Ham&High letters: U3A, Haverstock Hill, Royal Free Trust, missing bus stop, planning and the parks

Bolivian black-capped squirrel monkeys in the autumn sunshine ahead of their starring role in ITV4's

Bolivian black-capped squirrel monkeys in the autumn sunshine ahead of their starring role in ITV4's documentary London Zoo: An Extraordinary Year, which began on Thursday (September 24, 9pm). Picture: ZSL - Credit: ZSL

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

Solace, camaraderie and support

Maggie Crawford, Belsize Park, writes:

I would like to give a huge thank you to a team of people of the local U3A (University of the Third Age) in London for the solace, camaraderie and support they have provided myself and others during lockdown.

Unable to meet physically in the old Town Hall in Belsize Park, they have still managed to provide a wide range of activities, stimulating talks and tea/coffee chat groups via Zoom. The Monday talks, covering a wide range of topics delivered by guest speakers, have been a highlight of my week and I also look forward to the weekly newsletter which details forthcoming activities and contains amusing stories and a much loved quiz. It’s a great way of keeping in touch with others when face-to-face meetings have been impractical.

If you, or someone you know, is retired and would also like to learn new things, meet new people and have fun, I can highly recommend joining the local U3A. There is more information and joining instructions on their website, u3alondon.org.uk

Getting in lane

Anna Hodgson, Steeles Road, Primrose Hill, writes:

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I am writing to express my concerns regarding Camden Council’s proposed introduction of cycle lanes further up Haverstock Hill.

The road is wide enough to accommodate cyclists and motorists safely without cycle lanes.

There will be no parking which will be detrimental to at least 10 businesses in Steele’s Village and will force residents to park in the already oversubscribed side streets. Cycle lanes will cause congestion and consequent pollution and result in motorists using the side streets as rat runs.

Banning diesel SUV’s, which according to the Internal Energy Agency found that were the second largest cause of global rise in carbon dioxide emission over the past decade, could do far more for improving air pollution than getting a few more cyclists on the road.

A question of trust

Mallory Wober, Lancaster Grove, Belsize Park, writes:

Over the last few days I along with many others have been asked to vote for members of the council of governors of the NHS Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust.

Voters received details of the applications from 56 applicants, and we learned much about their careers, tribulations and successes and especially their hopes to do something for the Hospital. The documents supporting this election did not however say anything about how many applicants would be selected on this occasion nor was there any explanation of the Trust’s position vis-a-vis the actual management of the Hospital.

I have asked two doctors to explain to me what a Trust is and does - but have been met with a quizzical response. Website enquiries were not helpful in revealing what the status of the governors actually is, for how long each one serves, and many other details which could have helped assess the appeals of candidates. My impression also is that many of the aspirants broadly hoped that by joining the governors they might find themselves with executive powers, but that they did not really know how the trust really can or can not influence what the Hospital actually does from day to day and plans for the future.

It is too late to shed light on the current electoral process but it is to be hoped that in subsequent such elections a fuller explanation of the role of the trust, how it is financed, and how the Hospital itself is financed, will be offered not just to electors, but also to candidates. It will also help to have some detailed reporting of the result(s) of the current election.

Time to bring back the bus stop

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

In February this year, at the beginning if the national ‘shut-down’ the council very sensibly erected barriers outside main shopping areas in Muswell Hill Broadway.

This in turn necessitated moving two bus stops, both serving the 102 bus. One was moved back to the Muswell Road turning, the other was moved forward to Purkiss Fishmongers. This left the 102 with no stop in the Broadway and made life difficult for the mobility challenged.

The barriers are gone but the emergency stops remain. I have tried without success to obtain answers from those likely to be responsible. Can Ham&High readers help?

Council should have the power

Francoise Findlay, Lower Merton Rise, Primrose Hill, writes:

This week we have film of fires raging in the USA and the Attenborough programme highlighting the damage to our planet that is in most part brought about by our human interference with nature.

In the same week, as a member of the local conservation area committee, I examined an application for a private house in Avenue Road that is of such a scale that it requires its own electrical substation to be built in the garden.

Is Camden Council powerless to implement any restriction on these energy guzzling developments?

The required cycle racks, bat boxes and sedum roofs are really not an answer.

A dilemma

Nicky Mayhew, former chair, Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association, writes:

Earlier this week I received an email from the ‘Hampstead Heath Team’ advising me that from September 21 I would again be able to use my season ticket (suspended due to lockdown) to swim in the ponds without advance booking. I was informed that season tickets are moving from cards to wristbands, and asked for consent to processing my data so I can receive an electronic wristband to “tap in” as I enter the pond. I am bemused by the idea of replacing a “card” I never received, but I have consented as I don’t mind being tracked in this way, although I know that a significant number of swimmers do object strongly.

However, I and many others remain fundamentally opposed to the principle of controlling access to the ponds and excluding those who are unable to afford the increased day ticket charges. As the temperature drops, this will involve some swimmers paying as much as £1 per minute for their swim.

I’m told that, as a year-round early morning swimmer who is over 60, I may now swim free before 9.30am. This means I no longer need even a concessionary season ticket.

The Heath’s email suggests that I must be in possession of a Freedom Pass, a benefit I am not entitled to until my 66th birthday, but I’m assuming this is a mistake arising from a failure to comprehend concessions rather than a radical unannounced change of policy. This leaves me with a dilemma: I could afford to pay for a season ticket (although who’s to say the City of London Corporation won’t double prices, as they did with day tickets on March 11) and would be willing to do so if I believed this would contribute to keeping the ponds accessible to all at fair prices while maintaining their long-established ethos of inclusivity and equality.

Unfortunately, I have no reason to believe that the Hampstead Heath charity would use my donation for this purpose so, reluctantly, I conclude it would be better to claim my free swims and contribute instead to a more transparent fund that will benefit people in need without forcing them to submit to demeaning financial scrutiny.

Many members of our community – young and old – face stress and financial insecurity due to the pandemic. None of us knows how long this situation will last. I’m aware the City has also taken a financial hit, but keeping swimming in the ponds affordable for all could play a vital role in supporting London’s mental and physical health. This would be in keeping with the Heath Vision and the City’s commitment to promoting diversity, equality and accessibility.

There remains an opportunity for the City to rebuild a co-operative relationship with swimmers, to demonstrate compassion and harness the enthusiasm and generosity of those who can afford to pay and will do so.


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

Alexander Brierley’s letter (‘Fair price to pay for Heath swim’, September 10), in defence of the Corporation of London and its charging for access to the Ponds, regrettably seeks to ‘airbrush’ from the history, the central role and legacy of Quaker banker, John Gurney Hoare in the saving the Heath from commercial development. A good effort Alexander but John Gurney Hoar’s example, his energy and vision, led to the London wide, public ‘crowd funding’ to purchase Hampstead Heath for the nation and the Hampstead Heath Act of 1871, which embodies the right of free access to it - now sadly transgressed. Without him, Hampstead Heath, that old stretch of tranquil Middlesex countryside, with its small hills and duck and fish ponds in which we have of right, swum freely for more than 150 years, would not exist. Do I have an inalienable right to swim freely in its duck and fish ponds, he asks? No! Merely one granted to me and everyone else by parliament in an act aimed at securing the greatest public good. Thanks in large part to the admirable and effective leadership of John Gurney Hoare.

He concludes that £4 a swim is a modest price for access to the ponds - about the cost of a cup of coffee he says. First, they are meant to be free. Second, it depends who you are. Third, £4 a time annualised, works out at £1,460. The price of a cuppa more typically, is around £2.40 a cup or £876 annualised. For individuals in employment on good salaries, coffee is an easily financed pleasure. For someone on short hours and the ‘living wage’ of £8.72p, perhaps with family eligible by hardship, to be fed by a nearby food bank, it is unaffordable. As the old saying goes, “the poor are always with us”. That is why the Hampstead Heath Act makes swimming with ducks and fish on Hampstead Heath free and without charge. It makes a valuable contribution to our physical and mental health! That is particularly true for those who may not be able to afford a holiday or cope. Most of us can but some cannot. That is at the core of the proposal put to the City Corporation by the swimming associations, which it turned down, in order to secure compulsory charging power.

The proposed £4 charge significantly exceeds the cost of a swim, according to the City’s unit cost figure in December. A charge of £4, in relation to that is 260% higher than the cost of a swim. No commercial organisation could dream of achieving such a net margin in competitive conditions. So what are swimmers meant to be subsidising?

He justly points out, that the Corporation does much good with these massive charitable funds, known as “City Cash”, which it holds in trust? Much is well known and oft repeated; some, wholly unsung. Few know of the charitable financing of each Lord Mayor’s famous “white tie and tail” magnificent banquets and other hospitality; of finance for the Central Criminal Court, reportedly including lunching, at the Old Bailey. Should it include subsidies for Guild Club for aldermen and common councillors? I found no obvious, celebratory reference to it in the charity’s online accounts? We should know more.

Let no one doubt that apart from the matter of charging, the operational management of Hampstead Heath is self evidently splendid and it management team excellent. A matter for congratulation sadly blighted.

Thank the Lord and John Gurney Hoare for the existence of Hampstead Heath and its ponds. Hip, hip - hooray!