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Sunday, 10 December 2017

Affordable Housing in Wembley Reduced to Almost Nothing

My eye was caught by an extremely high tower block proposal coming up at the next Planning Committee.  The "East of Wembley Stadium" application provides for only 7% affordable housing on the pretext that the housing will be kept at a genuinely affordable rent level.  It is recommended to be granted

I have argued before that there are genuine trade offs around affordability, unit size and so on, but this becoming ridiculous.

Firstly the proportion is so tiny that almost nothing is being demanded of the developers at all.  7% does not even begin to meet the needs of Wembley, as the GLA has pointed out.  Secondly I don't see any reason to believe that the developer can be kept to the promised reduced rate.  It would not surprise me in the least if the properties are sold off as straight forward commercial units in future.  Thirdly, the blocking of views to the Stadium has a woeful impact on the Stadium's place as the centrepiece of Wembley's regeneration.

I doubt however, that the Committee will do more than rubberstamp what is put in front of them.  If it does it will be another sign that the Planning system in Brent has been thoroughly broken and (for whatever reason) councillors and officers are simply waiving through applications with simply no effort to scrutinise them properly. 

The report, and the subsequent report for more car parking, both seem to indicate that the GLA is becoming concerned at the ways in which the London Plan is being ignored, so that it is possible that Sadiq Khan will intervene, but why aren't Brent Councillors and officers doing a better job to stick up for the interests of Brent and Tokyngton?

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Questions and Yet more Questions

It seems that Brent Council has another of its semi-scandals brewing.  A fuller discussion can be found here.  A number of the answers given appear to be contradictory.  Giving false answer on the register of gifts and hospitality and/or in in relation to FoI requests is itself a serious matter.  The murk becomes thicker following the attempt by the CEO to "clarify" the situation here

Friday, 8 December 2017

Brexit Breakthrough

Theresa May appears to have managed a breakthrough in the Brexit talks this morning, although perhaps not in the way she intended.  Underlining who has real control of the situation, the EU Commission has declared "sufficient progress" has been made to go to a stage two.

Although everyone is politely pretending that everyone has got what they wanted, it seems to me that the breakthrough essentially consists of the UK saying yes to what the European Union asked for months ago.  Moreover, the absence of effective mechanisms to make the situation unclear in ways that will just have to be made clearer during the remaining period.

Thankfully it appears that there will be no hard border with the Republic or down the Irish Sea.  During the "transition" period, according to Donald Tusk, the UK will be governed by EU law including the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.  The Irish government spokesman told everyone that "stated commitment to maintain full alignment with those rules of the internal market and customs union which, now or in the future, support north-south cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the Good Friday agreement.”

Those two statements sound to me that we will be in the Single Market for at least two years following "Brexit" in March 2019.  In the cases of the "areas covered by the Good Friday Agreement" _ whatever they may be _ we are apparently going to stay in the Single Market in perpetuity. 

I would imagine that will leave the stronger pro-EU parts of the UK plenty of scope to demand that we also permanently remain in the Single Market in economic sectors that matter to them.  For instance I would expect both Scotland and London to want to remain in the Single Market for Financial Services.

The agreement also apparently means that EU citizens in the UK will retain the same rights as they had before, which I am glad of since I know that this has been a real source of anxiety for many people.  According to the Guardian (at 8.23am today), the Taoiseach said that "Everyone born in Northern Ireland will retain their right to EU citizenship."  If so that seems to create  new category of UK citizen, one who remains a citizen of the European Union despite the UK leaving it.  That strikes me as very odd and I would think would worry the DUP in terms of Northern Ireland drifting to the Republic, an understandable concern to anyone who knows some Irish history.  Personally, I would have thought many people in the rest of the UK would envy that right and want a similar deal, if only because it will make travel around the EU easier.

It is beginning to sound as if Brexit will mean the UK obeying all the EU rules but having no representation at the EU decision making bodies, as well as making a payment of around £39 billion to the European Union.  Still footing the bills and becoming a rule taker rather than a rule maker.

I imagine that Jacob Rees-Mogg feels rather as if his gun dog brought something deeply unpleasant out of the swamp this morning to lay at his feet.

David Davis MP and the Brexit Assessments

The Guardian has now done a round up of all the times David Davis referred to his Brexit analysis documents in Parliament.  The record speaks for itself in the number of times he has misled Parliament, but his Tory colleagues are determined to close ranks around him.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

How Might Colocation Evolve at Willesden Library?

Now that Willesden Library is fully occupied for the first time since it opened, it is worth thinking about how co-location might evolve there.  Colocation is often seen as a zero sum game with space being taken away from library services and given to other purposes purely as an exercise in cost cutting.  I am sure that there are such examples, but I think Willesden Library really does add value by being more than the sum of its parts.  In particular from a Library point of view, the other activities all draw in people who may then add to library usage.

Willesden Library Cafe, for instance, may simply start attracting customers off the High Road or the bus stop looking coffee and tea who then may end up becoming curious about the Library offer.  It also may make use of the library more in line with modern tastes.  There is some reason to believe that use of libraries is shifting more to a leisure based model where soft furnishings and a cup of coffee fit in more than sitting sitting at a desk doing homework.

Similarly, ExploreLearning may well market the Library to a new clientale who, since they are interested in learning, should be a natural fit with library services.

I am not sure how far this has been planned but the sheer variety of events and activities held in Brent libraries add to the diversity of uses and help the library to reach a broader range of people than had traditionally been the case.

Another area of possible development is the public realm around the library.  As its winter, it is probably too cold and dark and wet to do all that much with the spaces around the library at present, but I think they are well designed for outdoor activities.  During the construction process some people argued that there was tremendous demand for the use of outdoor space in Willesden Green, leading to an application for a town green.  The critics of the scheme appear to have largely disappeared

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Profiteering over Fire Risk

Yesterdays Times contained a story about leaseholders in private flats being forced to pay inflated prices prices for allegedly unnecessary "fire safety" works.  This is exactly what I fear may happen in former BHP blocks as well.  To make things worse, the sudden splurge in spending may well lead to genuine shortages of materials and labour making prices higher than they would otherwise have been. 

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Brexit and Northern Ireland

Yesterday's collapse in Brussells really makes me wonder whether Brexit can go ahead.  Rather than a minor miscommunication over the exact text, it seems to me to be a far more fundamental failure with the failure of those demanding Brexit to understand the nature of our relationship with the European Union, and indeed the nature of their own demands.

Given the huge cost of a hard border with the Republic to Northern Ireland, and the risk to the Good Friday Agreement, I assume that the DUP genuinely wants an open border, but I don't see how you can have that with Northern Ireland remaining in the Single Market.  Leaving the rest of the UK outside the Single Market would then create a hard internal border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, which would obviously be anathema to any unionist. 

The whole mess has also led to exceptionalist demands by Scotland, Wales and London for a similar bespoke deal, which would create even more internal border issues, quite bizarre ones in the case of London. 

Keeping the whole of the UK in the Single Market is hated by the hard Right as the Conservative Party is hated because it would be incompatible with their zero regulation fantasies and tantamount to remaining in the European Union.

I really can't imagine how the Brexiteers are going to escape their inherent contradictions on this one. 

Trees in Brent

If you have ever wondered how many trees Brent has the answer is in a forthcoming Council report.  It estimates the Council is responsible for "17,000 public highway trees,  5,200 estate trees located on 200 housing estates, and 14,500 trees in Brent’s parks and cemeteries". There will also be a number of trees on private land.