Gazette letters: Decarbonisation, housing, Cllr Ward, BAME Covid report and Brexit

Hay making at Woodberry Wetlands. Picture: NICOLA BAIRD

Hay making at Woodberry Wetlands. Picture: NICOLA BAIRD - Credit: Nicola Baird

We all want to get back to normal, but what could that look like? asks Nicola Baird, Islington Green.

I spent last Thursday haymaking at the Woodberry Wetlands. Supervised by Tom, this was part of a trial by the London Wildlife Trust to reopen for volunteers. With only six volunteers it was simple to keep two metres apart. Raking dry grass in a beautiful space overlooking the reservoir through clouds of swifts helped lockdown stresses disappear. Over lunch we chatted about dragonflies and how we felt like characters in a George Eliot novel (real name is Mary Anne Evans (1819-1880) and she’s buried at Highgate Cemetery).

This idyll wasn’t just that we were using wooden rakes; had all walked or cycled to the nature reserve and were undisturbed by aeroplanes overhead. It was also because for the first time since 1882 Britain had gone a record number of days – 54 – without using coal.

Even in 2019 the record for renewables supplying our power was just 18 days. But lockdown has kept power consumption low, while the sunny, blowy weather has offered perfect zero carbon electricity. Keep going like this and the National Grid’s electricity will definitely drop coal power by 2025, if not sooner.

Lockdown hasn’t just been good for reducing our energy use. It’s also shown how adapting to a zero-carbon world can have many pluses. For instance, working and shopping closer to home has cut Islington’s through traffic, making local roads safer to walk and cycle along, and it has improved air quality.

The next few months will be about adapting the old normal with how we live in a Covid-19 world. A green new deal prioritising decarbonised energy and house insulation is the next step. Let’s hope it’s not nudged into the long grass by priorities such as getting paid work, schools reopening; ending homelessness when temporary accommodation ceases in July and #blacklivesmatter. Find good tips for what you can do at:

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Much has been reported about Peabody Housing Association’s purchase of and plans to build housing on the former Holloway Prison site, including the 42 per cent of homes for social rent, writes Jenny Kassman, Islington Homes for All.

What we do not hear about are Peabody’s sales of street properties in London, which they originally bought to house people in need. This month, 20 such properties in London have been auctioned, including two in Islington: 53a Oakley Road, Canonbury and 45a Calabria Road, Highbury. Peabody would have bought these properties with large grants from the Housing Corporation (taxpayer money) and will sell them for immense profits.

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Most importantly, the sale of these properties means fewer homes for social rent at a time when thousands of people are in desperate housing need, with 14,000 households on the council housing waiting list and many others in overpriced, insecure and/or substandard accommodation.

It could be argued that Peabody is selling off fewer homes than it is building. However, housing need in Islington is so dire that every home for social rent is precious.

So Peabody’s apparent public-spiritedness appears to be a mere façade. On top of which, Peabody are planning to charge London Affordable Rents for the Holloway homes - considerably more expensive than the standard council rents. Sadiq Khan’s much-trumpeted financial support for housing associations like Peabody loses its lustre when we look at the full picture. Islington Homes for All emphasises that only council homes offer the security and affordability for the thousands of people in housing need. And it’s time the London mayor woke up to this fact.

Another divisive tweet went out from Cllr Diarmaid Ward on June, 1 2020, when he tweeted his thought for the day: “Protests against the building of homes are invariably spearheaded by those who are more than adequately housed, writes an Upper Street resident, full name and address supplied.

I can say hand on heart that I have never had an objection to council home building from a homeless person. Enough said.”

I do not know where to begin with this disappointing, misleading and disingenuous statement. Is Diarmaid Ward saying a person who doesn’t have a home cannot care about the environment? And that people who have homes cannot care about the housing and the dire lack of it? Or that people in homes cannot care about the homeless?

I am a Labour member, I have worked as a support worker and I support the saving of trees and improving the environment. I do not object to building council homes, however I do object to the destruction of mature trees to make way for private dwellings. And I do not support the misleading tweets coming from my labour council.

Last week, the government bowed to pressure and released Public Health England’s report on coronavirus health inequalities, writes Jennette Arnold OBE, London Assembly member for Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest.

The report confirmed Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are more likely to contract and die from Covid-19. This tragic and unjust situation demands action. So, I was disappointed the report made no recommendations to the government. It is also concerning that evidence from BAME organisations and experts were not published with the report.

In January, Professor Michael Marmot’s landmark review of health inequalities revealed that a decade on from his first study, divides have got wider. Coronavirus has tragically illustrated this. It is a shame the government ignored the report at the time, and the new Minister for Equalities admitted she had never heard of it. The mayor is right to call for a public inquiry into the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities, and it is positive that the Equality and Human Rights Commission have now decided to launch one.

In the meantime, we know that poverty, overcrowding, and key-worker job roles are linked to the higher infection and death rates for BAME people. The government must now act upon these factors and the health inequalities in our society.

I’ve just seen a new report (from Best for Britain and the Social Market Foundation) on the double impact of Brexit and coronavirus, and feel like I’ve spotted an iceberg on the horizon that everyone else is ignoring, writes Frank Lazarus, Whistler Street, Highbury.

The report shows that any change to our trade relationship with Europe during the Covid-19 recession will hurt the UK economy.

Brexit is done and we cannot stop it, but we can protect our jobs, our services and our local businesses. However, our communities are already stretched to breaking point by the pandemic and we need time to deal with that before we can turn to our relationship with the EU.

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