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Friday, 31 August 2012

Reducing Carbon Emissions in Construction at Brent Civic Centre

As part of their rather strange campaign against the Brent Council Civic Centre, members of the Green Party have criticised the carbon costs of constructing the building.  Of course, they don't try to source any figures for this, merely assert it.

In fact as part of the BREEAM process, the construction is monitored to minimise carbon emissions.  Hence materials are locally sourced wherever possible, and Skanska employ sophisticated building techniques to minimise "embodied carbon".  For example, the concrete is a mix of Portland cement and blast furnace slag that reduces the embodied carbon by about a third.

As far as I can see, Brent Green Party would have preferred Brent Council to concentrate resources on maintaining as big a building portfolio as possible regardless of the suitability of the buildings, or the higher rate of carbon emissions.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

EBooks Transforming Public Libraries

Dan Jarvis has quite rightly demanded a report into the effect of ebooks on public libraries in the UK, but I am not sure that people have realised just how dramatic the change is in both speed and scale. 

Physical sales have declined in the last years as ebook sales have gone up by 366%.  Although ebooks still only account for 6% of the market at present, maintaining anything like that rate of growth for say two or three years would mean that the majority of books sold in this country will be ebooks by 2015.  In other words, printed books are likely to be restricted to niche areas of the market within (say) five years.  I would imagine that there will also be a spreading of ereaders, along with a drop in prices as more units are sold.

At present, it would be entirely possible for public libraries to be cut off from what will soon be the majority of book titles.  There is no compulsion to offer free ebook lending, as I pointed out a while ago.  Indeed only a minority of authorities offer ebook lending at the moment in England, either free or for a fee (although increasing numbers are planning to).  However, there is currently no compulsion to do so, and all authorities are being hit by the current government's programme of savage cuts, which forces them to concentrate resources on what they are obliged to do.  Unless free ebook lending becomes part of the "comprehensive and efficient" library duty, public libraries will simply wither away. 

Over time, I would expect publishers to increasingly publish in electronic format only, which would lead to a shrinking of the number of titles available in print, further hollowing out library services that don't lend electronically.

Thus, the outcome from the ebook taskforce may decide whether this country retains libraries as a free lending facility or whether they go the same way as books from Boots.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A BREEAM Outstanding Civic Centre, Economic Effects

I promised some more detailed  descriptions of the Brent Council Civic Centre, so I thought one might as well start with the wider economic benefits.  One of the conditions of BREEAM status is locally sourced materials, so local companies are benefiting ina very direct way.  When I attended the topping out ceremony, the SKANSKA representative pointed out that the site employed residents living in 20 of Brent's 21 wards.

Additionally, the smaller companies that have unsuccessfully bid for contracts now have a better understanding of the language of public procurements, so they should be better placed to win contracts in future.

In terms of the overall economy of Wembley, the Civic Centre will help to contribute to the flow of activity throughout the day.  The Stadium is both the blessing and curse of Wembley.  It attracts huge numbers of visiters, but only when events are on.  The Civic Centre will help to attract people all the year round, which will help local retailers and therefore employment.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Gove and Teather Cause Free School Chaos

Rather stunned to see that Michael Gove, along with his underling Sarah Teather, have just pulled the plug on a free school in Bradford a week before the start of term.  I assume the children who thought they had places there are now going to be passed to Bradford Council, who will be expected to find places for them in local authority schools.  The irresponsibility of this government in messing around with childrens education in this way beggers belief.

Bulky Waste Re-use

WRAP reports that a huge proportion of bulky waste can be recycled or re-used.  Brent Council is eager to do this.  That is why we are part of the West London Waste Authority pilot for a Reward Club, and why the current Labour administration reversed the Tory/Liberal Democrat decision to impose a £25 charge for collecting bulky waste.

Another Innovation in Brent Libraries

Brent Libraries have come up with another innovative scheme.  This focuses on intergenerational work and new technology.

Legal Interpretations.

Some interesting thoughts on legal intepretation from America can be found here.  The increasing fashion for attempting to overturn public policy decisions by legal means makes this subject not just one for lawyers.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Personal Carbon Budgets and the Green Party

I referred a few days ago to the aspirant Green Party Leader who drives a gas guzzling Jaguar, as interviewed in The Independent

I found her reply on the specific point very disappointing.  She makes a comparison with electric cars and argues that they are expensive to buy, do not have an adequate infrastructure and may rely on electricity from coal fired power stations anyway.  All reasonable points, but not an explanation as to why she does not drive a more fuel efficient (perhaps even a hybrid) car.  A more fuel efficient vehicle would allow her to produce fewer carbon emissions but still travel in a way that lots of other people find perfectly acceptable.

What would be more interesting would be a wider look at the implications of this kind of thing.  A traditional environmentalist view is that all emissions should be kept to the absolue minimum, but it is in my view reasonable (and certainly practically inevitable) that people will take into account things like cost and convenience.

From time to time, people have flirted with the idea of a personal carbon budget.  You get a certain accepted level of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, and create a budget around that.  So for example, you might offset having a fuel inefficent car with limited air travel, or better insulation, or vegetarian eating habits for example.  In a free society, it is certainly worth thinking about an option like this since it would allow individuals to preserve freedom over how they run their lives whilst nonetheless tackling climate change.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Brent Council Civic Centre Yet Again

Those who want to check on the ongoing progress of Brent Council's civic centre can do so here.  Martin Francis also has some photos here.

As usual he also has a string of criticisms and misleading statements about the building.  I have previously explained the various advantages of the Civic Centre.  As usual, Martin shows little interest in the environmental advantages of what will be one of the few BREEAM outstanding buildings in Europe.  Perhaps, I should leave detailed descriptions of those for other postings.

Instead, he concentrates on suggesting that the Civic Centre is extravagant by referring to the net outgoings without mentioning the savings.  The savings amount to between three and four million pounds a year.  In other words, had we chosen to go down the preferred Green Party route, we would have had to find additional annual savings equivalent to roughly double Brent Council's entire parks budget every year.  I doubt whether Martin would relish find alternative service cuts to make up those kinds of numbers.

The savings come from the sale of two major capital assets that Brent owns _ the old Town Hall and Brent House, as well as no longer having to pay rent, utilities and delapidations on various buildings (like, say, Chesterfield House) that the Council leases.

As well as the financial and environmental benefits, the Civic Centre is also driving changes in working practices across the Council, and provides a major contribution to the regeneration of Wembley.  I am sure Martin knows all this; he just likes to repeat his attack lines without regard to how often they are shot down.

Watching these arguments constantly shuffling forward is a bit like watching zombies in a George Romero film.


Martin's comment below seems to indicate he does not comprehend what is meant by a net saving.  The £3 to £4 million saving is the annual saving after the cost of the new centre is deducted from the savings made by moving out of all the then redundent office buildings i.e. it is a net saving.  This is such a common concept that I find it difficult to see how he could not be familiar with it.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Artist in Residence at Kilburn Library

Brent Council is advertising an opportunity for an artist in the visual arts to be artist in residence at the shortly to be re-opened Kilburn Library.  This kind of thing has been tried in other Councils before, although no in Brent.  It is the kind of thing that many Councils will now be cutting back on as they try to make the necessary cuts under George Osborne's austerity agenda.  If it works, it would be interesting if we could extend it beyond the visual arts to the artform most closely associated with libraries _ writing.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Brent Council's Falling Carbon Emissions

It has been a while since I updated on Brent Council's carbon emissions.  The Labour administration set a tough target of a 25% fall by 2014.  As far as I know our Tory/Liberal Democrat predecessors had no target at all.

In 2009/2010, Brent Council had emissions of 34,421 tons (carbon dioxide equivalent). In 2011/2012 this had fallen to 30,821.  The biggest fall in emissions has been through the Council proper, which has seen tonnage go down from 9,255 to 6,988 over that period.  Schools have a smaller drop from 17,215 to 16,070.  Hopefully, this will improve as schools become more aware of the financial benefits of lower energy use. 

The most hopeful thing is that we have yet to move into Brent's new Civic Centre, which as a BREEAM Outstanding building, will have a far lower rate of energy use than our current portfolio.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Park House

Last night's planning committee agreed to extend the lifetime of the permission on Park House. However, during the hearing the applicant's agent claimed that work had already started on the previous permission.  It was unclear whether this constituted a"material start" and whether the possible building work is therefore under the old permission or the one granted last night.  It does, however, mean that a site that has blighted that part of the town centre for years might finally be put to productive use.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The George Osborne Disaster

Contemplating the government deficit figures, I wonder whether George Osborne is the worst office holder in the eight hundred year history of the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Planning Committee Tonight

For the first time since joining the Executive, I will be a planning committee member tonight as I am substituting for another councillor.  There are two big applications in Kilburn and Wembley where redevelopment is still going on despite the recession.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Green Leadership (or the lack of it)

I read an article in the Independent about the contest for the national Green Party leadership yesterday. What struck me was that only one of the four contenders mentioned was quoted on environmental issues, and then only to defend herself for driving a Jaguar.

This makes me think that our local Brent Greens are not the outliers I had assumed. They also seem to be uninterested, or even antagonistic to, environmental objectives.  In the past what one might loosely term Brent's green activists have attacked the new Civic Centre, emissions based parking, the increase in Brent's recycling, efforts to spread messages around climate change by the Borough. And so on.

Perhaps this is more common within their movement than I had thought.  Just as well for them that political parties are not covered by the Trade Descriptions Act.

Brent Executive

The Brent Council Executive went forward quite straightforwardly tonight. Cllr Lorber made several objections. We seem to grant him much greater indulgence than he did anyone else when he was Council Leader.

 Nonetheless, all reports went through without amendment.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Brent Council Executive Tonight

Brent Council will be holding an Executive tonight covering the new school build and the new food growing strategy as well as some quite interesting stuff around Meanwhile leases. Meanwhile lease are designed to prevent the blight of boarded up shops that you see in some areas, and are a mechanism that Brent is seeking to use to blunt some of the effect of George Osborne's recession.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Problems at Seneca

There has been plenty of publicity about problems at the Seneca recycling plant.  The Environment Agency is the responsible regulator and they have issued instructions to sort the problems out.  Three areas have been involved and there has been a temporary stoppage in the waste processing, but I understand that it is in the process of being sorted out.

Saturday, 18 August 2012


There is another post on the supposed inevitable shrinking of the state here.  What interests me is not the gloomy prediction around the Coalition government's destruction of local services, but the comments. They all seem to fall into pre-existing categories of thought. Almost as if the authors had not read the piece that they are commenting on.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Dollis Hill House Almost Complete

I went to see the new structure that replaces Dollis Hill House in Gladstone Park a couple of days ago.  It has not yet had the soft landscaping, but you can see what it will look like.  Once a cafe is installed in the Stables building next door, it has the potential to become a real attraction for that area.  Much better than the derelict ruin that it has been for almost twenty years.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Olympic Parking

Before the Olympics, there were dire predictions about the Olympic Route Network and how disruptive it would be. In fact, it all seems to have turned out very well.  I was recently told that Brent issued only two parking tickets on its Olympic lanes during the games period.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Brent School Expansion

Next Monday's Executive has a hefty report on expanding Brent's school places.  The most pressing issue is primary school places, where we have shortages across the Borough.  However, there is a rapidly looming problem of secondary school places.  Not only do we not have funding for secondary places at the moment (following Sarah Teather abolishing Building Schools for the Future), we also don't have a clear site to build on.  I well recall some of the desperate suggestions made for sites when the Liberal Democrats were trying to delay or block the ARK Academy.  Thank goodness that school eventually got built.  Otherwise we would be short by an additional 1700 places.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012


Now that the Olympics are over I feel some relief that Brent didn't see any major difficulties in hosting the events.  It is a tribute to the planning and professionalism of our officers.  It also contrasts with the debacle of G4S, something i hope government ministers reflect on next time they unthinkingly priase the private sector at the expense of the public.

Monday, 13 August 2012

ASB Training

I was interested in this report suggesting training people in how to handle low level anti-social behaviour.  It certainly sounds like a good idea in principle, although I wonder how one would make i work in practice.

Willesden parking

Martin Francis has been told by Sainsburys that they have no obligation to provide parking to any but their own customers. My understanding is that the Willesden Sainsburys has a planning obligation to provide car parking to Willesden Town Centre under a deal originally laid down by planning in the 1980s.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Food Growing Report

Next week's Executive will contain a report on our proposed food growing and allotment startegy.  This started in opposition, when we discovered that the waiting list for allotments appeared to be growing at an alarming rate.  Taking a closer look there appeared to be a double counting problem.  The new strategy now goes beyond traditional allotments to include forms of communal gardening as well.

Saturday, 11 August 2012


A couple of comments have come In on the reverted clause on the former library in Kensal Rise. There appears to be an assumption that Brent Council could simply use the building for any purpose.

This was never the case.

All Souls College have always been clear that if the building ceased to be used as a library, it would automatically revert to them.  As I understand it, their view is that the building automatically reverted on 3 February. They wrote to theCouncil shortly after to that effect.

The building is now being considered as a possible school site. Had it been considered prior to the reverter triggering, my understanding is that All Souls would have objected, as they did to the proposed children centre in Cricklewood Library about five years ago.

Update on Library Buildings

Those who read Brent Council Executive papers, a fairly select group I imagine, may have spotted that the report on school places published yesterday included a reference to the former Kensal Rise library building.  Council officers are exploring the possibility of using it to expand Princess Frederica school just the other side of the bridge.  Of course, there is no guarantee that this will happen as All Souls College may want to dispose of it elsewhere.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Further Details

My post of Monday appears to have stirred some interest.  People may be interested in the text itself:

"The purpose of the bid is not to provide a branch library.

Our proposal was to provide funding for refurbishment so that we could offer a number of services to the community, not least the provision of a free comunity space (with all the attendant benefits that such an environment can provide).

We particularly want to engage with children and young people offering them a place to work and/or study and to have resources to enable them to access education and employment.

This is a community initiative which has examined what it thinks this community needs and would like to be instrumental in meeting that need.

It goes beyond the provision of a council run small branch library."

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Elearning in Brent Libraries

Justin Tomlinson MP recently suggested that libraries should force anyone who wanted to borrow an ebook to physically go to the library, which I thought a pretty crazy idea. Brent is trying to develop its online offer in a better managed way.  We will shortly make about 500 elearning courses in all sorts of subjects available via the Brent Libraries website.  These will be accessible to anyone with a library card and an Internet connection, including the Internet connection in a Brent library. That strikes me as a way cof spreading learning that actually uses the advantages of new technology rather than tries to bend it to old ways of working.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Manufacturing in London

The Guardian has an interesting reminder of London's manufacturing prowess, which seldom features  in accounts of the city. Whether the suggested role of local government in promoting manufacturing is likely to succeed is more open to doubt.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Local Government Pay in Brent

When we setting the budget in the first year of the administration, it was often suggested that the best way to make the required savings was to cut the pay of all Council staff. We didn't go down that route, but it is still occasionally suggested so it is useful to explain why it is a bad idea.

Firstly, there are practical difficulties. People often suggest that it should only be the most senior staff whose pay is cut, but this has the twin problem that that would not save more than a small proportion of the budget, and it would look like victimisation (which is illegal). Councils that gone down this route have therefore made all their staff reapply for their jobs at a lower rate.  The trouble with this is that you are incentivising your best staff to go to other employers, and you also damaging people's morale.  When this was done in Southampton, the Tory administration there also had to contend with bitter industrial action.

However, the effect that would most worry me would be the inevitable demoralisation of staff.  Since it is the staff who deliver all the services, devaluing their contribution would lead to worse services and the possibility of a downward spiral of decline.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Dramatic Change in Kensal Rise

In a remarkable turnaround the Friends of Kensal Rise Library have now written to Brent Councilsaying that they do not wish to run a library at the All Souls College owned building in Bathurst Gardens. How odd is that, after almost two years of campaigning for a library at that very site?

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Judicial Review in Doncaster

I am intrigued by the recent decision in Doncaster, where a Court has upheld the right of the elected Mayor to ignore a budget amendment passed by the overwhelming majority of councillors.  If they aren't able to even pass a budget, I find it hard to imagine what the function of councillors in a Mayoral system is.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Well Done LIFT

I am delighted that LIFT, which used to be known as Brent Homeless Users Group, has been recognised with its programme with volunteers.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Trees in Brent

I recently had a bit of casework removing epicormic growth round street trees.  This is where a lime tree has horizontal shoots coming out of the trunk, often obstructing the pavement.  This caused me to find out that Brent is in the top quartile in London for the density of its street tree coverage.  Apparently, we have no fewer than 27,000 street trees.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Harlesden Library Celebrates Jamaican Independence

Harlesden Library is holding a day celebrating Jamaican independence on 6 August.  The 6 August marks the fiftieth anniversery of Jamaican independence.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Park House Application

Park House, which is the derelict building opposite the Salvation Army on Manor Park Road, got planning permision to be developed as flats some time ago.  A new developer has put in an application to extend the permission beyond the usual expiry date.  This is a power that was introduced under the last Labour government as part of an effort to encourage developemtns despite the recession.