Sunday, 26 July 2015

A Fairview school for Enfield?

There were strong words and strong feelings at Joan Ryan's coffee morning yesterday. In fact, it rapidly became a protest meeting against Fairview Homes' proposal to build a school and 300 homes on land just off Enfield Road.

Here are the facts as far as I know them. There's nothing about this proposal on Fairview's website and its all subject to change and negotiation - especially with the council.

School places
There is a need for more secondary school places both here and in other parts of the borough. The council believes that this area will need a new school by 2018. However, Southgate school is currently under-subscribed.

The land
The land, 34 acres, is a triangle bounded by Enfield Road, Lowther Drive and Cottswold Way. It's now owned by the (CoE) Diocese of London who sold Fairview Homes a 15 year option to buy the land in about 2004.

The proposal
Fairview proposes to exercise its option (ie buy the land). It will give the community about one third of the land for a school and build 300 dwellings (flats and houses) on the rest. Fairview has already started detailed work on these proposals. The meeting was shown a mocked-up aerial photo of the site. Fairview plans two access roads off Enfield Road making a one-way system possible at rush hour.

About 60 homes (20%) would be so-called 'affordable'. It's important to recognise that this does not mean that people on average incomes swill be able to afford them! What it does mean will doubtless become known in time. But whatever it means it's half the London target.

Fairview can do nothing without planning permission. This will be difficult because the land is part of the Green Belt and an Area of Special Character (sic) and because there will clearly be a lot of opposition from local residents. One told the meeting that her house would lose £40,000 in value.

The process
It's likely that Fairview is already discussing these plans with Council officers.

Fairview has written to 16 local schools asking if they want to be its partner in the new school. The governors of Highlands have expressed interest. The headteacher has said that if Highlands is to be the partner it will be necessary for it to become an Academy.

It is, I struggle to find the right word, STRANGE - ABSURD - OFFENSIVE, that a property developer should be deciding who will run a new state school!

To gain local support (presumably) Fairview will start a consultation exercise in September. To be involved contact

Fairview may submit a planning application in October, If so they will clearly have ignored the results of the consultation. If the application is rejected Fairview may appeal. Such an appeal would have a good chance of success as the Planning system is biased in favour of developers.
    The alternatives
    1. Eight-form entry implies a huge school. Since smaller schools work better we should think about several smaller schools.
    2. The old Middlesex Uni. site at Trent Park is still unused and could host a school.
    3. St. Anne's Catholic school is due to move to Palmers Green leaving that site clear.
    The path to privatisation
    Local authorities are losing control of schools as they become academies, reversing over 100 years of democratic responsibility. Many academies have a commercial sponsor so Fairview's initiative is just part of the privatisation process.
    State schools are still non-profit but the need to compete with other schools encourages a competitive mindset. An increasing number now have marketing departments - a thing unthinkable even 20 years ago.

    The Tory government believes that the private sector does almost everything better than the public sector. Since it knows that immediate privatisation would be unacceptable it is encouraging a variety of forms of commercial involvement. This is one.

    Friday, 24 July 2015

    Paving the road to hell

    Roads are a major problem for the planet. Globally, many new roads are built into rainforest to support logging or dam building. These roads start a process of exploitation that is hard to stop and that transforms habitats and provides access to poachers. Since 2000, for instance, 30,000 miles of new roads have been cut into African rainforests. It's no surprise that poachers have killed two thirds of the forest elephants in that same period.

    The rainforests will not survive the combined pressures of logging, settlement and clearance for pasture and cropping that road-building makes possible. And many species will not survive the loss of their rainforest homes.

    This has happened at extraordinary speed and there's no sign that it's slowing down. The G20 meeting last October argued for annual spending of $2T pa (that's $2 million million pa) on infrastructure in developing countries. Only a fraction of that is likely to be roads; but that's still a lot of roads (and railways, power stations, airports, etc.)

    Most of the species that existed 100 years ago are still with us, though in much reduced numbers. Their habitats have been greatly reduced and many will be gone in much less than 100 years if development continues. For some threatened species a few dozen animals may survive in zoos and game reserves. Many will disappeared leaving no more than stuffed examples in museums, films, if we're lucky, DNA sequences in some database.

    A tragic loss and little time left.

    Thursday, 23 July 2015

    Uganda's forests in terminal decline?

    What's the state of African forests? 

    A recent article in New Scientist gives a dismal answer for Uganda. 

    First the numbers. Between 1990 and 2009 forest cover fell from 24% to 10% and is still falling. At that rate it's probably down to 6% already and will all be gone by 2025.

    But that estimate may be too optimistic. Many forest reserves look OK from the outside but in the forest squatters have cleared land and built homes, schools and churches. Many are solid, brick-built structures. The squatters are not planning to move on.

    There's a quality issue too. Loggers, legal and illegal, have concentrated on native African hardwoods but reforestation - where it's occurred at all - has usually been with faster-growing softwood species like eucalyptus and pine.

    And all this affects the wildlife. Deforestation, loss of native species, hunting, human defence of crops and the breaking up of large areas into a patchwork of forests and fields all make the wildlife move away. Those animals that stay lack food and face conflicts with the squatters. Conflicts that the humans are bound to win.

    There are clearly two causes. One is land hunger due to population growth and human conflicts in both Uganda and its neighbours. The other is inadequate policing due to the usual mixture of limited resources and local corruption. Climate change is probably involved as well.

    According to Forestry Commissioner Margaret Adata Uganda aims to get the squatters out of the forest and return forest cover to 1990 levels. Wildlife, she thinks, will follow.

    I wish her well but time is terribly short.

    Wednesday, 15 July 2015

    The real reason to welcome the US-Iran nuclear deal

    The deal announced yesterday does more than end a specific dispute about Uranium enrichment. That's welcome of course; almost anything that reduces tension between states is welcome.

    What it really does is signal the end - well, the beginning of the end - of the mutual hostility between the US and Iran. Much could be said about the causes of this hostility, which goes back at least 70 years, but I want to look forward.

    The deal will undermine the hostility of Iran's backwoodsmen to the US. I hope it will reduce the hostility of the US's backwoodsmen to Iran though given Israel's reaction that seems less certain. It will increase the opportunities for trade and other exchanges between Iran and the rest of the world.

    It's clear that most Iranians will welcome this. They want better contacts with the rest of the world and many will take the opportunities that will follow.

    Will it, as Netinyahu claims, increase Iran's opportunities for military meddling in its neighbours' affairs? Well yes, it probably will. But it will reduce its motivation to do so. Increased meddling might bring back the sanctions that this deal will remove. And as Iran celebrates this diplomatic success it will be more likely to favour diplomacy on other issues.

    The Middle East cannot be understood as Goodies versus Baddies. Iran and Saudi Arabia are rivals but both pretty hostile to human rights. In Iraq-Syria we have a least a six-way conflict (Iraqi and Syrian governments, USA, shia militias, secular militias and the Kurds). Iran can be a useful ally in the region (which is not to deny that there will also be conflicts) if we are open to those possibilities.

    But the big prize here is increased engagement with Iran. With its unlovely government, certainly, but more with its people. Let's have cultural exchanges and translations to and from Farsi. Let's have international seminars about science, history, arts and politics. Let's have scholarships for Iranians at UK universities and some courses in Persian poetry for UK students.

    In short, let's seize the opportunities to learn more about them and to open their eyes to us. Our best argument against fanaticism is our success in creating a prosperous, tolerant and sustainable society.

    Monday, 6 July 2015

    Enfield has London’s first solar mosque

    This is a guest post by Harfiyah Haleem, a 38 Degrees activist based in Southgate.

    “Palmers Green mosque has just announced the installation of its 15 kW array of solar panels. I'm urging them to have a celebration and invite lots of other mosques and interested people.  I hope this will be the first of many solar mosques in London and add to the few already established in other places in the UK and around the world.  (Jordan has announced a plan to make all its 6000 mosques solar.)

    Some churches have already got solar panels.  Community buildings usually have large roofs that are suitable for sizable arrays, and many mosques are new-build or still being built so offer more possibilities than old and decaying roofs.  I've also discovered which provides transparent solar PV glass that can be used for windows and conservatories etc. and have passed this information to Palmers Green mosque for their new extension plan, which includes a large glass roof. 

    We already have a dozen or so London mosques interested, including Edmonton Islamic Cultural Soc., and are trying (feebly and without funding) to get them to work together to reach a critical mass that can attract social enterprise investment, or to start their own shari'a-compliant inter-mosque loans/investment scheme.  London Sustainability Exchange (LSx) and 10:10 Solar Schools are doing their best to help and have held an inter-mosque workshop on the subject at Al-Manaar mosque in the Westbourne Grove area."

    Saturday, 4 July 2015

    Syria: Let those people go!

    For weeks the news has been full of stories of people leaving the UK to live in the "Islamic State". Each time there's great anguish and calls for the government to stop them. Apparently every such departure is a failure by our police and security service.

    But why?

    Most are adults. They've decided that they don't like our liberal, tolerant, democratic society. They think they'd prefer a theocratic tyranny where they'll be free to follow their Caliph's interpretation of the Koran, to hate Jews, Christians, atheists, gays and cartoonists and, if male, to buy slaves - but not, if female, to choose their style of dress. It's choice I don't understand and never will. But why do we want them to stay?

    They don't fit in here and we and they know it. So they should go.

    Just one thing. They should renounce their UK citizenship and rights of residence on the way out and surrender their UK passports. They want to be citizens - or do I mean subjects? - of Islamic State. Then let them. They won't need their UK passports will they? And they won't be coming back.

    We're not threatened by the departure of a few hundred intolerant hotheads for Syria. We might be threatened by the return of a few score battle-hardened militants with military training. So this is should be a one-way street.

    This policy is honest, it respects fundamental rights and it protects us. And maybe some of those offered a one-way route to Syria will think a bit harder about their choice if they know its irrevocable.

    PS. On July 7th the Guardian carried a report that Robert Quick, former head of counter-terror at the Met, had advocated the same policy.  He said:
    “You have to think how do you confront it, if you have hundreds or thousands who want to go [to Islamic State] and live that life? We should try and convince them not to go. If they want to go, you have to ask the question, are we better off, if they surrender their passports and go? It’s better than them festering away here. “Should we say we’ll lay on charter flights to Syria; turn up with your passport and if you are over 18, if this is the life you want, then go?”

    Wednesday, 1 July 2015

    Chase Farm Hospital: Joan Ryan moans about progress

    Last night the Royal Free held a meeting in Enfield town to update us on the rebuilding of Chase Farm Hospital (CFH). The news is good. Despite the extraordinary haste progress is on or even a little ahead of the plan and demolition of unwanted buildings will start in September.

    The design has changed from a rectangular block with two courtyards to a spine with fingers - said to be more flexible. Also, and following, public pressure and advice from clinicians, the ground floor of the Highlands block will be used for rehab rather than being mothballed.

    The new hospital will have 8 operating theatres, 48 inpatient surgical beds and 44 rehab beds. That's less than the current number of beds (c130) though hospital director Fiona Jackson tells me that some of those are unfunded - but not unused. Jackson stressed that medicine is seeing a rapid shift from in to out patient treatment so that fewer beds will be needed.

    The Royal Free team has reserved an area of 800 sq m for a GP surgery but will only build the surgery if commissioned by the Clinical Commissioning Group ( CCG). Negotiations are in hand. This is clearly unfortunate but there's still time to get it right.

    The Royal Free wants the new hospital to be embedded in the local community. The hospital gardens, shop, pharmacy and GP surgery (if any) will be immediately accessible from main entrance and open to local residents.

    I raised the issue of disease prevention, making the point that the severity of many of today's medical problems, obesity and diabetes for instance, are strongly affected by lifestyle choices. Fiona Jackson made positive noises about smoking, fitness and fruit. Chocolate bars are no longer displayed next to the shop till and part of the restaurant will become an exercise area.

    The only sour note was struck by Joan Ryan, MP, who, as at the Planning Committee in April, seemed determined to find fault with the plans. Ryan made a speech when asked to ask questions. She spoke at excessive length and generally muddied the waters on beds, space, nurses pay, etc. I thought the Royal Free's answers were pretty good.

    She also repeated her claim that new CFH will be just a 'cottage hospital'. There's no formal definition of the term 'cottage hospital' but actual cottage hospitals typically have less than 20 beds; not the 92 planned for the new CFH. There was strong hostility to her from some people in the audience.

    Ryan seems determined to discredit the plans and won't let the facts get in the way. Come on Joan, the election is over.