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Monday, 30 April 2012

Composting Workshop

Gardeners may be interested in the composting workshop on 7 May.  It is being held in the Welsh Harp education centre off Birchen Grove.

School Improvements

The LGiU have recently published a study into how local authorities can help with school improvements.  Apparently, it has occurred to Whitehall that the proliferation of academies will mean that there are so many schools that Whitehall simply can't superintend them effectively.  Hence, Whitehall is thinking about creating a middle tier of authorities.  This sounds awfully like a set of local education authorities.  Let us hope that they have some form of democratic accountability (They might even think of electing people in public elections and calling them councillors).

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Electric Cars

The Economist has an interesting, albeit American based, discussion on whether electric cars are really good for climate change.  At present, Brent assumes that they are and takes modest steps to promote them by requiring charging points in new planning applications or through our emission based permits.  The Economist argues (a) that it will be a long time before they become economically viable (b) that their environmental benefits are dependent on the energy mix of the grid and the time at which the vehicles are charged.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Failures of Boris

Dave Hill comes out strongly against Boris Johnson here.  What strikes me about Johnson is that his libertarian views seem to be restricted to people like himself.  When it comes to poor people, the Tory Party are quite happy to order them about.  This can take lots of different forms, perhaps the worst is in social housing where people can be forced to completely different parts of the country.  I can't imagine any Tory saying to a rich person that being housed in Westminster is a privilege not a right.

Re ward

West London Waste Authority has started a Re ward scheme to encourage re use through a kind of loyalty card for environmental businesses.  The scheme is being pioneered in Brent and Richmond, but (if it works) could be rolled out across West London.  More details can be found here.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Addison Lee and Boris Johnson

Coming rather late to Addison Lee's scrap with London cyclists, I can't help but notice that it undermines Mayor Johnson's public image as a more liberal sort of Tory.  When it comes to making life convenient for a Tory donor he seems to lose all his pro-cyclist credentials.  Undoubtedly,  our roads would be improved by rejecting Addison Lee's car only approach.  Before Johnson came to power, traffic planning worked with a road user hierarchy that put pedestrians at the top and motor vehicles at the bottom (as Brent's own Placemaking guide still does).  This would improve road safety, but could also make our Town Centres more attractive, as is the hope in Harlesden.

For those not familiar with Addison Lee's demands, the background is here.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Exporting Rent Inflation

More analysis on the forthcoming housing disaster, this time from a non-London perspective, here.  The predicted strains on social infrastructure may well lead to increased tension and help extremist parties.  However, Boroughs like Newham really don't have much choice under the rules the government has devised.  If Grant Shapps wants to prevent this, he needs to heed the calls of those like Ken Livingstone who call for rent control. 

Worse then the 1930s

The sheer scale of the government's incompetence is well conveyed by Paul Krugman here.  The choking off of the economic recovery was of course wdely predicted as a consequence of the government's strategy of austerity without growth.

Housing and the London Mayor

Inside Housing has a survey of the housing ideas of the Mayoral candidates.  There are quite a number of good ideas there, but what strikes me is that the incumbent, Mayor Johnson, seems to offer pretty much nothing except a bit of misleading spin.  As with other Johnson promises, we can assume nothing will happen as a result.

Meanwhile, Grant Shapps simply denies the existence of a problem in London.  London Councils are exporting people outside London, because the government's housing benefit cap gives them no choice.  The entirely predictable result of this will be more unemployment as people are moving to areas with existing job shortages, more political unrest as local communities in poor areas blame newcomers for joblessness  and "social cleansing" in richer parts of the country.

More detail can be found on how the Conservative Government has engineered this crisis can be found here.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Street Cleaning in Wendover Road

We have been devoting a lot of effort to trying to improve the cleanliness of the streets around Tubbs Road and Wendover Road.  Many residents find the state of these streets frustrating, but I think improving them will be a matter iof gradual progress, because they are what some people call a wicked problem.

The central problem is the high footfall of people going to Willesden Junction, coupled with the ease with which litter can blow off Harlesden High Street.  Currently, the streets get cleaned once a week with a second round of litter picking.  The Junction Association are organising a community clean up day, which is partly paid for by ward working money. 

In the longer term, the Council is looking at how to improve the cleanliness of Station Road and HJarklesden High Street, which should have knock on benefits for the streets immediately off them.  The new bin collection system should have improved the litter problem, since the blue bins have lids whereas the old green boxes did not.  Hence, litter could blow out of the green boxes more easily. 

How Long Can Hunt Last?

For the moment, David Cameron appears to be sticking to Jeremy Hunt, but I suspect the Culture Secretary will go before the local elections on 3 May.  He is appearing before the Commons, and (if the reports in the Guardian are true) I don't see how his continuation in office can fail to be a liability for the Conservative Party.

Conservative Government Leads to Disaster

It appears that the present Tory Government and their Liberal Democrat underlings have led the UK into the first double dip recession this country has had since the 1970s.  This means we are significantly worse off than the USA, and even than the Eurozone.  Surely proff that George Osborne's austerity programme has fundamentally failed.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


One of the more bizarre musings on leadership skills I have read can be found here.  Recently, as part of the entirely artifical concern over regulating leaflet distribution, Brent Council has been accused of being Stalinist.  I thought this was a term of abuse, but given that the accusation came from someone on the extreme left perhaps it was intended as a compliment.

It came up again at the Executive last night, when a number of attended about Willesden Library and the leaflet regulations.  These people then left before hearing the reports on such minor issues as school places or the increasing numbers of homeless in the Borough.  The BBC reported this morning that Newham has been trying to send people to Stoke on Trent.  This is going to become increasingly common as local authorities (including Brent) struggle to cope with the housing benefit changes.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Fryent Country Park

I gather that the last Willesden ACF was told of a mysterious plot to build on Fryent Country Park.  I always wonder how these rumours get started, and why people believe them so readily.  Every so often some one invents a story about a park being built on, as they did a while ago about Hazel Road Open Space.  In fact, it is so difficult to build on a park in terms of political controversy and planning law that it would be virtually impossible.  Certainly, no one is going to build on Fryent Country Park, but why do people believe these stories so readily?

The Irresistible Lure of Libraries

Tonight Brent Council's Executive is meeting which is unfortunate since it probably means I wion't be able to attend the celebration of World Book Night at Willesden Library Centre.  I gather we are likely to have speakers on Willesden Library, despite the fact that we aren't having a report on the subject.  It really is amazing how the topic of libraries seems to engross so much attention.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

How to Invent a Campaign

The last few days have seen a flurry of concern around Monday's proposals to tighten up regulation of leafleting.  It is a striking example of how misinformation can be used to invent a campaign out of nothing.

The actual report merely adjusts the existing rules.  The Council has a system to license people leafletting in certain busy locations.  Previously the fee was 66 pounds, the proposal is for the fee to go to 75 pounds. The legislation regulating this has an exemption for charities, religious organisations and leafletting for political purposes.

The mischief started with the Willesden & Brent Times leading with a story that gave the impression that this was an entirely new set of rules, and glossing over the exemptions.  What is striking is that I personally spoke to the reporter and told her that "political purposes" meant a variety of political campaigns, not just political parties.  Martin Francis is therefore misinformed when he suggests otherwise.  Of course, as the exemption is written into the Act of Parliament concerned, Brent Council can't change it even if it wanted to.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

YouGov Poll Gives Labour a 13 Point Lead

Good news for Labour supporters in the latest poll.  This is the biggest lead Labour has had in any poll for five years. 

Public Lending Right and Libraries

The bookseller reports on a problem with volunteer run libraries that I had not thought of in my previous post; they don't pay public lending right.  Who would have thought that a Conservative government would want to promote copyright infringement?

Friday, 20 April 2012

Rucklidge Avenue Anti-Social Behaviour

The corner of Rucklidge Avenue and Park Parade has been the focus of anti-social behaviour for some time, but I think the two planning applications coming up for the Green Man and the old Willesden Social Club might have the potential to help. 

Reducing the number of flats at the Green Man (as the plans propose) should reduce its potential to have overflowing bins, and hence.  Having a building on the site of the old Social Club will rob squatters and ne'er-do-wells of a place to congragate.  It should also help create nature overlooking for the area by DesignWorks, where there have been complaints of people hanging around.  Progress on both these sites has been slow.  I first started a petition to sort out the Willesden Social Club back in 2005.  If the current applications are rejected it is likely to be a long time before any new solution comes forward, so it is important to look at both of them carefully and in a spirit of compromise.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Community Libraries Failing in Lewisham

Figures from Lewisham continue to show much reduced activity at their "community libraries".  They contrast with a broadly static picture for the Lewisham Library service as a whole.  My suspicion is that the library services in these buildings will gradually decline, and they will be taken over for other purposes.  If so, it seems like a very slow and expensive way to transfer buildings to the private sector.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Suffolk Libraries Comprehensive and Efficient?

A blogger complains that Suffolk is setting up an Industrial and Provident Society to run its libraries in conjunction with volunteers.  There are many aspects one can criticise in this, but one he doesn't mention is the effect on the "Comprehensive and Efficient" duty of every local authority to provide a library service.  Suffolk County Council may well be able to provide the service through this mechanism, although I suspect the volunteer run libraries will gradually or perhaps speedily go downhill, but what happens if either Society or the various groups go bust?  Suffolk will still have a legal obligation to provide a library service, so it may well find itself forced to pick up the pieces, and bail out its creation.  In other words, Suffolk look as if they are continuing to carry the risk, but they no longer control the service _ the worst of both worlds.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Libraries in Timbuktu

A reminder that other parts of the world have bigger problems than we do comes from Timbuktu.  The manuscript collections in Timbuktu are a hugely important part of Muslim culture.  Before Vasco de Gama, it was the centre of an enormously wealthy African kingdom, so the collection there is one of the most important collections of medieval manuscripts in the world.  It is rather like the British Musuem being under threat of looting.

Moberly Sports Centre Consultation

Westminster have started a consultation on their proposals to rebuild the Moberly Sports Centre.  Some pictures can now be found here.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Taxing the Super Rich

As so often with this government, there is plenty to be appalled at in its proposals on cutting Tax Avoidence.  There is the cynicism that the proposals are simply designed to put George Osborne back on the front foot after his failed budget, there is the hypocrisy of a group of tax avoiding ministers inveighing against tax avoidance, and there is the incoherence of clamping down on charitable giving from a government that has championed the "Big Society". 

Nonetheless, does it not occur to the charities etc. protesting, that if the very rich are simply donating as a means of tax avoidence there might not be much sincerity in their philanthropy?  Perhaps things like universities might be paid for out of old fashioned taxes instead?

Ken Livingstone and the Congestion Charge

A little noticed change in Ken Livingstone's position is that he has pledged not to bring back the congestion charge extension.  When the extension was mooted, we got a lot of work paid for by TfL to mitigate the extra traffic.  Most spectacularly the junction with Scrubs Lane in front of Brunel Court got a much needed safety scheme.  Now we appear to have benefited from the extra investment, and ended up having none of the extra traffic.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Willesden Social Club

I have been seeking to clear up the derelict land on the corner of Rucklidge Avenue and Park Parade for a long time.  Although the derelict buildings have been cleared, the site continues to attract anti social behaviour.  I understand that the ownership of the land has changed and there is a prospect of some kind of retail/residential development.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Green Man Harlesden High Street

I had been expecting to go to the Planning Committee site visit this morning, but it turned out that no site visit was planned for the Green Man application.  I was surprised by this, as it seems to be an important application, where it would be useful for the Planning Committee to see things for itself.  Therefore I and the other Kensal Green councillorsa have requested that the Committee defer the application for a site visit.

For those who don't know it, the Green Man was a traditional pub in the Harlesden Conservation Area.  Some years ago, many of its historic features were ripped out and the upper floors given over to substandard housing.  Since then, it has been associated with a number of refuse and anti-social behaviour problems. The application before the committee is to restore many of its historic features, and convert the housing element to a smaller number of better quality flats.  This may represent a good way of solving the building's long standing issues, but I have not yet seen the detailed plans.


Actually, the Committee deferred deciding the application in order to conduct a site visit.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Animal Welfare in Brent

I was surprised to learn during my walkabout with the Animal Welfare officer in Welsh Harp the other day that many local authorities have no animal welfare officers at all.  They have a contractor to pick up strays, and that is it.  The reason is that the service is non-statutory, and in an effort to meet their other needs, some Boroughs like Barnet and Westminster have cut it altogether.  This is a pity as it provides several useful services in protecting the welfare of animals, enforcing our new limits on the number of dogs you can walk in a park, and supporting the BARK programme. 

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Wendover Road Again

There was a good turnout at the Wendover Road meeting this morning, although the walkabout did not go much beyond the car park.  Many of the issues have been raised before.  We agreed to look at doing some more publicity around environmental issues and link it to the already agreed clean up day, but as I often emphasise, there is no panacea for these issues.

Wendover Road, NW10

Today, I will be in Wendover Road with officers and Veolia to see what we might be able to about the high rating of dumping and littering in this group of streets.  s a result of resident protests, we upped the street cleaning with an extra litter pick, but I fear areas like this are an intractable problem.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

BARK and Brent Council

Later on, I will be joining a dog warden team in order to get a better idea of how our animal welfare services work, including our BARK scheme.

Former Kensal Rise Library Reverts to All Souls College

All Souls College has been arguing since the collapse of the Court challenge in February that the former Kensal Rise and Cricklewood Libraries have reverted to them.  Brent Council has been going through the somewhat esoteric law covering the issue, and has now decided not to contest All Souls' demands.  This means that the relevant decision maker for deciding the future of the buildings is not Brent Council, but rather All Souls College , Oxford.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Charles Dickens in Brent Libraries

It is worth catching some of the Charles Dickens bicentennial activity in Brent Libraries.  I think it is one of the highest quality promotions that Brent Libraries have had for some time, and a good advert for our Libraries Transformation Project, although I share not be re-reading Bleak House, as it is too reminiscent of the recent litigation.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Equalities and Judicial Review

In my post on Surrey yesterday, I forgot to point out what I think the most interesting missed opportunity of the case.

The reason that we have such a wave of decisions relating to the Equality Act is that no one has given clear guidance on what "due regard" is.  When questioned in the Brent case, Helen Mountfield QC accepted that there had to be some form of proportionality, although in the Higher Court Dinah Rose QC denied it.  Dinah Roses's position (rejected by the Court of course) was hat an authority had to consider every imaginable permutation of the eight equality strands _ an impossible task.  She also put forward a modified version of this argument that this should only apply to "important" decisions, which begs the question of what is an important decision. 

Elisabeth Laing QC, who represented Brent in that case and Surrey CC more recently, has argued for a stricter view of the Wednesbury criteria.  This would suggest that a court only make a decision on whether due regard had been paid if the decision maker had been manifestly irrational.  This would be a significant raising of the bar on the current situation, where Courts seem to be picking over each assessment retrospectively at the invitation of a claimant. 

The Surrey case sidestepped this question as the judge ruled on the issue using both the argument that the "due regard" had not been paid and that the Wednesbury principle applied _ that Surrey had been irrational.  Until this gets sorted out, there are likely to be many more judicial reviews.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Surrey Judicial Review

I have been interested to see some of the reaction to the Judicial Review of Surrey County Council's library plans.  People seem to be picking on two aspects mistakenly.

Firstly, although the judge has ruled Surrey's decision as "unlawful" he has not yet decided what to do about it.  In fact, the unlawful element is that the Surrey Executive did not have any assessment of equality needs regarding the use of volunteers at one particular meeting.  That is a very narrow ground for quashing.  It would not surprise me if Surrey simply go back to the next hearing showing how they would train volunteers, and ask the judge to allow them to go ahead.

The second is that some people seem to have assumed that the judge is objecting to volunteer run libraries.  In fact, the fact that Surrey's proposal is for volunteer libraries does not relate to its unlawful nature.  It is merely incidental.  Still it is interesting that so many people are taking it to make an objection to volunteers, since there is clearly a lot of hostility to the idea of replacing paid staff with volunteers.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Barnhill By Election Candidates

The list of candidates in the Barnhill by election has been published, without a Liberal Democrat.  I have already heard suggestions that this is a deliberate tactic to try to help the Tories win.  Personally, I don't think one should underestimate the Liberal Democrats' sheer ineptitude.  However, if it is all a cunning plot, it further emphasises the hollowness of the Liberal Democrats' supposed distancing from the Tory government, and the extent to which Sarah Teather is simply a Tory government minister.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Shahrar Ali's Chutzpah

I pointed out last month that Brent Greens have not been consistent in their approach to candidates living in the constituency.

Now I find that Shahrar Ali himself has the chutzpah to criticise other candidates for living outside the GLA constituency.  What is the difference between other candidates living outside the constituency, and himself living outside Camden when he stood in Bloomsbury in 2006?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Election Fraud

The Electoral Commission has confirmed that the UK does not have widespread election fraud.  Frankly, given how easy it can be to break election law and how election campaigns re inevitably partisan, I am surprised more offences are not reported.  What is more worrying is that the move to individual registratiion will embed an unfairness in the system, where large parts of the population will be unrepresented.  In places like Brent, I can imagine that meaning the majority of voters coming off the register.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Legal Challenges in Local Government

The Equality Act, combined with the local government financial crisis engineered by Eric Pickles, has led to a slew of court cases across the countries.  The latest is a challenge to Surrey County Council, which has interesting implications for the "Big Society" as you can read here.  Essentially when a public authority makes a political decision that a particular group doesn't like, a choice is made to use the Courts to try to obstruct the decision.  The Equality Act is particularly useful in this regard because it is fairly new legislation (coming into force in April 2011), and it makes Equality assessments far more complicated by in troducing multiple new trends.   Since authorities have to pay "due regard" not only to each individual strand but also to possible combinations, one can construct at least a theoritical case against more or less any decision.  Whether this actually helps promote Equality is another matter.


Yes, the Equality Act came into force on 5 April 2011.  This was only six days before Brent Council decided on its Libraries Transformation Project.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Ealing Road Library Reopening

The reopening of Ealing Road Library on Saturday went really well, I thought.  I arrived just as the Bookstart Bear was leaving, but it was incredibly busy both with smaller children and older people.  Our head librarian once wrote that she wanted libraries to be "joyous" places.  Ealing Road certainly was on Saturday.

The IT suite has many more computers, and the library has been reconfigured to make it easier to combine a quiet study area with noisier events in the front part.  I also hadn't realises how extensive the garden at the back is.  If funding could be identified, that could be further developed.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Ward Working at the Harlesden ACF

Ward Working priorities will be on the agenda at the next Harlesden Area Consultative Forum, which is on 10 April at All Souls Church in Harlesden High Street.  Remember the budget for each ward has been doubled this year.