Search This Blog

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Harlesden Town Centre Plans

Following yesterday's post on Town Centres, I though it was worth looking at Harlesden Town Centre in particular. 

The most striking thing about the Council's latest document is that it does not seem to build on the Council's previous work effectively.  I suspect that this is linked to the turnover in Council staff being so enormous that no one linked to the extensive community discussions in 2010 is still around, so whoever wrote the new document just isn't really aware of what has gone on before.  This is a pity as it probably involves rewriting stuff that has been written before.  For example, there is no reference in the new document to the Harlesden Town Charter and its objectives.

Once again the absence of Harlesden Library and BACES from the plans are rather glaring, and the apparent unawareness of local people's long standing committment (and often real success) to improving Harlesden/Kensal Green's green spaces is striking.  The various problems caused in a busy town centre by licensing, planning, noise nuisance, shisha bars, fast food outlets and so on don't really appear. Even the traffic issues aren't really discussed. 

I also get a sense that, although the Old Oak Common area is mentioned, there is no real mechanism to think about influencing it, or indeed influencing the area around Willesden Junction

Monday, 24 April 2017

Town Centres in Brent

Tonight's Brent Council Cabinet has an interesting paper on town centres.  It touches on various themes that will be familiar to anybody who has thought about this subject _ smarter cities technologies, driverless cars, the importance of securing a town centre as a destination, the public realm and so on.

It also suggests bringing back Town Centre Managers, which Brent cut in 2011.  Once again I am struck by the change in policy not being linked to any particular rationale.  Do people on the Council disagree with the old policy, have they critiqued it or have they simply forgotten about it?

The other thing that strikes me is how this document appears to have been drawn up without thinking about libraries policy.  Following the Brent Libraries Transformation Project all Brent libraries are in Town Centres.  They are obvious places to base the Council's activities from.  The report mentions "cultural activities" as well as digital inclusion and public health.  These are all areas where it is widely claimed that libraries can and should play a leading role.

In particular, the document speaks of "work space" in terms of meanwhile uses, but omits mention of the possible use of places like Willesden Green Library Centre for this.  This is despite its previous use in the Library Lab project, the known benefits of co-location, its rather obvious provision of large numbers of computers and free WiFi, its existing use as a community hub and its established use for various training and educational activities. 

For example, the report rightly points to a worry that 67% of businesses in Wembley are not online, well above the national average.  In the days of the wireless Internet that becomes ever more important, as shoppers may use their iphone to direct their shopping.  Why not use Brent libraries for courses in how Brent shops can advertise themselves digitally?  The shops are near the library, the IT equipment is in the library and the libraries service have the connections to find instructors.  It would all fall under one of the strnads of the SCL "universal offer".

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Furness Pocket Park Tidy Up

Some one has had similar thoughts to me about tidying up the area by Furness Pocket Park.  The paving just by the edge of the park has been filled in.  Even though this all looks a bit makeshift, it should make the park easier to clean.


Saturday, 22 April 2017

South Kilburn and Falcon Public House

Monday's Cabinet meeting will see a paper on the Falcon House development which at last finds the Council actually trying to explain the benefits of redevelopment to people in Kilburn.  This is long overdue, and presumably is an adjustment to the Granville controversy. However, I am still far from clear as to what the process was by which these objectives were set

Friday, 21 April 2017

Tricycle Theatre Capital Grant

The Tricycle Theatre seems to have hit the jackpot with Brent Council, being offered a grant of up to £1 million in the next Brent Council Cabinet papers towards its renovation project.  As a long term supporter of the Tricycle, I am pleased for it, but I do wonder what the logic of Brent Council's behaviour is.

Back in 2011, there was a cut in the Tricycle Theatre's Council grant (although I think that was more to do with a personal vendetta of one of the councillors against the then Council Leader), and in 2014 a proposal was published to abolish it entirely.  I saw this as a retrograde step since, the Tricycle seems to me to be a key asset in the wider regeneration of Kilburn High Road. Happily, it was subsequently reversed.  Brent Council also stayed silent when the Theatre was under attack over the Jewish Film Festival. 

Suddenly, Brent Council has gone from this kind of gradual distancing to handing out a sizeable capital grant.  Why?

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Community Libraries Come Back to the Brent Council Cabinet

Coming up at the next Brent Cabinet is a paper on Brent's policy on Community Libraries, which strikes me as being very similar to the one passed in the Libraries Transformation Project back in April 2011.  Given the obvious success of Brent Libraries that is probably unsurprising. 

The new document tells us that:



"The Council has reviewed its working relationship with the four independent community library groups in the borough in order to agree and implement partnership arrangements. These libraries are constitutionally and operationally independent of the Council and do not form part of its statutory provision of library services. They are run by local voluntary and community sector organisations who have a strong sense of independence and individual visions for their community libraries." (3.1)

In other words they are in no sense part of Brent Council, and the Council has no financial liability for them, and no committment to manage them in any way.  That is thoroughly sensible.

Two of the groups faced up to this long ago, with both the Cricklewood (FOCL) and the Kensal Rise (FKRL) organisations raising their own funding and making their own decisions without any reference to the Council.  FOCL have not released any figures on their funding but they have largely completed their building, which (unlike the old Cricklewood Library) is DDA compliant.  FKRL have reportedly raised £160k in capital, an impressive sum which has come almost entirely from sources other than the Council and therefore directly adds to the social capital of the Borough.  The altered Kensal Rise building should also be DDA compliant.  Again this will be an improvement on the old building. 

However there are still worries about the other two buildings.  It is no coincidence that the Council remains entangled as the landlord in both cases.  In Barham, Paul Lorber appears to be trying to play the Council for either financial gain or as part of his political manoeuvrings prior to the 2018 elections.  In Preston, the existing group appears to be given an undue influence that does not sit easily with either the Council's financial obligations or the building's ACV status.  Such arrangements can lead to ugly rumours about the integrity of Council decision making even where there is no legally proven case against them.