Ham&High letters: Sustrans, Swiss Cottage gyratory, cycling, MP Twitter block, Rhyhurst, questions for Andrew Dismore, People’s Vote and Heath bench

The Stop Killing Cyclists 'die-in' protest in Camden Road, Holloway. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK

The Stop Killing Cyclists 'die-in' protest in Camden Road, Holloway. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK - Credit: Archant

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

Sustrans rant takes the biscuit

Matt Winfield, London Director, Sustrans, College Green, Bristol, writes:

I know we are living in a post-truth world but the comments made by Jessica Learmond-Criqui in the “Your Opinions” section, about the charity I work for, Sustrans, really take the biscuit.

For the record, she says: “Sustrans has such a foothold within TfL that it felt comfortable criticising Westminster for obtaining an injunction against TfL.”

What is she implying? Sustrans is the charity that makes it easier for people to walk and cycle. We are comfortable criticising any organisation that, in our view, obstructs reasonable progress towards this goal. Always have and always will.

“In the final analysis,” she adds, “TfL and Sustrans are likely to inflict a catastrophic impact on the lives of residents not just in NW3 but throughout London.”

Er... there is so much wrong here that it is hard to know where to start.

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You can take a view on the reallocation of some road space to safely accommodate people on bikes, but “catastrophic impact” probably doesn’t capture it.

If you wish to dismiss all the benefits of moving away from a car-dominated approach to transport in our city, perhaps consider how many more people these streets will be able to move after the proposed change.

Also, Sustrans is not working on CS11.

Finally, “TfL’s takeover by Sustrans” – no one has told me about this! Jessica’s article adds nothing to the debate.

Swiss Cottage gyratory still needs ripping up

Jenna Akgul, College Crescent, Swiss Cottage, writes:

I must say I am still strongly in support of a redesign of the Swiss Cottage gyratory, which I firmly believe does no favours to the neighbourhood as it stands.

It is nerve-racking for drivers veering from one side to the other coming down Fitzjohns to join Finchley Road, dangerous for cyclists and simply nonsensical for pedestrians.

However, if the High Court feels TfL and Camden should do more and better traffic modelling, go back to the drawing board and think whether there are more optimal ways of doing things, so be it.

As long as they improve this gyratory at some point soon, I am not in a terrible rush, nor may I venture to say are other residents who support it (and of course those against it don’t want anything at all).

I must note however that some (not all) of the people who are most against the redesign of the gyratory do not seem to live actually near the gyratory but more in Hampstead and hence are less concerned with how horrible the gyratory is to deal with on a daily basis and more concerned with any potential rat running into their streets. This is of course understandable as everyone is always focused on their own immediate area, but many of us that actually live near the gyratory would like (at a minimum) to be able to walk across Finchley Road without fearing for our lives or zig-zagging across three or four misplaced pedestrian crossings.

On another, somewhat related, point, I would like to express my strong support of Janine Sachs who has written multiple times that the construction of 100 Avenue Road must be from the A41/Avenue road side and not through the common space of Swiss Cottage or Winchester Road. The Essential Living plan via these areas doesn’t make any sense at all to anyone who thinks about it even for a moment. Lorries should park on the A41 side to do what they need to do. If improving the gyratory has to wait until 100 Avenue Road is done, then this is simply what must happen.

In addition to the mayoral politics of CS11, I am sure the developer would rather have a brand new redesigned gyratory ready for when its building is complete so it can better market its properties for rental.

However, I think the location of the properties will still be top notch and, despite not personally wanting a 25-storey building there, it will be a huge improvement on the derelict building that is currently there.

In response to MP Twitter block letter

J Franklin, Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead, writes:

I am interested in the fact that, having been an MP for some time now, Tulip Siddiq continues to block constituent comment (“MP should reflect on Twitter blocking”, Ham&High letters, ).

In early 2016, she refused to pass an email from a friend to a government minister, on the grounds that she took “issue with the premise of your question.” There seems to be a misconception about an MP’s role vis-à-vis constituents.

TfL has set drivers against cyclists

Clive Beecham, full address supplied, writes:

Let’s stand back for a minute and forget CS11.

What this month’s judgment says is that TfL simply doesn’t follow process and tries to bludgeon its way through anything and anyone who disagrees.

For councils and residents anywhere, not just Camden and Westminster, it’s gratifying to know our public bodies can be held to account and hopefully TfL will learn from this.

As to CS11, the immediate retort from various committed cycling bodies was that anyone opposed to the scheme at Swiss Cottage was prepared to allow the possibility of death and injury on the gyratory.

What a gross distortion of the truth. We presented a comprehensive alternative layout to Swiss Cottage that kept every single inch of segregated cycle lanes and saw the removal of the gyratory along similar lines to the proposal. It did away with the pedestrianised area that has the “beautiful rear” of the Swiss Cottage Odeon to admire, which is probably a “sop” to the property developer for 100 Avenue Road, which seems to have an unhealthy pull on Swiss Cottage goings-on. The proposal was presented to Camden Council by Cllr Phil Jones who acknowledged that it didn’t impair cycling safety at all. What it DID do, though, is achieve cycling safety without the immense rat running that TfL seems committed to inflict on the residents of vast swaths of Camden, Kilburn, Primrose Hill and St John’s Wood. In the world of TfL, the “not invented here” credo rules and local knowledge and desires account for nothing.

So, where does this leave us? Speaking for myself, I recognise the need to encourage more walking, cycling and travel by public transport and less car journeys. I have a daughter who cycles daily from Cricklewood to Whitehall, so please don’t lecture me on being unconcerned about cycling safety. I don’t believe cyclists abuse the roads; there are really bad ones, yes, just like there are really bad car drivers, but cyclists need special protection.

TfL, though, has set cyclists against motorists by getting the balance wrong. It uses sledgehammers to crack nuts and I suspect the cycling zealots who rule so many of the airwaves and campaigning strategies do not always reflect the realism other commuters entertain.

CS11, by TfL’s own figures, will attract some 3,000 extra journeys a day when finished.

By doing that, it stands to blight the residential neighbourhoods of tens and tens of thousands of residents, stretching from Gospel Oak and Haverstock Hill right the way across to West Hampstead, because it will push sometimes an extra 500 cars an hour into the tight residential roads that will take the inevitable traffic deflection.

And that’s without modelling HS2, a blight of 16 years and up to 800 lorry journeys a day, plus huge roadworks that pass right through Swiss Cottage and its surrounds.

It’s outrageous for Ryhurst to sue

Sharon Lytton, Highgate, writes:

Ryhurst’s suing of The Whittington for £2million over a failed SEP [strategic estates partnership] procurement deal is morally repugnant.

And it is another example of how Rydon, of Grenfell “fame” – its parent company – operates to exploit public services and the NHS.

This is money desperately needed for patient care. It gives the lie to the proclaimed concern of Ryhurst to help the Whittington do better and support the NHS – who could believe it?

The Whittington has been a great district hospital because of the dedication and hard work of its staff and community. The Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition supported an in-house estates strategy from the start and opposed the unethical arrangement involving Ryhurst/Rydon, about which no board minutes are available for some of the most critical decisions.

It is not clear how and why the in-house strategy was overthrown in favour of a dubious private company deal. DWHC and others in the community have upheld the true values of the NHS locally in the face of chronic underfunding and destructive “reconfiguring” of the NHS nationally – strategies to facilitate the marketing of NHS services and further the involvement of multinationals.

The secretive procurement process and business plan of the Whittington-Ryhurst SEP was always in question with no public scrutiny or accountability, no proper community consultation, and plenty of propaganda too good to be true.

That the Whittington management got entangled for so long in such a situation with the support of NHS Improvement and the stick of government-induced NHS property fire sales is symptomatic of the whole insidious process of privatising the NHS behind the public’s back.

There needs to be a ban on such carryings-on playing with hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of public resources. In the meantime, one would have thought Rydon and its subsidiary have sunk low enough in public opinion without the abhorrent action of suing our Whittington Hospital and community health services for £2m. They should do the decent thing and drop it.

Anyone concerned about this nasty threat to local NHS funds could contact their MP, councillors and the health secretary.

Andrew owes me an answer or two

Jessica Learmond-Criqui, local campaigner, writes:

Mr Dismore has sought to silence my attack on the mayor for his diktat to reduce police numbers (Ham&High letters, April 19, 2018). He called my attack “wild allegations” that “cannot go unanswered”. He stated it was “arrant nonsense” for me to suggest the mayor had ordered that officers were taken away from Hampstead (April 26, 2018).

When I proved to him in my article of June 4, 2018, in the Ham&High that the mayor had ordered the reduction of police numbers in Camden and Islington by 91 (in fact it was reduced by 113) and across the whole of London by 1,583 officers – set out in his 2018 budget, which started on April 1, 2018 – he had no answer and fell unapologetically silent.

When I suggested that the mayor put a referendum to Londoners about funding the Met better, he attacked that idea too. He said the mayor would have to increase the policing precept (part of council tax) to 123 per cent and if I thought that Londoners would “vote for a tax rise of that magnitude, I was living in cloud cuckoo land” (July 5, 2018). When I challenged him in these pages as to whether the mayor had approved his rejection of a referendum, he fell silent yet again.

Mr Dismore helpfully explained that the mayor can raise £690m with the usual council tax charges and is considering a further 5.5pc increase in the policing precept to raise a further £48m towards the funding of police in next year’s budget.

Well, with the continuing cuts to policing personnel, rising costs and explosion in crime that demands more resources, this is woefully inadequate. Is Mr Khan determined to preside over a lawless metropolis?

Having washed his hands of the Met’s funding problems on the basis that it is the Conservative government’s fault funding has been cut (stated by Mr Dismore in numerous letters and by Louise Haigh MP in her article on May 3, 2018), is Mr Khan content to sit there and let London be besieged by rising violent crime without doing more?

All he wishes to do, by Mr Dismore’s own admission, is sit there and raise a further £48m when actually the Met needs hundreds of millions.

Will Mr Khan not put his shoulder to the wheel to secure more funding for the Met so it can keep Londoners safe?

I have put the question twice now in these pages for Mr Dismore to state whether the mayor has approved his rejection of a referendum out of hand. I do require an answer, Mr Dismore, and would be grateful for your response when you return from your summer holidays.

Camden should back People’s Vote

Dominique Welbank, Hampstead, full address supplied, writes:

I would firstly like to say I agree wholeheartedly with Catherine West MP for Hornsey and Wood Green (Your Opinions, September 13, 2018) that it’s been over two years since the referendum and nothing has been resolved yet.

Given the impact on Camden and the medical sector in Camden such as The Francis Crick Institute and UCH, Camden Council should now, as many councils have already done – as well as the mayor of London – come out publicly and unequivocally in support of a People’s Vote.

There is also the Wooferendum March on October 7, 2018 to deliver a PETition to Downing Street demanding a People’s Vote where dogs could bring their councillor owners.

It would be great, too, if councillors could join the People’s Vote March on October 20.

I look forward to seeing our councillors at those events.

Does Philip have bench on Heath?

June Gibson, Chandos Way, Hampstead Garden Suburb, writes:

Is there a bench on the Heath dedicated to the memory of Philip Thomas? If so, it might have been placed there by his widow, Judy Thomas.

She told me she wished to name a bench for him but understood there was a waiting list. Perhaps she was able eventually to be a sponsor. This was probably in the early- to mid-1990s.

We lost touch, but I know that after a few years in Rosslyn Hill, she moved to the Sandbanks area in Dorset.