Ham&High letters: Child hunger, housing, parking spaces, the Ponds and name the recreation ground

Footballer Marcus Rashford continues to fight for children who receive free school meals during term time to have them...

Footballer Marcus Rashford continues to fight for children who receive free school meals during term time to have them during the holidays. Picture: PA Wire - Credit: PA

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

Highlighting child hunger in the UK

Linda Chung, Camden, full address supplied, writes:

The reality of child hunger has been highlighted by Marcus Rashford telling us about his own experiences. Due to the diligence of his mother, he didn’t starve but there were days he went hungry as meagre rations were shared between him and his siblings when money got tight.

Hunger has surged during lockdown with government figures revealing as many as 7.7 million adults cut down on portion sizes or missed meals because they could not afford food. The demand for food banks has grown.

With statistics flying around, and alarmed by recent figures showing the number of hospital admissions of adults and children suffering from starvation and malnutrition, according to research done by Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat MP, I did my own research focusing on the Royal Free Hospital (RFH).

My freedom of information request showed that six children were admitted to the RFH and were discharged in the period between September 1, 2019 and August 31, 2020 who had malnutrition or starvation listed as a primary or secondary diagnosis. This is shocking in a community which is considered relatively prosperous - no child should suffer from lack of food.

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Yet the government voted against extending free school meals into school holidays. They claim that “packages in place” support families.

Who are they kidding? Their so-called packages have never worked to help families in real poverty and hardship. The government does not seem to understand the urgency and seriousness of the situation. It says free school meals are not the solution, but one starving child is unacceptable, never mind six.

They may claim that £63m has been given to local authorities to help families, and £20m has been riven to extend universal credit. But the crisis of Covid has swallowed those funds up, we need a simple system to ensure that children are fed, not a load of bureaucracy that delays relief. Feed the child, not give its parents claim forms to fill in to justify their need for food.

With pressure from major food suppliers, and 2000 paediatricians who back the Marcus Rashford campaign to ensure children have enough to eat, let’s hope the government will have come to its senses and done a U-turn by the time this letter is published.

Domestic violence victims lose out

Cllr Oliver Cooper, leader, Camden Conservatives, writes:

Camden’s decision this week to move Regent’s Park Estate residents to the front of the queue for council housing will have a great impact on people waiting for homes across Camden.

As well as people generally waiting for homes across the north of the borough, it will affect three groups of people currently given priority. This will make matters worse for Regent’s Park residents and, outrageously, remove an escape route for victims of domestic violence.

Camden’s points-based housing system means people are given homes based on how many points they get from a range of criteria. This allows Camden to create a hierarchy between people and give homes to those assessed as being most in need.

Camden’s decision is to grant 630 points to people greatly affected by the failure to enforce noise restrictions on HS2. I’d rather HS2 were scrapped altogether, as I have campaigned for for over a decade, but I am pleased that residents will get help being rehoused.

However, 630 is not a round number of points, and that’s because it’s a deliberate mechanism to put people ahead of everyone else in the queue. It was chosen to be greater than the awards for any other groups: and therefore a deliberate demotion of anyone that received the previous maximum 600 points.

There are just three categories that receive those 600 points and that are specifically being snubbed.

First, people that have council homes that are too large for them and that want to downsize, eg from a three-bed to a one-bed. Giving them priority actually frees up space for another family, so it helps everyone below them. They should therefore always be top, so everyone benefits.

Second, people ordered by Camden to move out because their homes are being replaced or because they’re uninhabitable and need urgent repairs to make them available for letting.

Those two groups getting new council house actually frees up properties for others. When people downsize or move out to allow repairs, it helps others on the waiting list, so it’s not actually a trade-off. It’s win-win, so demoting them hurts everyone, including Regent’s Park residents needing to move.

The third group – and I will quote this directly – are people “fleeing severe harassment or violence and in urgent need of rehousing”. Yes, Camden’s policy specifically targets people suffering domestic violence and for whom a new council home is the only way to flee that violence.

It is unconscionable to send to the back of the queue people begging for an escape from domestic violence. Opposing HS2 does not mean opposing domestic violence victims, and yet Camden is doing just that. This proposal must be revised urgently.

Haverstock Hill parking spaces

Nadia Crandall, Haverstock ward, wrote to Acacia Hasler and Camden Council:

I am writing to express, in the strongest possible terms, my opposition to the proposal to remove parking spaces on Haverstock Hill in order to replace them with cycle lanes. As I understand it, the proposed changes were planned without any consultation and with a request for secrecy from the majority of Camden councillors.

We are all aware of the devastating impact a combination of Covid-19, together with online retailing and an antiquated and ineffective business rates system, has had on local retailers. Removing access to them for the many people who are not able to cycle - those with several young children, the elderly, the disabled, those who are nervous on dark, wet roads in the winter, or those who simply find the hill too steep - would surely mean the demise of these retail businesses.

I am appalled by the impulse to mandate changes without consultation. It is essential for the well-being of our fractured society that every individual has a voice. You risk contributing not only to the demise of our local community but also of our local democracy.

Polluted Pond

Susan Green, full address supplied, writes:

As a keen swimmer (lido, not Ponds), I was distressed to read that fellow swimmers had been ill after swimming in the Ladies’ Pond.

May I suggest that one of the causes of the water contamination may have been actions taken by the Heath Management during the pandemic. During the lockdown I frequently exercised on the Heath. During that time, all litter bins were removed. Walking along the path by the pond, I noticed that a huge pile of dog poo bags had accumulated at the side of the path just by the ladies’ pond, where previously there had been a bespoke receptacle for this. I could also see bags had been thrown over the railing into the pond enclosure. I am assuming that many of these bags were biodegradable and when it rained much of the contents of these bags was washed into the pond.

Another potential contaminant may have been due to the closure of all public toilets on the heath during the lockdown. On more than one occasion when walking on the heath, I came across what looked like human excrement. I am sorry this does not make pleasant reading.

Lisvane Report

Robert Sutherland Smith, chairman, United Swimmers Association, writes:

Because, the recent Lisvane Report throws light on the funding on of Hampstead Heath, may I have space for further observations or two?

The accounts of City’s Cash - one of the big charitable funds administered by the City Corporation which finances Hampstead Heath - appears to donates large and significant funds on promoting the City of London as a profitable, private enterprise, hub of financial and related businesses. It includes, according to Lord Lisvane’s Report, a “hospitality working party”. Champagne and caviar carried in knapsacks? Part of that spending goes on public relations and part on economic development of the City of London.

One asks three questions about this - particularly in a period when charitable support of Hampstead Heath appears to be on the decline through reported reduced real term expenditure and the novel introduction of charges for use of its ponds. First and foremost, are “public relations” and “economic development” legitimate objectives for charitable funds? Should such activities not be financed by other means?

Second, why do they evidently absorb so much charitable fund cash? (reportedly £37.5 million on “City Representation” in the three years to 2019 – increasing at 5.5 per cent compound annually.) Third, has that expenditure historically, been largely a waste of money, to the detriment of more obvious charitable objectives, with which such expenditure massively competes?

Lord Lisvane’s Report describes this City Corporation, charitably funded public relations and economic development work, in critical terms. Essentially, that its PR activities are unquestioned but that its economic development activities have generated “frustration” in critics, noting no “politically” endorsed strategy and the infrequent meetings of the committee in question. It is not “especially active” he reports. One would like to hear why so much appears to have been spent over the years, evidently to so little good effect (with the exception of the PR budget) and why it is designated as an activity worthy of charitable funding? Is this one of the reasons why use of historic Hampstead Heath is now subject to charging?

The naming of the recreation ground

Keith S Gold, Highgate Avenue, wrote to leader of Haringey Council Joseph Ejiofor:

A request via hand delivered mail was recently sent to residents for a consultation on your proposal to rename the Albert Road Recreation Ground to OR Tambo Recreation Ground, it asks for a “yes” or “no” vote to the proposal by November 23, 2020 (Votes online at haringey.gov.uk/renaming-albert-rec).

The Albert Road Recreation Ground was originally a brick field where bricks were fired to build homes in the surrounding area, it was sold off for housing in the 1890s. To complement the naming of the adjacent Victoria Road for the Queen, the recreation ground was dedicated to her husband Albert.

OR Tambo, who resided in Muswell Hill for a number of years, was a co-founder and architect of the African National Congress. With the abolition of apartheid and the election of an ANC government his contribution was recognised by South Africa with the renaming of Johannesburg International Airport from Jan Smuts to OR Tambo.

Although O.R.Tambo clearly made a major contribution to his country’s fight for freedom, I am not aware of his contribution towards Haringey. His residence in the borough is recognised by a statue in the Albert Road Recreation Ground.

Victoria with her husband, during her reign, played a pivotal role in the development of Great Britain, London and its many Victorian suburbs.

It seems incongruous to propose renaming areas of the borough at this time, when all our efforts and funding would be better spent in support of residents affected by the Covid pandemic.

If you really wish to pursue this proposal at this time, can I suggest, a full transparent consultation involving all residents of Haringey over the next 12 months given the significance to British history and culture that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert represent.