The Heath, exhaust theft, public access, Centene, the Streatery and more

A view of the rubbish left by lorry drivers on the verge of the A20 near Dover in Kent as Kent Polic

Litter has been left in parks and green spaces since lockdown started easing - Credit: PA Images

A few thoughtless people are spoiling the Heath

Penny Jones, Camden, full address supplied, writes:

I’m not typically a person who would make contact however, I feel at a loss as to what to do having seen the volume of litter strewn across the Heath this morning (March 31).

I frequently run through the Heath in a morning and feel blessed to have such a large, wonderful green space to escape to in the Heath of London. This has been even more important over the last few months whilst we’ve all been so restricted, and the Heath has certainly been a retreat for many or perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have visited.

As I ran through just after 6am it was actually quite upsetting to see so much litter everywhere. In the grassy area by the men’s bathing pond and small pond adjacent, there was litter everywhere as though they’d just got up and left after drinking and eating, leaving everything as they’d dumped it - no attempt to even place it by a bin. Carrier bags full of rubbish hanging on railings or tree branches - it’s really upsetting.


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I think the people who look after the Heath do a wonderful job and I pass many regular walkers/dog walkers in a morning all out at the same time as me. I exchanged comments with a couple of them today who were also shocked by the litter.

I simply cannot understand people destroying their own environment and potentially causing harm to the wildlife - so sad to watch birds pecking at orange Sainsbury’s bags but the empty cans etc must be causing injuries to some animals.

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I have no idea what we can do but I feel so strongly about this I thought I’d email. A few people are spoiling the Heath for the many. To be honest, if it takes a ban on picnics and drinking to stop it then I’d be in support of such draconian measures if people cannot exercise the simple courtesy of taking their rubbish with them or depositing it in one of the many rubbish bins provided.

If you have received any other letters on this and/or there is something I can do to help stop this antisocial, selfish behaviour then I’d be glad to know.

No action

Peter Rutherford, Pandora Road, Hampstead, writes:

Your story on car exhaust theft, (Barnet the worst hit for catalytic converter thefts) should have mentioned that when reported, these incidents are largely ignored by the police.

I reported such a theft and received an acknowledgment followed by an email the next day saying the case was closed. It is no wonder that there are so many similar events. My silencer may be one of those in your photograph and they haven’t even troubled to find out if this is so.

Next week’s crimes will be caused by the police failure even to try to do something about last weeks. As a result, the message gets through that crime pays. It would seem that it does.

We need a postcode marking system which is heat proof and durable.

A monarchy

Cyril Meadows, Haringey, full address supplied, writes:

At this time when the media are giving extensive coverage to the death of the Duke of Edinburgh it is worth reflecting on the whole principle of monarchy in 21st century Britain. If not now, when?

The UK head of state is unelected and unaccountable, enjoys unparalleled and unmerited privilege, power, and wealth, and should not be treated by the media as though (s)he is some kind of divine super-being. Critical analysis of her/his role and the institution of monarchy should be part of the media’s job. The head of state should be held to account like all other government officials financed by the taxpayers. 

Monarchy is a hereditary and therefore undemocratic and unmeritocratic system of appointing the head of state. It infantilises its subjects into degradingly deferential and hysterical behaviour towards people who are ‘highnesses’ or ‘majesties’ merely by accident of birth. A “modern monarchy” is an oxymoron. It’s about time Britain entered the 21st century and got rid of the monarchy.

The path

Jenny Beddington, Waterlow Road, Highgate Hill, writes: 

Your article “Church closes path over antisocial behaviour” did not mention that there are two other unsecured, open entrances to St Joseph’s Monastery Garden, on Dartmouth Park Hill and beside the main entrance to the Church.  

These can give free access to unwanted intruders, the very people Father Tiernan wishes to prevent entering the area, particularly at night. We are surprised that the police and an insurance company, as he mentions, would recommend locking one gate and leaving two others open. The risk still remains. 

Nonetheless to address the brothers’ evident anxiety over the one gate, the local community has proposed various measures. These include opening and locking the Highgate Hill Gate at the start and end of the day; a timer-lock on the gate; and security lighting in the orchard. We have offered to help with any costs. Every suggestion has been rejected. We still hope that St Joseph’s will come to a compromise with local residents and the primary school, so we can continue, as we have for many years, to use the Highgate entrance (I for one have used the gate since 1981). 

It would be good if we could meet with the brothers, virtual or otherwise, perhaps with the school, so we can explain why the shutting of the gate has given rise to such difficulty and hopefully together reach a resolution. 

Ponds charges

Swimmers enjoying the mixed bathing ponds of Hampstead Heath. Picture: PA

Swimmers enjoying the mixed bathing ponds of Hampstead Heath. Picture: PA - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Judith Perle, Brondesbury Villas, West Kilburn, writes:

In October 2020, unhappy with the new compulsory charges imposed by the City on swimmers at the Hampstead Heath Bathing Ponds, I asked them for certain pieces of financial information.

From their response, together with data made public by the City, I calculated that they spent around £1.04 per swim (and around 50p for each visitor to the Heath) before the pandemic.

Not surprisingly, this led me to ask them why they were imposing charges (currently £4 per swim; £2.40 concessions + season tickets available) which are almost four times the costs. Surely they aren’t trying to extract a profit from the swimmers?

I queried these figures with the committee which manages the Heath and have exchanged around 20 emails with Anne Fairweather and Bob Warnock (chair of the committee and superintendent of Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood & Queen’s Park respectively). I have been met with either silence or evasive answers.

One can only draw one of two conclusions. Either the City is simply incompetent, publishing figures which it then refuses to either deny or confirm. Or, worse still, it is trying to profiteer from the Bathing Ponds. Either way, transparency is notably absent.

Should we be entrusting management of the Bathing Ponds, let alone the treasure that is Hampstead Heath, to them?

GP takeover

156 members of Camden Patient Participation Groups and Camden patients, wrote to The Rt Hon Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care; Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive, National Health England and Dr Jo Sauvage, NCL CCG chair and primary care ;ead:

As members of Patient Participation Groups (PPGs) and other patients across Camden, we are deeply concerned about the recent takeover of the UK owned primary care provider, AT Medics, by Operose, a subsidiary of the US health insurance giant, Centene.

Polls indicate that an overwhelming majority of the British public do not want to see further commercialisation of our NHS.

We recognise that GMS and PMS GP practices may be privately owned but they are fully integrated into the NHS. The shift from individual GPs owning their own practices to huge foreign companies being able to buy blocks of GP practices is a fundamental change and one we strongly deplore - particularly when the company concerned enjoys a poor reputation in its own domestic market – a fact which is apparently beyond the scope of “due diligence” checks in the UK.

We think that this corporatisation will inevitably lead to a drive to reduce costs in order to increase returns to shareholders. Whilst Centene might now fulfil its contracts we strongly suspect that over time it will do so in a manner which will impact adversely on patient care – as has happened elsewhere. For patients , this change has significant ramifications. 
Many of these points are made in a letter dated March 19, 2021 to Rt Hon Matt Hancock from 16 London councillors.

In terms of the process, we also refer you to the letter of February 22, 2021 also to Rt Hon Matt Hancock from Peter Roderick et al, which sets out in detail the issues of process and requests a review. In summary the process whereby AT Medics has been transferred to Centene, via its subsidiary Operose, has been secretive and opaque. Surely it cannot be right that change of control over GP services across London can take place under the noses of communities and their representatives without their being aware of what is happening?

Surely, to be consistent with the government’s stated aim of involving the public in decisions over service delivery, it should be a responsibility of CCGs to fully inform the public when such a change is under review.

In summary, our national and local concerns relate to:

  • lack of transparency of process;
  • lack of public engagement/communication by NHS England and local CCGs;
  • lack of legislative means of achieving effective due diligence about performance of a non-UK company;
  • the ethics of the potential for UK taxpayers’ money to become shareholders profits;
  • the need for safeguards in relation to clinical standards.

We ask Dr Jo Sauvage NCL CCG:

Please let us have written reassurance that when these APMS contracts with Operose-Centene come up for renewal, that they will be reassigned to local, service providers who put patient care first with safeguards built in to protect patients.

We ask Sir Simon Stevens:

Is it now policy to allow profit-driven companies to buy up primary care services in England? If so, please provide evidence that profit driven companies provide better patient care than the public sector or GP partnerships.

We ask the Rt Hon Matt Hancock:

Exactly how will the legislation on setting up Integrated Care Systems prevent inappropriate levels of profit for private sector providers of direct health services?

The Streatery

Patricia Pearce, Belsize Park Mews, Belsize Park, writes:

I write to praise the Belsize Village Streatery and look forward to its return.

As someone who has lived in Belsize Village for over 57 years I have to say that the village is looking the cleanest it has ever. Whilst having lived through many changes in the village I have to say that the Streatery has been the best thing that has happened. 

The Belsize Village Streatery has rejuvenated the village and I am thrilled to see the addition of new shops and restaurants. It was terribly sad to see units go empty for years and to worry about what we would get, if anything. Clearly, the fact that the Streatery has encouraged yet more independent shops and restaurants to locate here is key. In addition, the fact that the Streatery has increased the capacity for outside dining during the pandemic is critical.

I’m sure many older people feel as I do. Going out and seeing people is a vital part of keeping healthy (both mentally and physically), however this has to be balanced with infection risks and our duty as citizens to keep the R number down. By attending the Streatery I can tick all of these boxes. Do my bit to help small local businesses survive, whilst meeting up with family and friends in the safest way possible. 

Additional improvements such as: the benches being moved to create a more coherent space; the location of beautiful planters that not only provide security, but also give a secluded square where one feels as if they are on holiday even though they are actually just a few minutes from home; parasols to protect young and old skin alike; and proper bins that has allowed the foul rubbish mound with smelly leakages and the associated foxes and rats to be removed.

Happily, we now have a village square that we can all be proud of and that the whole community can utilise. 

Prior to this amazing transformation the square was so dirty that I wouldn’t take my grandchildren there. Now it is a delight and one that last year was a saviour for many people’s mental health and has given Belsize Village a throbbing community heart that previously was missing. 

I was delighted that this project got CIL funding last year and am very grateful to the local councillors for all their hard work to make this happen. It is wonderful that a huge number of volunteers have worked tirelessly to keep our village tidy and take it to a hitherto unseen level. I only hope funding can be found for it this year, so all the good work can continue. 

Looking forward to seeing many local residents in April and to getting back to some level of normality which the Streatery helps provide. 

Kathleen Jones, Belsize Park Mews, Belsize Park, writes:

I am writing to praise the amazing efforts of the local councillors who have been instrumental in helping with the revitalisation of Belsize Village. Their continued hard labours, especially that of the Streatery project sponsor Steve Adams has been unsurpassed over the past year.

Once upon a time there was a mound of trash every night and debris every morning. Now we have a fabulous clean village.

Our rather sad empty space has been turned into a vibrant area where people meet. The fact that this space known as the Streatery has also made Belsize Village buzz with life and new businesses (at a time when many places are losing businesses), shows how forward thinking our councillors have been.

I can’t wait to be enjoying meals and maybe a few drinks in the square this spring and summer. Kudos to our local councillors and special thanks to Cllr Steve Adams. We are lucky to have all of you working for our community and understanding what is needed.

An alliance?

Norma Cohen, Gospel Oak, full address supplied, writes: 

I, like many readers of the Ham&High, live in the parliamentary district of Holborn and St Pancras. That makes me a constituent of Sir Keir Starmer, MP, who is also the current head of the Labour Party.

I would like to draw Sir Keir’s attention to a letter, sent to him by a Labour Party member from Cheltenham, and to ask him to publicly respond. I, too, share the writer’s alarm and fear for the future. As a constituent, I want to hear from my MP. The writer is calling for Labour to form a ‘Progressive Alliance’ with other political parties to block what he describes as a drift towards a one-party state.

The writer notes that the current government is behaving like no other in modern history. “Many see this as the first steps towards a very British kind of fascism.” 

In short, the writer notes, the Conservative Party today is transformed. It has become the English National Party, omitting views of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

More to the point, the Tories are committed to attacking the key institutions that preserve democracy in Britain. Included in a catalogue of these attacks are illegal attempts to prorogue parliament, roll back judicial review and curb the right of peaceful protest. Moreover, it is evading proper scrutiny of its activities by giving voice to a phony culture war building on the “anti-elite” sentiment that drove its success in driving Britain out of the European Union.

In short, I, as a constituent, am calling on Sir Keir to respond. Will he agree to a progressive alliance?

We need a code

Jolanda Marshall, Westminster, full address supplied, writes:

Politicians tell us that a code of conduct is to be drawn up for managing agents. They do not tell us why the only consultants are the very trade bodies who have happily presided over years of abuse committed by their members.

Leaseholders buying out their landlords or operating a Right To Manage company need a board of directors. Whether leasehold, freehold or commonhold, if you live in a block of flats, you need a managing agent.

Increasingly, buy-to-let investors are acquiring (often multiple) leases in blocks of flats. Frequently those leases and their mortgages are in the names of others. Those investors may be in bed with the landlord or managing agent. They may have purchased their leases in circumstances where the vendor had already paid a large sum of into a sinking fund and they may claim tax relief on service charges. They will therefore not have to meet the cost of excessive work proposed by a managing agent and, with a number of leases, have a controlling voice in any board or committee. There is the additional problem of communities disappearing from blocks of flats in favour of peripatetic tenants with little respect for property or neighbours.

In 1996 you printed my letter under the heading “Home is where the heartache is”. I expressed the opinion then that more should be done to control rogue landlords and managing agents. Fast forward a quarter of a century and home is still where the heartache is - what a disgrace!

Living Wage

Vitória Russo Gaino, King’s College student, writes:

This mayoral election and Assembly is a fresh opportunity for Londoners to have their voices heard.

As a final-year student at King’s College London, I am particularly interested in the Living Wage issue which will be brought to the mayoral candidates. After a hefty investment in my education of both time and money, I want to make sure my work will be valued and I will be able to make a living after graduating.

The mayoral assembly on April 28 is to me an opportunity to make sure that the candidates are held accountable to the communities they are meant to serve. And it’s also a chance to turn the frustration and anger we feel towards different issues into concrete action. With substantial loans and years of study behind us, my fellow graduates and I are entering the job market disheartened by the few job prospects and low wages that can make it hard to make ends meet.

By becoming the first Living Wage city and implementing Living Hours, the mayoral candidates could ensure that the future ahead looks bright and promising to young people once again.

I urge Ham&High readers to visit citizensuk.org to read our manifesto and to give it your support.

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