Gazette letters: Barbecues in parks, diesel surcharge and elections

Barbecue trays left in Higbury Place last year. Picture: TIM SAYER

Barbecue trays left in Higbury Place last year. Picture: TIM SAYER - Credit: Tim Sayer

Cllr Claudia Webbe recently tweeted that “the public health benefits of parks and open spaces is clear, writes Anita Frizzarin, Wedmore Gardens, Tufnell Park.

That’s why we value all those in Islington, for the benefit of the whole community – most people don’t have any private green space in Islington, so doing so is about fairness”

The BBC article to which she refers, however, does not say that generating fumes in parks – as she and Islington Council allow in the shape of barbecues in Highbury Fields – is good for health. On the contrary, permitting burning to happen and rubbish to accumulate in public parks go right against the health benefits brought by parks.

Since people are kept away from Highbury Fields by barbecues, the holders of which just have to drive to the place unchallenged, allowing that to happen achieves the opposite of what the report “Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces” recommends. There is a reason other councils do not permit barbecues in parks, and those are public health reasons. It is a pity those reasons are lost on Cllr Webbe.

Are Islington councillors uncaring about their local businesses (which they publicly claim to support), or are they so hopelessly naive they cannot be bothered to think through the consequences of their actions when approving new initiatives? writes Philip Allen, Kentish Town.

I went recently to my local independent baker in Junction Road to buy bread. Having found a parking bay, I went to the machine to pay.

No coins are allowed any more: everything has to be done by mobile phone. I texted the minimum time displayed (six minutes) and got the confirmation text back, which informed me that I had been charged £3.08 – for SIX MINUTES! I naturally assumed this to be a mistake, but bought my bread, and prepared to email Islington which I did when I got home. Astonishingly, I was to discover that it was not a mistake. Islington’s response said: six minutes’ parking charge 48p; service charge 20p; text message charge 40p; diesel “flat-rate” charge £2; total £3.08. Eye-watering though this charge is for a six-minute period (a pro-rata rate would come to more than £300 a day), it is compounded by a shocking lack of transparency. On the machine itself there was NO mention of the actual cost: merely “40p for each six minutes” and even that was wrong! The fact that there was not even a location number shown on the machine (meaning one had to walk down the street to hunt for a parking sign displaying this essential information) is presumably contrived to increase the number of penalty tickets they can issue.

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Not only is one left with a feeling of having been cheated, but with a strong concern for local traders who are now faced with yet another hidden obstacle for their businesses – this time from their own council! Clearly, Islington Council has gone to war against diesel car owners, ignoring the fact that they are at the same time attacking their own local traders – and conveniently overlooking the fact many of us switched to diesel a few years ago in response to government advice at the time that diesel cars were less polluting.

Once people become aware of these ridiculously punitive, but hidden charges, the effect on trade in our valued local shops could well be catastrophic.

On May 3, only 38.36 per cent of Islington residents took part in 16 ward “first three past the post” elections resulting in the return of 48 councillors, writes Ernestas Jonas Jegorovas, unsuccessful Highbury East Green Party candidate.

These local council elections saw a similar turnout to 2014. Only in places, Highbury East (48.98pc) and St George’s (44.65pc) where Green teams actively campaigned, did significantly more than the average electors find an alternative worth turning out for.

The only other ward where more than 40pc of people turned out was in Hillrise (43.32pc), where the Women’s Equality Party put up a candidate.

Astonishingly, 78.9pc of the votes were wasted: cast either for losing candidates or for winning candidates above and beyond the amount needed to win in a particular ward. They had no impact on the final result of the local election. This was an increase on the 2014 local elections, with 75.8pc.

Not a single vote for a Liberal Democrat, the Conservative Party, Women’s Equality Party, Ukip, Democrats and Veterans, and the Socialist Party counted towards getting an elected representative.

Labour must remember that while they may have almost all the seats, bar the single opposition Green councillor Caroline Russell, they govern with less than a quarter of Islington electors’ consent. First Past the Post fails winners and losers alike. We need proportional representation at local and national level now. Thus I urge readers to support Make Votes Matter and the Electoral Reform Society who campaign for electoral systems that are fit for purpose, reduce wasted votes and increase turnout.

Alas, as an EU citizen, this local election may have been the last one I may participate in as a candidate and voter, although I do look forward to taking part in next year’s proportionally representative European Elections – whether the UK leaves the EU or not.