

It is surely in bad taste for the cycle lobby to use the tragic deaths of cyclists to champion TfL’s claim to this tiny strip of road in Swiss Cottage for the contentious Cycle Superhighway 11. It seems a desperate ploy just as the CS11 hearing approaches.

TfL should be promoting and continuing to develop London’s well designed cycle Quietways, investing further in clearer cycle lane markings, better junction signaling and (obligatory?) traffic safety awareness courses.

London’s tram network, Tramlink, was introduced to south London in 2000 but only runs from Wimbledon through Croydon to Beckenham, where it has proven a popular mode of transport. Why not have “SuperTramways” for the whole capital? Works brilliantly in Edinburgh.

Without improving and reducing the cost of public transport and subsidising low emission vehicles, polluting private transport will continue to predominate, clog up and endanger lives everywhere that is not a Cycle Superhighway.

Unfair parking trial is back

Helen Trimble, Hampstead, full address supplied, writes:

I wrote to you on September 11, 2013, about Camden Council’s wish to change the way we pay for parking:

This morning I came across yet another example of planned changes by Camden Council that will suit them rather than local residents.

“It was in Prince Henry’s Road, off Hampstead High Street, where a trial of cashless payment for parking by phone has been inaugurated. [...]

“There is a fundamental reason not to do this: it is based on the premise that only people with mobile phones and debit or credit cards wish to park in Hampstead. Join the real world, Camden – not everyone has them.”

In 2013, Camden decided against the changes; now, however, it is again (over the summer, when many people are away...) trialling payment by phone or app only.

My argument to Camden remains the same: there are people without smart phones and without debit/credit cards.

You have a duty of care towards all residents, and it is immoral to hide behind the majority who would be unaffected by change.

Cancel your trial, Camden, and show a little humanity.

Palin responds to Kenwood House

Michael Palin writes:

I respect Sam Cooper’s overall concern for the house and grounds (“Events are vital to Kenwood’s future”) but to say “Kenwood is – and always will be – free to visit” is being highly economical with the truth.

The pasture grounds have not been free to visit for several weeks this summer, and I’m told there will be 18 days in September – a lovely time at Kenwood – when parts of the property will certainly not be free to visit.

I think English Heritage should come clean with the public for whom they hold Kenwood in trust. For a start, they could make the information available, in advance, as to when, where and how long there will be closures in the year ahead.

Best of all, they could publish details of how much money they make from the events and how much of it is re-invested into the property. If the events are so important to English Heritage, it’s surely not too much for the public to ask why.

Camden should give us more bins

Robert Low, Aberdare Gardens, South Hampstead, writes:

Camden Council endlessly urges us to recycle as much as we can but does little to encourage it in the matter of street litter.

Many other councils (for example Westminster and Greenwich) provide litter bins with a container for recyclable litter on one side and other rubbish on the other. It is simple and effective. They also provide far more of them than Camden, which seems keen only on withdrawing bins and recycling facilities (such as the bins outside Waitrose in Finchley Road) wherever possible.

We’ll say it – don’t spray it, Camden

Kirsten de Keyser, Camden Green Party, writes:

What is wrong with Camden Council?!

For years alarm bells have been ringing round the globe about glyphosate, the main ingredient in toxic weed killer Roundup, which hapless council gardeners are made to spray about liberally on the green spaces we all so enjoy.

The World Health Organisation says the stuff is probably carcinogenic, the EU grudgingly allowed it another five-year licence instead of the usual 15 years, and now a US court has awarded $289million in damages to a man who successfully claimed consistent exposure to glyphosate caused his terminal cancer.

Hammersmith and Fulham, the City of London, Edinburgh and the whole of France, to name just a few, have ditched this poison and are now using purely non-toxic sprays to control their weeds.

But Camden? Nah, they still spew out this toxin all over our childrens’ playgrounds, paths and green spaces, which they so enthusiatically encourage us to use.

Stop it, Camden!