Gazette letters: Swapping plastic, Britannia site and air pollution

Will has swapped wildlife for plastic

Will has swapped wildlife for plastic - Credit: Will McCallum

This week has been a bit plastic fantastic for me with the release of my new book, How to Give Up Plastic, writes Will McCallum, Newington Green.

Each week I write for the Gazette about the nature I’ve come across over the course of the week as I run, walk and cycle through Hackney.

As I’m sure is the case for you, it can be difficult to ignore the overwhelming amount of plastic cluttering our parks, streets and waterways. There’s simply too much out there and together with companies and politicians we need to come together to work out how we can use less.

I wrote the book because in the years I’ve spent campaigning on plastic the most common question I get asked is: “What can I do to help?” So I thought I’d write this guide to help people navigate their way to a plastic-free future – whether it’s by swapping to shampoo and soap bars instead of using bottles, or by getting yourself a reusable coffee cup, there are things that all of us can do daily. As well as the changes in your own home, there is lots you can do in your community and the book includes plenty of tips on how to persuade your friends, family, colleagues, businesses and politicians to join the movement. Feel free to pop down to your local bookshop and pick up a copy!

After many months of planning, consultations and public meetings, Hackney Council has submitted its ambitious plans for a new leisure centre, school and hundreds of homes near Shoreditch Park, writes Philip Glanville, mayor of Hackney.

I’m very excited and proud that, despite ongoing government cuts to our funding, our council is finding innovative ways to keep investing in communities. Hackney needs improved leisure provision, hundreds more school places and thousands of new homes. Our proposals help deliver all of these.

We know many people are fond of the current leisure centre, which would only close once the new centre opens on neighbouring land. However, it’s becoming increasingly expensive to patch-up and maintain and simply doesn’t deliver the standard of provision Hackney’s diverse communities expect, need and deserve now and in the future.

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We’re proposing a leisure centre which will be better in almost every way. Yes, it will be built on land which is currently asphalt tennis and basketball courts, but these will be re-provided and improved on the roof of the new centre.

Contrary to what some have claimed (Pat Turnbull), we do need a new secondary school in this part of the borough. Some recent data suggested Hackney may not need as many school places as previously thought, but we do still need hundreds and the City of London Academy Shoreditch Park, which is currently operating from a temporary site before its planned relocation to the Britannia site, is already open, full and oversubscribed.

Some have criticised the amount and type of housing we’re proposing – 81 homes for council social rent and shared ownership, and up to 400 for sale at market rate. This mix is because we need the income from the homes for sale to help fund the project. We don’t get any funding from government to pay for new leisure facilities or social housing, and we haven’t been given enough funding to pay for a new school of the quality we believe Hackney’s children deserve. It’s worth remembering that we’ve had our core funding cut by £130m since 2010.

The 400 homes are what we think will be required to pay enough of the costs so the council can cover the rest. And the council acting as developer ensures as much money as possible goes to benefiting the community locking in any profit.

Arguments that we could pay all this through our reserves, borrowing and demanding money from government (Chris Newby) don’t stack up in reality.

I know that building new infrastructure on this scale comes with challenges – it’s a balancing act, it’s difficult to please everyone, compromises have to be made, people often don’t like change or new developments near where they live, and it’s regularly clouded by misinformation. But it’s necessary, especially if you believe Hackney’s current and future generations deserve access to good schools and leisure provision. If we just sat waiting for the perfect site or some unexpected cash windfall, nothing would ever get built. I’d urge everyone to find out the facts about this development and have their say:

It is unacceptable children in Hackney and Islington are subjected to dangerous levels of air pollution, especially while at school, writes Jennette Arnold, London Assembly member.

The mayor’s air quality audit, which involved a number of schools in our community, is a significant step towards identifying some of the most effective mitigation measures that can be taken.

I am delighted that William Patten Primary School and De Beauvoir Primary School in Hackney and Prior Weston Primary School and Children’s Centre in Islington, have been awarded a share of £1 million by the mayor to put these measures in place. These include large-scale programmes such as closing roads and moving playgrounds, and cost-effective solutions such as the installation of green ‘pollution barrier’ hedges.

It is important we encourage parents to play their part in tackling engine idling near schools, by leaving their cars and walking their children to school instead. TfL’s STARS scheme, which encourages this, has almost half of all London schools signed up to it.