Monday, 31 August 2009
Actually, quite a lot of Brent councillors started a blog in 2006, fourteen in fact. Unfortunately, most of them seem to have run out of steam. Exceptions are Cllr Muhammed Butt (Tokyngton) Cllr Ralph Fox (Dollis Hill), Cllr Lesley Jones (Willesden Green) and Cllr Janice Long (Harlesden); all Labour as it happens.
Brent councillors' blogs can be found on the BRAIN Website. One of the problems with the BRAIN site is that, as it is paid for by the local authority, nothing even remotely political can be published during an election campaign. Cllr Lesley Jones is now avoiding this, by keeping her blog on a private site. Perhaps the purdah rule is why many councillors have had their rhythm disturbed.
Perhaps most poignant of the postings on the Brain website is that of Cllr David Clues, whose last posting begins "It is good to be back after the imposed silence of the Dudden Hill by-election." It was posted on 28 May 2007.
Sunday, 30 August 2009
You might therefore be surprised to learn that once the Liberal Democrats took power in Brent, they increased the charges for personal care for the elderly by 200%.
When challenged, Paul Lorber claimed that the leaflet above was simply talking about Scotland, and had nothing to do with Brent. I doubt with those of his constituents who got it through their door before the 2006 elections understood it that way. Presumably he thinks that only those who live in Scotland "deserve to retire with dignity."
Saturday, 29 August 2009
I can't say I am convinced. I think the local newspapers real problems come from the rise of the Internet, the decline in advertising caused by the recession and perhaps the fragmentation of society which people less interested in local news.
Certainly, in Brent the Brent Magazine was deliberately designed not to rival local newspapers. It only goes out monthly. It doesn't do topical news. The format is very different from a newspaper. All right, it may cannibalise sa small amount of advertising from Archant et al, but most of the advertising is from the Council itself, and required under legislation or obviously sensible. The local newspapers can't really expect the Council to spend more on advertising just as a subsidy to commercial businesses like themselves.
I regret the decline of our local newspapers as much as anyone, not least because it lessens the scrutiny our truly awful local Liberal Democrat / Conservative administration is under. But the solution is for journalism to change its business models; not to try to hold back technological change.
Friday, 28 August 2009
This is a particularly interesting one since if Paul Lorber knew the facts in 2006, when he was promising to scrap it, he must have known that getting rid of the Brent Magazine would actually cost the taxpayer. The reason is that by at least late 2005, the Brent Magazine had a modest operating surplus from the advertising it provides. As well as the damage to the reputation of the Council for scrapping these contracts, scrapping the Magazine would also forced the taxpayer to pay for more advertising in other journals.
In fact, when the Liberal Democrats won the largest number of seats (although only the third highest number of votes) in May 2006, they put out a proposal to the other parties to reduce the number of issues rather than scrap it altogether.
Since then, they have continued publishing the Brent Magazine once a month (as under Labour). They have also increased spending on Council publicity in general to far higher levels than under Labour.
Thursday, 27 August 2009
Does she not remember that Brent is an Education Authority run by a coalition of Liberal Democrats and Tories? Does she not remember personally endorsing the Liberal Democrat councillors presiding over the school place shortage? Does she not remember that the Labour Government has given Brent some of the biggest rises in its Dedicated Schools Budget in the entire country?
Above all, does she not remember how her Liberal Democrat friends on Brent Council have deliberately delayed the provision of new school places for Brent. In 2006, a site had been identified for a new through school in Wembley. The options had been exhaustively examined by the Labour Administration in charge of Brent Council up to May 2006. Sarah Teather's Liberal Democrats teamed up with the Tories to have a "review." The review lasted more than a year. At the end of it, no new information had been discovered, and the Council went ahead on the site that had been identified in 2006. all that had been achieved was a year's delay in providing new school places.
Does Sarah Teather have no shame?
To explain, each planning application before the committee has a recommendation from the planning department to approve, refuse or defer. Residents often regard the Planning Committee's usual course of following this recommendation as making it into a kind of rubber stamp, but I would argue it is more complicated than that. One shouldn't treat the number of officer recommendations overturned as some sort of virility symbol.
Firstly, whereas the Committee is certainly influenced by officers, the opposite is also true. Officers are working within a policy framework set by the Committee. I admit that some of the Committee members seem to disagree with the policy framework, but make no effort to change it, so they have only themselves to blame. Also, when the Committee overturns recommendations, officers adjust their recommendations on future cases. A while ago we started having controversies over back garden extensions, and in a couple of cases we overturned recommendations. As a result, the officers showed greater care over similar applications on future occasions.
Another reason that residents are sometimes disenchanted with the Planning System is that many things lie outside it. It can't really be used to control anti-social behaviour for example. Nor can the Planning Committee consider things outside its legal framework, like houseprices. This can mean that the residents regard an application as obviously wrong, but the Planning Committee don't refuse it because there are no planning grounds to do so.
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
But I cannot imagine that there is any actual connection between the Church End White Hart pub and Richard II. Here in Brent, the pubs change their name too often for that. For example, a few years ago No. 8 in Willesden High Road was known as Ned Kelly's. Before that it had one of my favourite pub names: The Case is Altered.
The story behind The Case is Altered as a pub name is that during the Pennisular War, the Middlesex regiment spent a long time quartered at La Casa Alta. when the soldiers demobbed they started up pubs with a corruption of the old headquarters name. Too nice a story to be true.
The only pubs I know of in Brent to have retained their old names are the Spotted Dog pubs, one in Neasden and one in Willesden. Sadly, they are both now closed.
If you turn left out of the main ticket office in Willesden Junction, you can walk across a bus turning circle and under a bridge. Just to your right is a foot bridge that goes over the railway and leads on to the Hythe Road Industrial estate in Hammersmith & Fulham (In fact you crossed over to Hammersmith & Fulham as you went through the turning circle).
If this footbridge and the path were done up it would meet every tickbox of a public project. It would encourage employment, by making it easier for people to get into the Industrial Estate (particularly from Harlesden, Kensal Green and Stonebridge which are all high unemployment areas). It would discourage crime by creating a well lit space where people feel safe. Most of all it would encourage sustainable transport. People could either walk on to the Estate from Harlesden or Kensal Green, or (if they were from further afield) they would be encouraged to uses the buses or the trains by knowing they could walk the remaining distance.
Why doesn't this happen? Two reasons. (1) Hammersmith & Fulham isn't interested because their residents come from the South not via Willesden Junction (2) Brent isn't interested because the footpath is in a different Borough.
Tuesday, 25 August 2009
Monday, 24 August 2009
The blame lies with the Tories as always (except when its down to the Liberal Democrats).
At the time of the last local government review, the Tories put forward a scheme where something like the current Harlesden Ward would be Harlesden West, and Kensal Green would be Harlesden East. During that very messy and ill-conducted review, the Commission changed the name to Kensal Green, but left the boundary just short of the Jubilee Clock.
Sunday, 23 August 2009
I have to be careful what I say, as I am on the Planning Committee and I may have to judge a Planning Application for the site. There are very strict rules that councillors on the Planning Committee are in a "quasi-judicial" role and therefore must not say anything to give the impression that they have made their minds up in advance.
However, I can say that I am concerned about the length of time any building project might take and I am concerned that Brent Council doesn't seem to be providing alternative premises for the Youth facilities during that period. There is a possibility of some of them being sent up to Blackbird Hill, which hardly convenient to get to if you have to travel by public transport from Kensal Green. The Liberal Democrats who in theory run Brent Council, should pull their fingers out to make sure people can still access these youth services.
Dated January this year, it reveals that Liberal Democrat run Brent is one of the most aggressive authorities in terms of the pursuit of Council Tax arrears. I bet Brent residents didn't think that would be the case when Sarah Teather was promoting her Axe the Tax campaign.
I wonder if she agrees with her party colleague, who was quoted in the BBC
The party's local government spokeswoman Julia Goldsworthy said:
"Overstretched families are already struggling to meet their mortgage repayments
and keep their homes but this survey shows that failing to pay council tax can
have just as devastating an effect on householders.
"Just as lenders are being asked to reduce repossessions, public bodies should do everything they can to ensure that bankruptcy is avoided where possible."
She said it was not "a licence to avoid paying bills" but said court appearances and bankruptcy should be the "last resort".
Apparently, in 2007-8, Lib Dem run Brent issued 93 bankruptcy proceedings against local residents. That is one of the highest rates in the UK.
By the way, I think we should all be grateful to the intrepid investigators who got hold of the figures underlying the BBC story. The figures were obtained by the Liberal Democrats.
Saturday, 22 August 2009
Yesterday's post got me thinking about the various broken promises of Brent Liberal Democrats at the last local elections in 2006. Above is the big one: Council Tax.
The Liberal Democrats, including Sarah Teather MP, near the centre above repeatedly promised to freeze Brent's Council Tax. Within weeks of taking office, Cllr Paul Lorber announced that he hadn't realised that the central government grant for 2007 would be the level it was (despite it having been announced in November 2005, six months before).
When it came to their first budget, they raised Council Tax by 4.9%, just below the level at which the government would cap it. Since then they have had two budgets, both putting the Council Tax up. In fact during their three years of office since 2006, they have put the Council Tax up by more than the amount the previous Labour Administration did during its last three years.
Friday, 21 August 2009
They plan to clear the derelict land between Tubbs Road and the railway. How will this affect Well London's food growing project on that site?
They plan to clear further land around the Bakerloo and Overground lines. Will this include the Harrow Road footpath? What kind of landscaping will be put in place afterward?
How long and how severe will the disruption to rail services be?
Once I have answers to these questions I will post them here.
The problems at Willesden Junction have been to do with the physical layout of the station, the different bodies responsible for different bits , and the Local Authority boundaries.
The approach I have been concentrating on recently has been the Harrow Road footpath. This comes down from Harrow Road close to the junction with Furness Road towards the old ticket office. I suspect it has more users than the newer, main ticket office. Back in January, during Boris Johnson's notorious shutdown of public transport in London, I tried to find out who was responsible for gritting it. It took six months to find out that it was London Overground (LOROL). Apparently, they also take responsibility for cutting back the brambles that overhang it, although I am not sure that they are legally obliged to.
I am trying to have that area by the side of the path gravelled over. Hopefully, that will also discourage the rats.
Thursday, 20 August 2009
The old Brent Labour Party office used to be in what is now Gracelans Yard. I remember going into what was then called the Buccaneer with our newly elected MP Dawn Butler. As we were chatting in the lower part of the pub, she noticed that there was some dogshit on the floor. Obviously, I know how to impress a girl.
I should make clear that this was before the new management took over and transformed it into the The Island. If anything it is now a bit too upmarket, at least when it comes to prices.
Wednesday, 19 August 2009
To be fair to myself, there has been some progress. The old site was, literally, a dump. In the past it had also been used by tramps, prostitutes and drug users. The threat of a CPO did push the current owner to demolish the buildings on the site, making it less likely to attract flytipping etc.. As you can see from the photo above it still doesn't look great, but it is a bit better
It also got the site identified as an where housing should be built in the new Local Development Framework (a document which helps to influnce planning decisions). Octavia Housing, which owns the next door St Joseph's Court on Park Parade, have made an offer for the site, but it has not yet been accepted.
My co-councillor Bobby Thomas asked about this at the last Council meeting, and was told that "the Council has not urgently progressed the CPO." Given the shortage of housing in London, and the need to boost the economy, especially in construction, that seems a shame.
Tuesday, 18 August 2009
The proposal has arisen as a result of a conversation we had with the scheme mamanger of the Willow Housing properties on the northern side of Purves Road. She said that ambulances would sometimes be forced to block the road whilst dealing with medical emergencies from residents in her flats. The layout of the streets mean that this can cause major blockages.
If you live on this road should be recieving consultation documents shortly to see whether you think that some more double yellow lines would be a good idea.
Monday, 17 August 2009
Without taking some of the land on the Industrial estate next door, the John Kelly Schools will be left with virtually no sports facilities, completely inadequate transport to and from the school and a building period lasting four years instead of two. Nevertheless, I suspect the Tories and Lib Dems will ram through their "Building for Failure" policy anyway.
Certainly if my experience at the Forward Plan Committee on 29 July is anything to go by.
Sunday, 16 August 2009
In Anthony Trollope's The Prime Minister, the villian Ferdinand Lopez commits takes a train from Euston up to "Tenway Junction" which I am pretty sure must be Willesden Junction in disguise. There he steps in front of a train and is obliterated.
Does anyone know of other literary references to Willesden Junction?
Saturday, 15 August 2009
Changes to the way the Freedom Pass scheme is funded are likely to cost Brent residents much more to pay for it. Partly, this is because the emphasis is being shifted from the number of holders to the number of journeys they make. As Brent has lots of train stations, that hits us more badly than, say, Bromley. However, from 2010/2011 Boris is also trying to shift a greater proportion of the total cost on to London Boroughs (i.e. getting the Boroughs to do the dirty business of raising the money while he claims the credit for the nice bit of extending the use of the Freedom Pass).
Latest estimates by Brent suggest that our contribution will go up from £7 million now to more than £10 million by 2012/2013. That is roughly an extra £30 on Band D Council Tax.
The same Council Tax that Boris pledged to freeze.
Aside from the belief in Papal Infalliability itself, belief in the Assumption is the only doctrine where a Pope has issued an "ex cathedra" (i.e. officially infalliable) statement. This was done by Pope Pius XII in 1950.
Friday, 14 August 2009
Thursday, 13 August 2009
Starting at Kensal Green Station, the boundary includes the Millenium hostel and the Masons Arms, but goes through the middle of New Hope Court and the new development at Plough Close. It then meanders back and forth, sometimes going down the middle of peoples' houses, and cutting through Willesden Junction station before hitting the boundary with Ealing.
This might not seem to matter very much, but there are all kinds of bureaucratic problems as a result. For example, if the front of your house is in Brent, but the back is in Hammersmith and Fulham, where do you register to vote?
This last problem, I hope, is on the way to being solved, as I have managed to get it referred to the Electoral Commission, who have the power to rectify the boundary.
Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Historically, the Lib Dems were completely hostile to anti-social behaviour powers. When the Act allowing ASBOs was passed in 2003, their then Home Affairs spokesman (Simon Hughes MP) said that people should be allowed to do what they like even if other people "found it frightening or intimidating".
They started rowing back from that position once they found how unpopular it was. Here in Brent, they appear just to have continued the previous Labour policy. The number of ASBOs and dispersal zones put forward is more or less the same and decided in the same way.
The exception is Mosquito devices. These are device you can fix to a wall that emit sound waves that people under twenty find unbearable, like white noise. The idea is to stop people hanging about in an area, where they intimidate people. The Police and some of our Housing Assoiciations support them, but the Liberal Democrats oppose them (according to their spokeswoman on the Council). However, I think they are less intrusive then dispersal zones because they only affect a very limited area, and they can be set to particular times.
The Lib Dems' blanket opposition seems to be simply a relic of their previous opposition to all anti-social behaviour powers.
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
There is a striking instance of this the Raffles book The Amateur Cracksman, first published in 1899. Cricketer and gentleman thief Raffles is being blackmailed and decides to confront the blackmailer. He takes the train to Willesden Junction in order to "walk on through the streets into fairly open country." We are told that he left St James Park at 11.21pm and when midnight strikes he is on "a dark footpath between the woods and the fields." There he burgles a solitary house. It is hard to think of that as happening in Harlesden or Kensal Green today.
Monday, 10 August 2009
20mph zones are supposed to be self-enforcing, and the main mechanism for this is speed cushions. The proposal is to have five speed cushions on Longstone Avenue between Harlesden Road and Drayton Road. There will also be signage as you enter the zone from Park Parade on Longstone Avenue, Springwell Avenue, Sellons Avenue, Harlesden Gardens or (via Manor Park Road) Crownhill Road. The only other alteration to the Kensal Green part is a new zebra crossing on Crownhill Road, just north of St John's Avenue.
In the Harlesden part of the zone, there will be speed cushions on Harlesden Gardens (to the west of Crownhill Road), St John's Avenue, Burns Road, Charlton Road, St Mary's Road, Inman Road, Tunley Road, Redfern Road and Curzon Crescent. Speed tables are proposed for Longstone Avenue (The Harlesden part between Drayton Road and Roundwood Road), Fortunegate Road, St Thomas Road and Glynfield Road. There are also proposed changes at the junctions of: Harlesden Gardens and St John's Avenue, Drayton Road and St John's Avenue, Church Road and Curzon Crescent, and Marian Way and Oldfield Road.
That is a lot of traffic calming for an area that has a lot already, and I am sure it will controversial. So if you haven't already commented, don't miss your opportunity. The statutory notice goes up in late August.
You can click on it to get options of difficulty. At the moment, it is at the easiest level. The hardest Sudoku I have ever done is the Independent's Super Sudoku that they publish on Saturday. Don't try that unless you are a really hardco0re Sudoku fan.
Sunday, 9 August 2009
Does anyone out there have an opinion?
Saturday, 8 August 2009
It is all the more frustrating given that the Council are threatening to fine people who don't use the green box service, but they won't give organic waste recycling to people who ask for it.
The underlying reason is that the Council hasn't bought enough disposal capacity for this kind of waste. This means that if they collect it, they won't be able to recycle it. I hope to be able to change this in next year's budget. What do people think? Should increasing the number of streets covered by the green bin service be a good idea?
Friday, 7 August 2009
No doubt dog lovers and haters will have strong opinions on this, but the point that strikes me is about accountability.
The City of London, which has a literally medieval form of government, will be deciding the management of parks well away from where any of its own residents live. Whichever side of the debate you are on, the decision will be made by people who aren't known to you, and may never have set foot in the areas they are deciding about.
Now, I must admit that this system had an advantage for Queens Park in the past. Back when the (still) Tory Leader Bob Blackman was laying waste Brent Council services in order to minimise the Council Tax, Queens Park's status as a City of London enclave ensured it kept things like park wardens that he abolished eslewhere in Brent. I am sure that helped to maintain Queens Park as one of the nicest parks in Brent. It also helped local residents get the best of both worlds: a high quality local park with the bills being paid by someone else.
However, is it really good for people to have the true costs of services hidden in this way? Wouldn't it be more democratic for them to see both the cost and the benefit and make a measured judgement about which they want? And shouldn't the rules that govern the park be made by people accountable locally, not City of London politicians who are creating these rules largely with conditions on Hampstead Heath in mind?
In the past I have been told that Hampstead Heath requires particular skills and knowledge that Boroughs don't have. Maybe that is so, and maybe such a large park has a strategic importance that other parks don't have. If so, that sounds like an argument for the London Mayor to run it (as I think Ken Livingstone advocated).
But surely that kind of argument doesn't apply to Queens Park? Is it time for the City to decolonise?
Thursday, 6 August 2009
Wednesday, 5 August 2009
A belated welcome to the new Harlesden Town Centre Police Team, headed by Liam Cahill. The picture above is of their launch on 11th June 2009. The idea is that one sergeant, one constable and four PCSOs concentrate specifically on Harlesden Town Centre.
Despite the name Harlesden Town Centre actually covers a good part of Kensal Green, including all of Harlesden High Street and Park Parade.
Tuesday, 4 August 2009
It seems to me that there is widespread misunderstanding of how planning is supposed to work, and that for some people it is really quite intimidatory.
The case that particularly struck me was a proposed new house in two back gardens on Chatsworth Road. Back gardens were made a hot issue during the GLA Campaign by Boris Johnson (although I am not sure he has done much about them since), and this application had objections from more than ninety people including two of the parliamentary candidates for the area.
The site was a derelict garage and the surrounding garden. The committee refused it because of scale, the noise from the railway line, and its status as part of a "wildlife corridor." There was a long discussion over the exact value of the corridor, with (under the rhetoric) agreement that the corridor would be eroded but not severed by the development. We also had a lenghty submission about the welfare of bats, pointing out that trains ran up to midnight putting them off using the corridor. However, as they are nocturnal animals, I assume the late hours won't hurt them.A lot of the comment struck me as being very personal and at the site visit I had to disallow some of the points (e.g. How long have you lived in this area?). I fear the applicant felt quite persecuted by the end of the session.
Other problems that occur with other applications include residents assuming that Planning Officers are secretly decided against them, or that councillors are simply following a political line. I think that councillors do genuinely try to decide on the merits of the case, and that the officers really do try to balance all the points made to them. There just seems to be something in the nature of these things that makes people see it all as black or white.
Monday, 3 August 2009
I was particularly disappointed by the inadequate performance of the Lib Dem councillors at the last meeting of the Forward Plan Committee that discussed this. Three Lib Dem councillors attended. One, Valerie Brown, stayed completely silent. The second, Emily Lawson Tancred, asked no questions of the officers or the Executive member that the Committee is supposed to hold to account, but simply addressed questions to Ralph Fox, who was another member of the Committee. Anthony Dunn combined a lengthy speech in favour of the Lib Dems with his usual standard of personally abusive behaviour (trying to talk over other members etc.)
Really, it makes me wonder why any of these people wanted to be councillors in the first place.
Along with seeing the Brazilian dancers and enjoying the food, I got the latest news about the upgrade of the park, and the new food growing project planned for the land behing. At present, there is an area of derelict land between the Willesden Junction railway line and the back gardens of the odd numbers of Tubbs Road. It is owned by Network Rail. The plan is to put him some large food growing bags on pallets (like skip bags) and create a series of mini allotments.