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Saturday, 31 March 2012

A Plan for Station Approach

There has been some slight progress on Station Approach.  There is now a working group, with Network Rail, led by TfL.  This has taken on board the points made by Brent Council.  As a result, there is some prospect of improvements to the road.  I gather we have suggested taking away the useless pedestrian guardrails that force people to step into road.  We have also suggested widening the pavement on the northern (Harlesden) side, and widening the road.  Space for this would be created by taking away the pavement on the southern side, which no one uses.

My main fears in achieving this would be getting the budget for paying for the works, and possible delays if Network Rail feel they need to do work on the embankment.

Lessons from Antwerp

Ages ago, the Economist publishes an analysis of the complexity of dealing with religion in diverse urban schools.  The example they chose was in Antwerp.  It is worth reading for some perspective on the issues in this country.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Ealing Road Library

Tomorrow Ealing Road Library celebrates its re-opening after being refurbished during most of March.  Ealing Road is the first of our libraries to be refurbished as a result of the Libraries Transformation project.  The library will now have more books, computers and study space as well as a homework club, Chatterbooks, a Teen Fun Club, a CV writing workshop, beginner sessions for IT, and classes to learn English.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Harlesden Road Development

It is good to see that the new block at the bottom of Harlesden Road is almost finished (see above).  It seema ages since work started.

Top Rates of Tax

The economist reports that Francois Hollande is proposing a 75% top rate of tax while on this side of the Channel George Osborned is claiming a 50% top rate is crippling.  I suppose it all depends on your values.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Public and Private

Flipchart Fairy Tales has an interesting post on the differences between public and private organisations.  It is a useful corrective to some of the more naive attempts to treat both sectors the same.  It could add that public sector organisations usually have obligations that go beyond private sector ones.  In particular, a private company can choose to deliver services to a select group, and not have to worry about anything else.  A public sector organisation often has to actively reach out to various, often difficult to reach, groups.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Calvert Landfill

Last Tuesday, I went to the landfill facility that West London Waste uses in Calvert in Buckinghamshire.  The science of these places is more sophisticated than you might think, with careful monitoring of possible effluents, the use of reverse osmosis to sterlise the leachate from the buried rubbish, and the harvesting of methane for electricity generation. 

However, I was also told that some of the people who live on a new housing estate just by the landfill facility bought their houses without realising that they were near a landfill.  Apparently, some people allow the property developer to handle all the administratio, including land searches, when buying a house.  Extraordinary.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Local Government and Public Health

There is an interesting piece on local government on public health here.  The author is right that it is a big change, and that the traditional mentalities of local government and health provision are very different.  However, I think he underestimates the extent to which local government does have experience of health issues through adult social services.  In some ways the social services can be virtually indistinguishable from ancillary medical services.  The other big issue he doesn't mention is that a vast chunk of the current public health budget will not be transferred, another move by central government to make the delivery of public services as difficult as possible.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Legal Complexities

Elisabeth Laing QC has an interesting discussion about the legal aspects of recent decisions on libraries.  Elisabeth was our QC in the challenge to the Libraries Transformation Project.  It gives some flavour of the complexity of decision making in local government.  there is also an interesting piece on the Public Sector Equality Duty in general by Jo Clements, who was the junior in our case.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Willesden Green Library Interim Arrangements

You can find a thorough defence of retaining the remnant of the old library building at Willesden Green here.  I am not sure that the legal reasoning towards the end actually holds up, but on the whole it is as carefully argued a case as anyone could present. 

The author has previously contacted me about the interim arrangements.  I recently went up to see these for myself.  They are in two parts.  There is quite a sizable space that the Council leases on Grange Road.  This contains the current archive in a basement area, and would house an appointment archive service during the construction period.  It would also have room for a number of computer terminals and study spaces.  The second part of the interim arrangements would be a similarly sized building in the Willesden  area.  I can't reveal the location until any deal is finalised, but I liked the look of it.  Together they won't provide an exact equivalent to the current library, but they are much more extensive than some people seem to assume.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Local Government and the Budget

The Conservative Chair of the Local Government Associaition has published a short appreciation of the implications of George Osborne's budget.  Unlike Eric Pickles, he points out that the continual cuts to local government are running up against growing pressures to spend in a way that cannot be sustained.

Dollis Hill By Election

The Liberal Democrats have scraped home in the Dollis Hill By election by 37 votes.  The result is similar to previous by elections in that both the Labour and Liberal Democrat votes went up and the smaller parties collapsed.  In particular, the Tories seem to have hardly any supporters left.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Dollis Hill By Election Today

Today is polling day in the Dollis Hill By election.  It will be interesting how far the Liberal Democrats attempt to distance themselves from their own programme of cuts _ even"savage cuts" will pay off politically.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Highways Committee Last Night

Highways Committee last night had a much fuller agenda than for a long time.  Kensal Green residents will be most interested in the proposal to do up the Town Centre.  This was passed, with the Committee choosing Option B.

Option B is the one where the area in front of the Methodist Church gets semi-pedestrianised.  I gether that the Methodist Church have raised a late concern about access for hearses and wedding cars, but we were assured that these could be sorted out.  This Option would also lead to part of Crownhill Road and Tavistock Road becoming one way, and the one way system in general becoming much more restricted.  There were a number of concerns raised on behalf of visually impaired people.  These can be dealt with in the detailed design.  On the whole, I am optimistic that the new scheme will provide a number of improvements to the Town Centre, especially for pedestrians.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Harlesden Town Centre Development

Tonight the Highways Committee, which is a sub committee of the Brent Executive, will consider whether to go ahead with the redevelopment of Harlesden Town Centre.  This is an in principle decision, with the detailed design work to be done late.  If it goes ahead, work will start shortly after the Olympics have finished.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Boris Johnson's Promises

Adam Bienkov has gone through Boris Johnson's supposed delivery of promises, so that the rest of us don't have to.

London's Awful Air Quality

The Guardian reports that London has appalling air quality.  As far as I can see, Boris Johnson and the government are simply ignoring the whole issue, and hoping that no one will notice.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Moberly Sports Centre Refurbishment

Moberly Sports Centre is due to be extensively rebuilt by Westminster Council.  Among other things it will acquire a new swimming pool.  The development will be paid for by the sale of private housing, in a way that parallels our own redevelopment at Willesden Green Library Centre.  As part of the planning process, we will have to make sure that Brent residents are able to access the new facility at reasonable rates.


Yes they do use the sports centre at reasonable rates, but the planning process gives us an opportunity to embed that.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Furness Park

For those wondering what the workmen at Furness Park are doing, they are removing railings facing on to Furness Road.  The idea is to get people to keep their dogs under control within the park.  Apparently there have been cases of people driving, letting their dog out and just staying in the car.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Communications and Brent Council

There is a persistent tendency to attack Brent Council's communications staff as an "add on" or an "extra", or even as politically biased.  Cllr Paul Lorber is especially prone to this.

I think this fundamentally misunderstands how the Council works and how it will work in the future.  Far from being extra, communications is actually key to many of the Council's core functions.  An obvious example is recycling.  We could never have achieved the success rates that we have without a thorough communications campaign designed to inform and persuade people to participate in the new scheme.  Effective communication through advertising, the press, leaflet and face to face was essential to delivering one of our key priorities.  As the Council develops its public health role, communications is likely to become even more important.  It may also be that, as a reduced Brent Council works more in partnership with others, effective communications will be one of the key skills it will offer to the relationship.

Looking at the Liberal Democrats' repeated suggestions that we simply cut the communications budget, persuades me that they have very little vision of where the Council is going.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Sarah Teather's Hypocrisy (Again)

My colleague Cllr Krupesh Hirani points that Sarah Teather is being criticised in Parliament for her hypocritical leaflets in the Dollis Hill By election.  Of course dishonesty from Sarah Teather and the Liberal Democrats is nothing new

What puzzles me is what the strategy can possibly be?  She is a minister in the Tory government voting through whatever she is told to.  Does she really think people will fail to notice that?  Can she just not think of any way to defend her government's policies?

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Boris Johnson and the Council Tax

Even by the standards of political propaganda, this claim by Boris Johnson is outrageous.  Yet no one appears to pick up on this kind of stuff in the mainstream media.

A Valuable Amenity at Willesden Green?

Some of the opposition to the proposed redevelopment of Willesden Green Library Centre suggests that the existing arrangements are much better than any possible alternative.  I have already written about my views on the Centre at the front, but I wonder how many people have examined the backlot of the site.  Above is a photo of the site taken from Chambers Lane.  I first moved to Brent in 1996, and it looked just the same then.  Incidentally, is it not puzzling that, despite the pressures on land, London still has derelict pockets like this?

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Cllr Lorber Confesses Failure

Last night's Executive saw the unusual spectacle of Cllr Paul Lorber confessing failure.  He used the report on the future of Barham Park to argue that Brent Council had been failing to do anything with Barham Park "for years" _ presumably including his four years as Leader of Brent Council.

It led me on to thinking of the more general failures of that administration, which I view as a nadir of political leadership in Brent.  I would view the sources of Paul's failure as being to lack of real political beliefs, cowardice and small mindedness. 

As far as I can see neither he nor any of his colleagues had any real idea what they want to achieve.  That is quite different to administrations in some authorities.  For instance, the Tories in the "Tri-Borough" whatever you might think of their political agenda, definitely have one.  The result was an administration drifting along without any agenda of its own, but simply reacting to events.

Cowardice came in dithering over issues, such as the ARK Academy, was joining to cowardice in facing up to issues at all.  Thus, the Liberal Democrats rejecting making changes to recycling despite the rising costs of landfill, retreated from introducing an emission based permit scheme and ducked making any change to planning enforcement to match resources to demand. 

This drift seems to have led Cllr Lorber into an obsession over small details.  For instance, he spent a lot of time worrying about whether the Mayor's car was eco-friendly but none trying to promote car clubs or electric vehicles or anything that might have a more strategic effect on pollution.

Of course, his administration also failed to deal with the Council's long standing problems of organisation, such as widely differing rates of pay and conditions for the same jobs, a tendency to use temporary labour without proper thought, or ptackle persistent overruns in building projects.

Altogether, I imagine he looks upon his time as Council Leader has a huge wasted opportunity.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Food Growing in Brent

Following on from the adoption of our Green Charter, Brent Council is consulting on a new food growing and allotments strategy.  Prior to the election, I think our thinking was more focused on meeting the demand for old fashioned allotments, but the new strategy has morphed to include less traditional forms of food growing.  As such, there are now kinds of ways in which the strategy could influence regeneration, community cohesion and the promotion of public health.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Boris and the Routemaster

You can learn more about the new routemaster bus than you probably want to here. The argument is that the whole thing is a hugely expensive politically driven vanity project.  Had Ken Livingstone been responsible for such a profligate waste of money, the Evening Standard would have been gunning for him.  Yet, I haven't seen a similar reaction to Boris' extravagance, despite Boris making his supposed fiscal responsibility a core part of his pitch. Why?

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Brent Civic Centre Progressing

The new Civic Centre is progressing well.  It is key not just to financial savings for the Council, but also a massive improvement in our environmental performance, a boost to regeneration in Wembley, and a more efficient Council organisation.  It will also mean us opening a new library vastly superior to the existing one in Brent Town Hall.

Former Preston Library

Hidden away in the papers for the next Executive is the information that the former Preston Library is being considered for temporary school places.  This is a hugely pressing need across Brent and London, chronically underfunded by central government.  The former Preston Library seems to me to be one of the most likely candidates of all our various buildings.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Brent Attains Fairtrade Borough Status

The event to recognise our Fairtrade status on Saturday at the Convent of Jesus and Mary School went very well.  Attaining Fairtrade status is something that the previous Tory administration really gave up on after being refused in 2008.  It was a committment in the Labour manifesto in 2010, and thus became a corporate objective.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Change of Heart over Ward Working

My colleague Cllr Lesley Jones points out that the Liberal Democrats opposition to ward working is rather different to what they said during the 2010 elections.  Both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats are claiming to oppose ward working, while trying to claim credit for the various local schemes funded through the budget.  When they do so, we shall have to remind people that they have repeatedly tried to have the whole scheme scrapped.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Atiq Malik Condemned

Former councillor Atiq Malik has been condemned.  The Tory government are abolishing the Standards Board for England, so this kind of action is unlikely to be repeated even for misdemeanours as serious as this.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Another Library Proposal from Paul Lorber

I wanted to come back to Paul Lorber's library proposal at the last budget meeting.  This is the fourth proposal that Cllr Paul Lorber has put forward on libraries. 

The first was put not to the Council, but as a press release to the Wembley Observer in February 2011.  Cllr Paul Lorber said: "These proposals are fully costed and if the Labour Executive is serious in their promise to listen to local people they will accept these proposals and give local people a chance to save their much loved local Library.”  He never presented the proposals, so we had no opportunity to consider them seriously or otherwise. 

At the Budget meeting that year, he produced a totally different plan: to delay the Libraries Transformation Project by half year whilst we all waited for something to turn up.  We chose not to adopt that approach.

At the Executive in April 2011, he had yet another proposal.  this one applied solely to Barham Park Library.  It suggested to me that he has little grasp of the legal status of Barham Park, surprising for someone who has represented that area for so many years.  It suggested erecting advertising hoardings around the Park and using the income (if there was any) to subsidise a trust under his chairmanship inside the Barham Park building complex.  That proposal was unworkable on any number of levels.

This year's budget saw yet another proposal.  This time he went back to all six former Library buildings in Brent.  He actually seems to have proposed two different versions of this proposal on the same night.  The written proposal suggests re-opening the libraries at a cost of 600k.  Since, the full saving of the Libraries Transformation project (LTP) was about one million pounds, this leaves a shortfall.  He could get a further 200k by not following the re-investment parts of the LTP, i.e. not making investment in IT, the online offer or seven day opening hours.  If so, I look forward to his next leaflet to users of (say) Kilburn Library telling them, he wants to cut their opening hours.  That still leaves him with a shortfall, however.

He seemed to be forced into a spontaneous variation on the Budget setting night as a result of where he wanted to get the 600k from.  His written proposal aimed to get much of it from cutting the ward working budget.  When Labour proposed increasing the ward working budget, I suspect he wasn't sure whether to support it or not (eventually all the Liberal Democrats voted against).  He therefore invented the argument, on the spur of the moment, that we should cut the bookstock fund to pay for keeping the buildings open.  Essentially, he is opting for a version of the genteel decline option that I have criticised previously.

Still, this constant swapping around between various incompatible proposals doesn't exactly inspire confidence, does it?

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Station Approach Yet Again

I haven't updated on Station Approach for a while.  This is because there is still nothing definite about it.  We have finally managed to have meetings with a senior person at Network Rail, and once again been promised action.  Brent officers are optimistic, although given past experience I am still cautious.

Willesden Green Library Centre Exhibition

The plans for the redevelopment of Willesden Green Library Centre will be on display at a special exhibition.  The two-day public exhibition of proposals will be open from 2pm to 7.30pm on Friday 9 March and then from 10am to 2pm on Saturday 10 March

Martin Francis and other Greens have set up a campaign to attempt to try to block the scheme.  They decided to do this before they could have known what the detailed proposals were.  The exhibition will be an opportunity for everyone to actually see the proposals before making their minds up.  Incidentally, the campaign has suggested that the proposals have not been public knowledge.  In fact, one of its leading lights reported that meeting that voted through the feasibility study last year, was extremely well attended.


On the comments, my expectation back in January was that the economy would continue to decline, and property prices fall alongside it.  Since the whole scheme is paid for by house sales, that suggested that it would become much more difficult for the numbers to add up.  Although the economy is doing badly, property prices in London continue to hold up.  Therefore it has been possible to put together a scheme that doesn't require capital from the Council.

On the current Library, it has been run down and has a number of design faults, perhaps put in as an effort to preserve a remant of the old building in front.  More forgivably, it has poor environmental standards because
people just didn't think about the environment much in the 1980s.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Station Road NW10 Gets its Trees

Trees have finally been planted on Station Road NW10.  The delay was caused by the optimum time to plant the tree.  I have also asked officers to look at how to improve the waste collection arrangements on this road, as residents have been complaining about stains on the pavements from rubbish bags.  We obviously don't want to spend lots of money on new pavements wihout ensuring that they are kept clean.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Fairtrade Borough

Tomorrow I will be going to an event to celebrate Brent becoming a Fairtrade Borough at the Convent of Jesus and Mary Girls school in Crownhill Road.  The campaign to become a Fairtrade Borough started ten years ago when the then Mayor Peter Lemmon (incidentally my predecessor as a Kensal Green councillor) started the campaign.  Unfortunately, that  means I will not be able to do my usual Saturday surgery.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Green Party Hypocrisy

Martin Francis points out that the Tories appear to have selected a non-Brent resident to fight the Dollis Hill by election.  Given that Cllr Reg Colwill, the Tory Deputy Leader, has been vocal in criticising Cllr David Clues for not living in Brent, Martin is right to say that the Conservatives are opening themselves to charges of hypocrisy.

He does not mention, however, that his own Green Party had a very similar policy in the 2006 elections.  Greens stood in different authorities all over London, including Martin's close collaborator Shahrar Ali.  Whereas Shahrar Ali's candidature in  Queens Park (Brent) probably made no difference, his simultaneous candidature in the Camden ward of Bloomsbury may have.  One of the Blooomsbury Labour candidates lost by only a couple of votes, whereas Dr Ali hoovered up 329.  I wonder how many of those 329 would have voted for him if he had admitted that he did not live in Camden, and was also standing in another Borough?