Gazette letters: New trees, council, budget and Hackney’s Brexit

Trees in King Henry's Walk Garden. Picture: WILL McCALLUM

Trees in King Henry's Walk Garden. Picture: WILL McCALLUM - Credit: Archant

It’s National Tree Week, and to mark the occasion we received the fantastic news that Hackney Council has been awarded a grant from City Hall to plant nearly 200 trees across the borough, writes Will McCallum, Newington Green.

It’s part of the Mayor’s pledge to plant 20,000 trees across London this season. The plan will see trees planted in many of the parks and green spaces as a way to reduce noise, prevent flooding and, of course, increase biodiversity.

It is an exciting prospect, with as much long-term impact on the landscape of the neighbourhood as any large-scale construction project. As each tree matures, it will become part of the culture of the street or park in which it is planted. It is a big responsibility to choose which kind to plant; making sure to take into consideration how each tree will grow, how it will look through the seasons, and how it will add to the character of the neighbourhood. All this on top of making sure the tree is well suited to the particular environment.

The news gave me reason to pay a bit more attention than usual to the trees around me. I’ve enjoyed in the last couple of days looking out the window and instead of focusing on the buildings to look instead at the architecture of the tree canopy. From my window at work, the trailing yellowing leaves of a silver birch form a curtain across the vista, a wren hopping from twig to twig. Further away, crowding over the slate roof of a garage, a mess of hawthorn and elder makes for a squirrel playground. A reminder that each tree is home and playground to London’s birds, beasts and creepy crawlies.

I was pleased to read mayor Philip Glanville’s reply to me and the Hackney TUC regarding the council’s consultation on its proposal to raise council tax for the poorest residents in the borough, effectively doubling the tax they must pay (Letters, November 18), writes Alan Gibson, joint secretary, Hackney TUC.

The mayor is right to point the blame for the council’s predicament at the Tory government. But how many more rotten decisions will the council have to make owing to Tory funding cuts?

Not a year has gone by since the Tory/Lib Dem government came to power in 2010 without the council cutting its workforce and services. Certainly the council has made its decisions carefully, but for how long can it continue doing so? The Tories could remain in power until 2022. How much more damage will they have carried out via local councils by then? Something needs to be done to stop this happening.

The HTUC has in the past proposed the council defy the government – something it has refused to do. As a result, we are planning a public meeting in the new year with the aim of bringing together trade union branches, community and faith groups, residents associations and so on in order to discuss building a borough-wide campaign aimed at stopping the government’s local authority cuts. We would welcome the participation of councillors and would aim to work alongside similar campaigns in London and beyond.

We also welcome readers’ views on this plan. Please send them to:

Most Read

That 120,000 children across the country and 3,300 from Hackney will spend Christmas in temporary accommodation like hostels and bed and breakfasts is a failure of national politics, writes Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney.

In January, the Gazette’s Hidden Homeless campaign highlighted how government welfare reforms and a chronic shortage of genuinely affordable homes meant an increasing number of families were spending years in cramped conditions that are only ever meant to be used as emergency accommodation.

Nearly 13,000 families are waiting for a council home in Hackney, with 3,000 of those in this kind of temporary accommodation. Homelessness is up 117 per cent here in the last six years.

The reasons for this are clear. In 2011 the government changed welfare rules so benefits no longer match market rents – which have rocketed 47pc since then with support rising only 2pc. Ten years ago, 7pc of people who approached us for help did so because they had been evicted by a private landlord. Today, it’s 30pc and just 3pc of private sector homes in Hackney are affordable to a family relying on Local Housing Allowance.

At the same time, government rules mean councils like Hackney cannot borrow money to build new social housing to meet the huge demand.

Last week I told MPs investigating homelessness on parliament’s Public Accounts Committee that despite his rhetoric, the chancellor’s budget did little to change this. If the government lets us build another 2,000 homes, which we believe we could start next year if it lifted the borrowing cap, we could save £100m in temporary accommodation costs and give more families a home.

Anything else simply fails those families bearing the brunt of the housing crisis.

I’m really furious with Diane Abbott and her colleagues for how they keep voting like cowards with the Tories for a hard Brexit, writes Richard Wilson, Amhurst Road, Hackney.

Diane should listen to her constituents who voted overwhelmingly for Remain.

I understand last week she refused to vote to force the government to remain in the Customs Union. Leaving the union would be absolute madness. As well as wrecking our economy, if we are are outside the customs union, there will have to be a hard border in Ireland - damaging the peace agreement.

Please will our local Labour MP stop propping up this Tory government’s mad Brexit plans?