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Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Sarah Teather's School Hypocrisy

Martin Francis shows understandable disgust at Sarah Teather's hypocrisy over free schools. Although how could anyone familiar with Brent Liberal Democrats expect anything else? What worries me however is the possibility that the Liberal democrats and Tories will raid Building Schools for the Future to boost Michael Gove's pet project.

Another Tory Recession

Larry Elliot has an excellent, and extremely gloomy, analysis of the likely consequences of the Cameron/Clegg Budget on Britain's economic prospects. Essentially, the government is destroying jobs in the name of a Thatcherite ideology that Cleegg claims to oppose.

Wrottesley Road Mains Again!

Wrottesley Road appears to be cursed. Here is a photo I took this morning as yet again the water mains burst. Thames Water are currently on the case.

Local Government Budget Cuts

Brent Council is still trying to work out the full implications of the budget cuts from the new Tory / Liberal Democrat coalition. There are reports that London and poorer districts have been particularly targeted whereas wealthier areas have had much more limited cuts. In any case, it is certainly the worst budget settlement that anyone on Brent Council can remember.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

An Unprogressive Budget

Left Foot Forward have published an analysis of the Conservative / Liberal Democrat budget. Essentially, it argues that far from being progressive, the richest ten per cent of the UK population will be hit least, and the impact gets steadily worse through each decile until you get to the poorest being struck most. It also reports that some Liberal Democrats are preparing to rebel against their own budget tonight. We shall see if Sarah Teather is among them.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Liberal Democrat Positioning

I expected the Liberal Democrat ministers in the coalition to position themselves as being in semi-opposition to the more unpopular elements of Coalition policy. To some extent that is the way it has been, with Lib Dem politicians briefing that they are fighting the Tories to be more "progressive." We are also seeing a similar positioning within the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party. Simon Hughes call for amendments strikes me as an attempt to place himself in any future Liberal Democrat Leadership contest as being the pure Lib Dem, as compared to sell out Clegg. Possibly, Charles Kennedy's abstention from supporting the coalition deal was done with a similar intention. If so, it will make Nick Clegg's position exceptionally difficult. I would be surprised to see this coalition reach the end of a full Parliament.

Hazel Road and Crime

There have been long standing issues around crime and anti-social behaviour in the Hazel Road area. The Council, along with the Police and LEAP, engaged with a coimbination of "hard" measures like the recent arrests over drugs, and "soft measures" such as a specific programme of youth work at the LEAP Centre. I am going to a meeting tonight to follow up on the subject, and see what further actions need to be taken.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Kensal Green Neighbourhood Working

I will be meeting with my fellow Kensal Green councillors Bobby Thomas and Claudia Hector soon to think about how to distribute Neighbourhood Working funds this year.

Neighbourhood Working is a process designed to help councillors engage with the voters. The main purpose is the engagement and reactivity rather than the actual money. The funds are very limited (20,000 pounds per ward), and sometimes we come across problems that require no additional funding but are simply addressing the shortcomings of either the Council or other bodies.

However, some funding is available for small, one-off community projects in the Kensal Green area, so any ideas please.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Delayed Reports

Looking through the reports to the Brent Council Executive, as well as the possible issues coming up, I am struck by how the previous Liberal Democrat / Conservative administration ducked so many difficult issues. The proposed Kingsbury Intergenerational Centre is one such, which will struggle to make the timetable before Central Government cuts its grant. Another, perhaps especially cynical example, is the Main Programme Grant. This is the process for making grant to various voluntary sector bodies around the Borough, including Brent Arts Council who turned up to the Executive to protest.

The Tory/Lib Dem administration ducked the issue by giving existing grantees a three month extension, and deferring the longer term decision to after the election. This was inconvenient for some of the organisations, which faced uncertainity over their funding. It was also bad for the organisations that will have their funding stopped, as the amount of money available to cushion them is much reduced. However, the Liberal Democrats evidently judged that it would be good for their election prospects to avoid any rows in the months up to the election.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Oriental City

Last week's Willesden and Brent Times carried a story about the Oriental City development that I thought illuminated a common misconception about Section 106 obligations.

Oriental City was a big retail centre in Queensbury. It got planning permission for a major development in 2006. The permission caused controversy as a number of the small traders in the development were moved out at no doubt considerable cost and inconvenience (although compensation was paid). In 2007, the permission was regranted for a still bigger development. Unfortunately, the developers were unable to go ahead for financial reasons. Since the permission was due to expire, they decided to ask for an extension under new powers granted to the Council last year in order to keep struggling developments alive.

This application turned up at the last Brent Planning Committee, prior to the service station site that I was there to speak on. There was a lobby from the Chinese community, including some of the former Oriental City traders, protesting that the development should be refused permission to go ahead. The reason given was that a Chinese Community Centre had been promised under the Section 106 agreement in 2007, but not constructed.

This criticism is wrongheaded in two ways. Firstly, Section 106 monies have to be linked to the development going ahead as a whole. This is because the whole justification for demanding Section 106 from a developer is that they are compensating the wider community for the extra strain being put on the wider community by a development. If there is no development, how can there be extra strain on the local infrastructure? The second, more specific reason, that the objectors were wrongheaded was that the only possibility of the old Section 106 agreement promising a Chinese Community Centre being implemented was if the old planning permission were continued. Without a development, there is no possibility of planning gain of any kind. If permission had been refused, any new application for planning permission would start from a clean slate, and a Chinese Community Centre would not necessarily be asked for.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

LFEPA Fiddling

Tory Troll picks up on the little noticed events at the London Fire Authority (LFEPA) here. Not only has Boris Johnson fiddled the rules to keep Brian Coleman in charge, but the lovely Brian has decided that one of his most pressing peiorities is to award himself more money.

2012 Olympics in Brent

I forgot to mention in my post on my Lead Member responsibilities that they include the 2012 Olympics. Despite being in West London, Brent will be hosting some events (football, gymnastics and badminton as you ask). Hopefully we can use that for both revenue generation and improving our very low sports participation rates.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

West London Waste Authority

Today will be the AGM of the West London Waste Authority (WLMA) as well as the first meeting of the Brent Council Executive since I became a Lead Member. The West London Waste Authority is a grouping of six London Boroughs (Brent, Harrow, Hounslow, Ealing, Richmond and Hillingdon) who have agreed that to pool resources for waste disposal and processing.

Each of the constituent Boroughs send one representative, and I am the Brent member. It has a budget of 55 million pounds and last year dealt with 697,000 tonnes of waste so it is a big responsibility.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Budget Chaos

As everyone knows, the new Tory / Lib Dem coalition is ideologically and politically committed to making cuts in budgets this year, but I wish they weren't doing it in such a chaotic way. The Environment & Culture department reckons it will have to find getting on for one million pounds for the cuts so far announced (not counting whatever Boy George comes up with this afternoon), but instead of telling local authorities directly, officers have had to sort through government pronouncements to detect how much of the cost cutting will hit us.

It seems we are threatened by a variety of cuts to grants that are seldom heard outside local government, but which pay for things people care about. There are reductions in the performance reward grant, housing and planning grant and contaminated land grant. The cut that will hit hardest will be the elimination of subsidy for swimming for pensioners and children. As we have one of the lowest sports participation rates in London, that is particularly bad for us.

I wonder how many of the people voting for Sarah Teather at the General Election realised that they were voting for free swimming to be taken away from children and pensioners at Willesden Sports Centre?

Monday, 21 June 2010

Harlesden Conservation Area

I was asked recently is there was a Conservation Area in Harlesden Town Centre. Indeed there is. It stretches from the Green Man past the Royal Oak, down to the Jubilee Clock and curls round to end in front of Harlesden Methodist Church. It centres on preserving the frontages that you can see behind Dawn Butler in this photograph of her in Harlesden High Street during a Not Another Drop March in 2007.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

More from Pinker

Another interesting snippet from Pinker's book that I was not aware of concerns New Guinea. In the 1920s, some Australians went prospecting for gold in the interior. Much to their amazement they found some New Guineans who had apparently no awareneness of the rest of humanity. In other words, they must have been separated from the rest of us about 40,000 years ago and had no further contact. The Australians encountered them in 1930. How extraordinary to think that such an event could happen as late as 1930.

Saturday, 19 June 2010


I have been reading recently Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct. In it he suggests that Noam Chomsky is in the top ten most cited authors in all of the humanities (apparently the others are Marx, Lenin, Shakespeare, the Bible, Aristotle, Plato, Freud, Hegel and Cicero). Wow. Chomsky is the only one of that lot still alive. Does anyone know whether his citations relate mainly to his linguistics work or to his more polemical stuff?

Junctions and Flooding

Another feature of the public design guide coming before Brent's Executive shortly should be a greater emphasis on soft landscaping in traffic schemes. Above is an unusual example of some soft landscaping in a current scheme, the one being built outside Willesden Library Centre, but hitherto no one has really worried too much about soft landscaping on public highways in Brent.
This is a little odd, since planning policy pays a lot of attention to the issue. Whenever there is a major new development, we ask the builders to follow something called Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS). This is a set of techniques to slow down the rate at which rainfall hits the drains and thereby reduce flooding risk. As climate change gets worse, this will become more and more important as we will we get rain in shorter, more torrential bursts. Similarly, if you want a parking space in your front garden, Brent Council insist on having at least half the garden as soft landscaping to promote drainage.
It therefore seems odd that we don't make a suimilar insistence on the highways where we actually own the land. For instance if you look at the Church End roundabout or the traffic island in the middle of Church Road is there any reason why that land could not be kept as soft landscaping and help water drain away?

Friday, 18 June 2010

Roundwood Park Cafe

Roundwood Park Cafe should remain open. There is going to be a temporary arrangement to keep the Cafe operating. Meanwhile, a bidding process will be opened to keep the Roundwood Lodge Cafe operating on a longer term basis. This is obviously good news for Roundwood Park, as the Cafe attracts visitors, but also for all the people who enjoy using the Cafe.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Kensal Not So Green

I have been updated on the situation outside Kensal Green Tube Station. Apparently the immediate problem is that regrassing the area means using lots of water, and the only nearby water source are the Thames Water stand pipes which they charge a huge amount for. London Overground, who own the land, say they have paid a contractor and it is the contractor's reponsibility. the contractor seems to have just walked off, so Brent Council is in the process of pursuing the contractor.

What a palaver just to get some grass returned to normal (or possibly some flowers as well as suggested in an earlier comment).

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Delayed Reaction

One little gift that Paul Lorber and his outgoing colleagues were very quiet about during the election campaign was the skewing of capital spend.

Brent Council's capital spend before the election on things like roads and broken pavement was kept artifically high, at just over four million pounds this year. This was made possible by raiding the financial budgets for next year and the year after, so that (on Liberal Democrat plans) the amount spent on repairing roads and pavements will fall by about 30%. However, the fall, although engineered by the Liberal Democrats, will happen only after they have been thrown out of office, so no doubt they hope to escape the blame.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010


It is remarkable that one of our near neighbours appears to be about to split apart, and yet the Biritsh media are showing very little interest. I suppose it is a tribute to the strength of the EU, but also our own insularity.


I am delighted to see that the Police have staged an operation in the area around Hazel Road, leading to the seizure of some class B drugs, a successful arrest and a pending arrest. This area has been suffering from some time from problems related to this case. Although the police have been working on it, much of their activity has had to be covert, leaving some residents with the impression that little is going on. Obviously that is not the case.

Monday, 14 June 2010

TEC (London Councils)

I attended my first meeting of London Councils Transport and Environmental Committee last Thursday. Each London Borough sends one representative to this body which then agrees common approaches on Transport and Environment policies across London. It also oversees the Parking Charge Notice Appeal system. The Tories seemed surpringly bullish given they have just lost control over so many London Boroughs.

Wrottesley Road Power Cut

By the way, anyone puzzled at why there were people using pneumatic drills in Wrottesley Road at 2am on Thursday; it was London Electricity Engineers repairing the cable after a power cut.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Harlesden Town Team

I do encourage everyone to get involved in the Town Team process, which I think is really begin to taken Harlesden Town Centre places.

The idea of the Town Team is too attempt a more participatory form than urban planning has generally achieved. Traditionally, especially on Transport projects which is how this one started out, a group of Council engineers would identify an area (say an accident blackspot), draw up a detailed plan to deal with it and send out some letters about it. The public would therefore only get involved quite late in the process.

The Town Team idea is more geared to generating ideas from the public. So far, I have already seen the scope of the project change quite dramatically. It started as a "public realm" project with a focus on traffic. As a result of peoples' diffetrent inputs, it has moved to a much bigger concern with planning issues like the mix of shops or cultural initiatives like the Lexi screening in Roundwood Park.

I understand there will be a Town Team stall at the next Respect festival where people can find out more.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Brent Council Inefficiency

One of the things that has come as a big shock to me is finding out how inefficient parts of Brent Council are. A little while ago, a report was commissioned from PWC into Brent Council's effectiveness. I had heard some rumours of major problems it turned up but the Liberal Democrats and Tories refused us access to it, so we never got to see the detail.

After getting into office, I find we seem to have a highly ineffective billing and procurement process, seriously outdated staff structures, a rickety property portfolio and altogether an organisation whose financial management appears to have been seriously neglected in recent years. Instead of attending seriously to these problems, Paul Lorber and his colleagues seem to have been happy to just drift along.

Now we are going to have to sort it out in the midst of one of the toughest budget settlements local government has ever seen.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Lead Member for What?

It occurs to me that I haven't explained which parts of Brent Council I am lead member for, so here goes.

Cllr Jim Moher is Highways and Transportation meaning he fronts stuff like parking, road surfacing, street lighting and furniture, street cleaning, street trees and grass verges. Cllr Lincoln Beswick covers Emergency Planning under his Community Safety Brief.

I front the rest of the Environment and Culture Department's activities. The biggest single chunk is waste management, from bin collections to the waste processing (recycling, landfill etc.) at the other end. I also cover parks and Brent's sports centres; libraries (including the Grange Musuem); arts, including our programme of festivals; cemetaries and the Mortuary service; the regulatory agencies (i.e. the Planning Service, Building Control, Trading Standards, Environmental Health (including Animal Welfare and pest control), Health, Safety and Licensing), cutting the Council's carbon emissions and other sustainability targets. There are also a few other things like fulfilling our pledge to give Brent Fairtrade status, that don't fit easily into any one category.

Reading it through like that makes it all seem a little daunting.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Blue Badge Scheme

The Blue Badge scheme, which gives parking concessions to disabled people, is under review. As with so many things, this review started ages ago but is only now crawling towards a decision. I was shocked to find that there are an estimated 700,000 abusers out of the total blue badge holder number of two and a half million. The review might recommend making the badges electronic so that they are easier to cancel, and tightening enforcement powers.

Better Keep Left Signs

Back in December, I was moaning about the carbon intensive and less than robust design of our keep left bollards. I am happy to say that we have started introducing a more robust design that uses natural reflection, thus:

This is kind of thing is being dealt with under a report coming to the next Executive on public design. Making our street furniture more sustainable is admittedly only a small part of the whole.

The most controversial aspect of this report is likely to be the "shared surface" agenda. This is the idea of reducing barriers between road surfaces and pedestrian areas to blur the distinction between the two. Road safety is supposed to be maintained by drivers and pedestrians maintaining eye contact. It is controversial with disabilitiy groups, notably the RNIB, for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Blog Comments Policy

A couple of comments that I had to reject recently prompt me to remind people about the comments policy. I am not going to allow any comments that I think might be libellous or grossly offensive.

High Street Harlesden Planning Application

Very pleased with the result at Brent Council's planning committee last night. The proposed block of flats at 147 to 153 Harlesden High Street got turned down. This site has a long history, and I spoke against the application refused last night, just as I voted against the December proposal and the proposal of a couple of years ago.

Surprisingly, for a site with such a long history, a new issue has emerged in the past few days. 139 Harlesden High Street has two windows that abut the site and which would have had a severely restricted outlook. No one worried about these very much as there was an impression throughout the various applications that they were not the windows of habitable rooms. Planning policy makes a sharp distinction between "habitable rooms" like bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms, and non habitable rooms such as bathrooms, corridors and stairwells. It turns out that they are actually kitchen windows, and the only windows those rooms have. That dramatically changes the wieght they should be given in the decision, which in my view was the right one.

However, isn't it worrying that the error over whether they were habitable rooms persisted through the original application, the appeal, a subsequent outline application, and only got uncovered with the planning application refused last night?

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Creating a Desolation by Kensal Green

I walked by Kensal Green Tube on Sunday to find this scene of desolation in what used to be quite a pleasant green space between Kensal Green Tube station and the Harrow Road.

Contractors have been working on the station, and this is how they have left the green space outside. Once I can establish who owns this ground (a more complex matter than you might imagine), I will try to get the contractors to pay for restoring it.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Housing Targets Scrapped

I see the Tories, via Eric Pickles, are proudly boasting of cutting regional housing targets. This is a policy pioneered by Boris Johnson in London, and the most likely effect is fewer houses being built despite the pressing needs of Londoners.

Local Events

As well as the Town Team meeting at the Salvation Army at 6.30pm tonight, the Junction Association will be organised another Parkfest in Tubbs Road pocket park on 7 August. It should be even better than last year.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Brent LDF

The next Executive is likely to have Brent's Local Development Framework proposals on the agenda. These are fairly uncontroversial, but it is an amazing reflection on the mismatch between the political cycle and the timings of government that the process for our LDF was started under the previous Labour administration in 2005, and is now one of the first matters to be decided by a completely new Labour administration five years later.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Service Station Site

The service station site between Harlesden High Street and Rucklidge Avenue has another application. It is due for a site visit at 10.25am this morning and goes to planning committee on 8 June.

Friday, 4 June 2010

ARK Academy

As you can see from this photo I took recently, the ARK Academy is nearing completion. It was actually on the cusp of approval in 2006 when Labour lost power. The Lib Dems and Tories decided to "review" it for more than a year. As a consequence, the opening has been delayed from September 2009 to September this year. Since it provides 1,700 school places, it is pretty essential to Brent Council fulfilling its legal duties on school places.
With the Lib Dems and Tories nationally freezing Building Schools for the Future money as well as a lot of primary school investment whilst they also conduct a review, it is a nervous time on the education front. Strangely, I don't recall Sarah Teather telling people that Building Schools for the Future money was under threat when she was looking for votes in May.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Chewing It Over

Several people have raised paan spitting with me. Paan is a mixture of things often including tobacco and flavourings as well as betel leaf that is popularly used for chewing in South India and Sri Lanka. Around Wembley and Alperton, however, it is mainly noticeable for the way it has been spat all over the streets.

Brent Council has attempted a "Don't spit paan" campaign, but I am not sure it is especially effective. As paan has been linked to mouth cancer, it may be possible to get NHS Brent to combine with the Council to do some publicity. However, I suspect that communicating with the Sri Lankan and South Indian community is most effectively reached through community networks rather than poster campaigns.

The second major issue is the problem of cleaning the stuff off. The Wembley councillors have been keen to improve the cleaning of shopfronts in Wembley, but doing so involves negotiating a minefield of different ownership with freeholders, leaseholders and tenants. Sorting out payments is therefore harder than it sounds.

It would also be interesting to find out more about better surfaces. For instance, you can get special anti-graffiti paint, and possibly it may be possible to improve the surfaces in Ealing Road and Wembley High Road to make the surfaces easier to clean.

Finally, better enforcement would obviously be a good idea. I am sure that many people in Alperton and Wembley are deeply irritated by paan spitting and would support the Police in taking tougher enforcement action against it.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Lord Paul Boateng

Congratulations to Paul Boateng, our former Brent South MP and Britain's first black government (and then Cabinet) minister, on being made a peer in the Resignation Honours list.

Next Town Team Meeting

The next Harlesden Town Team meeting is at 6.30pm on Monday 7 June at the Salvation Army Hall in Manor Park Road.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Queens Park Transition Town Project

Here is a picture of the completed food growing bed at Mapes House that I visited the Saturday before last. I think these kind of projects could be a really good way of bringing communities in blocks like this together.

David Laws

Charlemagne has a wider perspective on the resignation of David Laws. I suspect he is right that the Liberal Democrats simply have not had the kind of scrutiny that Labour, and to a lesser extent, the Tories have had. Will we find more difficulties for Lib Dem politicians as time goes on?