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Jill Fraser has clocked up an incredible ten years serving local people as Haverstock’s Liberal Democrat councillor.
Local residents first elected Jill in a sensational by-election in 2003. Back then Haverstock was solid Labour territory but, once people saw the difference a hardworking Liberal Democrat councillor can make, they elected two more of us!
Working with Jill has been a real honour. You would be hard pressed to find a local councillor who has a better understanding of the patch and people she represents. Jill is someone who sticks to what she thinks is right, never takes no for an answer, and always remembers whose side she is on. It is these principles that have led us to some terrific wins for local people over the years – from saving Bassett Street Garden; putting Steele’s Village on the map; securing proper investment for local homes after years of neglect by Labour; and, of course, Jill’s constant crusade to secure the future of Queen’s Crescent.
Last night we hosted a big party in Steele’s Village to celebrate Jill’s achievements, and were delighted that Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Simon Hughes MP was able to join us. But the real testament to Jill’s work was probably the large number of local residents, many of them not political, who also came along because they wanted to thank Jill for her decade of service.
So, big thanks to everyone who joined us, and here’s to the next ten years!
A big thank you to everyone who has read this blog over the last year. I’ve been looking over our stats and am pleased to say we’ve had heaps more people reading this year than last – and using the blog to get in touch or comment on local issues.
We set this blog up to make it easy for residents to see what their local councillors are up to, and to be a community resource for local news and views. Hopefully you’ve found our posts useful – but we’re always keen to hear feedback so do get in touch if there’s anything you’d like to see more/less of, or that we can do better.
Meanwhile, (drum roll please), here’s our top 5 most read stories of 2011:
(2) Camden comes together after riots - there was huge distress and a hunger for updates and information after Chalk Farm Road found itself at the centre of riots in Camden.
(3) More than a Pizza Express – the campaign to save the old North London Polytechnic assembly hall brought together residents from across Kentish Town. We learnt we had been successful just before the Christmas break.
(4) Voting to save Camden’s libraries – Labour’s threats to the borough’s libraries has been a long running political battle this year, with lots of public support for the Liberal Democrat motion to reject closures. Queen’s Crescent Library may have been saved, but not all libraries are yet in the clear.
(5) How Chalk Farm survived the riots – after the immediate shock, lots of people tried to make sense and draw lessons from the riots. I penned a piece for the Spectator website reflecting the experience in Chalk Farm.
The fight to stop Labour closing and selling off Mornington Crescent Sports Centre has been lost – the site will be advertised as a “development opportunity” in Estates Gazette this week.
Many in Camden will still see this as a completely senseless decision. Mornington Sports Centre was refurbished and reopened just two years ago, at a not insignificant cost. Camden are therefore throwing a huge amount of taxpayer’s money down the drain, while taking away an important place for local residents to keep fit and healthy.
As Camden’s official opposition we used every means at our disposal to halt the sale – offering an alternative budget showing how the council could make savings elsewhere and forcing the Resources Scrutiny Committee to look at the decision again. Meanwhile, the Camden Sports Council came up with their own excellent plan to keep the centre open for the community. Labour Councillors have, however, refused to budge.
So, Mornington is now under the hammer and we all have to hope that those who use the sports centre will be able to find somewhere else affordable to go.
Camden’s officers tell me that the food recycling service will be rolled out across Haverstock estates between 4th and 15th October this year.
At last! Here on Prince of Wales Road we have been able to recycle food waste for several weeks, and it’s noticeable how much slimmer my regular bin is.
I remember a school exchange trip to Germany a good ten years ago, and watching eccentric locals in our youth hostel patiently separate out all their rubbish. In fact, they were ahead of the curve and it’s taken public opinion in the UK a little while to catch up – and our biggest two political parties even longer.
Politicians need to keep thinking creatively on the environment. So far, Labour have held a “green summit”. Talking is always good, but we’ll be watching carefully to see what policies follow, and if they can build on the radical environmental legacy they inherited here in Camden.
So, after a tortuous four years in which Labour grabbed every opportunity to throw a spanner in the works, the UCL Academy is set to go ahead (together with Swiss Cottage Special School and refurbishment at South Camden Community School).
As the Camden New Journal highlights today in a pretty fair article, this is another manifesto promised ticked off for the local Liberal Democrats, who promised a new secondary school with a public sector sponsor if an academy was the only way of getting one. The school will provide much needed new places in the North and South of the borough, and give all Camden pupils a great link with one of the world’s top universities.
It’s right to remember, though, those Camden schools who won’t be getting the extra cash they were hoping for and, though we don’t often delve into national politics on this blog, I think it’s important to set a few things straight on the end of the Building Schools for the Future programme.
Firstly, we all agree that schools all over the country, including Camden, are in urgent need of renovation. After thirteen years of Labour government there remains a real shortage of school places in our borough, and many school buildings are simply not up to scratch.
However, it is incumbent on politicians to offer solutions as well as to identify problems. Last year, the former Chancellor, Alistair Darling, announced that Labour would cut all capital spending by 50%, without saying where those cuts would fall. Despite this, Labour politicians continued to travel around the country posing for their local newspapers with large cheques supposedly for new school buildings. There is no way that Labour cannot have known that, by promising more money than they could afford, in the face of cuts they had already announced, they were deliberately and irresponsibly raising schools’ hopes and leaving a future government to break the bad news.
Meanwhile, the money that was allocated to Building Schools for the Future has been spent in a grossly wasteful way. Schools that wanted to receive funding for building work have had to jump through ridiculous bureaucratic hoops (four years worth, here in Camden); £1.35 million has been paid out in consultancy fees to a single individual; and £10million was shelled out on procurement processes before a single brick was laid. Those schools who achieved good results were penalised for their success and put to the back of the queue, whatever the state of their buildings. I cannot believe there is not a more fair and effective way of helping schools with their refurbishment.
This is why the new coalition government is reviewing the whole system of rebuilding schools. Fortunately, the end of the bureaucratic Building Schools for the Future programme does not mean that schools in Camden will not be refurbished under the new scheme, and we all need to work together to make their case when more details are announced.
And, whatever the disappointment elsewhere, we shouldn’t take away from the fact that the new UCL Academy will transform educational provision in the borough and help thousands of young people in Camden in doing so.
One of the most frustrating things about this Labour government’s record on the environment is that often a policy that looks green is anything but once you’ve scratched the surface and looked at the detail.
That’s why I joined a protest outside the Treasury on Tuesday morning with Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather and broadcaster Floella Benjamin, calling for a rethink on Labour’s proposed Air Passenger Duty.
I fully support the idea that we should be taxing bad things, like pollution, rather than good things, like hard work. But the way the government plan to implement this tax is more about protecting American business interests than it is about protecting the environment. The Treasury have drawn up arbitrary zones based on the location of a country’s capital city: which means that you will pay more tax on a ticket to the Caribbean than you would on a ticket to the west coast of America, despite the Caribbean being closer to the UK.
This is clearly both insane and unfair, and I’m not surprised that both the Caribbean community and many environmental groups are upset. The government should tax flights based on the distance they travel and the amount of carbon dioxide they emit. Plus, if we taxed flights (rather than individual passengers), then airlines would have an incentive to run one full flight rather than allowing half empty planes to take off several times a day.
I hope the government will change their mind and introduce something that will actually help the environment. You can sign Sarah Teather’s petition here.
I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Cllr Syed Hoque to the Liberal Democrat team here in Haverstock. Syed has today announced his resignation from the Labour party, and will be working alongside myself and Jill Fraser on behalf of local people.
We have always got on well with Syed and maintained a good working relationship despite representing different political parties. Jill, in particular, has known Syed and his family for many years. We’re thrilled to bits to now be a proper team of three.
It’s a good sign for the Liberal Democrats across Camden, too. Syed, who was Labour’s frontbench spokesman on adult social care, becomes our 24th councillor in the borough, following recent by-election victories over Labour in Kentish Town and the Conservatives in Hampstead.
You can read Syed’s full resigntation statement, and reaction from others, here.
There was a great atmosphere at the child poverty march through London this morning, with a huge number of groups, organisations and individuals coming together to demand action against child poverty.
It is depressing just how far we still have to go. In Camden, one of the biggest things that traps children in poverty is their housing situation, with too many properties just falling apart. I’m pleased the Liberal Democrats have finally come up with a plan to invest in local housing, and many residents in my ward will soon be seeing the benefits of new kitchens, bathrooms, windows and wiring as a direct result. But we need more homes, too, and that means the government has to stump up the cash.
If a child doesn’t have a decent home, they have no where to do their homework, no where to play with friends and their health will probably suffer too. I often hear heart wrenching stories of families arguing and falling apart simply due to the pressures of living on top of one another. If we want to end child poverty we could start by tackling the housing crisis.