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By Ousman Noor

Sadiq Khan’s victory in the London Mayoral election was announced in national and international news as a victory of a ‘Muslim, son of Pakistani immigrant’. His election is a testament to the ability of Londoners to look beyond a candidate’s race and religion at the ballot.

The result has sent a message to all that the politics of division employed by the Conservatives, BNP and Britain First will not succeed in our capital. In this regard, Khan is correct to describe London as one of the greatest cities in the world.

However, just as we do not condemn a candidate for their race or religion, we must not allow their race or religion to be the reason we support them either. I am also a Muslim, son of a Pakistani immigrant, and I did not vote for Sadiq Khan.

I voted for a person whose policies were designed to promote equal opportunity for people of all backgrounds, to redress income inequality and protect our environment. In her outspoken criticism of the government’s Prevent strategy, she showed a firmer commitment to tackling prejudice in London than any other candidate.

I voted for Sian Berry, not because of her racial or religious identity, but because she was the best person for the job and, more so than Khan, demonstrated that she would be a ‘Mayor for all Londoners’.

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Monitoring in Highgate villageBy Green Councillor, Sian Berry

At today’s council meeting, I’m putting a motion that will ensure the council keeps monitoring air pollution, despite Government attempts to reduce what’s collected. Along with Councillor Flick Rea, I’m also warning about the dangers HS2’s long construction period will pose to the health of local people – a report on this in the CNJ.

Air pollution is a huge problem. In London at least 4,000 early deaths a year are caused by it, and the latest estimates (which include the main traffic pollutant nitrogen dioxide not just the dangerous particles) show many more are in fact being harmed, with children especially vulnerable.

The European Court of Justice has recently ruled that public authorities in the UK must take action to achieve levels of pollution within nitrogen dioxide limits “as soon as possible”, and last month the Environmental Audit Committee in Parliament warned against reducing requirements to monitor air pollution, saying that: “The Government should ensure… that its desire to reduce red tape will not be allowed to undermine robust air quality monitoring across the country.”

Our motion concerns a proposal from the Govt Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (whose public consultation on this was very cheekily launched just before Christmas), to stop requiring local councils to measure air pollution. This would be a disaster in Camden. Many local areas rely on the council’s monitoring programme for information on the air pollution they are living with. The national network of monitoring stations, run by Defra, only includes three sites in the most polluted areas, but Camden’s additional data shows that all but one area (Frognal) is over legal limits.

Local schools and campaign groups, including Camden Green Party, have also carried out air pollution measurement in some local areas, for example:

In Highgate, we found all our residential streets were over the legal limits in December 2013

In the areas set to be affected by HS2 construction works and vehicles, campaigners measured existing pollution last year, finding extremely high levels

Several schools are also carrying out ‘citizen science’ experiments to measure the air pollution they face.

These ad-hoc studies run by the community are very useful in raising awareness of the problem and providing snapshots of data, but are no substitute at all for the regular monitoring carried out by Council officers in providing a consistent, detailed long-term picture of the state of our air.

The motion being proposed at tonight’s meeting is below. Labour councillors have put forward an amendment that would water it down by asking HS2 Limited to pay for the new monitoring stations around Euston, with no commitment for Camden to pay if they refuse. I don’t agree with this and hope the original motion will get through. If you want to see what happens, the council meeting will be webcast as usual and you can watch it here: http://democracy.camden.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=149&MId=5344

Motion proposed by Cllr Flick Rea and seconded by Cllr Sian Berry

This council notes with concern that air pollution leads to at least 4,000 early deaths a year in London, and possibly many more. It causes heart attacks, strokes, cancer and worsens a wide range of respiratory diseases. Growing up breathing polluted air means that children living near busy roads have under-developed lungs, with health consequences throughout their lives.

We are therefore concerned at proposals from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), in a consultation launched just before Christmas, to remove requirements for local authorities to model and monitor local air pollution in detail – a proposal which itself admits that local pollution hotspots are likely to be left out of replacement national monitoring.

Defra currently supports only 273 air pollution sites nationally – including Russell Square, Bloomsbury and partial funding of Camden’s Swiss Cottage monitoring site. Camden Council measures both particulate and gaseous pollution automatically at two further sites (Euston Road and Shaftesbury Avenue).

Camden also regularly measures, using diffusion tubes only, average Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels at a further 12 locations across the borough. In 2013 NO2 levels exceeded the EU annual mean legal limit concentration of 40 micrograms per cubic metre in every single location, except Frognal. The three sites with greatest consistent exceedences have (since 2011) been Euston Road, Tottenham Court Road and Finchley Road.

We believe that the more we know about the air we breathe, the more we will do to improve it, and therefore call on the Leader of the Council and the Cabinet to respond to Defra’s consultation by the deadline urging the retention of consistent requirements for local authorities to monitor air pollution and to pledge that local air pollution monitoring throughout our borough will be maintained at least at its current level.

Particulate pollution is a particular health risk, and comes from diesel vehicles and a range of other sources, including construction, which is why we are particularly concerned about the cumulative effect on residents living near HS2’s prospective massive construction site around Euston.

Therefore we also urge Camden to additionally set up automatic monitoring of gas and particulates in both Eversholt Street and Hampstead Road. This must be done soon so that residents with health concerns have at least a year of baseline evidence prior to construction, rather than their current unsatisfactory need to rely on modelling from monitoring stations well out of area.

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By Councillor Sian Berry

On Wednesday 14th January, the Housing Scrutiny Committee is holding an evidence session to hear the views of tenants and leaseholders on repairs and major works on their homes, including the Better Homes programme.

The committee has also asked Councillors for their views on the progress made so far, following two previous sets of recommendations on how better to manage contracts and works, and communication with residents.

I’ll be attending Wednesday’s meeting and have submitted a written report to the committee with recent evidence from Highgate Ward, based on work done by me, and by my predecessor Councillor Maya de Souza.

Our report also restates the recommendations of a dossier produced by Maya in 2012, which interviewed residents in Highgate about their experience of the work of contractors and the council. This was highly critical of the quality of work, and particularly the quality and amount of engagement with residents before, during and after works take place.

There are many recommendations in our new report, but the most significant are:

Employ more project managers within Camden
There needs to be much better in-house scrutiny of contractors and more detailed specification of what works are needed.

In our recent proposals for Camden’s budget, we asked for more qualified surveyors and project managers to be employed by the council to oversee works, and estimated conservatively that this could save up to £10 million.

We pointed out the use of surveyors to manage contracts in works to communal areas on the Holly Lodge Estate – after a group of residents insisted on this – led to dramatic cost savings. Compared with the original estimate of close to £80,000 for this block, the final cost was just over £35,000 – approximately a 50% saving.

Bring more services in house
This is a key recommendation in previous committee reports, and something the Greens have repeatedly called for. Repairs is an obvious candidate for an expanded in-house team, as it is ongoing and the level of staffing needed will be relatively constant. We hear many reports from residents of works by the current contractors being carried out late or inefficiently, and a strong suspicion that callout fees are being exploited.

Despite this, the council has not increased its in house repair capacity, with the progress report to the committee saying that in reviewing procurement: “officers evaluated the options available and concluded that the in house team would not have the capacity at present to undertake additional workstreams. It was also identified that any service or work package assigned to the in house team would not be recognised as a ‘qualifying long term agreement’, this complicating the delivery of rechargeable works.”

We want this looked at again, as we believe expanding the in-house team would prove good value, and these are not good reasons to continue to waste money on an inefficient contract.

Better communication and engagement with Tenants and Residents Associations (TRAs) and residents
The progress report says “We are also convening resident panel meetings with support from TRAs and the ‘We are Camden’ website is being promoted widely.”

However, our experience shows serious problems still remain in both these areas. After a range of problems when the works started, a resident panel to help oversee works was promised – but has never materialised – for the current Better Homes work on the Whittington Estate in Highgate.

And the We Are Camden website seems barely used for these functions – not just by residents but also by council officers and members. For the Highgate group on the site, the councillors listed are still those from before last May’s election, recent meetings are not reported and the most up-to-date comments from residents are from November 2014.

Overall on repairs and major works, though some changes have taken place, there is much still to do. When both tenants and leaseholders are paying large proportions of their income (in very straightened times) to Camden to keep their homes and estates in good order means we must spend their money wisely and transparently with a much more appropriate level of consultation and communication.

The fact that the relevant scrutiny committee is monitoring these issues is positive, however, and that residents are being given the chance to take part this week. I hope our evidence and proposals will be able to get improvements speeded up and make a difference to how things work in future!

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Councillor Maya de Souza has served Highgate Ward since 2006. In the last of our series of posts on what she and fellow councillors Adrian Oliver and Alex Goodman have achieved for Camden, Maya writes about protecting vital community services.

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For the Greens, community centres, libraries, adult education, youth centres, services for children and those with poor mental health are critical. They are spaces for interaction that bring people of different generations and backgrounds together. This is what we need in a healthy society, and we value public provision of these services.

We know this is hard in cash constrained times. But what we need is a good distribution of Council funds, that takes into account the real value of these services. We are also for openness and discussion about these services to ensure we find a way to protect those that are needed. We’re concerned about Labour’s approach that suggests that with volunteers and private fundraising services can stay alive.

I’d like to flag up some of the important but sometimes undervalued services that we’ve worked hard to protect.

Protecting the Library – In respect of Highgate Library, the Labour administration in June 2011 decided to reduce library funding by 75%. This was to happen in April 2013. We made this a big issue in the 2011 by-election, pointing out this cut meant the library was at risk of closure. Though we lost the election we won the argument. A working group was set up, a public meeting held, and the cuts postponed to April 2015. A small amount of additional funding has since been promised, but the cuts remain around 65% of the £180k budget for 2010/11.

The future of the library remains precarious, if now a little safer. Labour councillors have given assurances, which Greens have sought in the clearest terms, that if the volunteer approach doesn’t work they will still keep it open for at least 3 days a week. Labour need to be held to this. We have asked for more: proper funding to keep it going, as we take the view that some extra staffing is needed if only to manage this number of volunteers. We don’t want to see jobs being lost either; though a community approach is welcome we need to be realistic as to what is possible!

Protecting our community centres – Both the Holly Lodge and Highgate Newtown Community Centres now have limited funding and greater dependence on fundraising and volunteers. The former has no regular funding, and limited activity. It’s luncheon club for the elderly no longer operates, and though a local church provides a service that’s not quite the same.

The Highgate Newtown Community Centre only has 20% of its funding of 5 years ago. Greens have explored whether the Highgate Newtown Community Centre can survive. The board has made it clear that they don’t think they will be able to close more than 75% of the funding gap, putting the whole centre at risk. This would be a real shame considering also the money and work spent on the centre in the last couple of years. Considering the relatively small sums needed to keep these centres going, we argue that funding can and should be found.

Good services for children – In respect of the Holly Lodge Family Centre, originally built about 50 years ago, we worked with the community and council to get a new building in place as the old one was dilapidated. The Labour councillors prior to the Greens coming in had done nothing to address this. Working with residents we got a council commitment to funding, initially cancelled by incoming Labour administration, but we finally got a further commitment from them to fund this as part of their redevelopment of the estate which would mean more families and greater need.

Just before the by-election in Sept 2011 they seemed to backtrack again. Councillor Leach referred to this as a possibly white elephant in a meeting. Once again we made this an issue in the by- election and obtained a commitment to have it built. Sadly, Councillor Gimson pushed for a modular building on the basis that this would be in use soon, which didn’t happen in the end, so this isn’t as nice as it could be. But a new building is now in place, which is better than nothing. It’s being run by the Queens Crescent Community Centre and we wish them well, but will be pushing for opening the space up for other community uses and working with the community to improve the outdoor spaces, to strengthen the sense of community ownership by the those at Holly Lodge.

We’ve also worked with local residents to understand the need for childcare services in the area and put mothers in touch with HNCC so they can work together to understand need and explore other alternatives. We’re keen on an empowering approach which brings communities and service providers together, so that services are those that are needed and provided in the way the local community wants.

Protecting centres and services for those with mental ill-health – On mental health provision, we have for a long time sought to ensure good services and clear pathways for care in what is a critical area of service, but one which often doesn’t attract the attention it should. The division of responsibilities between the Council, the Camden and Islington Foundation Trust, GPs, MIND and others causes confusion.

I led a cross-party working group looking at issues relating to mental health and women because of the higher rates of mental ill health amongst women in this borough and higher rates of suicide. This group met with service users to understand the issues and needs as well as service provider in the voluntary and state sector.

It made a series of recommendations focusing on those with less serious mental health problems. It stressed the benefits of gender specific crisis and temporary housing and women advisers, which helps ensure a sense if safety. It made recommendations as to the potential to use community centres and activities within them in a preventative capacity as many users just wanted activity with their peers or others.

It also recommended improved training for GPs and better recording of incidents in hospitals so that people got the help they needed as early as possible. In addition, recommendations were made as to clear points of contact and better training of housing and other advisers so they were equipped to deal with people with mental health problems.

In respect of day centres, in the 2006-10 council, I argued against the sale of the Jamestown Day centre. She supported those in the Highgate Centre who wanted sufficient professional staff support. More recently she supported those campaigning to ensure the Highgate Centre retained sufficient space for those with poor mental health, and that there wasn’t too much lost in terms of space and facilities.

There is much more in my view that can be done to improve mental health services, which in my view requires working closely with users and user groups. We need to move away from the distant approach of the Foundation Trust. We also need to try and address the complexity and confusion from the perspective of the user. I’ve tried to contribute to this field, but there is much more to be done here from simple things like clear well publicised pathways and lines of responsibility, to a change in culture and a more open approach to discussing these services which brings these services into centre stage. So many of us will suffer mental ill health problems or have friends and family who will. We all need to be involved in developing good services that really work”.

Services for dementia sufferers – Greens have lobbied hard to protect spaces for various vulnerable groups. These include the Netherwood Centre for dementia sufferers which was threatened with closure and incorporation of services into a single site for people with a range of problems from mental ill health to learning disabilities. We opposed this arguing that with the predicted dementia time bomb, no such centres should be closed. The centre has been protected for the time being.

Physical and learning disabilities – Greens have supported disability groups in terms of accessibility and transport, supporting the use of blue badge holders. We are also keen to ensure a good voluntary service providing advocacy support and other services. DISC that has done this for so many years has folded, but we would like to see this revived. I have also visited the Camden Centre for those with learning disabilities, offering support.

Maya de Souza
Camden, May 2014

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Our candidate for Camden Town with Primrose Hill ward, Ben Van der Velde is organising an excellent protest against Camden’s draconian and contradictory busking rules this Sunday, with Jonny Walker, Founding Director of the Keep Streets Live Campaign, and Comedian Mark Thomas. Join in and find out more…

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Ben Van der Velde, Mark Thomas and Jonny Walker found the Church of the Holy Kazoo in Camden

Sunday Service: May 4th, 1pm, Britannia Square, Camden Town, outside HSBC and Camden Town Tube
 
You are cordially invited to the inaugural service of the Church of the Holy Kazoo this Sunday May 4th at 1pm. This fledging religious movement was formed in the aftermath of Camden Council’s controversial decision to criminalise street music across its entire geographical area, introducing fines of up to £1000 for unlicensed busking and giving themselves the power to confiscate and sell musical instruments to pay the fines as well as banning wind and percussion instruments.
 
However, all is not lost. Camden’s policy exempts music that is part of a religious procession or service from the need for a license, so we are issuing a general invitation for music and culture lovers everywhere to bring their instruments of choice and join our joyful  congregation. The service will be presided over by comedian/activist, Mark Thomas, comedian/Camden Green Party Candidate, Ben Van Der Velde and the founding director of the Keep Streets Live campaign, Jonny Walker. The musical participation of the congregation is strongly welcomed and encouraged.
 
Our church is inclusive and non-judgmental and has few dogmas, save these two:
 
1.) Busking is a sacred act in our church and an expression of worship.
2.) Our songbook is every song, hymn or piece of music that has ever been written.
 
We want to celebrate public space as a place of community and spontaneity and stand against unjust laws that stifle creativity so join us this Sunday as we fill the streets of Camden with music, laughter and a slightly unsettling buzzing sound.
 
 
Join the event online: https://www.facebook.com/events/604776976274559
 

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Ben at Camden Collective

by Ben Van der Velde

Last week the Green Party organised a meeting for me with Simon Pitkeathley, the Chief Executive of an amazing organisation called Camden Collective.  Meeting him and being invited around the various properties run by his initiative was one of the most cheering experiences I’ve had in a long time.  The mainstream news and parties in government seem to be stuck on a narrative of austerity and a lack of imagination or innovation within the country.  What Simon showed me suggests something quite different.

Anyone who lives in Camden Town will know that the centre part of it has a very divided feel.  To the right of the station you have the colourful carnival of markets, global food stalls, tourist tat and genuinely creative independent artist stalls.  To the left it is a more dreary affair: with the odd exception the strip between Camden Town station and Mornington Crescent is an identikit British high street of uniformity and drabness.  Chain stores, betting shops and, most upsettingly, empty shop fronts.  But that might be about to change.  In a previously empty property next to Pret A Manger Simon has opened up The Camden Collective – a multi-purpose shop floor where he allows small businesses to trade for two weeks at a time to find out if their idea has legs and to gain all sorts of useful experiences and contacts that can help them grow.  The inside is made almost entirely from reclaimed material and even when I visited it at 10:30am it at an atmosphere of quiet industry pervaded, amongst the cake-sellers, dress makers and pottery-moulders. 

Even more excitingly, this isn’t the Collective’s only property.  As well as using the top floor space above 159 Camden High Street as office space for various new companies specialising in a hugely diverse range of fields, they also use a property further down the high street. Down an anonymous back lane and above a gallery is one of Camden Collective’s Hubs. A place where innovators in software for Google Glasses rub shoulders with designers sat at sowing machines.  Yet again, this is a place where Simon’s organisation offers space to young businessmen and women for free, in order for them to focus all their energies on their ideas, rather than worrying about high rent and rates costs that could hamstring a potentially brilliant concept at an early stage.  More importantly, this idea of shared workspace and giving people room to fail and learn from their mistakes is key.  Anyone working in creative industries will tell you that the best ideas often come when they’re having a chat in the kitchen of a friend working in a completely different sphere and the Collective’s hubs are designed so that these sort of happily accidental pieces of cross-pollination will occur.

Read Ben’s full blog here

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by Natalie Bennett

I didn’t manage to make it to the London Green Fair until late today, so no doubt missed lots of good things, including what sounds like an interesting talk on the London Orchard Project, and our own Alexis Rowell speaking about balcony foodgrowing – which had inspired several of the people I met.

I also only caught a little of the debate involving London Green MEP Jean Lambert on business and climate change – although I did hear her strong proclaiming the need for rapid, strong regulatory action, which certainly went down well in the big tent debate.

Many of the stalls were regulars who I know well (with quite a few Camden Green Party members staffing them), but there were some new ones that I found intriguing, including The Scythe Association of Britain and Ireland, formed only last year. Sounds a lot more fun, and better exercise, then a noisy, smelly petrol mower.

There was also a big focus on bees – I picked up a leaflet from the Natural Beekeeping Trust, another from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and had a chat with a cheery man dressed as a bumblee representing the Friends of the Earth Bee Cause.

From Healthy Planet I collected some basil seeds, which should definitely enliven thecusines over the summer, and I also picked up a leaflet for the London Permaculture Festival, which I missed last year but hope to make this.

There were lots of stalls selling various products; the one that impressed we was the Katcha Bilek stall, with handbags, purses and belts made from recycled tyres. Clever and stylish.

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