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Monday, 31 August 2009

Review of James Powney's Blog

I thought the end of my first full month of blogging might be a good time to reflect. I am glad that I have managed a fairly regular rate of posting, and that the traffic is picking up. I hope I can keep it up in the coming months.

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.

Capital City Academy and Planning Enforcement

Capital City Academy came up with a planning enforcement issue at the Planning Committee meeting on Wednesday. It turns out that when they got their all weather pitch back in 2003, they agreed to do various landscaping works that they largely ignored. They are now setting this right with a new planning application, but if you are aware of any other cases where people have failed to honour their planning agreements, please let me know. I can then pass it on to Brent's planning enforcement team, which is one of the most active in the country. There is no need to suffer in silence.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Elders Charges: Liberal Democrats Lie Again!

Even by Paul Lorber's standards of dishonesty, this one's a whopper. The image above is of a Liberal Democrat leaflet he put out in Sudbury in early 2006 calling for free personal care for the elderly. Naturally since it talks about free personal care for the elderly three times in a short article you might think that Brent Liberal Democrats were working towards that end. Especially given Paul Lorber's quote: "Those that have worked all their lives deserve to retire with dignity".

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

Brent's Local Press and Council Publicity

My post on the Liberal Democrats' broken promise to scrap the Brent Magazine has caused me to reflect on the controversy about local newspapers going out of business as a result of competition from Councils. This is a subject where local MP Andy Slaughter has been campaigning particularly hard.

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

Liberal Democrats' Broken Promises in Brent: Spending Taxpayers' money on Publicity

Another of Brent Liberal Democrats broken promises was the pledge to scrap the Brent Magazine and reduce the amount of Council Tax payers money spent on Council publicity in general.

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.

Brunel Court, Dumping and Crime

I went to a meeting with some local residents in Brunel Court (the blocks on the Harrow Road NW10 opposite Scrubs Lane) to find out about their problems. These turned out to be mostly to do with dumped rubbish, illegal parking and crime. I am currently on the case following these up. If any other Kensal Green residents have any problems in your area, please feel free to contact either myself or Cllr Bobby Thomas.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Cllr Bertha Joseph, Conservative Councillor for Kensal Green

Cllr Bertha Joseph, Conservative councillor for Kensal Green, is going to be the subject of Brent Standards Committee's first formal hearing on charges of ethical misconduct, if what I have heard on the grapevine is true. The investigation first started after the Willesden & Brent Times broke a front page story back in January 2008, so the whole process has been far from speedy. The Standards Committee discussed it on Tuesday, although their formal agenda did not even mention her name, which seems excessively secretive. I hope the Hearing is more open.

Sarah Teather's Hypocrisy on School Places

Brent Liberal Democrats and Sarah Teather MP never cease to amaze me with their blatent dishonesty. In a press release dated 20th August Sarah Teather MP has the chutzpah to blame the government for the shortage of school places in Brent.

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?

Overturning a Planning Recommendation

As I mentioned yesterday, I went to a planning committee meeting last night, and we did something we seldom do: overturned officers' recommendation.

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

Pub Names

Tonight I have to go to the Planning Committee, where one of the cases is the former White Hart pub in Church End. I doubt whether that is the traditional name for the pub. The "White Hart" is said to have originally indicated a link to Richard II, whose symbol it was. Indeed, if you go to the National Gallery, you can see the White Hart symbol in the Wilton Diptych, the earliest known portrait of an English Monarch.

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.

Willesden Junction and the Hythe Road Footpath

As readers of this blog will have realised, Willesden Junction Train Station is the source of numerous intractable problems but the one which really annoys me is the Hythe Road public footpath, which seems to sum up son many of the difficulties about boundaries and so on.

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.


Thanks to Simon Fletcher for plugging Lesley Jones and my own blogs today.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Brent Liberal Democrats: Lies rather than broken promises

If the image above seems familiar that is because I posted it a few days ago in the post about Brent Liberal Democrats breaking their promise to freeze the Council Tax. I just wanted to come back it to comment on the graph in the right hand corner, showing the Brent East election result from 2005. This isn't a broken promise so much as a deception. They put the same graph out in every part of Brent, North, South and East, and regardless of the type of election.
A more rigorous approach would show that the Liberal Democrat came third in terms of share of the vote in Brent in the local elections in 2006, the GLA elections in 2008 and the European elections in 2009.
Barry Gardiner MP sometimes refers to the Lib Dems as "The Not Exactly Honest Party." It is not hard to see why.

Monday, 24 August 2009

The Story of the Peculiar Boundaries of Kensal Green Ward

Residents, particularly at the Jubilee Clock end of Kensal Green ward, are often surprised to be told that they don't live in Harlesden. Indeed, sometimes they are quite annoyed.

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

Roundwood Youth Club Rebuild: Brent Liberal Democrats should Help

A piece of (mostly) good news in Kensal Green; Roundwood Youth Club on Longstone Avenue is being rebuilt thanks to a £5 million grant from the Government.

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.

More Council Tax Hypocrisy by Brent Liberal Democrats

Following yesterday's earlier post about Sarah Teather's broken promise to freeze the Council Tax in Brent, I have come across this story from the BBC.

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

Brent Liberal Democrats and Broken Promises: Council Tax

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

More on Willesden Junction

I have just had a letter from Network Rail about Willesden Junction, which supercedes my earlier post. I shall have to find out more about each of these issues. Essentially, there is a major investment in London Overground in the run up to the London Olympics. Work starts tomorrow, according to this letter. My main concerns are:

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.

Using Willesden Junction

Willesden Junction Train Station has always been a nightmare to approach, but I have been told this will all change under a new Masterplan. Admittedly, I have heard that sort of thing before, not least in the constant off-on about the Bakerloo Line's Kensal Green station, but I remain hopeful.

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

Masons Arms, Kensal Rise

Congratulations to the Masons Arms on getting to the finals of the Great British Pub Awards. Along with The Island on College Road, the Masons Arms has really improved the area sinbce they were done up a few years ago.

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

Willesden Social Club (in Rucklidge Avenue, formerly known as the "Dust Club")

One of the first campaigns I started after election in 2006 was an attempt to get the derelict Willesden Social Club (on the corner of Rucklidge Avenue and Park Parade) turned to a socially useful purpose. To do this I proposed a compulsory purchase order (CPO). In my innocence, I thought it might take a year or two to sort out, and yet here we are!

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.

Tubbs Road Update 1

A quick update on my Councillor Call for Action for Tubbs Road, NW10. It looks as if the Overview & Scrutiny Committee might hold a special meeting in Kensal Green to discuss the problems in December. So that is progress although the timescale is a little disappointing. Hopefully, holding the meeting down in Kensal Green will make it easier for local people to attend.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Purves Road and Emergency Vehicles

As a result of a recent Neighbourhood Working walkabout down Purves Road, there will be a consultation on having some new double yellow lines towards the Ravensworth Road end.

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

Executive: Possible Doom for John Kelly Schools

I expected tonight's Brent Council Executive to be meeting to discuss whether to go ahead buying more land for the John Kelly Schools to rebuild on, or to try to build on the existing site. I was surprised that it was not on the agenda. I fear it is too much to hope that they have thought better of their plan not to buy the neighbouring land.

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.

Willesden Green's New Blog

Labour Councillor for Willesden Green, Cllr Lesley Jones, has decided to move her blog to here. Willesden Green is immediately to the north of Kensal Green. We have a common border along Doyle Gardens, Harlesden Road and Longstone Avenue (Willesden Green includes Roundwood Park), so many of the issues that Lesley blogs on may affect Kensal Green as well.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Another Literary Reference to Willesden Junction

Following my post of a couple of days ago, there is another literary reference to Willesden Junction that I know of.

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

Boris Johnson's Hidden Tax Rise

Although Boris Johnson has made great play of freezing the Council Tax (with rather less emphasis on increasing bus and Tube fares by 10%), he has another hidden charge for Brent residents which has got very little attention.

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.

Thanks Boris

The Assumption

Today is the festival of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a day of obligation for those (like the Pope) who follow these things.

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

Tubbs Road: Councillor Call for Action

Today, I signed a Councillor Call for Action about the traffic problems of Tubbs Road. This is a new power that has never been used in Brent before, so I don't know how it will work precisely. Tubbs Road suffers from an incredibly high volume of vehicles each day. Local residents have been complaining for a very long time that the number of cars needs to be reduced so that there is less noise and pollution in what is a very small residential road.

Hazel Road

My co-councillor, Bobby Thomas, and I went to an interesting meeting yesterday to discuss the ongoing problems in the Hazel Road Area. After a period of inactivity, there are renewed efforts to solve the problems here. This time for good.

Station Road NW10

Those who are wondering when the waterworks in Station Road will be finished, and some of the traffic clear in Harlesden High Street are in for a long wait, I fear. Thames Water plan to continue in Station Road until 22 September. If they continue longer than this I will try to get Brent Council to fine them. However, once Thames Water are finished, the Council is planning to repave the footways on either side (which they do need). This will take another three to four weeks.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Kensal Green and its peculiar Boundaries

Kensal Green ward probably has the wierdest boundaries in Brent, and it is about time that they were changed.

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

Liberal Democrats and Anti-Social Behaviour

Anti-social behaviour is a key concern for most Brent residents. It still comes top in all surveys of opinion in the Borough, so the inconsistency of the Lib Dems now in charge of the Council is important.

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

More Kensal Green History: Charles Kuhn Prioleau

The Guardian reports HERE that another famous grave, of Charles Kuhn Prioleau, has been uncovered in Kensal Green Cemetery. It turns out it is the forgotten resting place of an American businessman who financed blockade busting and piracy against the Union during the American Civil War. They also mention some of the other famous burials like the Brunels and Lady Byron. However, they overlook the irony of the same graveyard being shared with Mary Seacole and (before his exhumation in the 1960s) Marcus Mosiah Garvey.

Willesden Junction and Raffles

One of the most surprising things about southern Brent is that not so long ago a lot of it was open land.

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 Zone in Harlesden and Kensal Green

I have been sent pre-consultation papers on the proposed 20mph zone for St Mary's Road. Despite the name, this zone actually covers a lot of the NW10 area including a wide part of Harlesden ward and a chunk of Kensal Green. The proposed zone is bounded by Park Parade on one side and Church Road on the other. The northern boundary runs along Longstone Avenue and Roundwood Road, and the southern limit is just north of Manor Park Road and Craven Park. It therefore contains John Keble primary school, Newfield primary school, Leopold primary school, St Joseph's Junior and Infant schools, Curzon Crescent Nursery school, and the Convent of Jesus and Mary girls school. When the Maple Walk School opens just off Crownhill Road, the proposed zone will also include that.

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.


I have added in a Sudoku puzzle to the side, largely because I couldn't resist it. These things are really addictive, so be warned.

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

City Farm for Brent

My colleague Cllr Dave Coughlin asked about Brent setting up a new City Farm at the last Council meeting (13th July). He was told it would cost more than half a million pounds in capital, and a further £300,000 in annual running costs. I certainly can't see the Borough forking out that kind of running cost every year, but if the figures could be brought down, a City Farm could be a really good idea.

Does anyone out there have an opinion?

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Green Bins and Recycling

I have had enquiries from constituents in Odessa and Palermo Roads about green bin collections. At the moment, like roughly 40% of households in Brent, they don't have green bins to put their organic waste in. The Council will give them bags for it, but the bag service is inferior since you can't put cardboard in.

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

Dogs, Parks and Accountability

Dave Hill in the Guardian reports that the City of London is considering changing its policy on dogs in parks to create "a system of restrictions and licences to prevent dogs being exercised in groups of more than six and to ensure – savour this irony – that professional dog-walkers have been properly trained. If introduced, the system would apply across all the corporation's lands, from Epping Forest to Queens Park."

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

Dawn Butler MP: Rights, Respect & Justice

Dawn Butler, the MP for Brent South, has produced the above card to advise people what to do if they are stopped by the Police.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Harlesden Town Centre Police Team

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

Planning Applications

I was recently made Vice Chair of Planning, and had to chair a site visit in consequence.

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

John Kelly Schools Update

It looks like the Lib Dem / Tory coalition in charge of Brent Council are determined to go ahead with the John Kelly Schools rebuild on the existing site. That will mean that the next forty years worth of education will take place on a cramped site with completely inadequate transport and sports facilities.

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.

Tubbs Road Pocket Park

I went to the Tubbs Road Pocket Park Festival on Saturday, organised by Well London and the Junction Association (a new residents' group).

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.