Gazette letters: Swifts, Rashan, old graves and housing

Swifts in flight. Picture: Tristan Ferne/Flickr/Creative Commons

Swifts in flight. Picture: Tristan Ferne/Flickr/Creative Commons - Credit: Tristan Ferne/Flickr/Creative Co

The swifts left London last week – their young have spread their wings to begin their extraordinary lifelong migration, writes Will McCallum, Newington Green.

Easily fitting in the palm of your hand, they will cover up to 14,000 miles a year, sometimes coming the 5,000 miles up from sub-Saharan Africa to the UK in just five days.

It’s an age-old journey, its regularity such that we can predict almost the exact date on which we will next see them in Hackney. The only difference year on year? Their declining numbers.

Each year they tend to return to the same spot, and so Hackney Swifts have been on the campaign trail – building and maintaining nest boxes in places like the The Star by Hackney Downs. They’re asking us all to keep our eyes peeled for swift nesting sites to add to their database. This is so when building works threaten to disrupt their nests, action can be taken to make sure they have a home when they next return to the city. If you know of a swift nesting spot, you can tell them by tweeting @hackney_swifts.

My summer cannot begin without the arrival of swifts and swallows. Watching them catch insects above the railway lines is an easy way to while away an hour. To hear they are in trouble hits hard. I learnt a new word this week that helps describe this feeling of loss that is all to frequent if you spend time studying and working in nature: solastalgia, the distress caused by environmental change in a place you love. The only remedy I have found is taking action to limit that change. I’d recommend it. Whether it’s planting trees or shutting down power stations, we can all find our own way of dealing with this changing world.

The Independent Police Complaints Authority has referred the officer who detained Rashan Charles to the Metropolitan Police’s Professional Standards Unit for them to decide if he should face misconduct charges, writes Nik Wood, Gore Road, Hackney.

This suggests that the public’s engagement has made an impact among the powers that be.

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But we do have to look at the record of the IPCC and police forces’ disciplinary procedures before we get too enthusiastic about this.

All institutions have an in-built propensity to protect themselves. This often takes the form of directing blame for any mistakes onto as lowly an employee as possible and minimising the seriousness of any breach of the rules.

Senior police presiding over such proceedings have these priorities and a propensity to find any wrong-doing to be the fault of the famous “one bad apple” and nothing to do with corporate culture. In addition management likes to sustain the troops’ morale so is wary of appearing to betray them in public.

Independent oversight by coroners or judges is better able to withstand these pressures and both the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Crown Prosecution Service are remiss in not pursuing these options with more vigour.

I thought your readers should know that, starting in December, Manor Park Cemetery will be preparing to reuse the graves of many civilian dead from WWII, buried in public graves, writes Geoff Twist, Queen Elizabeth Walk, Stoke Newington.

These include the victims of the Columbia Market air shelter disaster from the first day of the Blitz.

Also in the designated section is the grave of Jack the Ripper’s victim Annie Chapman.

Should these graves not be a national memorial as are those of military personnel?

Hackney mayor Phil Glanville in his column last week highlights some of the problems in housing, but offers no real solutions, writes Brian Debus, Hackney Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).

Currently, every time Hackney goes into partnership with a private developer and knocks down a council estate or redevelops it, only a third of the resultant housing ends up as council property.

The rest goes for private sale and shared ownership, boosting the profits of these bloated building monopolies.

In the private rented sector it is virtually impossible for local working class families to remain in Hackney. Even those on higher incomes are seeing 50 per cent plus of their wages going on rent.

Instead of tinkering at the edges, the mayor and Hackney Council should link up with other councils across London and challenge this weak Tory government by advancing some of the following policies:

n Institute a rent cap and controls for housing in the private sector.

n Start a mass council house building campaign. This to be financed by using their unallocated reserves, combined with the borrowing powers a gross

council budget of £1.095bn, and the billions they have in assets, would allow

Liverpool Labour Council in the ’80s took on a far stronger Thatcher government and built over 5,000 council homes.

If this policy was pursued today combined with the trade unions and community organisations, this government would collapse like a house of cards paving the way for homes for all and an end to austerity in all its forms.