Ham&High letters: LTNs, tech poverty, the Ponds, air quality and Highgate library

Ede the okapi, was born on September 21 at London Zoo. An Extraordinary Year ZSL is on the ITV Hub now. ZSL is looking for...

Ede the okapi, was born on September 21 at London Zoo. An Extraordinary Year ZSL is on the ITV Hub now. ZSL is looking for donations to make up for the income lost during lockdown. Visit zsl.org to support the zoo. Picture: ZSL - Credit: ZSL

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

Are we travelling on the right road?

Will Coles, Belsize Lane, Belsize Park, writes:

The growing number of low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) and new cycle lanes has exposed a massive divide within London. I must declare that I am militantly in favour of these new measures.

Having grown up in Shropshire, I can see that cars are a necessity in rural areas. Especially if you live 10 miles out of town and the bus service is every two hours. I moved to London in 2013 and to Camden in 2017, and the notion of buying and using a car while living here feels totally alien.

I started cycling during the spring and I haven’t looked back since; the only reason it took me so long to take up cycling was the sheer number of cars on the road in London. I applaud the efforts of councils across the city to encourage cycling, but there is still so much more that needs to be done.

Dramatic changes to how we move around our cities will naturally cause upset, especially the loss of parking bays and the need to get rid of older vehicles as part of the expanded Ultra-Low Emission Zone. While these changes are frustrating, the short-term disruption is worth the long-term gain. The planet and our health is in crisis, and we cannot continue to dither around the edges of the bigger issues out of fear that localised changes might be unpopular.

Most Read

Those who are against new cycle lanes often say that they discriminate against the disabled, who (they claim) rely on parking bays. While I agree that provisions need to be made in these cases, this is also a massive oversimplification of a complicated issue since many disabled people are unable to drive due to the condition they are living with. The solution is to invest more in public transport in order to expand it and improve accessibility while maintaining some (limited) parking provision.

In addition, the build-up of congestion is not a reason to remove LTNs and cycle lanes. The only way to reduce congestion is to get people out of their cars and onto public transport, onto their bicycles, or onto the soles of their feet.

I think the deputy leader of Southwark Council summed up the whole debate in The Guardian more eloquently than I can: “It is a culture war between those who want to drive wherever they want, whenever they want, at whatever speed they want – compared to the right of everybody else to get around peacefully and effectively”.

Aarti Joshi, Fortune Green Conservatives, writes:

Residents around Mill Lane and Fortune Green Road can’t have missed the impact of the appalling decision to close lanes to traffic on both roads simultaneously for roadworks. The situation is unbearable for pedestrians and drivers in the area, and has created a visible increase in air pollution as well as significantly increased journey times. The surrounding area has become hazardous for emergency service vehicles that need free-flowing traffic to operate effectively.

Most disgustingly, the gridlock has meant that rubbish went uncollected for at least six weeks on Gondar Gardens and other roads, as rubbish trucks couldn’t get access. This is particularly appalling given the number of flats on the road with little storage space that depend on regular collections.

Camden Council seems to have resigned itself to this happening. Even our local councillors have claimed that the council can’t do anything about it, but that surely can’t be true?

For starters, Camden has the legal duty to co-ordinate roadworks to minimise the impact on people using the street (section 59 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991, if anyone wants to look it up). Camden has both the power and the duty to stop cumulative roadworks inflicting this hell on local areas.

Secondly, why can’t Camden do what Transport for London has done for many years and charge companies for every day that roadworks last? The works on Mill Lane and Fortune Green Road have been going on for several weeks.

If Camden charged them for every day that roadworks lasted, I can guarantee that they would not be so slow to complete the works. And we’d have our clean air, smooth-moving traffic, and bin collections back a lot sooner.

In need of laptops

Cllr Angela Mason, cabinet member for Best Start for Children and Families and board member of Camden Learning, writes:

Many of us might take owning a laptop or having good wi-fi for granted. However, this isn’t the case for the thousands of pupils and students in Camden who do not own the digital equipment needed to learn at home.

As learning has become increasingly reliant on the internet, more than 3,000 pupils, many of whom are some of our most disadvantaged children, are not able to access online learning and are at huge risk of falling behind their classmates.

No child’s learning should be affected based on whether their family can afford a laptop or not. That’s why Camden Learning has launched a Crowdfunder to raise money to buy the digital devices and wi-fi needed to ensure no child is again denied the online learning they desperately need and have a right to.

So far, schools have been lending their own laptops out, we have successfully appealed for some donated devices and the Department of Education have also distributed computers for selected year groups. Despite this, there is still a huge gap to be filled and we are nowhere near close enough to ending the inequality of accessing online learning, which has become so painfully apparent during this crisis.

I am certain this fundraiser will make a real difference to so many young lives and that’s why I’m asking for your support - whether that’s spreading the word or donating whatever you can to help us reach our target.

A huge thank you to all those who have donated to our Digital Divide campaign so far – each donation means we are one step closer to ensuring we can provide the equipment for children and young people to keep learning and receive the education they deserve to help them now and in the future.

Please find out more and donate at crowdfunder.co.uk/end-the-digital-divide-for-camden-pupils

The Ponds

Robert Sutherland Smith, Widecombe Way, East Finchley, writes:

The picture of the City of London Corporation painted by Lord Lisvane in his ‘warts and all’ report is not uplifting. It is, we are informed, because the Corporation wishes to ‘own’ everything; or put another way, have power and control over everything in a system without a proper democratic franchise and a self serving, control of misconduct by its members, condemned as unfit for purpose by numerous QCs.

Is it any wonder that Heath user associations were given insufficient time to respond to the City’s suddenly and artfully sprung proposals for the ponds and not listened to when they did; why the Heath’s Consultative Committee was ignored.

He reveals a culture which resists the light of democratic, parliamentary scrutiny and reform; of a structure which prompts him to speak of potential “reputational damage” arising from its oversight of massive charitable funds; something about which we yearn to learn more.

Unheeding, the City Corporation’s imposed novel charges for use of Hampstead Heath, in defiance of the Hampstead Heath Act of 1871. Since the Lord Mayor is traditionally answerable to no one except the Queen - how wonderfully mediaeval - perhaps she should invite him for tea and a frank chat? Conversely, there is also parliament, which would be more up to date.

Unfortunately, Lisvane says that because of its nature and opinion of its self, he felt proscribed from calling for radical reform. Sadly, he proposes what amounts to a fudge. His proposal of possible greater involvement in City government by City livery company’s is a step back to the past not a step away from it. It would widen an already yawning democratic deficit. A lot of conflict could be avoided by placing the charitable funds under wholly independent trustees representing the interests of London as a whole.

Lord Lisvane has shone a powerful beam of light into dark corners and has done great public service by doing so.

Clean air

Cllr Adam Harrison, cabinet member for a sustainable Camden, writes:

This weekend we learned the excellent news that air quality has improved dramatically since Sadiq Khan took over from Boris Johnson at City Hall. The number of people living in places with illegal levels of NO2 has dropped 94 per cent; the number of schools operating in such places has fallen a huge 97pc. Bold mayoral measures such as the Ultra Low Emission Zone have made their intended impact.

Air pollution’s deleterious impact on our health is higher in our minds than ever, given the nature of the current pandemic as a respiratory disease. From across the borough I have had emails from residents lamenting the dirty air that returned to our streets as the lockdown eased.

Today (October 8) is Clean Air Day, which is a time to reflect on the advances made and those yet to be achieved. Given the deeply harmful nature of air pollution – for which there is no safe limit – it is incumbent on all levels of government to do what is needed to bring it right down. Camden led the way in stating that only World Health Organization guidelines would do, and City Hall also holds this view. Now is time for the government to step up and adopt the same for the country, making WHO targets legally binding by 2030.

It should accompany this by putting the proper resource and powers in the hands of local authorities to achieve this, rather than carrying on their slash-and-burn approach to funding councils. In adopting the WHO standards, the government would actually be going further than the European Union’s own pledges.

What better time to take advantage of the freedoms that Brexit allegedly brings?

If it does not, ministers in Westminster will only be letting current and future generations down.

Highgate Library

Cyril Meadows, Glasslyn Road, Crouch End, writes:

With regard to Highgate Library (Maria Emilia Jennings’ letter), it should be pointed out that activities on the library’s first floor are out of bounds to disabled people and the elderly because there is no lift. Disabled access is a legal requirement under the Equality Act 2010 and the earlier Disability Discrimination Act 1995. In their February newsletter (forhighgate.org/february-2020-newsletter/) the Highgate Neighbourhood Forum announced that they had “at last agreed that Community Infrastructure Levy funding (CIL) shall be used to provide the long-awaited lift”. After 25 years of council inaction when will the lift finally be installed?