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Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Where are the Lib Dems on the Environment?

Thinking about the Forward Plan Committee on Thursday, I am struck at how confused the Liberal Democrats are on Environmental policy now. I pointed out before that their position seems to have flipped from the one they have had for several years. At the Thursday meeting, Cllr Daniel Brown was ruled out of order in trying to oppose our emissions based permit scheme by the Chair (His fellow Liberal Democrat Cllr James Allee). I don't think the Chair really has the power to do that, and I am assuming that Allee didn't want to vote on it because the Liberal Democrats are split on the issue.

Likewise, they don't seem willing to support our position on waste management changes but they they equally don't seem to have the courage to propose anything else.

It seems that their leadership simply doesn't know what to do.

Another Water Leak

Yet another leak in Kensal Green. This time water flowing on to the road in front of Kensal Green Tube Station. To report leaks like these you can call Thames Water on 0800 714 614.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Mitre Bridge

I am trying to find out more about one of the causes of heavy traffic in Harlesden Town Centre. Many of the heavy lorries going through are no longer able to use Mitre Bridge off Scrubs Lane because it has had an 18 ton weight restriction put on it. This is inconvenient for them, as they have to take the long route round, but still more so for Harlesden residents who have big lorries trundling past. Hopefully, the situation can be resolved by bridge strengthening and the traffic through Harlesden Town Centre reduced.

I guess it is another example of the baleful effect of having the Borough boundaries so nearby. The problems of Harlesden and Kensal Green do not get on the radar of Hammersmith, and Brent can't do anything about the bridge itself because it is not under our jurisdiction.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Brent's Civic Centre

Although no one on the streets ever talks about it, I thought it might be useful to summarise the arguments around the Brent Civic Centre since for people who work in the Council it seems to absorb an inordinate amount of time. Indeed, our review of the Centre has taken up almost as much time as the Budget.

Firstly, the economic argument is that although it will take up to £7 million to service the debt to pay for the Centre, officers have estimated that we will save £9.5 million. This mainly comes from leaving 15 of the sites that we currently occupy and moving the staff into the new Centrew. Thus, any plan not to go ahead would have to find an extra £2.5 million in the Budget.

Secondly, the environmental beenefits of the new Centre are immense, contributing a 12.2% cut in the Council's overall carbon emissions as well as possibly underpinning a Wembley District Heating scheme.

Thirdly, the Centre helps boost the development around Wem,bley Stadium, which is the principal driver of jobs growth in the local economy.

Fourthly, having a single centre should help to make Brent Council a more efficienct organisation than hitherto, with less time spent passing between various offices.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Brent Civic Centre

Sadly ill informed comment from Martin Francis of the Green Party here. Firstly, we have reviewed the Civic Centre, and decided to go ahead with it. Personally, I have sat in rather more meetings on the subject than I care for, but what is triking about the Green Party position is its failure to recognise the substantial environmental benefits of the new Civic Centre. These include cutting the Council's total carbon emissions by more than 12 per cent, and the possibility of linking into a Wembley District Heating scheme.

It is rather ironic than the Green Party is campaigning against one of the Council's leading environmental projects.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Scrutiny Last Night

Well at least the Liberal Democrat councillors Beck and Ashraf managed to turn up to the Forward Plan Committee last night to talk about the Call In they signed. The same is not true of Cllr Simon Green, Cllr Hayley Matthews or Cllr Paul Lorber (although he did send an alternate). Nor did Cllr Ann Hunter turn up to this or previous meetings despite having called for more consultation. However, they didn't really put forward any actual suggestions. Hopefully more will come in now that the public consultation is free to get under way.

Green flag in Brent

Congratulation to the Brent Parks service for getting seven Green Flag awards for Brent Parks, including Roundwood Park. They are Roundwood, Barham Park, Mapesbury Dell, Fryent Country Park, Welsh Harp Open Space, Preston Park and Gladstone Park.


Thursday, 26 August 2010

Call Ins Tonight

Tonight I will be going to the Forward Plan Committee to be asked about the waste Management report. This has been "called in " (i.e. the decision has been delayed) at the request of various Liberal Democrat members. This makes it the seventh report this month to be called in, which seems over the top.

In fact I attended their last meeting to talk about the same report prior to the discussion, so it seems odd that they didn't raise their concerns then. I hope this time they manage to think up some suggestions as to what they want chnaged; otherwise it all seems a bit pointless.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Positive Coverage

Good to see some positive coverage for our emissions based permit proposals, in the Daily Telegraph of all places.

Con Dem Bureaucracy

By the way, another of the strange initiatives coming from the Liberal Democrat / Conservative coalition is that local authorities need to create a public record of all items of expenditure above 500 pounds. What a bureaucratic pointless exercise. I notice that central government will not be applying the same rules to itself. It does seem a bizarre priority at a time when the government is cutting services in the name of efficiency.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Gladstone Park


Although the decision to demolish Dollis Hill House may seen regrettable in many ways, it will allow the other attractions around that part of Gladstone Park (such as the walled garden above) to come into their own. At present, they are blighted by the ruin in their midst. I hope, therefore, that the Secretary of State makes the right decision.

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Misty Moon Harlesden

Made a mistake in my pub post yesterday, the Misty Moon in Harlesden does have a web presence, here.

Teather Changes Tune on Schools (Again)

The wembley Observer has reported on the award of money to the Crest Academies. In commenting , Sarah Teather has changed positions again. When the abolition of Building Schools for the Future was first announced, she said it was because "there was not enough cash to pay for them". In the Wembley Observer story, she suggests they should apply to a "new building fund", presumably one with some money in despite her government's cuts. Thus, having gone through the Building Schools for the Future process, the schools are being asked to start all over again, in the name of reducing bureaucracy.

I get the impression that Ms Teather is simply defending whatever position Michael Gove imposes on her. I am not even sure that she is a sufficently senior underling for Mr Gove to consult on the decision.

It almost makes you feel sorry for her.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Kensal Green Pubs

I have added a link for the Royal Oak at 95 High Street Harlesden, to go with the ones to The Island and the Masons Arms at the Kensal Rise end of the ward. The Misty Moon on Manor Park Road doesn't seem to have one although there is a facebook page. You can also try the Amber Grill, which used to be the Willesden Junction Arms on Station Road, or Os Amigos on Park Parade (although again it doesn't seem to have a web presence).

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Willesden Junction Station Approach

I recently met with Network Rail about Willesden Junction and can therefore update on Station Approach.

The road suffers subsidence on the Hammersmith side. Apparently, the engineering issues are particularly difficult due to the way it was constructed, but work is expected to begin in the New Year to shore it up. Once that is done it should have some resurfacing, repaving and maybe the replacement of some the guide rails which currently leave the useable part of the footpath so constricted.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Swimming in Chalkhill

As well as having the Playbuilder money saved from Sarah Teather's depredations, Chalkhill children will also benefit from a temporary swimming pool at Chalkhill primary school. The pool should be operational between September and December.

Chalkhill Park


Amid all the gloom, here is a good news story. The above piece of derelict land is being turned into a public park. It is in Chalkhill, near the Wembley ASDA. Partof the changes were supposed to be paid for by the Playbuilder programme, and as with the Tubbs Road park they are sufficently advanced not to be subject to Sarah Teather's programme of cuts.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Waste Hierarchy

I thought it might be useful to explain the waste hierarchy concept which Brent Council, the West London Waste Authority and the London Plan all use for dealing with waste. Waste is dealt with (in order of preference) through reduction, re use, recycling, recovery and disposal.

Reduction or re-using materials is obviously cheapest and greenest in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, but it is quite hard to measure. How can you tell whether people have not produced waste.

Recycling is next best in environmental and cost terms. Our new waste strategy is intended to raise the proportion of recycling, in order to divert material from landfill.

Landfill is the worst option in terms of cost as the government is increasing landfill tax to discourage it. We also need to discourage as the UK is running out of land to fill. Whether it is the worst option in carbon terms is dependent on the composition of the waste. If there is a high proportion of green waste it generates methane which is many times worse in terms of global warming than carbon dioxide, meaning that it can actually be worse than burning it for power (the recovery stage).

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Earth Architecture in Roundwood Park

I had a conversation recently with two people from Groundwork about an "earth architecture" project in Roundwood Park. Not entirely sure what is involved until they send me further details, but it seems to mean building a sustainable structure and then doing a lot of environmental awareness projects in it. the most likely site would be the "wild area" near the toilet block as you walk towards the Summer Theatre.

Congestion Charge Extension

The case against Boris' scrapping of the congestion charge is summarised here. As far as I know, he hasn't bothered to argue the case against of these objections.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Food growing Projects

Lots of people in Brent are interested in food growing projects, and I myself am still trying to find out about the land around Willesden junction that I have blogged on before. Environmental Protection UK have now published a leaflet on the subject, which goes through some of the potential pitfalls.

Furness Road


Furness Road is obviously in need of repair, both in the carriage way and the pavements. I have asked officers to do a temporary patch on the worst bits, such as the tree root damage shown in the photograph. If you see these yellow markings around, it means a highway engineer has decided it needs fixing. However, it needs a longer term solution, and I hope it will be included in next year's programme.

Monday, 16 August 2010

The Cost of Litter

Another snippet from the LGA: local Councils spend 858 million pounds a year clearing up litter. That is an awful lot of Council Tax. Worth thinking about next time you see someone dropping something in the street.

Building Schools for the Future Cancellations

The Local Government Association have estimated the total spend on Building Schools for the Future projects that have now been cancelled at more than 200 million pounds. This includes more than 54 million pounds just for London. To give an idea of scale, that 54 million is more than ten times what Brent spends each year to run its entire library service.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Recycling in London

Thanks for the comment to my recycling post on Friday, but I am afraid whoever posted it is working under a misconception. When I talk about recycling, I really am talking about recycling not energy from waste.

The most important material to be diverted under our proposed new system is food waste. A staggering proportion of our existing food purchases are chucked away and go to landfill. This generates greenhouse gases. By extending the food waste service to 88,000 households, we will collect all this food for composting, either at our existing site in Ruislip or elsewhere.

Again, we are collecting a wider range of plastics, but plastic is actually quite easy to recycle. The barrier has traditionally been that it is very light for its volume. That means the collection truck fills up very quickly, making collection a problem. Moreover, as recycling is normally measured by weight, local authorities have traditionally focused on heavy stuff like paper and glass.

Far from wanting materials that can be recycled, energy from fuel plants are usually quite hostile to them, especially metals which are positively damaging.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Playbuilder in Brent

I have now been updated on PlayBuilder schemes in Kensal Green and Harlesden. To my great relief, the PlayBuilder funding to do up Tubbs Road Pocket Park is safe. The work is so advanced that it cannot be cancelled. Unfortunately, the same is not true of Bramshill Open Space. Flattening the facilities here was an early priority for the Lib Dem / Tory administration we replaced. It was opened that the third wave of Playbuilder funding could rebuild them. This will not now happen as the money is withdrawn.

This scheme falls within in Sarah Teather's own department, and I believe that she is the minister directly responsible. As a minister in this Con Dem government she is using her office to directly attack some of the poorest of her own constituents.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Lib Dem Failure on Recycling

I see that Cllr Ann Hunter has been telling the Wembley Observer that the Liberal Democrats are keen recyclers. Sadly, that is not the case. They inherited a recycling rate of 22 per cent from Labour in 2006. After doing nothing for a while, they introduced compulsory recycling, which largely consisted of a publicity campaign. They then ignored the issue again, so that by the end of their administration, Council officers described the recycling performance as "critical". It is now up to the new administration to turn their lacklustre performance around. We need to go from 28 per cent to at least 40 per cent to meet the 2011 statutory target, and then do a great more beyond.

PlayBuilder Scrapped?

The BBC reports that Playbuilder schemes have been suspended over many local authorities in England. The Playbuilder programme was a 235 million pound programme to enhance play areas across the country. It provides part of the match funding for the park improvements in Tubbs Road, and money has also been earmarked for Bramshill Open Space just outside Kensal Green ward.

I asked a senior officer in our Children & Families department about it, but he said that the Education department had written to us, saying that our money was safe. Given their record, not least over the Building Schools for the Future debacle, I still feel nervous.

Any suspension would therefore be another kick in the teeth from the new Con Dem government to Kensal Green residents. The minister responsible is Sarah Teather.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Bird Bath

Part of the Tubbs Road Pocket Park project involves designing a bird bath as a feature in the park. The artist Helena Roden is holding workshops open to all in the Open Doors Church each Saturday 1pm to 3pm from 14th August until the end of September (except for the 4th September). The ideas from the workshops feed into the eventual design, with the bird bath itself being constructed by a blacksmith.

Emissions Based Hypocrisy

Brent Liberal Democrats have come out against our proposals for emissions based permits in today's papers. The egregious Cllr Daniel Brown claims the proposals are a disgrace "in view of Labour's election promises".

This is rather odd, given that one of Labour's promises was to introduce a permit system based on the "polluter pays" principle.

It is even odder as a reversal of their party's existing position. The first Council in London to adopt such a policy was the then Lib Dem administration in Richmond. Sarah Teather was much more aggressive on the subject, seeming to suggest she wanted to price SUVs off the road altogether. Cllr Daniel Brown himself seemed to support the principle when the Lib Dems and Tories were in office in Brent. Indeed I recall him telling us all at a Council meeting that he wanted to introduce a scheme based on "the Richmond model" to Brent. Of course, nothing was done about it as with so many Brent Liberal Democrat promises.

Now they seem to have abandoned a position that they have been defending for several years for the sake of mounting petty attacks on the Labour Party. How can anyone trust in the integrity of such people?

Elmwood House, Harlesden Road, NW10


I am glad to see that Elmwood House on Harlesden Road has finally been knocked down, after planning permission was given for a new development back in July. It will bring much needed housing as well as removing an eyesore.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Emissions Based Permits

Yesterday I posted on the waste management plans coming up at the Executive tonight. Today, I thought I would point to the other big "green" policy being considered _ emission based permits. This was a key pledge in our election manifesto.

The idea is that you pay more for a permit if your car has a worse emissions level (based on the vehicle excise bands). Several authorities have schemes that take account of emissions, but I think Brent's will be the most extensive now that the Tories are abolishing the scheme in Richmond.

As well as the new permits, the scheme suggests that car club cars should be allowed to park anywhere in the Borough, which I think could be a real incetive to people to join car clubs.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Waste Collection

Brent Council's next Executive is coming up tomorrow, and I am excited that we will be overhauling the waste collection system.

The outgoing Lib Dem / Tory administration had given up on recycling after the flurry of interest around compulsory recycling petered out. The target was 30%, but performance had been flatlining at 28% for some time.

To turn that around, we are going to adopt a similar model to the one in Harrow, which should vitually double our recycling. We will also be introducing co-mingled collection at places like Siouth Kilburn, Stonebridge and Chalkhill, leading to a boost in recycling, as these areas don't recycle at all. We should also be able to include new materials such as tetrapaks, so it will be something of a step change. Although we are taking the decision now, most of the changes will only be introduced next year.

The exception will be the abolition of the 25 pound charge which will happen from 1 October. This was probably our most popular policy during the election campaign, so everyone seems eager to implement it as soon as possible. I wonder whether the Liberal Democrats will continue to oppose it?

Monday, 9 August 2010

Where Does Teather Stand on Council Housing?

I suppose it was always inevitable that attacking Council tenants would be an early priority for our new Conservative government. Yet the Guardian reports that the majority of Liberal Democrat MPs are opposed to David Cameron's plans. As the Lib Dems' chief cheerleader, I assume they must know.

Among the MPs listed as opposing the Prime Minister's policy is Sarah Teather. Does she still hold to her position now that she has been given an office, or is it like the VAT increase and "free schools"?

Green Energy

I see Chris Huhne is letting Councils sell electricity on to the grid. The practical effect of this is likelyt to be limited by the severe cutbacks in Council funding. I suspect most Councils will be using their diminished funds to avoid sacking the staff who provide frontline services. However, Brent has one ongoing project that will be affected by this. The proposed Civic Centre is designed to be powered by a waste vetable oil boiler that might be able to generate surplus energy. Indeed the use of the boiler to link in to a Wembley wide District Heating system is one of the key environmental arguments for the Civic Centre in the first place.

Parkfest

Very much enjoyed going to the Tubbs Road Park event on Saturday. Well done to all those involved in organising it. Especially the Steel Band (below)

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Alternative Vote (Again)

If the Alternative Vote is adopted for parliamentary elections, it will leave local elections in an odd position. As usual, no one seems to be paying much attention to local government. We will be the only officials to be elected by first past the post if MPs change.

What makes it odder is that local government has multi member seats in London. This seemed to cause a lot of confusion in the election just past, so I am not particularly wedded to it. Indeed, the multi-member system runs against one of the more popular features of the first past the post system, that you know who your representative is because there is only one of them. Presumably if the Con Dem coalition wakes up to this anomaly, they will want a government minister to redraw all the authorities into one member seats without consultation.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Park Party

Another reminder that the Tubbs Road parkfest is today in Tubbs Road Pocket Park from 2pm until 6pm.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Roundwood Youth Club

Another ill consequence of Sarah Teather's election, and the subsequent decision to put the Tories in power, is a decision to freeze work on the plans for Roundwood Youth Club. Lack of youth facilities is one of the most common complaints you come across on the doorstep in both Harlesden and Kensal Green. Money had been awarded as part of a lottery bid to rebuild the Roundwood Youth centre on Longstone Avenue (which is currently still housed in a World War Two communications bunker). Now, Brent Council has been told that the funding is on hold, and we don't know if we will be able to do anything at all.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Building Schools for the Future Money wasted?

The Local Government Association (LGA) has estimated that local authorities have spent about 160 million pounds on proposed new schools which Sarah Teather's government have just cancelled. Remember, the programme is supposed to have been cancelled in the name of greater efficiency with public money.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Trip Hazards


If you see some broken paving or other trip hazards, such as this example on Doyle Gardens (since repaired), you can email streetcare on streetcare@brent.gov.uk, or phone 020 8937 5050.

Planning Appeal on the Old Service station Site

The old service station site that backs on to Rucklidge Avenue is being appealed by its would be developer. This is to overturn the Brent Council Planning Committee decision to refuse back in June. The reference is APP/T5150/A/10/2131777, and comments should be sent to the Planning Inspectorate by 19 August.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

BSF Again

My colleague Krupesh Hirani has published on Building Schools for the Future on Labourlist here. Although Sarah Teather is now claiming that there no money, she made no hint of that during the election campaign.

Tubbs Road Parkfest

Tubbs Road is having another parkfest on 7 August between 2pm and 6pm. It promises drumming workshops, T shirt printing, face painting, den building, arts activities and a community feast. It will also be a chance to see the final designs for the park improvements, so come along.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Cynical Gerrymandering

I don't normally comment on national issues like the proposed Alternative Vote (AV) referendum, but I can't help but remark the incredible cycnicism of the Con Dem coalition. Supposedly, this coalition is part of a new politics, but instead they have stitched up a deal that is nakedly for partisan advantage.

The Lib Dems are hoping for an Alternative Vote system, despite having rejected it in the past, because they hope for more seats. To get it they are abandoning the whole Boundary Review system that, whatever the bureaucracy, has been depoliticised. Whereas previously, boundaries were subject to a public enquiry with a non-party commissioner making the decision, the Con Dems are going to allow every constituency in the country to be radically redrawn by government ministers with no checks or appeal mechanisms. It is an outrageous party political land grab, the biggest piece of ballot rigging since the days of rotten boroughs.

Anyone who thinks it a good idea should look at California and other American states. Almost all American states allow constituency boundaries to be drawn up by state legislatures, i.e. politicians. Of course, the politicians draw the boundaries to favour their own party and judicial review seems inadequate to stop them from creating utterly bizarre boundaries.

Whereas Clegg has argued that electoral reform will do away with safe seats and thereby put MPs on their mettle, allowing him and his Tory colleagues to fix the boundaries will have the opposite effect. Each constituency will be drawn up to maximise the chances of a Tory or Lib Dem being elected, creating more safe seats. In California, that has created a complacent Democratic majority and an increasingly extreme Republican minority. In such safe seats the incumbents need only to appeal to their own base, and get punished if they fail to. There is no incentive to find common ground between the parties, and thus California has an heroically disfunctional government.

That is the future that the Lib Dems and Tories are preparing for Britain.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Another Update on Tubbs Road

Brent's Transport Department have completed their study of traffic movements around Tubbs Road _ a result of my Councillor Call for Action. I must say I am somewhat disappointed. There will be some changes to signage but officers are still against more substantial changes. I accept that banning right hand turns out of Furness Road would just divert traffic without long term benefits, but I still think banning left hand turns from the bottom of Tubbs Road into Old Oak Lane would be a viable solution. At any rate, this is not a problem that I will allow to be neglected.