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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Station Road Development

Today is the start of the official consultation on how to improve Station Road, NW10.  The scheme proposed stretches from just above Tubbs Road to just below All Souls Vicarage.  It is part of the Harlesden Town Team programme to improve the gateway into Harlesden Town Centre.  The closing date for comments is 21 June.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Louis Wain Exhibition at Brent Musuem

Brent Musuem now has an exhibition on Louis Wain.  A Brondesbury resident, Louis Wain started making anthropomorphic sketches of cats to entertain his wife.  He continued drawing throughout his period of mental illness.  The pictures frequently have cryptic captions, and prefigure the now extensive use of art as therapy.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

College of North West London

I visited the College of North West London (CNWL) recently.  They have an impressive set of facilities for vocational training.  This is a picture of their car workshop, which is apparently big enough to fit a double decker into.  Training facilities like this are all the more important given the dire economic circumstances at the moment.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Olympics Organisation

I attended a briefing on the Olympics a few days ago.  Staging such a huge event is pretty daunting, and it looks like the funding we have is inadequate, but there you go.  We will need to find resources to cover all the licensing, trading standards, health and safety concerns, security, street cleaning, and of course the transport. 

There will be a number of dedicated routes around London.  For us, that means closing one of the lanes of the North Circular for Olympic use only, which is bound to cause massive traffic diversion. Handling all this will be an enormous challenge.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The Street that Cut Everything

Nick Robinson gave us an interesting reminder of what Councils do here.  He actually tells only part of the story, since the residents were doing the basic running of the street but not lots of other stuff.  For example, they didn't repair broken pavements, fill in potholes, replace street trees and so on.  Brent Council, just in this year, has allocated about £3 million to resurfacing carriageways and relaying pavements.  Something for people who think Councils have no purpose to reflect on.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Heritage is about what we create, not just what we inherit

Yesterday's post about the heritage value of Kensal Rise Library reminds me that much of the discussion on boith libraries and Brent's architecture has a depressing reactionary and small c conservative feel.  The debate always seems to be couched in terms of a limited and dwindling heritage being slowly eroded by time.  In fact, I think both our libraries strategy and various new buildings in the Borough  are adding things that we haven't seen before. 

Heritage is about what we create, not just what we inherit.

I have done plenty on libraries, pointing out that the new Libraries Transformation Project will lead to better book stock, longer opening hours, more IT, a better geographical reach for certain groups through a targeted outreach service, more cultural events, and so on.  However, perhaps it would be worth doing a series of posts pointing out some of the excellent buildings we have?

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Kensal Rise Library: Heritage Arguments

Despite all the publicity on Kensal Rise Library, the heritage arguments have not featured much in the debate.  There are three strands to this argument, all of which I believe can be answered.

1) The building is an attractive part of the College Road/Bathurst Gardens streetscene.  This I think is true, but unlikely to be affected by an alternative use.  Any alternative use, and alterations, would be required to get planning permission, and I can't imagine that Brent's Planning Committee would allow any significant alteration to the facade.

2) The Library has been in use as a library since 1906, and should always remain so.  I think this is a much weaker argument, although I can see why it appeals to some people. There are many buildings that change use.  Even if one regrets that, I think it is part of a modern urban environment.  I am also not sure that it is always a bad thing.  For example, are the Open Doors Ministry Church on Tubbs Road, the Rebirth Tabernacle on Leghorn Road or the Howard Road Mosque in Cricklewood all that worse because they are no longer occupied by the Churches that founded them?  Are Christchurch on Willesden Lane, the former Baptist Church on Sneyd Road or the former Cricklewood Synagogue not performing a useful service as housing developments? Of course, I have argued that there is something rather sad about Cricklewood Synagogue no longer being the focus of a community in the way it once was, but change cannot be held at bay forever.

3) The link to Mark Twain gives Kensal Rise Library a unique status.  This, I think, is the weakest of the three arguments, although it has attracted a lot of media attention.  The building's link to Mark Twain is that he opened it while he was fleeing his creditors in the USA, and he gave some of his books to start it off.  If one were to apply for a blue plaque on that basis, it would simply be judged insufficient.  I certainly don't believe it would justify distorting our entire library strategy.

BBC Newsnight Last Night

A commenter asks why Brent Council sent a statement to Newsnight last night rather than an interviewee.  The reason is that, as we are currently being threatened with legal action, we have been advised not to discuss the Libraries Transformation Project more than is necessary.  Faily standard advice during a legal action, I think.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Boris and the Diplomats

Tory Troll has a good piece on how Boris Johnson has undermined the GLA's argument for collecting congestion charge from London's diplomats.  Admittedly, Boris appears to have made these references to the congestion charge as a "tax" with no thought whatsoever, but I have some sympathy with any politician trying to explain public policy in the middle of a legal battle.

SureStart Cuts

Patrick Butler has acharacteristically thorough piece on the challenges facing SureStart and Childrens Centres.  In Brent we have managed to keep all our Childrens Centres open, despite the massive cuts in grant.  However, he is right that the spending has to be more targeted. 

The minister responsible for this area is Sarah Teather.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Tubbs Road and Harlesden Town Centre

I see from the comments on this post that there is dispute as to the effect of closing Tubbs Road on traffic in Harlesden Town Centre.  Brent Transport department were made aware of the closure and sent someone down to assess the impact, so we should have a report on the subject before too long

Library Misinformation

The Save Kensal Rise Library Campaign appears to be making ever more desperate claims.  You can find a report on a recent Kensal Green Branch meeting here.  It is, of course, wholly inaccurate.  No motion of no confidence in me was passed.  Had one been proposed, I am sure that (as a branch member) I would have voted against it so it would not have been unanimous. 

Either someone in the Kensal Rise Library Campaign is being misinformed, or they have resorted to making things up.

Harlesden Town Team Highly Commended

As reported here, Harlesden Town Team has been "highly commended" in the London Transport Awards as ahighly innovative transport project. Well done.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Miniliths in Wembley

The area around Wembley Stadium may see more miniliths in future.  These are free standing street directories.  The photo shows an example from Rose Street in Edinburgh, which is a shared surface scheme that greatly impressed me, but a similar kind of thing is being increasingly used throughout London.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Alan Bennett Fund Raising for Lawyers

I have commented before that Alan Bennett is probably unaware that the proposed challenge to Brent Council's Libraries Transformation Project is more likely to reduce library services in the Borough than help them.  The appeal for funds suggests that a legal challenge that is unsuccessful will be lead to funds collected contributing to legal aid costs.  If the challenge succeeds, they will seek as much of the cost as possible from Brent Council, presumably at the expense of other Council services.  However, I wonder what will happen if they collect some money, but not enough to actually mount a challenge?  Where will the money go then?

Friday, 20 May 2011

Brent Council and Citizenship Tests

One of Brent Library Services lesser known services is help with the Citizenship Test that immigrants (which an astonishingly high proportion of our residents once were) have to pass.  You can learn more about it here.

Tubbs Road Blockage

The bottom of Tubbs Road has been blocked off thus.  This has massively reduced the amount of traffic going down the road, which is an issue I have been complaining about for some time, as you can see from the entries here and here and here and here.

The road seems so much quieter, and the effect on the rest of the Town Centre does not strike me as especially severe.  Is it worth permanently pedestrianising that short stretch at the bottom?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Brent Libraries and EBooks

The Bookseller has a round up of some of the complexities of lending ebooks here.  The publishers are worried about copyright and the number of times that a given book can be lent.  Responding to changes in technology is one of the key themes of our Libraries Transformation Project, although one that has been generally unaddressed in the public debate.  You can already borrow ebooks via Brent's Library Service here

It may well be that the format of this service will change over time, but any forward looking library service needs to take the rise of kindle etc.  into account, just as libraries had to adapt to PCs in the 1980s.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The London Borough of Brent in Old Photographs

After the Council AGM, I went to a book launch at the Brent Archives in Willesden Green Library Centre.  Two of the Archivists have used the Brent collection to write a book of the Borough's history in photographs.  You can read more here.

It is good to be able to celebrate these sorts of achievements despite all the financial gloom.

Energyshare Fund

I just thought I would flag the Energyshare fund, which offers funding for community based energy saving projects.  The deadline is 31 May.  Advice is available from Energy Solutions here.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Contrasting Coverage on Libraries Protest

I earlier posted on the coverage of the Libraries protest at the Council AGM by the Wembley Observer.  The Willesden & Brent Times covers the same story in a very different way, avoiding any mention of the controversy or audience reaction.

You would almost imagine the two reporters had been at different events.

Knowles House Again

Answering the query here, I suspect the most likely scenerio is that places for demnetia patients will be found with other providers rather than directly by Brent Council.  My biggest regret is that it has not been possible to switch the Knoiwles House site with the Roundwood Youth Centre site just behind it.  Roundwood Youth Centre was given a grant for a total rebuild under the last government.  The present Con Dem government delayed permission for the project as it considered making it part of its cuts programme, before relenting.  The goahead was only finally given within the past few weeks.

Dawn Butler Fighting Crime

The Voice has a remarkable tale of crime fighting by our former MP, Dawn Butler here.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Procurement Complexities

Martin Francis has a rather wrongheaded criticism of the Council's vehicle procurement here.  He is objecting to the proposal to rent vehicles for the remainder of the Veolia contract, rather than leasing or buying the vehicles.  The problem with leasing/buying vehicles is what do you do with them at the end of the contract in 2014? 

Any rival to Veolia would be reluctant to bid for a contract where they had to take on new vehicles for a few years and replace them part way through (or keep them for the full length of a contract towards the end of which they would become more suspectible to breakdown).  Veolia itself would have a similar problem, of course.  Hence the officers reference to "the burden of ownership".  Their recommendation to hire vehicles, albeit at a somewhat higher annual cost in the short term, is designed to give us maximum competition when the contract comes up in 2014, and therefore a much bigger saving overall.

Liberal Democrat Optimism

YouGov have done a poll of Liberal Democrat members which surprises me by indicating that they continue to regard the current Con Dem coalition as a success, despite its disasterous effect on the country and their own party.  Remarkable.  I wonder whether their sunny optimism will continue once the government starts dismantling the NHS.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Council AGM Protest

The Wembley Observer reports the Libraries Protest at the Council AGM here, but doesn't go into much of the background.  A small group of campaigners stood up with a protest banner just as Cllr Ann John was nominating the Mayor.  The Chief Executive asked them to leave, asked Cllr Lorber to ask them to leave (as he seems to have invited them) and then iordered them out.  A significant part of the audience applauded when he did this.

There has been a history going back several years of Cllr Paul Lorber and the Liberal Democrat group using the Mayor making for political protest.  This has attracted controversy in the past as the role of Mayor is traditionally seen as less political than (say) an Executive Member.  It also spoils the occasion for the Community Champions getting their awards for years of voluntary work.

The Council some years ago decided to split the Community Champion Award from the business part of the meeting to avoid this politicisation.  This year, all three parties agreed to bring it back together and promised to avoid making it political.  Cllr Paul Lorber was party to this agreement, but evidently decided to break his word in an effort to score political points.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Council AGM and the Executive

It is worth noting that last week's AGM gives Brent Council and Executive with 50% men and 50% women.  I doubt whether there are many other Councils with an equal gender balance on their Executive, especially as the general trend in the UK seems to be towards fewer women getting elected.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Electric Vehicles

The Guardian correctly states that you can charge an electric car at some public car parks.  One of these points will soon be installed in the Wendover Road car park.  There re also a number of other points being installed as a result of planning permissions, including at the new Civic Centre.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Tubbs Road Closure

From 16 May to 25 June, Tubbs Road will be closed in order to allow Thames Water to replace the water mains.  It will be interesting to see how much congestion this will cause in Harlesden Town Centre.  It will be accompanied by a closure of Park Parade from 16 May to 3 September, which will cause even greater disruption.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Cycling Grant

A piece of good news is that against stiff competition, Brent has been given a grant of £294,000 to improve cycling in the Borough.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Knowles House

There is a possibility that Knowles House, on Longstone Avenue, may be closed and possibly sold for redevelopment.  Knowles House is used to house dementia patients, and also for respite care sometimes.  However, it is very badly designed, being no longer DDA compliant, and expensive to run.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Brent Council Climate Change Pledge

If you haven't yet taken Brent Council's Climate Change Pledge, you can do so online here, or by downloading the form and posting it.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Alan Bennett and Kensal Rise Library

Alan Bennett is advertised as helping raise funds for the Kensal Rise Library campaign's legal challenge to Brent Council.  I wonder whether Mr Bennett has been made aware that the campiagn is seeking to prevent seven day opening for the majority of Brent library users, a lower level of book stock and IT, reduced outreach services, fewer events in libraries, worse accessibility for disabled people, and a greater number of library staff being made redundant.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Six Month Update

Six months ago, I wrote a post reviewing the previous six months, and so I thought I would do something similar again.  The two biggest things I identified were the emissions based parking permits and the changes to the waste management system.

Emissions based parking permits are now in place.  Unfortunately there was a glitch in terms of sending reminder letters, but I hope this has now been sorted.  The waste management system, essential to increased recycling, is now being planned for rollout later in the year.  This is likely to be one of the biggest challenges the administration faces over the rest of its term.

The two biggest issues of these six months have been setting the budget and passing the Libraries Strategy.  The Budget has been passed in the worst financial context that Brent Council has ever faced.  We have managed to contain some of the savings to areas of waste we inherited from the previous administration.  In particular, Brent Council had too many managers and a number of areas of genuine waste which could be cut.  Other cuts were much more problematic.  However, in short order we put together a package that makes unprecedented savings but still protects the vast range of services that the Council provides.

In terms of controversy, the Libraries Transformation Project has dominated the headlines despite accounting for a relatively small part of the Council budget. At the time of writing, this has been largely passed, although the Call In Committee made one recommendation about keeping up the number of study places during the 2011 exam season.  I thought this recommendation superfluous, as it is covered in the existing report, but there you go.

On the less controversial issues, we have made some progress on Fairtrade, some progress on developing our Arts policy (especially in relation to libraries), a fairly routine set of changes to gambling licensing has been agreed by the Executive and will go to full Council shortly, and the Placemaking Guide has finally been passed.  The Executive have also agreed the Site Specific Allocations of the Local Development Framework (LDF), which is much more interesting than it sounds, and is a crucial part of the Planning Framework of the Borough.  The next Full Council meeting will also make changes to Brent's procedures for planning applications, streamlining the process.
In terms of disappointments, I had wanted to make further progress on a carbon emissions target, but hopefully we will be able to publish one later in the year.  I had also been hoping that we would finally get to an end of the long running Dollis Hill House saga.  However, Eric Pickles delay in signing permission for demolition has pushed that date back as well (Although we now have permission).

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Surgery Next Saturday

I will not be able to go to my usual surgery in St Mark's Church on Saturday as it coincides with the Annual General Meeting of Brent Labour Group.  Apologies.

Alternative Vote Polling Day

Today is finally the polling day for the alternative vote referendum as well as local elections in most of England and regional elections in Scotland and Wales.  If, as is widely supected, the Liberal Democrats do very badly in the local elections and also lose the referendum, I expect that Nick Clegg will come under great pressure to resign.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Polling Day Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the first big electoral test of the Con Dem coalition with elections in the develoved areas, as well as local government elections across most of England.  Nick Clegg is said to cry when he listens to classical music, but I suspect that the election results will have much the same effect.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Geographical Reach of Brent Libraries

One of the assumptions behind the opposition to Brent's Libraries Transformation Project appeared be the assumption that the 12 libraries we currently have are the optimal geographical distribution available, and that (especially for small children) walking is the only way to access a library.  I have refuted the walking point many times, but it is worth pointing out that the Transformation Project may well improve geographical accessibility for children.

This is because the enhanced outreach service will be made available in our primary schools as well as our seventeen children centres as well as the remaining libraries.  These have a much broader reach than the existing 12 libraries.  For instance, if you live in the Neasden part of Stonebridge, you are not within an easy walk of a library, at least not if you are a small child.  However, an outreach service at either the Harmony Children Centre or Mitchellbrook Primary School would be far more accessible than the status quo.

The Brent Magazine

The LGiU has a piece on Council newspapers and magazines, one of Eric Pickles favourite targets for so called savings.  Certainly in the case of Brent, cutting the frequency of the Brent Magazine would actually come at a net cost to the Council since it would lose the advertising revenue that pays for the publication.

Monday, 2 May 2011

The Value of Calls In

Not much, in my view.  Here in Brent we suffer from a Liberal Democrat opposition that is much more interested in empty posturing than achieving anything.  Thus, whatever our constituional arrangements we would have problems.  However, calls in going to a specific committee is probably the worst solution imaginable.

As the committee only meets for a call in, its members have little chance at developing any cross party rapport.  The issues concerned are by definition contentious, and by the time the committee discusses them, positions tend to have become entrenched.  The standard advice in our authorities is that it is better to exercise pre-scrutiny i.e. ask for hearings before the issue goes to the Executive.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Local Executives and the Committee System

The extraordinary Council meeting on libraries a few weeks ago reminds us how strange the structure of local government is.  Effectively, full Council does very little.  Once a year it passesa budget, which is binding.  It occasionally gets other votes, such as on planning issues like the Local Development Framework, but essentially it is a relic of the "Committee System" that went out in 2000.

Some are still nostaglic for the old Committees, although most of the people I have spoken to who actually remember it are less fond. As I see it the two ways forward are:

1) An improved role for scrutiny, particularly for challenging bodies other than the Council: e.g. the NHS, Network Rail, the Police, RSLs;  There is no shortage of potential candidates.
2) Some further development of the ward working agenda to get councillors to be more responsive to local needs.