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Monday, 31 December 2012

Stagnating Economy

Ending the year with Robert Skidelsky's assessment of where economic policy went wrong.  I think he overestimates the universality of the error.  A lot of people saw the likely effect of austerity but George Osborne persisted anyway.  Less obvious was the limited effect of quantitative easing which has failed to stimulate the economy or lead to higher inflation.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Clues Criticised

This week's Willesden and Brent Times carries a letter criticising David Clues for suggesting that the Anglican Church "transferred" him to Brighton as if he had no choice in the matter.  The letter suggests, I believe correctly, that Anglican ministers normally apply for jobs.  They don't simply get put in another diocese.

As he sips a pre-prandial sherry, perhaps the Rev. Clues might reflect that staying on as a Brent councillor having moved to Brighton really just isn't worth it, and it would be better for his own reputation if he just stood down.

Tubbs Road Pocket Park Water Supply

I understand that Tubbs Road pocket park has finally had a water supply connected.  It is quite extraordinary how long you have to persist with these things before something happens.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Bookshops and Libraries

A BBC report suggests that bookshops are used by many customers for window shopping before they go home to buy the same books online for much lower prices. If so, this would be very sad.  However, it does make me wonder about the future role of libraries.

I know of some American evidence that libraries in the USA perform a similar function.  Users that a first look at a book in a library, and subsequently purchase it from a retailer.  I am not aware of any UK research on this, but it is a key argument in suggesting that the book industry should see libraries as allies in building demand for books rather than as enemies seeking to cannibalise their sales.  Libraries have Ben particularly attacked for this in terms of ebook sales.

If one were to accept such a view of the role of libraries, it would be confirmation of the rightness of Brent in maintaining its book stock (and substantively increasing it in Kilburn Library).  It might also help inform the design of libraries.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Walking and Planning

The Guardian has piece on walking today.  This is a much neglected area of urban planning. One of the key intentions of the Harlesden Town Centre development is to make the Centre friendlier to pedestrians.

It's animating principle is the "road user hierarchy" which tries to arbitrate between the many groups that use a universal service like a street.  The hierarchy puts pedestrians first and motorists at the bottom.  This is obviously quite a stark choice, but then decisions about a finite universal resource frequently are.

The consequences of ignoring pedestrians in street design can be seen in places like South Kilburn, where the big tower blocks put up in the 1960s completely fail to create a sense of place.  An artist told me that she reacted very well to them as sculptural forms, which is no doubt what the designers intended, but they simply do not work as places to live.  Because, the streets are inherently unwelcoming, people simply use them for transit from A to B.  This means that they effectively disintegrate the community, which has no natural points of interaction_ feeding into all kinds of social degeneration.

A separate issue is the relationship between motor traffic and pedestrians. Currently, many of our urban areas are designed around cars, and the intention of developments like Harlesden is to shift the emphasis back towards people.  Sometimes indeed, measures like guardrails that are intended to safeguard people, actually endanger them.  The worst example I know of are the rails on Station Approach by Willesden Junction station, which force people to walk into the road.  Hopefully, these will be gone by June.

We have a policy now to try to ensure these kind of quality of life issues are taken into account, but it becomes more and more difficult as the resources available to the Council diminish.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Mixing Traditions

Modern Christmas appears to be becoming ever more of a mélange of different cultural traditions.  According to the Economist, American Jews are adopting Christmas In there own ways.  Muslim families have long eaten turkey at Christmas, and I have noticed that the British Christmas appears to be becoming ever more Americanised.  Well before the day this year, I saw cranberry sauce on sale everywhere.  For much longer "Santa Claus" has been easing out the English "Father Christmas".  I suppose this has been going on for centuries, not least with the many different roles Christmas trees have played down the years.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The Alternative to Hollowing Out Libraries

I see that Derbyshire County Council have made the opposite choice to Brent in deciding to "hollow out" their services as an alternative to closure.  This will be much easier for them politically, but lead to a long term decline, as I have argued before.

For a while they can get along with cutting opening hours and book stock, as they are currently doing. They can also reduce wider services, for example lower grade computers, fewer electronic materials and higher charges for discretionary things like ebook lending.  They can also increase fines for late books, and safeguard their revenue by making those books harder to renew (for example, by not allowing online or telephone renewals).  All these are short term measures that can keep them going for a bit, but they all erode the quality of the library experience for the user.  They also create a new baseline of lower expectation.  In the pattern of savage cuts to Council funding, it will be difficult for any future administration in Derbyshire to restore book buying to the previous level; lower book stock will simply become the new norm.  Indeed I believe Gloucestershire had already cut back it's book buying dramatically. I suspect that they then decided to start closing branches because they could no longer obtain savings from the book budget.  In other words, this pattern of across the board cuts in services may well simply delay branch closures rather than prevent them.

At the same time, the technological changes that the book industry and society are going through are as dramatic as the rise of printing itself.  If libraries don't engage with the ongoing spread of digital information in every walk of life, they will simply become irrelevant. Libraries without up to date technology will not be able to help people into the job market or to help people with educational requirements because they simply won't have the technology that education and increasing numbers of companies need.

All this brings me back to the Brent answer to these problems.  Instead of salami slicing across the service we are concentrating our increasingly limited resources on a smaller number of buildings.  Each of these buildings will be in a transport node, preferably co-located with other services, and with an excellent range of library services available for as many hours as possible.  We will also use an outreach service and other means to try to draw in as many users as possible to make maximum use of library resources, and (incidentally) maintain public support for the service.


Comments below seem to be on a different subject to the post.  I was interested that Derbyshire, and earlier Southampton, both framed the problem in the same way as me independently.  The real choice facing authorities bearing the brunt of Eric Pickles brutal attack on local government is should their library services absorb the pressure through cuts in staff and services (as Derbyshire and Southampton have chosen to do), or by prioritising services at the expense of buildings?

Monday, 24 December 2012

Welfare Change Delays

On the eve of Christmas, we learn of delays and disfunction in the Colition government's welfare changes.  Aside from the sheer brutality of the changes, the speed with which the government is trying to push them through is likely to lead to bureaucratic chaos. By the way, I notice that Ms Teather is continuing her u-turn on the issue. I suspect that had Mr Cameron chosen to keep her in a ministerial job she would now be quite happy to stay silent as her constituents suffered.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Father Christmas Under Modern Management

Flip Chart Fairy Tales imagines Father Christmas using modern management techniques here.  Unfortunately, Father Christmas still seems to use off fashioned face to face when he should be seeking channel shift to more cost effective online mechanisms.


The last couple of days have seen queues of extraordinary length outside John Line the butchers in Harrow Road.  It sets me thinking about how to promote the health of shopping areas, which are being doubly hit by the rise of Internet shopping and the ongoing recession.

I don't think that there can just be one solution.  Looking at Harlesden Town Centre we do have a major advantage in the range of our food shops and we should seek to capitalise on that.   Brent Council is also promoting a number of other measures, such as the use of meanwhile space and encouraging networking among businesses, but there is no doubt that the government's austerity and  technological change give major headwinds.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

More Council Budget Cuts on the Way

Eric Pickles announcement of local government funding looks as if the funding of Brent will continue to fall.  It is difficult to be clear at this stage, as the government deliberately makes the announcement in a way to make the details as obscure as possible, But it looks as if a fall in 2013 will be followed by a much bigger fall in 2014.  This will also be true for lots of other Councils in poor areas, although much less so for Councils in richer areas.

There is no doubt that this is driving some Councils towards collapse, and that before long they will be unable to carry out their statutory as well as non-statutory services.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Another Coalition Power Grab

Our mendacious government continues to pretend to be devolving decision making whilst doing the opposite.  The latest proposal, now out to consultation, is to allow the Secretary of State to designate certain planning authorities as too slow to make decisions and then take over their planning powers for major applications (more than about 10 properties).

I suspect the main effect of this power grab would be that the SoS wold find that he was being asked to decide far more cases than he had staff to deal with, and decisions would have much longer delays and probably worse quality decisions.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Ebook Lending in Brent

Our ever entrepreneurial library staff are using Christmas to advertise our ebook lending service.  Only about a third of English library services lend ebooks, and some of them charge for loans.  Brent's service is free.

Andy Gale and Government Mendacity

An extraordinary tale of government mendacity is told by Patrick Butler here.  There is surely something desperate in the DCLG trying to deny its links to an adviser as soon as he is quoted explaining the obvious effects of the government's housing policy.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Murad Qureshi on Air Quality

I am not sure the photo op was well advised, but Murad Qureshi raises a serious point about air quality.  It is greatly to Murad's credit that he has persisted on the air quality issue for such a long time.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Town Centre Problems

Out door knocking on Sunday, I came across a number of issues around crime, anti-social behaviour, prostitution and noise pollution.  Some of these are already under investigation, but the nature df these things tends to be intractable.  Just as I did with Willesden Junction's Station Approach, I Intend to pursue these, but it will take time.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Kilburn Library Resident Artist

I am just back from a talk given by Anya Beaumont on her experience as a resident artist in Kilburn Library.  I got a real sense that, if money can be found, resident artists could add an enormous amount of value to our libraries. Anya spent a lot of time in the library itself, but also went out to the Granville Centre and St Mungos in Chichester Road.

Futures for Local Government

I still get the impression that many people just don't get the extent to which the current government's cuts aren't just temporary.  Although it had no mandate for such a change at the General Election, the coalition really is trying to enforce a complete transformation, possibly without understanding what it is trying to transform us all into.  The Guardian has some interesting speculation about possible futures here.

Sunday, 16 December 2012


Just approved a couple of comments to this blog.  My policy is to approve unless there is a positive reason not to e.g. Libel, offensiveness etc.

However, I am often struck by the certainty of the comments and their anonymity.  They often make factual statements without evidence (for example, the idea that I or other members did not challenge the WLWA accounts, which is flatly untrue).  They are also remarkable in that the people making them fail to identify themselves. The comments I post here are clearly attributable to me. Why don't other people choose to stand up for what they say they believe in?

Social Networking and it's Annoyances

I recall many years ago I set up a Facebook account in order to access a particular site. My usage (such as it was) ceased with that site. Nonetheless, I continue to get a stream of marketing rubbish from Facebook to this day.  I am sure that the same would be true of twitter and so on.

With phone numbers, which also used to be plagued in this way, one could sign up for  This stands for telephone preference service and allows the user to block out much of this annoyance. Indeed, even the companies themselves appear to have worked out that the calls are counterproductive and given up. How much longer before Facebook wakes up to the same message?

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Labour's Housing Review

The Labour Party has launched a new review into improving the private rented sector for housing.  Such a review is long overdue.  Having said that the document appears longer on diagnosis than on solutions, but at least Labour is trying to address a problem that affects large numbers of people living standards.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Multi-layered Democracy in London

Yesterday I went to the London Councils Transport and Environmental Committee, and later today I am going to the West London Waste Authority.  I doubt whether even councillors and Council officer fully understand all the various layers of London government and how they interlink, which cannot be good for transparent local democracy.

Incidentally looking round the room yesterday, at London TEC, I saw only two women members including the Chair Catherine West and very few non-whites.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

David Miliband on Marine Biodiversity

David Miliband reminds us of the importance of marine biodiversity here.  He tackles it from the angle of protecting dwindling resources, which is fair enough.  Personally, I would be inclined to a more Romantic view of preserving the wonders of nature.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Effective Street Gritting

A quick look around Kensal Green this morning suggest to me that the Council contractors have been very quick in getting gritting out on to the pavements. Well done.

Library usage Roundup

The Guardian has a useful roundup on library usage around the UK.  Most striking for me is the dramatic fall off in web site visits, which is completely contrary to my expectations.  After rapid rises up to a couple of years ago, web site visits have gone into a sharp reverse at the same time that most services become ever more active online.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Council Tax Support Scheme Decided

Last night, Brent Council decided on its new Council Tax Support scheme to replace the national scheme that the government is abolishing.  This is a particularly outrageous example of the Liberal Democrats and Tories hitting the poor.  Not only are Councils told to design their own scheme, but the funding to pay for the scheme is automatically reduced by 10%.  There is no offer of increases in future years so we can expect the finance to be further reduced as inflation bites.

This forces Councils either to cut spending by even more, or to recover the reduced revenue by widening the Council Tax to people who have hitherto been exempt.

Last night, I thought even some of the Liberal Democrats felt ashamed as they listened to Cllr Paul Lorber's posturing on the subject.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Street Gritting Update

As cold weather is forecast, I thought I would do a quick update on Brent Council's preparations.  Brent has about 2,400 tons of grit in stock, which is more than the Borough has ever had to use. 326 street bins are available.  Further details on dealing with winter problems in Brent can be found here.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Councils And the Arts

Newcastle is going through an unwelcome experiment in cutting the Council's entire arts budget.  I imagine that is heartbreaking for all the people who having building up Newcastle's arts infrastructure over the years.  The buildings may remain, but what. Use are they without money to pay for the activities within them? Making up the shortfall from elsewhere is likely to be difficult.  Areas outside London struggle to achieve outside funding, and Council funding often provides a stamp of approval and some seed money that can be essential to drawing in additional resources.

That is why I am keen to avoid a similar fate in Brent. Our arts programme is much more modest than that of Newcastle, but it does a huge amount of good out of all proportion to its funding.  Most important, however, in these times when all services need an economic justification, the arts have potential to generate employment and wider regeneration that is becoming increasingly important to urban areas.  The main trouble in making this argument is that it draws heavily on softer measures rather than hard data.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Cutting Business Rates

Friday's posting on the government's cynical offloading of Council Tax Support to local Councils has put me in mind of some of the other wheezes that the Tories and Liberal Democrats are using to deflect criticism for the failure of their austerity policies.

One of these, which has been covered elsewhere, is the ability to vary business rates.  The government is actively suggesting that Councils should do this, but at the same time ministers know there is record in raising those rates year after year, and that the areas in most need are in local authorities that have been worst hit by changes to the government grant.

If only ministers would direct the ingenuity they display in blaming others to actually helping to revive economic growth.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Council Tax Changes on Monday

One of the many ways in which the Tory and Liberal Democrat government is hitting people by stealth is through changes to the Council Tax.  It "allows" each authority to design its own discount scheme in place of the existing national scheme.  However, the funding is being cut by 10%.  In Brent that is about £5 million.  That either has to come from cuts in spending or reducing the amount of discount available.

Brent Council will be making this decision on Monday evening.

The Guardian gives a rather generous interpretation of very late changes that the government has announced.  In practice, these changes, which in some ways seem to go against the professed objectives of the scheme, are so late in the day that it would be enormously difficult to take them on board.  The Guardian rightly observes that they came too late for an effective consultation.  They are also very late for software to be changed and properly tested.

They are also very late in terms of getting people who have never paid Council Tax before engaged in the process.  The Council estimates that, if the draft scheme to be debated on Monday is voted through, this would amount to more than 20,000 people.  The Council is likely to set up a phone bank to contact as many of these people as possible before the Council Tax bills start arriving in mid March.  There is also a major programme to try get the message though via wider publicity and door knocking, as well as a team of people for one to one sessions at the One Stop shops.  All that is best organised with as much notice as possible.

Of course, it is also coming on top of all the government's other benefit changes in 2013.  Either the government don't understand how difficult it is to implement its demands, or it is indifferent to the consequences for people on the ground.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Where George Osborne went Wrong

Not the Treasury View has the most incisive analysis of the Autumn Statement I have come across. It is naturally gloomy.  The present government made fundamentally wrong decisions a couple of years ago, and now people at large are paying the price.  I think even Osborne knows this, but cannot admit it for political reasons.  Would that some of his cheerleaders became as realistic.

Air Quality and Boris Johnson

Dave Hill gives us an update on Boris Johnson's evasions over poor air quality.  Brent's air quality has actually improved over the past few years.  This is largely down to transport and planning policies that promote virtually any form of transport other than the car.  Boris Johnson's programme of hiking public transport fares by eye watering amounts seem to go in the opposite direction.  Meanwhile, he engages in subterfuges of the kind Dave Hill describes to avoid confronting the problem.  That may work for Boris Johnson as a short term political fix, but just allows poor quality to persist and thousands of Londoners to die or fall ill unnecessarily.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Improving Gully Cleaning

I often get complaints about the quality of gully cleaning in Brent.  I always pass these on, and various individual gullies are cleaned as a result.  However, it has long seemed to me to be a systematic problem, especially in the south of the Borough.  I am particularly thinking of Kensal Green, Queens Park, Harlesden, Kilburn and Willesden, but there may well be others.

Does anyone have specific examples of problem areas where gullies are blocked?

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Southampton, Brent and library opening hours

Over in Southampton the local authority has opted to cut back library opening hours.  The reaction is very hostile, but there still seems to be no recognition that central government cuts are forcing these kind of decisions on Councils.  The Southampton representative poses the question in very similar terms to the way I responded to Cllr Paul Lorber.  The difference is that we chose fewer locations; they are spreading their resources more thinly over their existing locations.

That really is the kind of stark choice local authorities face.

Monday, 3 December 2012

David Cameron and Selective Judicial Review

Speaking to someone recently, she said that David Cameron wanted to restrict judicial review.  I think a closer reading of his comments is that wants to restrict judicial review of central government (I.e. his decisions).  There is no indication of him wanting to restrict judicial review of other bodies.

This surely indicates the present government's them and us mentality.

Rules that they find burdensome are unacceptable.  The same rules can happily be imposed on others.

The comments on equality are almost self parody.  We no longer wil have a legal requirement for equality impact assessment (we never did), because "smart people in Whitehall" decide.  We seem to be going all the way back to Patrick Gordon Walker and "The Man in Whitehall really does know best".

I wonder what happened to localism?

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Boris Johnson Hypocrisy on Housing

Dave Hill has a piece on Boris Johnson's hypocrisy on housing here.  The rocketing price of housing all over London is leading to massive overcrowding problems and will also create knock on effects for health, educational achievement, domestic violence and so on.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Update on Willesden Junction Station Approach

Yesterday morning I met with a Brent Transport officer about local transport matters.  There has been a rumour going around that the work to Station Approach might be delayed or even abandoned, but he assured me that this was not so. 

The design team are still working on the exact design.  The current version has a pavement on both the Brent and Ealing sides although the Brent side will be wider.  However details are still subject to change.


The comment below asks for clarification.  My understanding is that, at the moment, the southern pavement is to be narrowed and the Brent side pavement to be widened.  This should allow more room on the northern side for pedestrians (especially after the removal of those absurd guardrails) but also sufficient room for buses (not least to avoid them mount the pavements).  Since more than 90% of users come along the Brent side, it seems obvious to me that that is the side that needs the wider pavement.

However, detailed design is still being worked on and therefore there may be changes.

Friday, 30 November 2012

The Hardy Ash Tree

A little while ago I was in St Pancras churchyard, where there is something called the Hardy ash tree. When Thomas Hardy, the novelist, was a young man he was employed to clear part of the churchyard to make way for the new railway.  The gravestones were taken together and placed around the eponymous ash tree.  The Internet has lot of photos such as these.

The effect is a poignant memorial to death, rather more affecting than most modern art I have seen.  Of course, if the tree suffers from ash dieback, it will add another layer to the story.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Centralised Education

Simon Jenkins has a well directed tilt at over centralisation in education here.  I understand that the department of Education, having almost abolished local eduction authorities, is now considering constructing a middle tier between themselves and schools.  Apparently, they have realised that there are too many schools in England to be run centrally.  Perhaps the middle tier might be known as local education authorities?

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Tough Times for Councils

The Audit Commission has published a report showing just how bad the financial situation is for local Councils.

I suppose the first point to note is the unfairness.  The government has concentrated the cuts on the poorest areas, in London and the north of England.  The most deprived areas of England saw a cut of just over 14%, compared to a bit over 4% in the richest areas.  The poorer areas tend to be more dependent on central government grant, making the impact even worse as it accounts for a greater share of the spending.  I don't believe it is coincidental that the worst hit areas tend to be Labour.

Administratively, the Councils have been fairly successful in holding together, but over time it will get worse and worse.  As time goes on, future savings will become more and more dependent on shared services and partnerships that are inherently harder to deliver.  The Audit Commission regard more than a tenth of Councils not to be "well placed" to cope with next year, let alone the longer term.

I wonder what Eric Pickles will do when some start to just collapse?

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Library Musings

One of the things that distresses many municipal librarians is that the general image of their role is so outdated.  It is a little like education in that many people seem to feel that the way they remember things working in their childhood is the only "real" way in which they can work.  In fact, like anything else, libraries evolve all the time.  It is quite possible that modern technological developments are making them change faster now than they have for decades, but some kind of change is inherent in any living service.

An idea of how extensive these changes can be can be found on this website.  Some of it is about good architectural practice; some the impact of radio frequency identification technology (RFID), 3D printing, ereaders of various kinds and so on.

The frustrating thing is that the political debate really just hasn't caught up with any of this at all.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Krugman Compares

I greatly admire Paul Krugman and his works.  The Nobel Prize is a bit of a distraction. The important thing is the intellectual rigour and honesty. Both of these are important, and probably linked.  In two recent posts he compares the USA and the UK (here) and rigour.  What worries me is how few people listen to these messages.

Building More Housing

A summary of the case for building more housing can be found here.  The failure to supply adequate housing in this country is one of the great political tragedies of the past thirty years.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Sarah Teather No Longer Credible

I see that Sarah Teather is denying rumours that she plans to defect.  She refers to the people suggesting this as "twits", but is it so odd people believe this?  After all she hardly has a rock solid record of principle does she?  She has back tracked on lots of things,; I suppose tuition fees would be the biggest example, although one might choose economic policy.  I suppose in personal terms her biggest betrayal would be sticking the knife into Charles Kennedy.

She always seems to be motivated by whatever pleases people at that moment. Hence she always demanded more spending.

She has recently lost her ministerial job, no doubt as a result of some back room deal.  Since then she has suddenly decided the government is immoral, after defending it thoroughly before.  Is it any wonder no one trusts her?

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Acton Lane Cleaning

At the recent KG residents meeting, an issue was raised around blocked gullies in Acton Lane.  Cllr Lincoln Beswick and I have both raised this with Brent Council's Transport department, and I understand the blocked gullies have now been cleared.

London Ambulance Services

My Labour colleague makes the excellent point that, in the publicity surrounding hospital services, the vital ambulance service is being overlooked.  The speed at which paramedics can reach you is often a vital part of ensuring your survival.  Yet the ambulance service in London is facing cuts despite David Cameron's promises to protect health spending.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Croydon North by election

I spent today In Croydon North, where Steve Reed is standing.  Steve is well known in London local government as a former Council Leader. He should make a really good MP.

Eric Pickles Blusters

Eric Pickles is once again blustering about weekly bin collections.  I am surprised that the Guardian fails to point out that hardly anyone is trying to use his vaunted £250 million fund to restore bin collections because it is well known that they are ineffective in increasing recycling.  The five year timescale also means that that scheme isn't really long enough to merit a new contract.  However, Mr Pickles continues to repeat his obsession.  I don't think he believes it himself any more.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Ash Tree Dieback in Brent

People have been asking me about Ash tree dieback.  This has yet to reach Brent, although as the spores are airborne, I imagine it will only be a matter of time.

Brent has about 7 or 8 hundred street trees that are Ash, and an unclear number of ash trees in our parks.  Unfortunately, there is currently no known treatment for the dieback disease, which has wiped out most of the Ash trees in the countries where it has struck.

It is therefore fair to say that the outlook is gloomy.

Your Square Mile

What amounts to an obituary for David Cameron's Big Society can be read here.  What is more interesting are the suggestions in the piece about enriching communities. Despite the discrediting of volunteering by the inadequacies of the Big Society, this kind of thing is still needed. Perhaps it is needed all the more as a result of the policies of the present government.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Kensal Green Residents Meeting

I felt the ward working meeting of Kensal Green residents last night went very well.  We had a much better turnout than we expected at the back of Casa Nossa on Park Parade, and the atmosphere struck me as very positive so let's hope we can move things forward.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Council Last Night

Brent Council managed a very low quality debate on the budget last night.  Perhaps the most interesting feature of a dreary night was a complete absence of Sarah Teather's "immoral" attack line on the present government's course.  Indeed none of the liberal Democrats mentioned the forthcoming burdens in housing benefit, universial benefit or council tax support that Ms Teather's argued would lead to a "Jarrow March in reverse" only on Sunday.  Does this show a waning of influence even in her own party, or a deliberate distancing.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Barham Park Trust Committee

Full Council meets this evening.  One of the items is the changes to the Council's constitution necessary to follow up the proposals on the Barham Park Trust outlined at the last Executive.   To recap, Barham Park was bequeathed to the Council in the 1930s as a charitable trust.  The Executive are given decision making powers as Trustee. This means that their decisions about the Park are made solely with regard to the objectives of the Trust, rather than as part of the Council's overall strategy.  The position is analogous to my position on West London Waste, where I am required to follow the interests of West London Waste rather than those of Brent Council.  In both cases, however, the interests of the different bodies (WLWA and Brent Council or the Barham Park Trust and Brent Council) are likely to be reasonably closely aligned.  However, it certainly is administratively neat to have a specific sub-committee for the Barham Park Trust to further emphasise that the requirements of the Trust are not necessarily those of Brent Council.

Brent Libraries and Emagazines

One of the most striking findings of the Libraries Transformation Project was that more than 50% of respondents used the library to access periodicals.  I was very surprised that the proportion was so high.

Brent Libraries is now integrating this element into its electronic offering by allowing people access to 41 titles electronically.  As with ebooks, we have constraints as to which titles can be made available. The format is compatible with iPhones, iPads, Windows and various tablets.

You can learn more about Brent Council's online library resources here.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Sarah Teather Discovers Morality

Sarah Teather is interviewed by The Observer and claims to have discovered an interest in the immorality of the government's welfare reforms.  How curious that this interest should only emerge after her sacking as a government minister.  She is presumably hoping that words of sympathy for the victims of the government she continues to support will help her to save her seat at the next election.

Somerset Shows the Way of the Future

A Council in Somerset has questioned its own long term viability.  We are likely to see more and more of this as the "graph of doom" moves forward.  At some point even the government will have to notice.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Housing and Hypocrisy

Red Brick relates the sad tale of government hypocrisy with regard to homelessness.  Government cynically set standards that they know their own policies make it impossible to meet.  It is now inevitable that large numbers of people will face upheaval as they are forced out of London.

What happens next? The way I imagine it, large numbers of people get dumped in the poorer parts of the UK.  As these parts have fewer jobs available, they are more likely to get trapped in a cycle of poverty and benefit dependency, the opposite of what the government says it intends.  Poverty also tends to encourage greater use of many public services, putting those services under greater strain. This is likely to lead to resentment among the indigenous population, and social conflict including violence which no doubt the ministers will condemn.

Meanwhile, London will see parts of its population unable to afford decent housing, but unwilling to move out to part of the country where it will be impossible to earn a living. This will encourage a black economy of overcrowded housing with probably extremely poor standards in terms of building controls, fire safety and so on.  The problems of overcrowding will also encourage wider effects such as declining educational standards, poorer health and so on.  This will create more problems within London's public services.

These possibilities must have occurred to government ministers. One assumes they simply don't care.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Liberal Democrats Against Libraries

I see that, over in Islington, a Liberal Democrat councillor is complaining bitterly at the refurbishment of a library by Islington's Labour administration.

The situation is not unique. In Brent none other than the Liberal Democrat leader on Brent Council, Cllr Paul Lorber, has objected to investment in Kilburn Library.  Specifically, at the Forward Plan Committee in May 2011, he suggested that we should have closed Kilburn Library in Salusbury Road and left Local residents to rely on Camden's facilities instead.

Martin Francis on Brent Civic Centre Again

I assume picking up on this post, Martin Francis of the Brent Green Party seems upset that I suggested that Brent Greens were reactionary and not very interested in climate change issues.

Commenting on the Civic Centre, he goes on to suggest that, for him,  "how green it may be is not the main issue".  That was what I was pointing out as counterintuitive.  Most people would expect that anyone describing themselves as green would consider the environmental effect of the Civic Centre as the main issue.

I have pointed out before that the new Civic Centre building will be one of the greenest in the UK. Indeed it is the main hitter Brent Council has in reducing its own carbon emissions, and improving its property estate in other beneficial ways, such as water conservation.  In doing so, it also enables Brent Council to credibly go to other partners and argue for them to improve their environmental performance as well.

Martin's response appears to be to argue that a new building must have greater effect on carbon emissions than retrofitting a series of old ones.  There is no evidence for this , and plenty against.  The Civic Centre, as I have observed before, has specific measures to limit the carbon emissions of building by local sourcing and innovative building techniques, which are a key part of the BREEAM accreditation.

A fuller record of the environmental benefits of the Civic Centre can be found here, for those who do consider it the main issue.

For those who think environmental issues a bit passé, there are a wide range of other benefits. Again I have described these before.

The one that engages Martin is the direct financial cost, seeing that in its narrowest sense.  The net reduction in costs to the Council is of the order of £3 or £4 million every year.  That is the savings minus the cost.

One could also look at the wider outlook of course.  Ed Balls has argued plausibly that the present government cut too far and too fast.  I have long held this view, that in a recession the UK and other economies needed to boost demand through fiscal expansion rather than George Osborne's programme of fiscal contraction.

There is a legitimate argument about how best to do that, with many people critical of simply increasing consumption.  However, most people agree that investing in public infrastructure is exactly what we should be doing, most noticeably in housing. Borrowing costs are low, so the direct cost to the taxpayer (not counting the benefits of keeping people and firms employed rather than idle) would be maximised. Construction costs are currently relatively low, although if a macroeconomic policy of boosting the construction sector worked, that might reverse.

Cancelling infrastructure spending is in fact what the government has been doing, which brings us back to Martin, who feels that the Civic Centre might not be "necessary" or "desirable" in an "era of austerity".  We therefore have the bizarre spectacle of Martin, who I am sure considers himself a man of the Left, supporting cuts in infrastructure spending on the same lines as George Osborne!

That makes Martin reactionary not just in a general sense, but also in the quite specific one of supporting George Osborne's austerity policy, even as Osborne himself sidles away in view of the mounting evidence of failure.


Martin has replied below whilst apparently missing my main points. Firstly, environmental benefits are not a useful add on for good times; they are essential, as one might expect a Green Party candidate to know.  Second, the Civic Centre actually saves us money to the tune of £3 or £4 million a year.  Not going ahead with the Civic Centre would have meant £3 or £4 million cuts in public services on top of what the government has imposed on us. Finally, the Civic Centre is a good example of how we can use procurement by public bodies to re-orientate towards a less carbon intensive economy, and that is a long term route to better living standards.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Barnet Losing its Marbles

Barnet has a continuing series of complaints all around misgovernance of various kinds.  Given this record, I am not surprised at the disquiet around large scale outsourcing. Major outsourcing needs central services in procurement, clienting, legal advice and maybe even communications to dramatically up their game rather than reduce it. Barnet seem to just have a vague assumption that outsourcing costs less so it must be the way to go.

Public library User Survey

People can access the Public Library User Survey forms from Brent Library service at the moment.  This is a national survey designed to find out more about user attitudes and needs.  It's predecessors helped inform our own Libraries Transformation Project.

Climate Change Gloom

Looking beyond Brent, the Economist has some gloomy thoughts on climate change.  It suggests that the world is unlikely to adopt measures to stop global warming at a two degree rise, which itself would be fairly disastrous.  It also suggests the USA's commitment to limiting climate change is likely to diminish.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Happy Diwali

The Economist wishes us Happy Diwali with a quick reminder of the links between European and Indian languages here.

Willesden Junction Station Approach Details

Harlesden town website provides more detail on the Station Approach proposals at Willesden Junction.

Automatic Library Membership

Good to see today the announcement by the Arts Council has up that Brent has one of a number of projects promoting library usage among school children.  The constant budget hits are deterring many authorities from new initiatives, but I am proud that Brent is still going forward with innovations.

What Interests People Politically?

UKpollingreport has an interesting post on what people pay attention to in politics.  Much of the time the answer appears to be not much.  Many people simply aren't interested most of the time. There also appears to be a bias towards paying attention to the picturesque, such as "pleb gate", rather than the more important but less easy to grasp, such as the utter failure of the government's economic policy.

I would add that small local issues can be very important but the effect if often extremely localised.  Out door knocking in recent weeks, I found a lot of different interests in different parts of Kensal Green. Napier Road residents were interested in their seven day parking zone, which was of no interest to people living on Springwell Avenue.  Springwell Avenue residents were more excited by the local littering and environmental problems around Park Parade. Similarly residents in High Street Harlesden have lots of concerns about the noise nuisance from the nearby bars.  In other words, the residents are concerned by things that impact upon them directly; much less by important issues that seem more abstract.

Cuts for Labour Councils rather than Tory Councils

The Guardian tells us what most of us already knew today.  The Tory and Liberal Democrat cuts have been deliberately skewed to hit Labour, and poorer, areas harder than Tory (and richer) areas.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Costs of Legal Action

The recent Birmingham experience underlines the importance of local authorities getting the legal things right.  Birmingham now have a bill of hundreds of millions that it will take twenty years to repay.  The repayments will have to come from money that would otherwise have funded public services.

Of course, before, we sympathise to much with the Council and the taxpayers, we should remember that the women who claimed were entitled to equal pay, and whoever (probably long ago) failed to pay them properly did them a serious injustice.

Brent Council Executive Disrupted

Last night the Brent Council Executive was disrupted and had to decamp to another part of the building.  This is becoming routine.  What is appalling is that the two police officers present simply stood there and made no effort to intervene.

Once we reassembled downstairs we went through the business on the agenda.  I had three reports.  The first was a brief update on the public realm contract". This is to replace our current contract with Veolia, which will also include grounds maintenance.  We had been hoping for joint working with two other Boroughs.  Unfortunately, Barnet and Hounslow have now dropped out.

We also had a short report on the possible resale of the dry recyclable that people put in their blue top bins, and to declare Masons Field (an area at the northern end of Fryent Country Park) as a nature reserve.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Changes at Furness Pocket Park

On Saturday, I gathered with Cllr Bobby Thomas, some officers and a couple of residents to consider what could be done to brighten up Furness Pocket Park.  It doesn't look likely that much will be possible this financial year, although some bulb and hedgerow planting is possible. Longer term, it would be good to improve the boundary treatment on to Furness Road.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Buildings and Carbon Emissions

Comments on the brief post I did on Willesden Green Library Centre argue that retrofitting an old building must be more carbon efficient than building a new one.  I have never seen any evidence for that assertion.

Given the sheer number of older buildings in the UK, effective retrofitting is clearly going to be an important set of techniques to develop.  However, raising an old building to the kind of performance one sees in a completely new one may well be impossible.  If we look at the refurbishment of Kilburn Library as an example, we find inherent obstacles.  Kilburn Library is a Victorian building and the Victorians did not build walls with cavity insulation.  The revitalised building now has more efficient lighting and heating, which both can be put in an old shell, but I find it harder to imagine how one could use some modern techniques, such as an extensive system of grey water harvesting for instance.  With a new building, the entire edifice can be designed to minimise the use of mechanical heating and ventilation.  There is also the question of expense, which in the case of Kilburn Library made installing double glazing prohibitive.  Finally, an old building in a conservation area, such as the Kilburn Library, is subject to various planning restrictions which can inhibit certain techniques.  I remember back in 2010, there were a number of issues with the use of passivhaus techniques in a property in Mapesbury.

The "you can't have new buildings" argument is one most associated with Brent Green Party in their struggle to denigrate Brent's new civic centre.  To me, it seems that the Brent Greens are taking an ultra conservative approach, and that they don't seem to care about the carbon emissions performance at all.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Yesterday at the Amber Grill

Yesterday, I was down at Station Road, where TfL had asked for a short event to celebrate the makeover of Station Road as part of the Harlesden Town Centre development.  Afterward, we repaired to the Amber Grill (any carnivores who haven't been there will find it a treat, although it is not so great for vegetarians).  I had a number of concerns expressed about the proposed Harlesden waste plant to the south and the effect of traffic movements and so on.  Let us hope that Ealing Planning follow our concerns. Brent Planning, myself and many others have written to object.

Friday, 9 November 2012

A Missed Library Opportunity

Having now read the House of Commons Select Committee Report on libraries, I must say I find it disappointing.  Given that the ebook lending review is underway, perhaps it would be too much to expect the MPs to try to pre-empt it, but some greater awareness of the ebook issue would be welcome.  Inparticular, the 1964 definition of comprehensive and efficient is crying out for updating to include electronic media.  Many of the witnesses to the committee appear to have emphasised the importance of internet use at libraries, yet it doesn't come across in the report.  A missed chance to modernise libraries. 

The views of a number of library campaigners are summarised on public libraries news.   I think Alan Gibbons is right in saying that many of them probably had unreasonable expections of what the Committee was likely to produce, but I think it could and should have produced an attempt to update the definition of what a comprehensive and efficient library service is, and especially that it covers electronic information as well as printed materials.  Without the definition being widened for the modern age, the library service will slowly slide away.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

South Kilburn Developments

A rather hurried photo I took of the flats demolition now underway in South Kilburn, that I took from the Watford to Euston line.  These buildings are close to Kilburn High Road.  It is a great relief that the redevelopment of South Kilburn is finally underway despite the economic crisis.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Review of Past Six Months

It is time to do another of my reviews of the past six months, starting with waste and recycling.  The new recycling system appears to have confounded its critics, and led to a substantial improvement in recycling.  This saves the Council money, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and appeals to most people as a more rational use of resources.  Of course, there is still ongoing work in terms of getting landlords to educate their their tenants better, cracking down on trade waste and dealing with house of multiple occupation in particular.  One of the big projects for the next six months is to start designing a new contract for waste, street cleaning and grounds maintenance.  This will replace the current contract held by Veolia, which runs out on 31 March 2014.  That may sound a long way away, but the procurement timetable is actually quite tight.

Ancillary to this Is a whole saga around the doings of the West London Waste Authority.  However, as with the giant rat of Sumatra, this is a tale for which the world is not yet prepared.

We also had the Olympics, which passed off without any major hitches.  This is easy to take for granted, but the complexities of maintaining the Borough's day to day operations were really quite complicated.  Things like cleaning, rubbish disposal, keeping transport flowing needed a lot of planning.  There will also have to be a lot of follow up work in services like Trading Standards, and of course the sports service.

The third controversial issue of the past six months was the final implementation of the Libraries Transformation Project.  Although the old buildings were closed in October 2011, we only got full access to the bookstock in late May, and the various strands of the project have only really started to come into their own during the past six months.  These include:  the Summer Reading Challenge, the Kilburn Library refurbishmenthome delivery improvements, the school library card scheme, free legal advice, homework clubs, our first artist in residence scheme, online courses and so on.  It will be interesting to see how the success of our service compares to authorities that have gone down different avenues.

We have also seen lots of progress on less high profile issues.  Falling carbon emissions is perhaps the most obvious, especially given the recent experience with Hurricane Sandy.  Gearing up for the move to the Civic Centre is probably helping us achieve this.  We have also seen the Dollis Hill House saga finally end, a new food growing strategy, a minor variation in leaflet regulation that led to accusations that I was Stalinist, progress on animal welfare in Brent, the start of work on a new park in Chalkhill and the approval of outdoor gym equipment in some Brent parks. 

In the ward, there have been a number of issues.  These include the installation of artwork in Hazel Road Open Space, improvements to Station Approach (at last), the successful resolution of another longstanding issue at the former Willesden Social Club, progress on The Green Man, further work on the redevelopment of Harlesden Town Centre (especially dealing with the waste and street cleaning issues), and road safety improvements at Princess Frederica School.  Best of all, we have the opening of the Roundwood Youth Centre, that almost didn't happen as a result of the Tory/Liberal Democrat government. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Fireworks at Roundwood Park

Congratulations to Brent officers for the fireworks last night. I understand something like 15 or 16 thousand people attended. Despite the austerity visited on us by George Osborne, it is important to celebrate places like Roundwood Park.

Green Man Revisited

Some time ago the Green Man in Harlesden High Street was given permission for a redevelopment.  In fact this was to rectify illegal alterations that had already taken place.  So far, nothing appears to have been done to implement the planning permission, so I have checked with the Planning Department who are writing to the owner to chase him up.  Obviously, if he doesn't implement the changes he has agreed to, he will be subject to enforcement action.

Commons Select Committee Report on Libraries

The House of Commons DCMS Select Committee has now published on its report on libraries.  I haven't had a chance to read it, still less digest it yet, but I shall be interested on the MPs take on the issues.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Outreach and Colocation

Co-location is something of a buzzword in public libraries.  This is generally taken as keeping a traditional library in a building alongside other services, such as Council advice.  The theme has actually been around a long time, with the Willesden Library Centre being Brent's best known (if poorly executed) example.

However, I think this idea needs to change from bringing other services into a library building to bringing library services out to other buildings.  This is more or less what has been happening with Brent's outreach service (which now lends more books than Harlesden Library).  Over the past two quarters, the outreach service has gone to 77 locations away from Brent's traditional library buildings.  These have sometimes been aimed at attracting different audiences and sometimes giving better geographical coverage.  Thus we had library stalls at the Olympic celebrations as one-offs, but also had a book collection in one of the Salusbury Road coffee shops during the Kilburn Library refurbishment.  Customers who might not normally interact with the library service might come across it as they went for a coffee, which is a reversal of the usual model of adding a coffee shop on to a library.  Geographically we have used outreach to get to parts of the Borough that have never had their own services.  For instance, library outreach has occurred in a children's centre on the St Raphael's estate, which has never previously had a library, and is fairly hard for people to travel from.

Another aspect of this mixing is the use of library buildings on a temporary basis, as happened during Brent Dance month, when Brent libraries were used for hosting dance events that possibly draw people into Brent libraries who may never have used them before.

Co-location in this sense is a much more fluid and changeable concept than is generally recognised.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Carbon Emissions at Willesden Green Library Centre

I have recently seen a study of carbon emissions at the existing Willesden Green Library Centre (by this I mean the 1980s building).  They are dire. They meet a pass mark under BREEAM, but that is it.  A new building reaching BREEAM Excellent status is bound to be a massive improvement in climate change terms.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Cllr Mike Pavey Website

Cllr Michael Pavey is the latest Brent Labour Councillor to add a website, which you can see here.  Cllr Pavey was elected in May for Barnhill ward, following the resignation of Cllr Judy Beckman.  I have a list of Labour councillors from Brent on the sidebar. Oddly, I don't know of any Tory or Liberal Democrat councillors with a site. Is that not odd in this day and age?

Roundwood Youth Centre

Here is Roundwood Youth Centre in all its modernist glory.  More pictures are available on the architect web site

Friday, 2 November 2012

Objecting to the Harlesden Waste Plant

Having gone into more detail on the proposed waste plant to the south of Harlesden, I have now written to Ealing Planners objecting to the plans.  The objections that I consider valid on planning grounds are:

I) the proposal ignores zoning of waste activities outlined in the West London Waste Plan
2) the proposal claims reduced vehicle movements, but this is very implausible, and Harlesden Town Centre suffers from this to an extreme in any case
3) there are significant odour pollution issues that are not clearly deat with
4) there are also noise pollution issues yet to be addressed
5) air quality is likely to suffer.

I encourage all other  Kensal Green and Harlesden residents to object.  The Ealing officer responsible is Peter Lee at

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Brian Coleman Condemns Outsourcing at Barnet Council

The colourful nature of Barnet's local politics amazes me.  Here we see recently suspended Tory politician and controversialist condemning his own Council's outsourcing policy. It takes quite some chutzpah to condemn the driving impetus of your own administration, and simultaneously to pretend that the Tory Party has never supported outsourcing.  I doubt whether even Mitt Romney could manage that kind of amnesia.

Roundwood Youth Centre Opens

Roundwood Youth Centre finally opens today, after a £5 million rebuild.  The rebuild almost never happened as the Tory government froze the spending grant as soon as it took office.  This was in line with many of the unwise austerity measures put in by George Osborne, who has concentrated the cuts on infrastructure spending that everyone but him knows is economically beneficial.  Happily the project was restarted, and is finally complete.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Art in Progress at Kilburn Library

I like the way Anya Beaumont, the resident artist at Kilburn Library, puts work in progress on her website.  Having an artist in residence is a new departure for Brent Library service.  As well as supporting our arts strategy, it may help draw people into the libraries who don't generally use them.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Road Safety In Kensal Green Schools

Princess Frederica primary school currently has a consultation underway to install a zebra crossing on College Road, just below the railway bridge. I hope it goes ahead, as I think it would improve safety at a difficult junction. When I went to John Keble school recently, I was quizzed about safety at their crossing.  This is a more complicated situation.

The school crossing patrol person is retiring and the Council does not want to pay for a replacement, because the traffic lights at that part of Manor Park Road make the street safer to cross than many others. The school has also indicated that it does not want to pay for a replacement either.  However, traffic flows in the area are subject to a lot of change because of the works on Harlesden Town Centre.  This is likely to alter traffic flows, especially in and out of the Harlesden Tesco car park.  The question is precisely what are those effects, and how can the detailed scheme design mitigate them?

Monday, 29 October 2012

Poppy Appeal

Yesterday, I was on the train when a fellow passenger asked me what all the flowers were for.  She was referring to the poppy in my lapel. As she was (by her accent) American, there is no reason why she would know, but it was a jolt to me to find how localised such a familiar thing as the poppy appeal is.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Kensal Rise Library Post

An anonymous commentator to this post puts an entirely reasonably set of queries.  For the moment, I won't respond. This is for two reasons. Firstly, it is obviously a considered post and (although I believe I have dealt with the points before), it deserves a considered response. Secondly, the recent news on Kensal Rise library (that it is to be sold to a developer) means that anything I write is likely to be used for an unintended meaning, as has happened before.

Thus, I am holding off for now, but will return to the issue.


The only record I have of a comment previously from Ms N was published here.


This post seems to have attracted a lot of traffic.  I have therefore summarised my view on Brent libraries strategy here.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Council Tax Zugzwang

As well as the Council Tax Support scam that has been in the news recently, the present government is further undermining local finances by effectively eliminating the ability to change tax levels.  The current capping on rises and the introduction of referendums for "excessive" rises make alterations to the Council Tax almost impossible.  The allocation of one off grants in return for a freeze builds a long term weakness in authority finances, but are virtually impossible to refuse.

The end result is that the present government has done more to undermine local democracy than any other government, despite it's rhetoric claiming precisely the contrary.

Friday, 26 October 2012

IFS on Council Tax Support

I decried the craziness of the government's late offer of "help" on Council Tax Support a few days ago.  The Institute for Fiscal Studies has now made the same point in a new report.

Willesden Junction Station Approach Timescale

I failed to mention in my post on Station Approach that the projected timescale of work starts in March next year and finishes in June.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

David Cameron Fighting Austerity

Adam Bienkov reminds us of David Cameron's time as an anti-austerity warrior.  One wonders why he has not had the same kind of political punishment that was handed out to Nick Clegg over tuition fees.

Krugman Condemns Osborne

Paul Krugman has condemned George Osborne's handling of the economic crisis.  Sadly, I see no defence. Osborne is responsible for a huge amount of misery. A rather more important issue than an illicit train ticket upgrade.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Tubbs Pocket Park Artwork

Some may recall that in the distance past, Tubbs Road Pocket Park was upgraded.  Part of the planned investment was for a steel bird table by Helena Roden.  This never actually arrived, although a concrete base was installed for it some time ago.  However, I understand that the table was constructed, and I have finally managed to track it down. It should be installed at some point in November.  I am glad it is finally getting here,but it really should not have taken that length of time.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Grim London Housing

The grim state of the London housing market is covered by the Evening Standard today.  What I find even more worrying is that our politics seem to totally fail to address these issues.  Without a sigmificant increase in housing our already unaffordable rents will continue to spiral. Yet Boris Johnson simply claims credit for delivering the pipeline of homes that Ken Livingstone bequeathed him without himself addressing him.  The government has been systematically dismantling social housing so that the "affordable" housing in a new development is now usually a complete misnomer.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Kilburn Library Under Fives

I was amazed to be told that the average attendance for an under fives session at the refurbished Kilburn Library is about 95 people (both children and adults).  It looks as if the refitted Library is rapidly establishing itself as one of our most successful.

Park House Demolition

I see that the demolition of Park House on Manor Park Road is underway. It is good to see that some building projects are still going ahead despite the dragging semi-slump that has followed the Tory government's austerity programme.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Book Issues Outside Buildings

Looking at the most recent data on Brent library issues, I notice that more than a quarter of book issues do not involve visiting buildings in Quarter 2 this year (i.e. July to September).  Taken together, the outreach service and the home library service have issued more books than have gone out from Harlesden Library.  That is quite a stark demonstration of how outreach and online services are becoming more and more important.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Summer Reading Challenge Success

This year's Summer Reading Challenge had even more joiners and completers than last year.  Last year, Brent Libraries attracted 4,244 joiners compared to 4,344 this year.  The rise in completers was even better, with 1,974 finishing six books last year compared to 2,313 this year.  This is a huge achievement by the Brent Library staff.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Council Tax Support

The government's most recent manoeuvre over Council Tax strikes me as even more cynical than usual.  The announcement of what makes a good scheme in the government's opinion comes so late that many Councils simply won't be able to change their plans.  But, in any case, wasn't the point of "localism" supposed to be getting each authority to design their own schemes? How does that square with then announcing a new central set of demands? What makes it even more bizarre is that the parliamentary statement ignores what the government has previously announced as a prime concern, encouraging people into work.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Harlesden Waste Plant

There has been some disquiet about a proposed waste plant in the Ealing part of Park Royal.  This obviously raises questions over transport and good neighbour concerns.  It has been wrongly put about that Brent Planning officers have not been concerned about these.  In fact, Brent Planning officers have already had informal contacts.  A formal response has not yet been sent in but it will be ahead of the deadline.  Again, contrary to some of the rumours going round, Ealing have written to about 1,000 Brent residents in the area south of Harlesden High Street.

The relevant Planning Authority of course is Ealing, and the case officer is Peter Lee (

The site is currently industrial land, and has a number of uses.  The developers claim that the transport movements will be reduced by replacing these with the new plant.  I am still waiting to see if Brent's transport experts agree. Similarly, Brent's environmental health staff are examining the emissions data.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Kensal Green Puzzle

An anonymous commentator has suggested I use derogatory terms about local residents at the bottom of this post.  Having reread the post, I can't see anything derogatory.  As far as I can see s/he is complaining about a point of view that they don't like.

Can anyone explain to me otherwise?

I am always happy to publish comments provided that they are not libellous or offensive, but it seems to me that some people simply can't take a different point of view.


Thank you to the anonymous commentators.  As promised, provided comments are not offensive or libellous, I have published them.

The statistics used are all valid.  The process gone through, as a result of the litigants' legal action, was examined exhaustively.  The text of the judgement in High Court is on the side bar next to this post.  I have attended numerous public and private meetings on this subject, over a period adding up to many hours.  The litigants were unable to prove their case in court, or through the political process.

Brent Libraries service is now going ahead with the agreed strategy.  This strategy has had a number of successes, often enumerated in this blog.

I think that the key thing that those of us who do not directly work in Brent Library service can best do now is to support the library staff in their role in promoting library services around the Borough.

Responding to the last comment to date, my previous post explicitly refers to the 12 libraries and compares to the six.  The comparison (again) is that visits in September this year were only 1.5% down on September last year.  My view is that, after an admittedly rocky period in October to April, our libraries are definitely on the way up and anyone who believes in library services should celebrate the fact.

School Finance Problems

Some of the problems facing school finace can be found here.  This is obviously a major national problem that affects schools across the country that have effectively been targeted in scams. It is notable that free schools are felt to be more vulnerable to such deals than standard schools.  The whole move to less and less authority supervision has simply gone too far as there just aren't adequate safeguards for public money.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Red Velvet

I went to see Red Velvet at the Tricycle this evening, which is the most extraordinary production I have seen in a long while.  It is a brilliantly successful combination of comedy, tragedy and racial politics.  A really impressive combination of good writing and acting.

Cautionary Tale on Procurement

Yesterday, the Independent carried a story about the government debacle meant on rail franchises.  It suggested that the stripping out of senior staff had gone so far that the department was no longer able to manage contract awards competently.  This entirely plausible argument demonstrates how self defeating the government's austerity programme has become.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Fairtrade Artwork by Kensal Green Tube

I forgot to publish the Fairtrade picture that I promised.  Here it is.  In terms of the number of people who see it, it should be as good as a billboard.

John Keble School

Greatly enjoyed my visit to John Keble primary school this morning for their school assembly as part of Local Democracy Week.  I was particularly impressed by how well behaved all the children were.

Volunteer Libraries in Lewisham

Lewisham were somewhat ahead of us in tackling their library service. Like Brent, they had to cope with financial cutbacks, but unlike us they have tried going down the volunteer route.  The results seem to have been less than successful.  The volunteer libraries languish at the bottom of the figures as Lewisham's least popular.  The linked report particularly looks at Blackheath, which has the lowest usage of all.  The quoted figures show a fall of 80% as a volunteer run library compared to the former Council run facility.  This is despite the charity that took it over being given £200k to run it.  That kind of money to run a facility using by about 1,000 people per month doesn't sound like good value for money.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

St Marks Church Kensal Green

I am glad to see that St Marks Church Kensal Green has finally finished its building project. A small part df the cost of this came from Kensal Green ward working funds.  The work means a new kitchen, a redecorated Church Hall, new replacement toilets, and most importantly the introduction of a disabled toilet for the first time.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Libraries Transformation Update

The most recent figures for Brent Library visits and issues are now available.  The most recent quarter (July to September) shows a 17% rise in issues, and a 5.2% rise in visits compared to the same period last year.  This is despite Kilburn Library being closed between 22 May and 10 September for its refurbishment.  Indeed, the most startling figure in the report is the increase in visit numbers at Kilburn Library this September compared to September last year.  There has been a 106% jump despite, the library being open for only 21 days in September.

Altogether, I am surprised at how the Libraries Transformation has made such a big difference so quickly.  I was expecting a slower rate of progress.  Partly this is because I imagined that there would be a falling off in visits at our biggest library in Willesden during the redevelopment there.  Although we have designed a robust interim service, interim services tend not to attract the same footfall as a permanent facility.  The delay in the redevelopment means that this effect has yet to be fully felt. 

I expect a second major effect when the new Wembley Library opens in June next year.  This will be in the most prominent parts of the Civic Centre, and I expect it to rapidly become one of the most popular libraries in the UK.

The figures seem to me to confirm the strategy we decided to pursue.  Contrary to some people's expectation, people are willing to travel to our libraries.  We seem to have a better record than areas like Hertfordshire, which went down the route of cutting opening hours (although I suspect travelling to another branch is harder in Hertfordshire).  I suspect that our decision to protect and enhance the bookstock in each library is also important in maintaining their attractiveness.

The litigants of course, asked the opposite question.  They asked why numbers fell upon the closure of the libraries on 11 October last year.  The answer to that is multiple. 

Firstly, it was always the case that there would be a period of adjustment from one system to the other.  The litigants prolonged this somewhat, so that we weren't able to start to fully implement our system until quite a long way into 2012.  The legal action did not end until February, whereupon the litigants instantly decided to threaten the Secretary of State with legal action.  This obviously created some uncertainity for Brent Libraries Service, which was only fully lifted when the new Secretary of State announced there would be no inquiry in September

Secondly, we were hampered with getting on with key parts of our offer.  Most noticeably, we did not have full access to our bookstock until late May.  Again, this was partly the result of legal objections. 

Thirdly, many elements of the strategy require time to develop.  The school library card scheme seems to me to have the potential to be a highly effective innovation, but it takes time to get schools to partner and develop the model.  Other parts of the strategy, such as outreach, the online offer, services for the housebound, free legal advice, high quality promotions, online courses, and physical refurbishments all take time. 

A fourth reason that has been suggested to me, although it is not a proveable statement either way, is that the huge negative publicity that the litigants generated in itself damaged library usage.  Partly this would be through deterring the public, and partly by demoralising the staff.  This may be true.  I am sure that had we gone down the route of cutting opening hours and hollowing out the service, the effect would have been immensely demoralising for both staff and customers alike.


In response to the comments, the overall visits this September are about 1.5% down from September last year.  I suspect that if I had said a year ago that Brent libraries would be only 1.5% down in visits with six libraries than with 12 I would have been disbelieved.  The Harrow Observer story refers to a different set of numbers.  My point is that the dip immediately after the closures is now being reversed as we have started to progress the strategy. 

Friday, 12 October 2012

Willesden Junction and Station Approach

The proposed enhancement to Station Approach seems to have led to confusion, not least at the Brent Connects event the other day.

After much lobbying, a scheme costing about £600k has been put together. Most of this is from Network Rail for embankment work. However Brent Council and TfL are also contributing to resurface the road and improve the pavement. Although the site is in Hammersmith, Brent is contributing because more than 90% of users come from the Brent side (I.e. northern) side.  Therefore it is proposed to widen the northern pavement, and remove those dreadful railings that force people into the middle of the road and thereby endanger pedestrians rather than help them.  Most of the southern pavement will be removed to allow room for vehicles, although the Station Road And Station Approach junction will have a lowered kerb type arrangement to allow crossing.

The whole scheme should bring a major improvement for pedestrian safety, which I have been campaigning for for some years.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Highways Committee Tonight

This evening I shall be going to the Highways Committee, where the main item appears to be the concerns about parking in Harlesden Town Centre.  I am surprised that parking does not get more publicity, given that lots of people are closely affected and we are implementing far reaching changes not just in Harlesden and Kensal Green, but across Brent.

Does the Government have a Clue?

I can't decide whether the Tory / Liberal Democrat government has a cunning plan to distract its opponents with a bewildering array of initiatives, or whether they are just a bunch of wallis.  We have extreme liberalisation for planning regulations for major developments or household expansion.  This is supposed to release pent up economic energies. At the same time, the Localism Act allows for a six month delay to property disposals if "the community" regards it as a community asset. This is likely to curtail those same entrepreneurs whose property developments are supposedly coming to our rescue.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Brent Council Procurement Dilemma

I have been thinking more about Brent Council's procurement policies, which seem to set up a fundamental question for us.  A little while ago, I went to training on the subject, which turned out to be exceptionally interesting. 

Previously, I had been worried about the possibilities of legal action, which still concern me.  The requirements of the Social Value Act, the Localism Act and the longstanding EU procurement rules all give plenty of tripwires for local Councils to fall over. 

Changes in EU procurement have made suing public bodies a much more profitable exercise.  The old way of doing things meant that if you successfully challenged a procurement as being unfair, the process had to be rerun.  This didn't particularly advantage the company making the challenge.  The new situation is that a successful challenger can be awarded the profits it would have made had it won the contract.  Legal challenges are thereby encouraged, and I have heard rumours that some companies are building a number of challenges into their business models.

However, the bigger challenge is to using procurement policy to encourage the local economy in Brent.  This is a key objective of Brent Labour Party, but it runs into a difficult choice.  Certain measures, such as designing contracts in smaller lots to make them open to smaller companies (i.e. the kind that might be based in Brent), could lead to a higher cost for the taxpayer.  Failing to achieve all possible savings in procurement means finding savings elsewhere in the Budget.  In other words, seeking to design procurement policy to benefit local companies may well end up in deeper cuts to public services and hurt Brent residents as service users.

A difficult choice.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Brent Connects at All Souls Church

Brent Connects is the new name given to the former Area Consultative Forums (ACFs) as part of an effort to reform the Council's consultations that my Labour colleague Cllr Lesley Jones has been leading. 

The first meeting under the new name occurs at All Souls Church in Harlesden High Street at 7pm tonight.  Topics include the future of A&E at Central Middlesex Hospital and an update on Station Approach outside Willesden Junction _ a subject I have been campaigning on for years.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Brent Civic Centre and BREEAM Status

I asked for a more systematic account of the environmental benefits of Brent Council's new Civic Centre.  I got back an extremely impressive list of the full range of benefits.  This is what I was sent: 


Energy efficiency measures introduced to the building will reduce carbon emissions by 33 per cent. Total energy improvements over Building Regulations are >65
Total energy consumption is estimated to be 93.5kWh/m2 comparative to 220kWh/m2 for a conventional similar building.
Regulated energy is estimated to produce carbon emissions in the order of 13 kgCo2/m2.
Specific measures include
• Passive design, such as orientation, natural ventilation and a highly efficient building fabric, which maximises daylight at the same time as providing shade from solar penetration;

• Energy efficient measures, such as voltage optimisation, mixed mode ventilation, heat recovery (MVHR), sub metering and an intelligent Building Management System (BMS)

• Design of effective external shading on the dominantly East and West elevations reduces cooling requirements. The use of daylighting to replace artificial lighting, which also reduces the need for cooling in summer.

• Zoned lighting and movement sensors in lighting will be implemented.

• Low energy lighting solutions throughout the building.

• Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRVs) will be provided for all heating and cooling devices.

• Low energy IT solutions through the building using the latest low energy devices.

• Low energy consuming audio visual equipment.

• Air source heat pumps absorb heat from outside air and release it inside during winter, and the converse in summer. Offer central heating solution and domestic hot water up to 80°C.

• A CCHP system using Waste fish oil will be used on site.

• Hand dryers are energy efficient models. Minimal use of paper towels within building.

• Multi-functional devices (MFD’s) will be energy efficient and use ‘colorcube’ technology which reduces toner waste.
• Low flow aerated taps or spray taps for wash basins with a flow rate of 6 l/min as opposed to standard taps, which consume about 12 litres/min of water

• All WC's will be either dual flush or have an effective flush volume of 3 Litres or less and be specified with a delayed action inlet valve to reduce water consumption.

• Urinals will be either fitted with presence detectors to control flushing or will be ultra low flush or waterless.

• Showers with a flow rate of less than 9 litres/min or less, as opposed to standard showers, which use about 14 litres/min.

• Sub-metering

• A rainwater storage tank with a volume of 75m3 for harvesting rainwater for use in flushing WC’s and for irrigation.
Construction Waste
The following targets are required on site:

• Non-hazardous construction waste generated will be less than 9.2m3 or less than 4.7 tonnes per 100m2 of gross internal floor area

• 90% by weight or 80% by volume of non-hazardous construction waste generated by the project will be diverted from landfill

• 95% by weight or 85% by volume of non-hazardous demolition waste will be diverted from landfill
Operational waste
• Envac pipework installed beneath the basement slab to allow for the future connection to the wider Wembley City infrastructure.

• Organic waste, comprising food waste generated from office and catering activities and potentially any green waste generated from internal green spaces (e.g. Community Hall Winter Garden), will be composted.

• Compactor facility in basement for reducing waste volumes.
• 80% of all materials within the External Walls; Internal Walls; Roof; Upper Floor Slabs; Windows; and Floor Finishes/ Coverings (by total area), are either ‘A’ or ‘A+’ rated under The Green Guide to Specification, 2008”. At least 50% of all materials within these elements have received either an ‘A’ or ‘A+’ rating.

• The design team will aim for over 80% of materials in building and finishing elements to be responsibly sourced.

• Over 80% of the timber is FSC certified, or Chain of Custody certified.
• A green transport plan has been developed

• 150 cycle spaces for an estimated 2300 building users, and 100 cycle spaces for visitors. 17 showers for building users will be provided (8x male, 8x female and 1x disabled)

• 47 electric vehicle charging points within basement car park

• Travel information point in building foyer with information on local train, tube and bus departure times.

• Excellent local public transport links.

• Landscaped garden planted with carefully selected naturalistic, drought tolerant species

• An indoor winter garden will be provided

• 180m2 of Green roofs will be provided above the building cores

• Bat boxes and bird boxes will be provided for a range of nesting birds such as the Black Redstart.

• Planters will be provided around the site and within the building.

Internal Environment

Daylight: The atrium and ‘drum’ area are covered with ETFE, a semi-opaque, light material which allows daylight in without the exposure that glass provides. In addition, it is 1% the weight of glass. 80% of the development has been designed to achieve a minimum daylight factor of 2-3% as a minimum.

• Comfort: Occupant control for heating and cooling systems and lighting have been specified. Automatic detection systems and daylight sensors for lighting have been specified. Finishing elements and fixtures with low volatile organic compound (VOC) content will be used throughout the development.

• Light Pollution: External night time lighting for the site has been designed to minimise the intensity of each light source in potentially obtrusive directions beyond the site boundaries.

• The Brent Civic Centre proposal was subject to a period of consultation with key stakeholders including members of the public, community representatives, interest groups and staff from March 2008 to October 2009.

• Community garden.

• The design for the Brent Civic Centre has embraced inclusiveness.