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Thursday, 30 September 2010

Brent: Fairtrade Borough?

I hope that we will soon have a firm timetable for Brent to become a Fairtrade Borough. We have been trying to this for ages, since Peter Lemmon was Mayor, but (as with so much else) progressed slowed to a crawl under the Lib dem / Tory administration.

The most difficult parts are likely to be getting more schools to register an interest, getting a wide range of religious organisations on board, and finding at least one big employer to sign up.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Brent Recycling

Currently, I am doing a lot on Brent Council's new waste strategy. Indeed, I will be doing a presentation at the Harlesden Area Consultative Forum this evening on the subject. One of the issues people have asked me about is a reuseable nappy scheme. The Strategy has that as an option. the two things we need to find out more about are the costs, and how we would engage enough parents to make it worthwhile.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Fortnightly Bin Collections

I see Brian Coleman is denouncing fortnightly bin collections as a potential fire risk, but I don't see why. Our proposal is to replace the green box with a much bigger recycling bin, keep the grey bin and the organic bin (introducing a new food waste bin for those household currently without. Why would vandals be more likely to set fire to a larger bin than a green box?

Incidentally, the reports on Brian Coleman's comments make the common mistake of assuming that savings from the scheme are driven by fewer bin men and vehicles. In fact, the savings come from diverting waste from landfill disposal (the most expensive way of getting rid of it) to recycling (much cheaper). I don't think the total number of vehicles and bin men will be much different.

What will be different is that the proportion of waste that is recycled will go up enormously. If you look at the most successful recycling authorities in the UK, they almost all use some version of a fortnightly collection. Thus, Tories like Eric Pickles and Brian Coleman are denouncing the only policy that has been shown to be really successful in increasing recycling. At the same time, the Tory government has kept the landfill tax in place, forcing local authorities to recycle more. Of course this may just the Tories being muddled, not understanding that their policies are going in opposite directions, or it may be more Machiavellian. They may will the end of greater recycling, but want to put any political flak on to local authorities.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Urban Design Guide

Some time ago, Brent was going to pass a new urban design guide to give consistent standards in improving the public realm. Unfortunately, this has been delayed through another round of consultation, but it should come back in time for the October Executive, no doubt full of "naked streets" and "shared surfaces" type ideas.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Elms Court Allotments

Paul Lorber and his Liberal Democrat colleagues have reputedly been protesting about the de-designation of the Elms Court allotment site for housing. What makes this odd is that they were the ones who withdrew its designation, back in May 2009. You can find it in 2.10 of the report. Both Paul Lorber and James Allee are noted in the minutes as speaking on the report. The only deviation of the current decision that springs to mind from their decision is that replacement allotments have now been identified. Could it be another case of Brent Liberal Democrats doing one thing in office and the opposite in opposition?

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Tubbs Road Clean Up Day

It had been planned that Tubbs Road would have a clean up day on 2 October. Unfortunately, the logistics mean that has to be postponed. We are still keen to do it, just at a later date. This is supported by the three Kensal Green Councillors through Ward Working funding (formerly Neighbourhood Working). There was quite a successful clean up in Rucklidge Avenue a short time ago, and this is the same sort of thing. It also gives us an opportunity to publicise the abolition of the £25 charge, which will no longer be charged from 1 October.

Friday, 24 September 2010


I was told recently of a Keep Britain Tidy survey that found that only 4% of people admit to littering at any time. This is interesting as it does indicate a widespread acceptance that littering is wrong, with almost everyone being ashamed to admit to it.

Alternatively, if all the litter really is being left by only 4% of the population then they must be a dedicated group of people who spend hours doing it, like Flanders & Swann's Broken Bedstead Men.

Liberal Democrat Economic Policy

Larry Elliot has a reminder of the Liberal Democrats' previous record European economics. What this indicates to me is not so much a wrong analysis as a tendency to follow fashions whithout analysis. During the election, the Liberal Democrats were similarly following a fashion in arguing for a fiscal stimulus. In government, it suddenly became fashionable to go for austerity, although I would have thought the weakness of the Eurozone and the petering out of Obama's stimulus actually strengthened the argument the other way. One could go back further to when Nick Clegg was calling for "savage cuts" only to backtrack later on.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Video on Flytipping

I went to see a video by BTSWC, working with Groundwork, on flytipping at the Unity Centre on Church Road. It is now online, and you can see it here.


The Con Dem government is apparently taking another retrograde step. Landlords will now be able to create houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) for up to six people without planning permission.

This is likely to create much lower living standards for the tenants. Just before the election, the Planning Committee considered a case in Dennis Avenue in Tokyngton where the landlord wanted to convert to a HMO. The application was refused because he wanted to give some of his tenants as little as half the space normally allotted to people living in flats.

My colleague Cllr Lesley Jones has long been fighting HMOs in Willesden. She is particularly interested in how they change the character of an area, leading to fewer residents with a long term stake.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Harlesden Town Charter Now Online

The Harlesden Town Charter is now available online here. I gather this is a temporary address for it. Not quite sure why it has taken Brent Council so long to get it on the web site, but at least you can see it now.

More Liberal Democrat Confusion

Following my post of Monday, I was reflecting on the difficulties of the Liberal Democrats in their coalition. Nick Clegg explicitly rejected the idea of playing out Tory / Liberal democrat differences in public, although that appears to be exactly what Sarah Teather is doing as she struggles to justify herself to voters who thought she was a leftwing alternative.

Her piece in "First", the Local Government Association newsletter, argues that the pupil premium is a "real Liberal Democrat achievement". My understanding is that there is real fear that it could end up in Brent getting less money for its pupils, in which case Sarah Teather will no doubt declare it was all down to the Tories.

At Conference, Clegg rightly claimed that the two coalition parties constantly claiming credit for the good, and placing blame for the bad on each other would "poison" the coalition. I think he is right. I also think that, being two rival parties one with a history of permanent opposition, they won't be able to help themselves.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Way of the Future

Ireland shows us the way of the future if George Osborne is allowed to pursue austerity to the full.

Sarah Teather and Free Schools

The Guardian reported on Sarah Teather being given a hard time over free schools at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference early on, and now the Liberal Democrat leadership have been explicitly defeated on the issue. Given the way Sarah Teather is now implementing a policy that she spent the election campaign denouncing, that is hardly surprising. I think it is more or less admitted that the Coalition government is going to pay no attention to what the Liberal Democrat Conference says.

As I see it Sarah Teather's central weakness is that the Tories are determined to push ahead with the free schools policy. The Liberal Democrats can only rebel against such a central policy if they are willing to break up the coalition, which would mean they no longer hold ministerial posts. Of course, had the Liberal Democrats agreed to support a minority Conservative government, they would still be able to oppose the free schools initiative.

I have seen comments from Simon Hughes suggesting that he does oppose Free Schools, even though he voted for them in the Commons as they were part of the coalition deal. I think that position would only seem remotely credible to someone of Mr Hughes' extraordinary level of moral manoeuvrability.

Meanwhile, Teather is stuck in an entirely subordinate position to Michael Gove, implementing a policy that she and her colleagues disagree with. In my imagination, he calls her Teather and she calls him Mr Gove. That is the kind of relationship they have.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Teather on her Conference Defeat

In response to her defeat, Sarah Teather has confessed:

"The Liberal Democrats are an open and democratic party and it is right that members should express their views on government policy. Our members respect that in a coalition government some of the policies that go forward will be Conservatives ones and some will be Liberal Democrat and some will be a blend of the two."

I don't recall her putting that on any her leaflets during the campaign: "some of the policies that go forward will be Conservative ones."


Illegal Immigrants in Illegal Housing

The story of a mini-shanty town for illegal immigrants in Strode Road is a depressing reminder of how desperate many people in Brent and elsewhere are for housing.

Good Riddance: A Message from Nick Clegg

Very struck by the Observer's piece on Nick Clegg yesterday and its implications for Sarah Teather in Brent Central. The great one more or less says sod off to those voters who have backed the Liberal Democrats since the Iraq War as being a "left wing" alternative to Labour. The piece quotes him:

"I am not denying that there is a chunk of people who turned to the Liberal Democrats at the height of Blair's authoritarism and his fascination with Bush and Cheney and said "Ha, these Liberal Democrats, they're the leftwing party I want. They're the leftwing conscience of the Labour Party." That was always going to unwind at some point."

The problem for Sarah Teather is that that is what her entire parliamentary career has been based on, positioning herself to the left of Labour. Now she finds herself implementing a Tory programme of savage cuts that goes completely against the more Keynesian approach that the Lib Dems had during the campaign, and a Leader who is explicitly rejecting the core beliefs of virtually all the Brent Central voters who supported her.

I wonder what she will do next?

More Water Leaks

Yet more water leaks. The leak at the traffic lights on Harrow Road (junction of Wrottesley Road) are being repaired (see picture above) which no doubt accounts for much of the traffic snarl up this morning. The leak outside Kensal Green Tube station continues, and is overdue for repair, and I am not sure of progress on the leak at the corner of Park Parade and Wrottesley Road.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

St Marks Church Garden

Belated congratulations to St Mark's Church on their new garden (pictured). Hopefully they will soon go ahead with the expanasion of the Church Hall as well.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

ASB Review

As I blogged a couple of days ago, I shall be interested in hearing the results of the Lib Dem / Conservative review into ASBOs. I don't recall Ms May's doubts being voiced during the election. Nationally, the Liberal Democrats did have doubts although here in Brent they didn't do anything about it. It was startling to hear Cllr Paul Lorber at the last Council meeting talking about how terrible ASBOs were as if he had not just spent four years presiding over a Brent Council that issued them fairly frequently.

From the BBC report, the review appears to based on the idea that ASBOs are just quickly approved without any thought. My experience in Hazel Road suggests that is by no means the case. In fact, the police need specific information and times from people, although they don't need to put up public statements in court. Use of ASBOs and Dispersal zones are also usually accom panied by lots of "soft" measures like theYouth work that Ward Working paid for in Hazel Road, as well as non judicial measures, like speaking to landlords, or even just cutting hedgerows back or making minor building alterations.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Slippery Sarah

I haven't posted on the slipperiness of Sarah Teather for quite a while. One of the more recent examples is that she has started campaigning for "Fair Votes". That is a long held Liberal Democrat slogan, but it always used to be applied to proportional representation. Teather is now using it to describe the thoroughly non-proportional alternative vote system that she and her Tory allies are plotting to push through along with a wholesale boundary review next year. To use the same slogan to describe a system that not so long ago Liberal Democrats denounced as unfair shows that sarah Teather is all about spin rather than policy.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

ASB Powers Under Threat

Today's Wembley Observer carries a story about a Dispersal Zone in Wembley. The new Tory / Lib dem government have announced a review into such powers. I can't help but feel the new government is taking an entirely theoritical approach without really considering the reality is these powers were abolished.

Stonebridge Hub Award

Well done to the people who designed the Stonebridge Hub. The Hub has been given a Gold Standard in the 2010 CABE Building for Life awards.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Roundwood Youth Club

Roundwood Youth Club comes up for planning permission today. I have written in support of the application and it is recommended for consent so I expect it will go through without controversy. However, the Con Dem government is still not telling us whether they are going to give us the promised five million pounds that they froze shortly after taking office. If Sarah Teather and her colleagues cancel this project, I hope that local people remember that at the next General Election.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Social Housing

Dave Hill has some striking figures (derived from Karen Buck MP) on the decline of socially rented housing in London, including figures for Brent showing the stock going from 30% to 20% between 1986 and 2006. This kind of fall has all kinds of negative consequences not least on the immigration debate.

Brent Sustainability Forum Web Site

You can find the Brent Sustainability Forum web site here, which may be useful if (like me) you can't get to the Forum meeting on 29 September.

Newman Catholic College

Cardinal Hinsley School for Boys is relaunching as Newman Catholic College. It is a shame that as a result of Sarah Teather cancelling Building Schools for the Future, this relaunch will not now be accompanied by a rebuild of the school's 1950s' buildings.

On Sunday, the Sunday Times published a story (behind a paywall unfortunately) criticising Sarah Teather for using her position as a minister to secure funding for the Crest Academies in Dollis Hill when 700 schools have had their building projects cancelled. Ed Balls has weighed in against her here. She is reported in the Sunday Times story as claiming that she was simply doing the best for her constituents.

Well if that is what she can do for her constituents in Dollis Hill, why can't she do the same for her constituents in Kensal Green, who go to Newman Catholic College?

Monday, 13 September 2010

37 Mapesbury Road

Out of curiosity, I had a look at 37 Mapesbury Road, Oliver Sacks' old home. It is enormous, even for a large family. It is now the headquarters of the British Association of Psychotherapists.

Oliver Sacks

I got a copy of Oliver Sacks' Uncle Tungsten at the closing down sale of Kilburn Bookshop. I didn't realise at the time, but it is a local memoir. Sacks lived at 37 Mapesbury Road on the corner with Exeter Road. Apparently in the late 1930s Walm Lane synagogue had a congregation of 2,000. Sad that it is now closed entirely.

I also didn't realise how easy it was for a small boy to obtain dangerous chemicals in those days. At the age of ten, Sacks was apparently able to buy lethal doses of potassium cyanide. He also tells of dropping a three pound lump of Sodium into Highgate ponds to see how it would react.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Summer Reading Challenge

I am delighted that more than 5,000 youngsters signed up to the Brent Library service Space Hop Summer Reading Challenge. That represents a substantial proportion of all the children in the Borough and is a real success for the Library service engagement with the public.

Lib Dem Parking Hypocrisy

I see that Brent Liberal Democrats have issued a press release attacking both our new emissions based parking permits and the Moving Traffic Offences decision. They called both into committee, but in neither case did they have an alternative to suggest. In the case of Moving Traffic offences this is not a surpise since it is merely the detail of a scheme decided on in early 2009 (with the concurrence of the then Lib Dem majority Executive). On emissions based permits, they have tossed away their green credentials with nothing to show in their place.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Harlesden Town Charter Published

The Harlesden Town Charter has now been published. This should now be used as a central reference document for the harlesden Town Centre area.


I understand the Charter has yet to go online on the Council web site. When it does, I will link to it, but copies have been printed and should be available from the Brent Council Transport Department.

Brent Sustainability Forum

By the way, I should flag up the next Brent Sustainability Forum on 29 September at Brent Town Hall. Open to any, the main item under discussion will be the new waste management strategy. Unfortunately, it has been arranged for the same time as the Harlesden Area Consultative Forum (ACF) where there will be a discussion on the same subject.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Black History Month

October is Black History Month as I pointed out in June. I am delighted that Brent will have more than 60 events around the Borough. You can find details at

Screen on the Green

Just a quick reminder about the outdoor film screenings put on by Brent Council and the Lexi Cinema in Roundwood Park You can book tickets here.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Waste Consultation Launched

You can give your views on the Brent Council Waste Strategy here. We are looking to massively increase Brent's recycling, and change the collection regime for every household in the Borough so there is a lot to take in. The new system will demand more engagement from the public so please have a look at the strategy and give your advice about what you would like to see.

Teather Defends Herself

The Willesden and Brent Times carries Sarah Teather's defence of her cancellation of Building Schools for the Future, which I find less than convincing.

The main argument appears to be that having been awarded money under the programme that she and her Tory Boss have cancelled we can now reapply for funding under a new scheme. Thanks a lot.

Her two main arguments against Building Schools for the Future don't stack up. Firstly, she points out that it took us a long time to be awarded the money because Building Schools for Future was specifically aimed at improving academic standards and despite all Brent's problems our schools were doing quite well academically. Well, that sounds like an argument about the past (and by they way does she really think it unreasonable to target education spend at improving academic standards?) rather than the present. It certainly does not explain why having been awarded the money last year, it is better to cancel the whole thing and set up a new bidding process that will inevitably lead to more delay. Her second argument is that the BSF programme was too bureaucratic. As far as I know neither Ms Teather nor her Tory boss Michael Gove have had much practical experience of building projects. Had they had some, I expect they would know that planning considerations, design, procurement for multi million pound projects are actually quite complicated.

The final argument she makes towards the end of the piece is that the money simply isn't there. This seems to be directly contrary to a letter I have seen from David Bell, the Permanent Secretary in her own department. To suggest that the Permanent Secretary of your department went along with irresponsible and unfunded spending is quite a bold accusation.

It also raises the question of how much money is actually in the Building Fund that Ms Teather is now forcing Brent Council to reapply to. If Building Schools for the Future had too little funding, I take it that Ms Teather is proposing a cut in spending, in line with her Tory masters' ideology. If the money is the same what was the point of cutting the funding Brent Council had already been given?

Drugs Raid

Well done to the Kensal Green Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT) for carrying out a successful raid on a property in Herbert Gardens NW10.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

A View from the Foothills

I recently finished Chris Mullin's A View from the Foothills, which is the predecessor to Decline and Fall that he is currently publicising.

What is most striking is the sense of utter impotence he feels as a junior government minister, epitomised by getting a document passed on to him to which a Civil Servant has appended "This seems a very priority. I suggest we pass it to Chris Mullin."

The only time this changes is when he becomes minister for Africa in the Foreign Office, which allows him to travel around meeting Prime Ministers and the like. It perhaps helps explain why many of our politicians get sucked into foreign policy, where they get a much greater sense of their own importance. One way of looking at our history over the past century is as a declining power desparately trying to behave like a Great Power, but only able to do so on a smaller and smaller scale.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Brent Triumph at London in Bloom

Brent triumphed at the London in Bloom awards on Friday. Brent got a Gold Standard award for Roundwood Park, Fryent Country Park and Mapesbury Dell as well as a Silver Gilt award for Gladstone Park. Brent also got a Best in Category Award for the Large City Award. This covers not just the park service but also the public realm in general.

Roundabout Leak

I have asked Council officers to enquire about the persistent water leak at the roundabout at the bottom of Harlesden Road and Wrottesley Road. It seems to get patched from time to time and then reappear.

By the way, ThamesWater have informed me that the leak in front of Kensal Green Tube Station is being repaired.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Teutonic Efficiency

Interesting comparison between the German and the UK approach to waste management. The Germans produce much less greenhouse gases despite have similar levels of municipal solid waste. The reason is that they have a far higher rate of recycling, and almost no landfill. As a result, their emissions from MSW are a fifth the level of ours.

Surely there can't be any reason that whatever technologies or methods they are using can't also be used in the UK.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

More Spending Cuts

Although coping with the Con Dem government's spending cuts over the past few weeks has been pretty difficult _ green zones, free swimming grant, performance reward grant and so on _ it is worth pointing out that things can only get worse. On 20 October, the new government will announce the local government spending settlement for the next four years. All the signs are that it will include the worst cuts in local government funding since Thatcher.

What makes it all the more incredible is that the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have no electoral mandate for imposing this Thatcherite agenda, and the Liberal democrats explicitly campaigning against it during the General Election (although that now seems to have been mere point scoring like the VAT increase campaign).

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Street Trees

Here is a picture of a damaged street tree I found blocking the pavement in Buckingham Road a couple of weeks ago. You can report these to, who are responsible for keeping the pavement clear

Friday, 3 September 2010

Dumping and the Twenty Five Pound Charge

Brent's new Labour Administration will abolish the twenty five pound charge for bulky item collections from the 1st October. Amazingly, Paul Lorber and Brent Liberal Democrats still want the charge to remain and have suggested that our plans for its abolition should be scrapped. So I guess it makes sense to go through the arguments again.

Brent had free collections until July 2007. The introduction of the charge by the Lib Dems saw an immediate fall in the number of people using the service. Special collections fell by two thirds and have drifted down further since. This meant that the expected income from the service never materialised. The initial estimate was 275k and the actual income was about 53k in the first year. I don't think it has ever gone higher than that, so in fiscal terms the charge was a failure.

One also has to ask where all these items that the Council used to collect are now going. The Council reckons that even the 25 charge was a more or less subsidised rate. If so, any private contractor who offered a lesser rate would be trading at a loss. Of course, this would only remain true if the contractor got rid of the item legitimately. If the private contractor drives round the corner and dumps it somewhere, he is effectively getting the Council to pay for disposal, and pocketing whatever the householder gave him. This, I suspect, is what has been happening.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Changes to the NHS

One of the startling changes that I don't recall featuring in the General Election Campaign are those to the NHS. They are beiing floated in the typically chaotic way that characterises the Con Dem government.

In terms of local authorities, we are being told that we will be given responsibility for "public health" but not being told what is included in that, or what the resources will be. We are also being told that the PCTs are being effectively abolished, and replaced with GP consortia. I doubt whether handing over billions of pounds to consortia with little or no experience of commissioning is going to be a problem free exercise.

This government really does look as if it is heading for a car crash.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Without Question

Just thought I would air my frustration that Brent Council does not allow one to search for members' questions on its web site. Aside from the information in the answers, it is also a much better way of assessing whether non-Executive members are active than the fairly useless statistics on attendance at committees. After all, you can turn up to a committee meeting and say nothing, but putting a question at least implies some sort of interest in the topic at hand.

Just on principle, constituents should be able to find out what their representatives have said.

Unity Centre

Very good meeting at the Unity Centre on Church Road by BTSWC, with a video by young people on flytipping. Hopefully, lots of people will start responding to our consultation on waste management over the next few weeks, and we can start to reduce flytipping.

The - ling Suffix

Some days ago, I referred to Sarah Teather as Michael Gove's underling, and it has set me thinking about why that suffix is almost always perjorative. Of course, defining someone by an unattractive quality like "weakling" or "underling" is automatically insulting, but I can't think of any words with the good old Anglo-Saxon ending of ling that aren't.

Had I referred to Ms Teather as a hireling, it would also sound pretty bad, as in Doctor Johnson's definition of a state pensioner. Although all it actually means is someone paid for what they do.

Similar the two uses of groundling I have come across are also quite disdainful. Shakespearian scholars always assume the groundlings in his audience (who stood before the stage and were poorest) were the stupidest and crudest, although I don't see why they can't have been as able as some of the people in the stalls. I recently came across a more unusual use of "groundling" in Max Hastings' Korean War history. Again it described the air force pilots as looking down on groundlings who couldn't fly.

The only exceptions I can think of are Tolkein and CS Lewis referring to themselves as Inklings (more of a joke) and a 16th century use of "homeling" to refer to indigenous people.

Perhaps, it is inherently insulting to define someone by one quality and no other.