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Thursday, 30 June 2011

Political Choice in Council Services

One of the issues bedevilling the ConDem government's localism agenda is the way it ignores political choice.  The likes of Eric Pickles don't seem to grasp the complexity of managing different needs in a universal service.

Taking parks as an example, many park users have conflicting needs.  Smaller children might want playgrounds; older ones space to play sport.  Many older people may simply want a quiet place to sit.  Dog walkers want space that they can let their dogs off a lead, which can lead to problems over fouling.  Politics is supposed to reach acceptable compromises for all these groups, but Eric Pickles vision seems to be a crude one of "the people" making a decision in some sort of town hall meeting.  This would be likely to lead to:

1) Dominance of an unrepresentative group who like attending meetings.
2) Possible bullying of minorities
3) Decisions made without proper regard for evidence
4) Unrealistic assumptions around budgets and costs.

World Flavours Market

A World Flavours Market will be starting soon (from 2 July) outside Willesden Green Library Centre.  The Library Centre was never really designed with its role as a public building in mind, as I have complained before.  If we go ahead with a rebuild (a big if), one of the advantages will be having a building that actually relates to its surroundings.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Liz Mitchell from Boney M at Willesden Library Centre

There is another event at Willesden Green Library Centre on Thursday, with Liz Mitchell of Boney M.  Boney M had three no. 1 albums, and two no. 1 singles, are in the UK Top 10 all-time best-selling singles list, but were also well known across Europe and Asia.  Singer Liz Mitchell is orignally from Brent and will be at Willesden Library to recall her life changing experience as a Harlesden, Brent girl who in 1976 joined disco record producer Frank Farian’s Germany-based Boney M group.

It’s a family-friendly event in association with Brent libraries, where the audience will have an opportunity to ask Liz questions.
The event’s preceded by the Brent Black Music History (BBMHP) Quiz, and ends with the BBM Sound System’s ‘Brent Mix’ session. You can borrow the BBMHP DVDs or books from Brent, and selected outside borough, libraries.

WHEN: Thursday June 30 2011, 6-9.30pm

WHERE: The Space, Willesden Green Library Centre, 95 High Road, London NW10 2SF (Willesden Green. Buses 52, 98, 206, 260, 266, 302, 460).

COST/BOOKING: Free but must pre-book:

Ward Working in Queens Park

Queens Park councillor James Denselow has asked me to publicise the different approach that Queens Park is taking to  allocating their wqard working funds here.

Civic Centre at Harlesden ACF

Tonight's Area Consultative Forum (ACF) in All Souls Church, Harlesden High Street will have the new Brent Civic Centre as its main topic.  I have covered the arguments for the Civic Centre previously, but if you want more detail now is your chance.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Eric Pickles Misleading

Ben Goldacre has a typically incisive article on the poor quality analysis used in local government stories.  He doesn't go beyond the particular example to point out that Eric Pickles uses misleading presentation systematically to discredit local democrary.  He has done this with Council Publicity, the country's general economic situation, scaremongering around bin collections, and of course his "Chief Executives paid more than the Prime Minister" line.

Monday, 27 June 2011

High Speed Rail 2 and Brent

Whereas the proposed High Speed Rail link (HS2) has huge potential benefits, there are three areas where it might affect Brent adversely.

The most important of these is in the Willesden Junction area.  If HS2 goes ahead, we could have a major regeneration benefit from the enhanced links.  HS2 combined with Crossrail would give our area a quick route not just into Central London, but also up to Birmingham, and perhaps beyond.  However, we won't get that benefit if Willesden Junction is not propoerly connected to the Crossrail/HS2 interchange.

Secondly, we may have an issue at the West London Waste Authority's (WLWA)Victoria Road site.  This is a huge transfer site in Hillingdon.  It is currently used to bulk up waste for transport by rail to Buckinghamshire.  The current HS2 line slices a short stretch of the site off.  Unfortunately, it is the part that contains the railway sidings.  While there could be an engineering solution to this, there is an added complication.  The WLWA is currently undergoing a procurement process on how it handles waste in future.  It is likely that many of the bidders would be interested in using the Victoria Road site, but if there is uncertainity over whether or in what form the railway sidings survive, it may blight the procurement process.

Finally, HS2 envisages a ventilation shaft just below Queens Park Tube station.  This land is owned by Brent Council.  Brent Council had been hoping to use it for residential development as part of the South Kilburn regeneration.  Obviously, if it is used for transport infrastructure instead, we will need compensation.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Clifton Road Flytipping

I recently went with our streetcare officer to Clifton Road to enquire about the flytipping at the back of the Harlesden High Street shops.  The problems has died down, now that bollards have been installed at the entrance to the service road.  Another simple physical intervention solving a flytipping problem.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Ward Working Walkabout

On the 29th June, starting at 5.30pm on Buckingham Road, I will be doing a walkabout as part of the Ward Working for the year.  We will cover the Junction Associaition Area and plan to end up at the Harlesden Area Consultative Forum in All Souls Church on the same night.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Barnet Scandal

Barnet, the "EasyCouncil", seem to have come up with a serious example of misgovernance recently.  This is just one of many examples of controversy in that Borough.  What on earth made Eric Pickles and the Tory Party choose it as a flagship?

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Government's Academy Incompetence

The BBC story here demonstrates the sheer incompetence of the current Con Dem government.  Michael Gove was responsible for the botched abolition of Building Schools for the Future and the introduction of "free schools" which will create massive problems if it goes forward.  I wonder how long he can remain in office?

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Kensal Green Ward Working and Flytipping

I don't think I ever reported on the clear up of the above site between Furness Pocket Park and the railway line.  The fence was only waste high, and as a result, there was constant flytipping at this site.  Through ward working, we got the area cleaned up and a much higher fence installed, as can be seen from the photo I took from a number 18 bus the other day (below).

You can find out more about Kensal Green ward working here.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Budget Decision

Midsummer Day seems as good a time as any to reflect on the year so far.  Of course, local government has been dominated by the Budget decision.

A small number of people on the Hard Left advocated not setting a budget.  Instead they wanted a DErek Hatton style stand off with the government.  I recall pointing out to one of these armchair warriors, that this didn't seem to work very well in the 1980s.  His response was that in the 1980s we had a rightwing government and a rightwing press determined to denigrate local councils that stood out against the government.  When I pointed out that much the same situation was in place today, he seemed stumped for an answer. 

It is notable that no local authority has gone down the Hard Left route, not even Tower Hamlets.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Fortnightly Collections and Health

Whereas Eric Pickles and his various Liberal Democrat and Tory cheerleaders claim that fortnightly collections will lead to health risks, those who want to make judgements based on the evidence might think otherwise.  For example, readers of this DEFRA report from some time ago can see that no adverse health outcomes are expected, provided common sense steps are taken.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

BHP Loft Conversions

A newsletter that Brent Housing Partnership (BHP) sent me informs that they have recently completed a loft conversion in Bathurst Gardens, and have others underway in Doyle Gardens, Palermo Road and Tubbs Road.  This is intended to ease overcrowding.  Perfectly worthy, but a drop in the Ocean compared to the size of the problem.

Brent Labour Party Web Site

Rather belatedly I have updated my link to the Brent Labour Party web site, which has been extensively revamped.

Rats, Fortnightly Collections and Eric Pickles

Patrick Butler gives an overview of the mythology around rats in England.  There is no evidence that the rat population has gone up, or that charging for rat catching or fortnightly bin collections have any effect on the numbers of rats.  One way in which we might have guessed this is the way that Eric Pickles constantly claims the opposite.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Furness Road Crossing

The review of School Crossing Patrols gives another opportunity to look again at the traffic lights on the corner of Furness Road and Harlesden High Street.  I have raised this with the Transport Department before, but haven't made much progress.

There are two issues. 

The first is the timing of the lights, which is so short that it is very difficult to cross before the green man goes.  Timing of traffic lights is in the gift of TfL rather than Brent, but we can have another go at persuading them to lengthen the gap.  I think their concern is slowing up the traffic down High Street Harlesden, which is a legitimate one.  However, we need to decide whether traffic down the High Street takes primacy over the safety and comfort of pedestrians not only trying to get to Furness School, but also down the Harrow Road footpath to Willesden Junction.

Secondly, there is the slip road that drivers turning left off Furness Road down Harrow Road NW10 use.  There is no control on it at the moment, and I have long been trying to persuade the Transport engineers to put in a filter.  There is, in fact, such a scheme, but it has failed to attract funding.  Perhaps the review of School Crossing Patrols may provide an opportunity to reprioritise this junction.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Kensal Green Ward Panel

I went to the Kensal Green Ward Panel on Wednesday.  These are run by each Safer Neighbourhood Team in order to connect the Police to the local community.  Attendance at the Kensal Green ones has been fairly low, although Wednesday was an exception.  They are normally held in St Marks Church and are open to all residents of Kensal Green.  The next two meetings are scheduled for 15 September and 15 December.

Afterwards, I went for an impromptu walkabout with our streetcare officer.  It is surprising how many things you can pick up in a short walk.  The weeds on Palemro Road that I complained about a couple of weeks ago are now gone.  The potholes I reported at the bottom of Odessa Road have been marked for repair.

There is a slightly strange situation at the top of Tubbs Road.  Someone appears to have put some limestone like substance down in order to soak up oil.  The heavy rain recently has washed it all over the street.  For this reason, the Council will be suspending the parking at the top of Tubbs Road, so that a mechanical cleaner can clear the road surface properly.  There is also a disabled parking bay in the same area whose markings have faded, so that will need to be repainted.

In the same walkabout, we found a leaking hydrant on Harlesden High Street, and another Thames Water leak at the crossing of Nightingale Road and High Street Harlesden.  A resident complained to us about flytipping on Nightingale Road, and we identified a broken streetlight on Station Road.

Quite a lot to find in a twenty minite walk.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Willesden Social Club Site

I have now found out a bit more about the old Social Club site on Rucklidge Avenue.  The squatters were moved on by environmental health (accompanied by the Police).  Apparently, the site was left as a significant environmental nuisance.  This may help to speed the CPO process that was started some time ago.

Caravan Gone

The caravan of squatters on the site of the old Willesden Social Club on Rucklidge Avenue has now disappearedwith as little notice as when it arrived.  I was really concerned that it might become the target of an arson attack.  I hope that wherever they have gone to is safer than the previous site.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Clean Up in the Brent Magazine

I notice that the Tubbs Road Clean Up Day featured in the most recent edition of the Brent Magazine.  I hope it encourages other people to contact the Ward Working Team with ideas for other local schemes.

Pickles U-Turn

If the BBC is correct, it looks like Eric Pickles is being forced into an embarrassing climb down over rubbish collections.  Presumably, the leak to the BBC is designed to bury the story underneath then even more embarrassing reversal over NHS reform.

Pickles' plan to force weekly collections on every authority had already been ignored by many of his party colleagues, as I pointed out yesterday.  The whole thing shows the shallowness of his commitment to localism, to waste minisimisation and increased recycling, and even to value for money.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Political Courage

The LGiU has an interview with the leader of Somerset County Council, who advocates building a nuclear power plant in the County.  I don't know anything about the merits of the reactor, but telling local people that you want to erect a nuclear reactor in their neighbourhood certainly shows courage.

Eric Pickles Snubbed by Tory Colleagues

I was struck that Croydon appears to be moving to a similar recycling system to Brent despite Eric Pickles' strictures. This is despite Croydon being a Tory Council.  I suspect that there be further such examples in the future.  This kind of system is simply the best available for many area of the country if you want to increase recycling by a marked amount.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Festivals Strategy

The Brent Executive on Monday will decide on the future of the Borough's Festivals strategy.  Athough this is one of our most controversal decisions by some oversight it doesn't come under my portfolio but under that of my colleague Cllr Lesley Jones.

The responses to the consultation are striking in their range, with a number of people suggesting that we should not be supporting festivals at all, and others arguing against particular religions and/or areas of the Borough getting a disproportionate share of any support that is given.  Still others want spending to be extended, which doesn't seem very realistic.  It certainly seems likely that whatever the Council decides will disatisfy someone.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

School Crossing Patrols in Kensal Green

Brent Council is currently reviewing School Crossing Patrols in the Borough, the first such review since the Council took over the service in the early 1990s.  Not only do we have a very large service (with 47 sites one of the biggest in London), but it is also rather inconsistent in the way it has developed.  In some cases, we employ lollipop people at crossings that already have traffic lights.

In Kensal Green, we are likely to keep the patrols at Furness School and Princess Frederica School as these are assessed as dangerous crossings.  We are less likely to maintain a patrol at the traffic lights by John Keble Primary School (although the school can pay for its own service if it wants to).

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Civic Centre Pages

Brent Council now has much more detailed pages describing the Civic Centre.  They can be found here.

Olympic Torch

The Olympic Torch design has been revealed, and you can nominate people to hold as it travels round London.  Fuller details are here.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Balls Leak

The leaking of papers belonging to Ed Balls has a serious side since it suggests that the government can't keep documents confidential, but is the actual story a revelation?  Ed Balls was a strong ally of Brown and the Brown faction spent most of the last years of Tony Blair's premiership trying to get Blair out of office.  Does anyone find that a surprise?

Law Against Swearing

Anyone who thought our anti-social behaviour laws should check out Victoria in Australia, which has a long standing law against swearing.  Difficult to see how that can be enforced.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Parks and Climate Change

One of the things I will be aiming to do over the next year is evolve the Parks Strategy.  This will partly be financially driven (what isn't nowadays?), but also by environmental concerns.  As the climate hots up, it will become more and more important to plant areas in a sustainable manner i.e. without use of huge amounts of water.  Obviously we will also need to make sure that we don't sacrifice quality in areas like the entrance to Roundwood Park (below).

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Brent Council's Cemetary Consultation

Brent Council's Cemetary consultation, on how to manage our cemetary service at Alperton, Paddington, St John's, St Mary's and Carpenders Park, is now available online.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Open Studios

An open weekend is coming up for artist studios in Brent and other parts of North West London.  You can find out more here.

Willesden Social Club

Nothing much has happened with Willesden Social Club (as was) for a while.  The owner of the land appears reluctant to develop it.  The Housing Associaition that I was hoping would take it over lost interest when the property market fell away.  A private developer has shown some interest, but it is not clear whether any development would reach a sufficent standard to be acceptable.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Housing and ALMOs

Recently, I was looking through a comparison of efficiency in public sector housing management.  Brent Council will soon have to decide what to do with Brent Housing Partnership, which is the company that manages all the Council Housing in Brent.  BHP was originally set up to take advantage of the investment that the previous Labour government made in housing after many years of neglect.  The money allowed Brent to bring all its housing stock outside South Kilburn and Barham Park to "Decent Homes" standard by the end of 2007.

It is an unusual decision in that there is not a strong financial pressure to go in any direction.  We need to decide whether we want to continue to be a housing provider, and if so how to do it.

It reminds me of the desperate debates in Camden, which rejected a similar injection of money because they thought that Arms Length Management Organisations like BHP were a form of privatisation.  In fact BHP and any other ALMO is wholly owned by the Council.  Nevertheless Camden Council, after balloting its tenants, rejected the idea of forming an ALMO and as a result lost £283 million of funding for Camden Council properties.  Of course, there is no prospect of them getting that money back.

Incidentally, the study I was looking at said that there is no significant efficiency difference between ALMO and non-ALMO management, which makes both the previous government's insistence on ALMOs and Camden's rejection of them look even more tragic.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

English Euphemisms

Johnson has some interesting commnet on English euphemisms here.  One has to sympathise with the bewildered foreigners who assume that we actually mean what we say.

Doyle Gardens Crossover

Although I must have walked past it many times, I have never previously registered this redundant crossover on Doyle Gardens.  It is just to the South of Willesden Capital Academy.  I assume it must date back to before the school's rebuilding in the late nineties.  I have asked for the yellow line to be removed.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Villiers Road Pocket Park in Willesden

The Willesden Times had a story a few days ago about the long delay in opening Villiers Road park (just behind the Learie Constantine Centre) in Willesden.  Cllr Ann Hunter correctly states that the park has taken far too long to get open.  Of course, this is a problem we inherited from the previous Liberal Democrat led administration, who employed a shoddy contractor. 

Now that the work is being redone, the park should be open quite shortly.

Tubbs Road Developments

Following the temporary blockage of Tubbs Road by Thames Water, Brent Council's transport department did some work to try to assess the impact.  This is likely to be the subject of a report to see if a means of limiting the traffic flow down Tubbs can be found, without excessive diversion to other roads.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Eric Pickles and Bin Collections

Eric Pickles is apparently promising that all authorities will have weekly bin collections to the Daily Telegraph.  He has been repeating this theme for some time

It shows how genuine his committment to localism is that he is quite happy to instruct every Council in the country on exactly how to organise its rubbish disposal.

It also shows how interested the supposedly "greenest government ever" is genuinely green, in that they want to impose such a policy without worrying about the lower recycling rates, or the higher greenhouse gas emissions that would ensue.

However, it also struck me that it doesn't sound like it will have much practical effect.  The Teklegraph suggests a strucuture will be created similar to that used with the Council Tax.  This financial year and the next, Councils that (like Brent) keep their Council Tax rise at zero get a one off grant for each year.  The grant is equivalent to a 2.5% Council Tax rise.  After the two year pause the grant is withdrawn. 

This concievably works for Council Tax, because it is an annual decision.  Raising or not raising the Council Tax this year, doesn't effect your Council Tax setting in the following year.  Waste management, however, requires long term contracts of several years to collect the bins and to process them.  It needs investment in vehicles, bins and other infrastructure.   It also needs plenty of public education to get people to understand and use the system. 

It sounds to me as if Eric Pickles just doesn't get this.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Lack of Opposition on Brent Council

Martin Francis complains here of the lack of real scrutiny by Brent Council.  Whereas I disagree with much of what he says most of the time (including in this post), he is quite right to say:

"Overview and Scrutiny Committees are ineffective and used mainly for grandstanding by the opposition rather than meticulous scrutiny and informed debate."

I am constantly struck by the way in which public debates get sidelined by minor aspects of the subject and people (including elected councillors sometimes) appear not to read proposals before pronouncing on them.  Hence the lack of "informed debate".  Both the Tory and Liberal Democrat groups on Brent Council seem to have little interest in the issues.  Although the Liberal Democrats in particular often "call in" reports, many of those who sign the calls in fail to attend the subsequent discussion. It makes one wonder why they wanted to stand for election.

My own solution to this is to track the proposals that the likes of Sarah Teather and Paul Lorber make, and then compare them to their current positions.  This often shows them to have promised one thing but actually done another.  However, this is only an effective deterrent if the voters take note and punish the Liberal Democrats, or whoever, for hypocrisy.  In Brent, the weakness of the local press often means that startling u-turns and blatent insincerity go unnoticed.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Station Road and Station Approach

Chris Garvey makes a good point that Station Approach is essentially the gateway into Harlesden Town Centre, yet it looks awful.

Station Approach is actually in Hammersmith & Fulham, and is owned by Network Rail.  I have been promised that there is a plan to restore it, but every time I attempt to get a timescale it recedes into the furure.

Silence on Libraries

I am going to try to avoid any more postings on libraries this month, as the issue has taken up a disproportionate amount of time.   Of course, I may have to break this resolution if something startling happens, but hopefully June will be a library free zone.