Gazette letters: The weather, infrastructure, ice centre revamp and coronavirus sick leave

Traditional spring flowers such as snowdrops are already appearing in Clissold Park. Picture: Andrew

Traditional spring flowers such as snowdrops are already appearing in Clissold Park. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

It has been a very wet winter, writes Will McCallum, Greenpeace UK, Newington Green

London, and the rest of the UK, has been hit by storm after storm, and whilst from the comfort of Hackney we can complain about the weather with a slight smile, in many other parts of the country homes and businesses have been swept away with the rain.

I've written before about the new normal as a constant state of unpredictability.

British weather was never easy for forecasters, but with a changed climate extremes have become far more regular. We are still working out what this means for us, for our buildings, for the nature in our backyard and for society in general. How to describe for the third year running the confused spring buds at the north west corner of Clissold Park pushing out of the cold, hard soil only to be battered by hail and gales. They are no longer confused so much as entirely out of place - decisions about what to plant in Hackney's parks and on our streets need to now take into account these milder, wetter winters and long, hot summers. Will these plants attract different birds - will the green parakeets already all too common throughout London entirely overtake their corvid companions?

I am still at the other end of the world, sailing through the Scotia Sea on my way to the South Shetlands. The climate is changing faster down here than pretty much anywhere on earth except the Arctic - just a few week's ago Antarctica experienced its hottest ever day (though for the most part I only leave my cabin in at least two layers of thermals). These changes are all connected - from our front windows in Hackney we are now seeing clearly a brave new world unfolding.

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The decision by the Court of Appeal to block the expansion of Heathrow is a blow to the country, because it puts every major transport scheme at risk including HS2, writes Christopher Sills, Dunsmure Road, Stamford Hill.

I hope HS2 opponents will now take the government to court so that the scheme can be quietly dropped and replaced by the many smaller schemes that would have real benefit to the country.

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There is a budget coming and I would like to make a few suggestions for inclusion.

One of the best suggestions made in last year's leadership battle was that cash machines which did not charge to issue cash should be exempt from business rates. I am disappointed that this has not been implemented already and should therefore be included in the budget. Most people agree that the business rates system is broken and has to be replaced, but this will take time. In the interval next year's increase should be frozen. There is too much fuel poverty around and therefore the 5 per cent VAT charge should be abolished on January 1, 2021 at the end of the transition period.

The position on the taxation of pension contributions is a mess caused by Gordon Brown and George Osborne raiding the pension funds. The long-term solution is to go back to the old system starting on April 1, 2020, phasing it in over a 20 year period. Part of the cost will be recovered by companies not having to make a large contribution to their pension funds. In the meantime the lifetime allowance should be cancelled.

The Covid-19 scare is damaging the economy and it should be offset by a 1 per cent reduction in national insurance contributions shared 50/50 with employers to stimulate the economy, up to £50,000 per year per employee. These measures will show that the Conservatives believe in cutting tax but that will require expenditure to be controlled.

In response to Sam Gelder's news report (Gazette), we need to question the validity and viability of the claims being made by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA), writesCelia Coram, on behalf of Save Lea Marshes, full address supplied.

Does it not seem strange that despite all the 'consultations' only 1,360 have responded? We are told that 80 per cent of people polled responded positively. Could it be that the online survey provided little chance to express alternative views? Those who attended the consultation sessions last year reported a different view and an inability of the hired consultation team to answer questions fully.

Having attended earlier 'consultations', where it was stated by CEO Shaun Dawson that the ice centre was going to be smaller than Olympic size, why is it now being described as 'Olympic sized' and why was the Olympic Park where there is space next to the Hockey Centre, (one of four options), not chosen? This would be a far better site from a transport point of view and for families who may have different sporting interests not to have to go to different locations.

Building on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) is not the best choice. The current rink should not have been built on Leyton Marsh in the first place. It would be adding insult to injury to keep the existing rink open whilst the new one is built on the same site as the disruption to the area will be more keenly felt by wildlife and local people.

The sheer size and scale of the building would be completely out of keeping for the area. Most similar ice centres (or more accurately 'leisure centres' as more facilities are included), are placed in urban areas or on industrial sites, not on the 'green lung' of east London.

Does London need another ice centre? North and east London already have one at Islington Sobell Centre and one in Romford.

If it does, surely building it on the Eaton Manor Olympic site alongside other sporting facilities would make sense, rather than a hotel, which the LVRPA want to build on this site. Some people will think that opposing the ice centre is denying young people opportunities.

In this particular instance, it more a about where such a facility should be built rather than outright opposition. Nonetheless, it is worth taking into account how many youth centres so desperately lacking funds could make better use of £30m? What about future young people in the area, who will not be able to enjoy the Lea Valley and the health benefits it provides without charge?

Given the current use, how was the projected figure of 500,000 calculated and how many people will drive up the congested Lea Bridge Road to try and get there?

Lastly, how can the local community trust an organisation to run such a large enterprise, when the Waterworks Centre further up the road, which should be a wildlife focussed facility is not performing as well as it could and the surrounding land being used for, ill-suited and environmentally damaging events, such as the Holi Festival last year and a proposed Dance Music Festival this year for money-making purposes. ur green space is precious. Let's keep what we have left for future generations. We are in the middle of a climate crisis - a few reed beds are not the answer to making this very large industrial building contribute to helping wildlife survive and will set a dangerous precedent for other building on designated green space.

Amid mounting anxiety at the global spread of the Covid-19 (corona) virus, we write to highlight the situation confronting hundreds of outsourced workers at Homerton University Hospital on the facility management contract, currently held by the multinational ISS, write

Diane Abbott MP, Hackney North & Stoke Newington; Philip Glanville, mayor of Hackney; Cllr Yvonne Maxwell (Hoxton West ward, Homerton Governor); Malcolm Alexander (Hackney Healthwatch, Homerton Governor); Amanda Bentham (Hackney North & Stoke Newington Labour Party vice-chairwomen); George Binette (liaison officer, Hackney North & Stoke Newington Labour Party Trade Union); Janine Booth (liaison officer, Hackney South & Shoreditch Labour Party Trade Union); Pat Corrigan (wecretary, Hackney Downs Branch Labour Party); Vicky Guedalla (representative, Hackney Labour Parties' Local Campaign Forum); Homerton UNISON Branch Committee Members; Kathryn Johnson (women's oficer, Hackney North & Stoke Newington Labour Party); Dr Coral Jones (chairwoman, Hackney South & Shoreditch Labour Party, Homerton Governor); Marion Macalpine (on behalf of Hackney Keep Our NHS Public); Lola McEvoy (organising officer, GMB London Region); Heather Mendick (former secretary, Hackney South & Shoreditch Labour Party); Sue Millman (chairwoman, Hackney North & Stoke Newington Labour Party), Mary Shannon (women's officer, Hackney South & Shoreditch Labour Party) and Miriam Stewart (youth officer, Hackney North & Stoke Newington Labour Party).

A two-tier workforce exists among those whose jobs have been outsourced to ISS. Nearly half of these staff receive less than the London Living Wage (LLW). Others are finally getting the LLW rate, but lack proper sick pay and this our gravest concern.

This means that those who clean hospital wards, serve food and transport both patients and equipment through the Homerton's corridors do not receive any pay at all for the first three days of sickness-related absence and get only £94.25 a week - effectively £2.51 an hour - afterwards. In short, low-paid workers currently face a terrible dilemma: attend work when ill, with obvious implications for patient safety, or face acute hardship.

Against the background of a local corona outbreak, would an ISS employee be forced to self-isolate for two weeks - or more - without proper sick pay? At present neither ISS nor Homerton Trust management have answered this critically important question. The answer must be full pay from day one with the days of absence treated as special leave, equivalent to the trust's policy for its own employees.

Ultimately, this situation has arisen as a direct result of the privatisation of ancillary services at the hospital. The likes of ISS will invariably prioritise profit margins and shareholder dividends above employee welfare and standards of care. The risks posed by the spread of Covid-19 further bolster the case for bringing these services back in -house. We call on trust management to transfer these workers to direct NHS employment when the current contract expires this autumn. In the here and now there must be a commitment to provide full pay to all the Homerton's workers throughout any period of quarantine as a matter of elementary public duty.

-As the Gazette was going to press, Boris Johnson had announced statutory sick pay will be available to workers staying at home with possible coronavirus infections from the first day of illness. Under emergency legislation to halt the spread of Covid-19, the prime minister said payments will be moved forward from the fourth day of sickness under current rules. - Ed.

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