Gazette letters: Climate change and barbecues in Highbury Fields

Colourful graffiti name checks Greta Thunberg and XR. Picture: NICOLA BAIRD

Colourful graffiti name checks Greta Thunberg and XR. Picture: NICOLA BAIRD - Credit: Nicola Baird

Sometimes the countdown to Brexit feels as if no other topic will ever be discussed in parliament, writes Nicola Baird, Islington Green.

Yet around Islington there's been intense planning by people who want to tackle climate change in different ways. I'm writing as Extinction Rebellion (XR) starts its international rebellion. In London this is a planned fortnight of creative and non-violent actions (think meditation on a bridge) around Whitehall and Westminster which looks set to run until its 4,000 volunteers who are willing to be arrested are arrested.

You don't have to be arrested. Many Islingtonians are quietly demonstrating people's desire to do something - anything - about climate change. We've seen Islington students regularly join the Friday climate strikes.

Others just focus on one solution. For example, St Luke's Community Centre uses its edible yard (with hens and herbs) to help Prior Weston School learn about eating that's good for planet and people.

Look out for the living lightly approach. First school fetes transformed into green fairs in a bid to avoid plastic waste. Now on Saturday (October 12) a community eco-fair is being run by St Thomas' church, N4 where 300 free light bulbs and 1,500 flower bulbs will be given away. There will be tips on mending clothes and using energy better. It's also a chance to meet the amazing Bright Sparks team selling secondhand furniture and electrical items on Seven Sisters Road.

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At the University of Arts London, which has several student halls in Islington teaching staff must put "decarbonisation at the heart of our academic offer". UAL will also cut its carbon emissions by four per cent by 2020. This is a seismic change from any university - only a few years ago boasting that you used 100pc renewable electricity would have been enough.

Tackling climate change implicitly requires capitalism gets a shake-up. Green-thinkers recommend a circular economy where resources are valued and pollution avoided. Here's hoping that ideas like the Green New Deal start getting the same sort of thinking space and air time as, whisper it, Brexit.

Regarding your report of the recent meeting of Islington Council, "Boris Johnson blasted for 'mobilising ethno-nationalism' at Islington full council meeting",writes Roy Prentice, Highbury Crescent, Islington.

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The council's decision to retain their barbecue policy for Highbury Fields was disappointing, particularly for residents living adjacent to the Fields who suffer the immediate consequences.

The reported justification by Cllr Claudia Webbe equalled the empty slogans used by Boris about the other "B" issue.

In recent years growing concerns about barbecues have drawn attention to a complex and changing interrelationship of issues. Unfortunately, the council clings to an outmoded, simplistic view of this problem and defends its current policy through an uncritical use of phrases such as "family gathering", "our residents", "inequality and poverty".

Highbury Fields is known as a major barbecue destination. Barbecues are regularly organised on an industrial scale with professional caterers, promoted as big social events via social media that attract large groups of between 30 and 100 participants. The volume of people attending from far beyond Islington, with associated noise, intrusive music systems, parked cars and residual rubbish bears no relation to family gatherings of local people to which Cllr Webbe refers. Things have moved on and the Fields have become an established barbecue destination for corporate entertaining because neighbouring boroughs do not allow barbecues in their public spaces. An increase in toxic fumes, anti-social behaviour, late night noise from partying and fleets of cars, and drug dealing opportunities has, unsurprisingly followed. Few local families want to suffer the negative effects of all this and they avoid the Fields.

For residents, like me, living on Highbury Crescent, in the frontline, life was intolerable during the summer months. I was unable to open a window in my flat because the pollution was so severe. Mindful of Cllr Webb's reference to "inequality and poverty", I don't have a garden, I'm not poor but I do feel unequal on this issue and resent contributing to the relentless clean up operation and patrols which cost over £200,000 pa.

There is an urgent need for a new forum to be established through which residents and the council can engage afresh with these issues and decide how best to deal with them. Sadly, there is a huge mismatch between the rhetoric used to defend the council's current barbecue policy and the reality of behaviour that now seems out of control.

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