The by-election town that’s waking up to its environmental responsibilities

Matilda Moreton investigates the green issues facing Highgate

�As local people well know, Highgate is not a middle- class preserve and safeguarding its vibrant social mix calls for a variety of political initiatives. On-going ward concerns include effecting affordable leaseholder service charges, ensuring tenants get a good service on an estate in dealing with anti-social behaviour or, indeed, ensuring people are not overcharged for parking. Housing and other social problems demand attention in Highgate, in particular, on the Whittington Estate, St Albans Road, Spencer Rise-Churchill Road Estate and others.

Resources such as Highgate library are under threat and Camden Council is threatening to axe the life-giving grant to Holly Lodge Community Centre with no vision as to how it will survive.

Bus provision to Highgate is problematic, partly as a result of the village straddling no less than four boroughs – primarily Camden and Haringey, but also Barnet and Islington. There is no direct bus route from Highgate village to the West End, to Hampstead, Swiss Cottage, Crouch End or Muswell Hill.

Another source of resentment is the terminus of the 271 bus, which turns round in the middle of the village, as it has done since this route was first served by a tram more than 100 years ago, on the side of Pond Square, the edge of London at that time. For some residents, this is seen as preventing the improvement of this area and a campaign to move the terminus is now being taken forwward by the Highgate Society and councillors.


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Through traffic is another top concern, in particular the congestion and speeding through Highgate as well as the accident blackspots of Chetwynd and Chester Roads. There are calls for additional speed restrictions, road-narrowing features, separated cycling lanes and more cycling infrastructure generally.

Recycling

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The reformed recycling system is valued in Highgate as in other areas. It has been noted that there are doorstep collections from street properties but not on estates. Although this seems unfair and does nothing to combat apathy towards recycling, the system of mini-recycling centres on estates is actually a better solution environmentally and produces higher quality recycling with better resale value. Faced with increasing cuts, initiatives to reuse unwanted goods are also being implemented by locals.

In this new age of austerity, people are asking for help with allotment provision and other food growing spaces elsewhere and especially on estates. There is demand for more projects like the Waterlow Park community allotment, successful and popular with the area’s schools and community groups.

But as many are now realising, such as activist Constantine Buhayer, “austerity also means less superfluous consumerism and a greater neighbourhood spirit. If nothing else, hard times must entail looking out for each other.” What, in fact, Constantine is advocating, is a good old-fashioned informality where neighbours can leave a pot of jam or something on the doorstep, drop in to say hello, share a meal with games or some gossip. “It not only saves resources but also keeps people in touch,” he says.

One community-spirited group working for environmental issues is HiCAN (Highgate Climate Action Network). It was started in April 2008 by Catherine Budgett-Meakin, with her husband and others and now has more than 100 members.

Like the transition town groups, HiCAN aims to prepare society for the transition to a low-carbon society in the face of climate change and dwindling oil reserves. This is a community action group, encouraging the use of alternative forms of energy and reduced carbon dioxide emissions, engaging in lobbying and educational activities as well as practical activities such as energy monitoring.

This Home Energy Monitoring Programme (HEMP) received a grant from Camden Council and ran from January to April 2011 in a cross-section of 20 volunteer households, recording home energy meter reading on a regular basis.

As sure as autumn is the season of mellow fruitfulness, local elections remind us all of what really matters, on our doorstep. The least we can do is keep informed, and go out and vote.

Distinct groups within HiCAN may be contacted, with focus on particular issues: the Food Group, led by Pat Farrington (pafarrington@googlemail.com) promotes sustainable food as a vital part of a greener way of life; the Recycling Group, led by Anne Burley (anneburley@internet.com.), aims to encourage the reduction of packaging, repair and reuse where possible and the recycling of ‘everything we don’t want, including food waste’; the Lobby Group, led by Susan Lees (susan@lees.org.uk), develops template letters to lobby MPs, in order to communicate ‘the strength of thinking at grassroots level’ to politicians; the Energy Group, led by Prashant Vaze (prashant.vaze@btinternet.com), aims to provide help to Highgate residents to reduce their gas and power use. The Transport, Education, Biodiversity and Housing Groups are in the process of development. Discussion forums and practical advice may be found at http://hican.wikispaces.com

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