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Saturday, 30 April 2011

Dollis Hill House

The reaction of the Dollis Hill House Trust to Eric Pickles' approval of demolition has been to claim that redevelopment is still possible.  I covered some of the seventeen year history of redevelopment proposals here.  I fear proposals for further delays really are a triumph of hope over experience.  It illustrates how a small band of enthusiasts can continue believing in a potential project long after it has become clear that it has no future.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Big Society Council Runs into Trouble

I see that Suffolk County Council, which was seriously seeking to meet Nick Ridley's vision of doing nothing but award contracts, has hit the buffers thanks to a revolt by its Tory councillors.  It will be interesting to see if this spreads across the Tory Party.

Library Call In

The Library Call In on Wednesday was quite subdued compared to the rowdiness of the Executive and Full Council meetings.  As with the other 23 calls in last year, most of the councillors who signed the call in chose not to attend the debate that they had called for.  Aside from the members of the Committee, we had only Cllr Reg Colwill (Tory), Cllr Jack Beck (Lib Dem) and Cllr Barry Cheese (Lib Dem).  The deputations took two and a half hours, with only half an hour spent on the actual report.  Cllr Harshi Patel was particularly ill served, as the Chair refused to allow him to propose a recommendation.

Kensal Rise Library Again

A commenter on my earlier post suggests that running (say) Kensal Rise library with a team of volunteers would be cheaper than the way it is run at the moment.  This is what Toby Young suggests, but I am by no means sure he is correct.  The problems with the Kensal Rise Library proposal include:

1) It does not meet the criterion set out in the Council's November report, of removing the cost to the Council, in either the short of the long term.
2) By involving a team of volunteers and an ill defined third party organisation in the running of the library at the same time as keeping it part of the Council Library Service (in some sense), it may well make the management of Kensal Rise Library more difficult and time consuming, not less.
3) The proposal makes highly dubious assumptions about fund raising, income and expenditure.  It looks as if any failure to meet these targets would be expected to be met by the Council.
4) An adequate, perhaps better, level of library provision is available nearby at an equal or lesser cost.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

BBC 5 Live on Libraries

I see BBC 5 Live has a piece on Brent's library programme.  Although I met the reporter in Harlesden Library, he has decided to concentrate on Preston.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Another Call In

There is another call in tonight _ on the Libraries Transformation Project.  This has been called in by both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, who are hypocritically claiming to oppose Council spending cuts at the same time as defending their government's policy of imposing frontloaded cuts.  Go figure.

At least in this case, it is a substantial issue unlike some of the 23 calls in that the Liberal Democrats managed last municipal year.  That is a big rise from the number of calls in in previous years, although the seriousness with which the Liberal Democrats treat the process can be seen from the way the councillors signing the call in often don't turn up to the meetings.

Waste and Recycling in Brent

Some may be wondering what is happening with our plans to reconfigure Brent's waste collection.  The answer is that the plans are advanced.  We have now mapped out the areas where we can go with a generic three bin system, and those where special adjustments have to be made.  We will shortly embark on the procurement process, and we aim to start rolling the new system out in October.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Hopkins Architects on Brent Civic Centre

Readers of this morning's post may be interested in finding out more about the new Civic Centre.  The architects (Hopkins) have a page here.

Civic Centre Library (Again)

One of the zombie ideas that is still doing the rounds is that of not going ahead with the Civic Centre Library in order to "save" the smaller libraries.  I have refuted this before, but I will now do it again.  The suggestion is misguided for three reasons:

1) The Civic Centre contract has been signed (with all party support), and work is underway.  Cancelling it would mean the Council be sued by the contractor, being forced to pay for the contract, and then not having a Centre at the end of it.  It is also worth noting that disposal of other buildings makes the whole thing a substantial net saving for the Council. 

2) Redesigning the library will not save any money, but will in fact cost money.  This is because the library is an integral part of the building.  The architects and contractors could be told not to build it, but we would then have to spend more to get them to redesign the building.  And that is assuming a redesign would not delay the whole project, which it well might.

3) The running costs of the Civic centre library will simply transfer from the old Town Hall Library, which will transfer to the new building.

I have covered the more general case for the Civic Centre here.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Dispersal Zone Around Park Parade

A dispersal zone has been introduced in the Park Parade area as a result of youths associated with drug dealing hanging around the area near the old Rucklidge Avenue Social Club (close to the junction with Harlesden Gardens).  The Liberal Democrat / Tory coalition made great play of restricting powers to deal with anti-social behaviour, and their local leader Cllr Paul Lorber now seems belatedly keen on such restrictions.  However, I am not sure that they have defined any viable alternatives.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Big Society Shrinking the State

Cllr Merrick Cockill commented in the recent LGiU c'llr magazine that:

"In the new era, the local state is going to be that bit smaller.  Local residents and local groups will need to fill that space."

Unfortunately, I can't find the quote online, although if you want to know more of his view of the world you can find it here.  It rather begs the question "local residents and local groups" can or will want to fill the gap left public service cuts.  After all, Victorian style philanthropy did not work before.  That is why the state expanded.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Camden and Brent Consulting

There has been fierce criticism of the consultation on the Brent Libraries Project, and this actually oner of the reasons for the forthcoming Call In.  Many have cited the consultation in Camden as being a far superior approach, but my counterpart in Camden, Cllr Tulip Siddiq, seems to be getting complaints of a very similar nature.

I suspect that some people would be complaining, whatever the nature of the consultation, because they don't like the decision.


In answer to Ian below, the questionairre results are one of the things we consider, but there are also lots of other things e.g. available budgets, equality issues, operational practicality etc.  There is also the issue that many of the responses are mutually contradictory.  For instance, many people favoured shorter opening hours but keeping all 12 libraries; other people had short opening hours and poor quality book stock as their main complaint about the service.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Affordable Homes at Redbrick Blog

The gloomy future of affordable housing in London is laid out be the Redbrick blog here.  I haven't previously come across this blog, but it seems very good on the way in which social housing is being dismantled aqt the same time that the government's policies increase homelessness.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Allotment Meeting

For those who want to read them, the minutes of the meeting of Brent allotment holders are now published.  I must admit I come across as slightly more rambling than I thought I was being at the time.  It is interesting how a live event differs from a report in cold print.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

LGiU Blog

By the way I have added the Local Government Information Unit Blog to the blog roll, as it seems to get updated fairly often.

Olympics Inspiremark for Kensal Green Kitchens

I understand that the Kensal Green Kitchens project that the Kensal Green councillors decided to fund from ward working has now been delivered.  This trained a number of local residents in how to run their own food business.  The project was similar to a scheme linked to the 2012 Olympics, training people for small catering operations that can take advantage of the opportunities around the Olympics next year.  It may even get a London 2012 Olympics Inspire mark.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Dollis Hill House Demolition

The Secretary of State has finally given permission for Dollis Hill House to be demolished.  I know this still upsets many who have campaigned long and hard for the House to be restored.  But I really do believe that everything that could have been tried has.

This is a short timeline of all the different attempts that have been made (taken from the Planning report last year):

1994 June Declared surplus to needs by Council.

1994 October Proposal by Whitbread PLC for reuse as a public House restaurant was resisted

by a significant lobby of local residents.

1995 June First arson attack.

1996 June Application submitted for Whitbread proposal (withdrawn August 1995).

1996 April Second arson attack.

1999 June Torkilsden & Barclay Leisure Management report concludes that reuse is

unlikely to succeed without substantial subsidy from Council.

2000 March Property marketed on open market for nine months.

2000 November Council agreed a four-month delay to allow setting up of Dollis Hill House Trust


2001 November Council agrees £30,000 from insurance fund for DHHT to develop business

plan and funding applications.

2002 September Council agrees £28,350 from insurance fund to further develop DHHT business


2003 June Third arson attack.

2003 December Council Executive considers future of Dollis Hill House. Decision to demolish.

2004 Spring Brent Primary Care Trust (PCT) expresses interest in site as a community

health centre.

2004 June Gladstone Park Heritage Lottery Funded restoration scheme completed.

2005 May Brent PCT decides not to progress their proposal.

2005 September DHHT agrees to submit revised business case for consideration.

2006 October Council agrees to second marketing exercise.

2007 June Marketing exercise completed and no viable proposal obtained. One of the

bidders, Training for Life (TFL), given three months to submit a feasibility study for the future of the House.

2007 September Council officers instructed to prepare application for Listed Building consent to

demolish subject to outcome of TFL study

2008 February Council Executive gave TFL twelve months to develop full business plan,

secure capital funding and obtain planning permission.

2008 December TFL not able to progress their proposal due to funding constraints.

2009 March Council instruct DPP Heritage to submit application for Listed Building consent

for demolition of House.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Zadie Smith and Libraries

The presence of Zadie Smith in the Kensal Rise Library campaign is no doubt part of the reason for the extraordinary amount of publicity is has attracted.  It seems to be to her that we indebted for recent coverage in the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Mirror, and two Italian newspapers here and here.  It also illustrates the complicated nature of "saving" local  libraries.

In her Today programme piece, she referred to her childhood memories of Willesden Library, reminiscences that Toby Young used against her in his rebuttal to imply that she was claiming that Willesden was up for closure which she clearly did not.  Before she moved to New York, her nearest local library would have been Kilburn Library on Salusbury Road in Queens Park.  In fact, under the proposals we passed on Monday, both these libraries would benefit substantially.  Kilburn in particular, would open for seven days rather than the current five.  Both would see an improvement in stock, more events, better equipment for disabled people and (I hope) better trained and motivated staff. 

Thus, in opposing the proposals, she is actually campaigning against improving the libraries that one might have expected to be closest to her heart.  Then again, she also claimed (possibly falsely) that her family stole numerous books from Willesden library, so her approach to defending libraries has always been a bit odd.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

More Clean Up Days?

This is how one of the skips at the Tubbs Road Clean Up Day last Saturday looked within a couple of hours of the start.  Fortunately, the others weren't so full, or we might have been forced to stop.  However, it does suggest that there is a lot of demand out there, so we might think about a similar exercise on a different set of streets.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Libraries Update

I don't want every post to be about libraries, even though it is the topic of the moment.  However, the Library strategy has been "called in", which means that the decision is in abeyance until the Scrutiny Committee considers it on 27 April.

There were two separate calls in, one by Tory councillors and one by Liberal Democrat councillors, although the reasons they gave were very similar.  Neither addressed any of the suggested improvements in the Strategy.

Liberal Democrat Library Plans

Cllr Paul Lorber has been so riled by my criticism of his proposals on libraries that he has sent out an email to all councillors accusing me of being misleading.  I certainly don't want anyone to be misled, so lets go through the various proposals Paul has put forward.

1) In an interview on 2 February to the Wembley Observer, he proposed setting up six charitable trusts, one for each library proposed for closure.  Each of them would get £100,000 from the Council, giving a total annual revenue cost of £600,000.  Additional revenue would be made up from unspecified fund raising and rentals.  There were no details around whether Brent staff would be working in these libraries or whether Brent would provide functions like building insurance, IT etc.

2) On 28 February, he presented what I think is quite a different proposal at Brent's budget meeting.  This was costed at £408,000, and seemed to be to keep the existing libraries working in the same way as at present i.e. as part of Brent's library service at least until groups of community activists had worked up plans how to take each building over.  No explanation was given as to how the community activists' plans would be examined, or what would happen if no one put a proposal forward.

3) The proposal he actually submitted for appraisal by the officer in the Libraries Transformation Department was different once again.  It related solely to Barham Library, and was only vaguely defined.  It suggested various dubious ways of raising money, was unclear whether he was taking over part or the whole of the Barham building (and indeed park), or how it would relate to the Trust.

He is annoyed with me because I have suggested that he never bothered to submit his first proposal, despite telling the press: "These proposals are fully costed and if the Labour Executive is serious in their promise to listen to local people they will accept these proposals and give local people a chance to save their much loved local Library.”  I still think I was right that he didn't submit prposal 1, and that far from having a costing scheme, he has only the vaguest notiuon of what he wants.  On his second option, it strikes me more as a bit of procrastination than a plan.  As for his third, I agree with the officers that it is a complete no hoper.

The two other points that strike me are: that a man who presents three quite different schemes in a two month period spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money is not a very serious person.  He strikes me as being more in the position of grandstanding for political advantage.  The other criticism I have is that he doesn't seem to have even begun to consider the most important issues in drawing up a strategy.  For example:

How do we design the service to meet the needs of the various equality strands?
How do we ensure that we use the limited resources we have as wisely as possible to maximise use of the service?
What do we need to do in response to technological and social change?
How do we balance the sometimes conflicting needs of different user groups?

Altogether I think I am entirely justified in regarding the Liberal Democrat response on libraries as utterly inadequate.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Cllr Lesley Jones on Libraries

My colleague Lesley Jones has posted on the national picture on Library closures.  It is worth remembering that Brent's Library Transformation Project provides for:

An enhanced online service
An enhanced outreach service to schools and children centres
Seven day opening at Brent's six libraries
Continuing investment in book stock
More IT in libraries

In other words we are looking to extend and improve the service despite all the financial challenges.


I think the comment below relates not to the Chair of the Labour Group, but to the branch Chair of Kensal Green, who has a long history of denouncing all sorts of Labour politicians including numerous MPs and councillors.  If the reported comment is true, he must have forgotten that he is not empowered to decide who stands for the Labour Party and who not.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Blooming Brent's Food Growing Fair

I thought I should give a quick plug to Blooming Brent's Food Growing Fair, which you can find out about here.

Toby Young on Kensal Rise Library

Last week I spent some time talking to Toby Young for some time about Kensal Rise Library for his Spectator piece on the subject.  He is obviously determined to fight the Tory Party's corner for them by invoking the "bleeding stumps" argument.

This deeply implausible idea is that the biggest cuts in local government that anyone can remember can in fact all be accommodated without any real problems.  He thinks that Labour Councils are deliberately closing down much loved local services when they don't have to, in order to discredit the government.  The Eric Pickles line in fact.

I know that is not true in Brent, and I doubt whether it would be true anywhere.  Firstly, I know that councillors, of whatever party, get satisfaction not from closing things but from establishing them.  Experienced councillor boast about securing this service or that service.  You never hear them boasting of cutting spending or closing things down.  Secondly, how does Toby Young square his view with the many Tory Councils that are cutting services?  For instance, are the cuts being made to Tory run Barnet's children's centres cynically designed to embarrass their own government?

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Library Meeting (Again)

Following on from the Executive, there will be another debate on libraries tonight, although the result of any vote will have no formal power to change the Executive decision.  I suspect both the other parties will try to use the occasion to imply they oppose the strategy without proposing an alternative.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Dexion House

I went on the Planning Committee for the first time since the last election last Tuesday (I was alternating for someone who is away).  Dexion House was one of the schemes up for approval.  This is a scheme off Empire Way in Tokyngton to provide student accomodation alongside a new swimming pool open to the public.  It was given permission.  If it goes ahead, it should help counter some of Brent's very low sports participation, at no cost to the taxpayer.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Brent Council Executive

Tonight is the night of the April Executive.  I have a suspicion, the meeting will be dominated by the Libraries Transformation Project, but there are a number of other reports worth noting including reports on school places, the possible disposal of Knowles House and changes to the Gambling regime (which sounds very technical but often gets people very concerned in practice).

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Tubbs Road Clean Up Day

The Clean Up Day on Tubbs Road was almost too successful for its own good yesterday, with the two skips on Tubbs Road almost full by the middle of the morning. Fortunately, the two skips on Nightingale Road didn't get as full so there was still some space.  Well done to the Junction Association for organising such a successful event.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Labour Poll Lead

UK Polling Report has a characteristically incisive analysis of Labour's current poll lead here.  Clearly, there is no room for complacency.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Library Mythology

Some myths appear to be growing about the Libraries Transformation Report, judging from the emails I have started getting. 

The first is that the report has no equalities analysis.  Anyone who knows Brent Council would find this unlikely and if you look at the web site you can indeed find extensive information on equalities

A second myth is that the various proposals have not been subjected to serious analysis.  Again the web site has reports on each of them, and the report itself explains that a team of officers conducted an appraisal process in each case.  There is a related story that Brent Council has not been willing to engage with groups.  In fact I have met with people a number of times, and officers have repeatedly sent detailed figures and information on request.

A third suggestion is that Brent Council has not been responding to queries.  In fact an anonymised record of enquiries from the public can be found here.

Finally, people attending my surgery last Saturday had been told that Mr Tim Coates had arranged a meeting with Brent Council's Chief Executive to discuss Library issues.  When I asked about this, it turned out the Chief Executive had no idea who Tim Coates was, so I take it he has not even been approached.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Ward Working Themes

On Tuesday, the Harlesden Area Consultative Forum (ACF) had a discussion around Ward Working.  This is the first time that the Forum process has been used in this way, and there was some lack of knowledge of the concept.  One of the ideas brought forward was to contact landlords to encourage greater engagement with recycling by their tenants.  This sounds like a good idea, but we will have to work out how it dovetails with the publicity campign Brent runs around recycling when we start rolling out our new collection system.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

English Around the World

Johnson has an interesting piece here about the countries most likely to use English around the world, especially regarding the use of English in China and India.

Rats in Hazel Road

There have been persistent complaints about rats in Hazel Road Open Space at the end closest to Kensal Green station.  I was down there with the parks department yesterday, and they will arange for some traps to be put down in the bushes by College Road.  However, it would be useful if people could stop feeding the pigeons, as the same food that attracts the pigeons also attracts the rats.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Extraordinary Council Meeting on Libraries

The Lib Dems and Tories have called for an extraordinary Council meeting on libraries.  The Mayor has called one for 13 April, which will be two days after the Executive makes a decision.

As at the budget meeting, neither the Tories or the Liberal Democrats or the Tories are suggesting an alternative strategy.  Indeed, they submitted their request for a meeting before the final Library proposals were published, so they have not engaged with them at all.

Calling for a full Council meeting is rather an odd thing to do under the Council's present Constitution.  Until about 2000, Full Council meetings could overule decisions by Council committees, so you can see the purpose.  Under the Executive system in place since then, Full Council no longer has the ability to change Executive decisions, so it is really just a talking shop.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Disappointing Scrutiny

Cllr Krupesh Hirani has a post on his experiences of Brent Council's Scrutiny process here.  Unfortunately, scrutiny in Brent suffers from an excessively partisan atmosphere, coupled with (as Krupesh notes) a serious lack of engagement in the issues.  This is unfortunate, since I believe that the Scrutiny has great potential to improve public services in Brent but outside the direct powers of the Council.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Online Library Offer

One of the proposals in the Library Transformation Strategy is to improve the online offer of Brent's libraries.  The current offer strikes me as okay, although somewhat pedestrian.  Compare it to Edinburgh's library offer, and you get an idea of which direction Brent wants to go.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Brent Libraries Report Published

The Library Transformation Strategy finally gets published today in time for the Executive on 11 April.  As well as the paper report, we will set up a microsite with all kinds of extra information.  I believe this is the first time Brent has done this.


The report can be accessed here.