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Sunday, 30 September 2012

Brian Coleman Gets Away

The appalling Brian Coleman has had another run in with the Standards system, as reported in the Standard.  Unfortunately the new Tory government has effectively emasculated the Standards system, so that it no longer has any sanctions for non compliance, making the whole process rather pointless.

Steve Reed Response

Steve Reed has written a response to those calling for a 1980s style response to the cuts here.  I am shocked that Lambeth is still paying off £20 million in interest dating back from those times. I had no idea that the consequences were so far reaching. As he says, those who do the loony left posturing are not those who pay the price.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Brent Population Growth

The Guardian reports on the increasing population of East London.  Brent has also seen a massive increase in population.  The 2011 census shows a population figure of 312,200, an increase of more than 58,000 compared to 2001.  That is enormous, and makes us the fifth biggest Borough in London, with all sorts of spending pressures as a result.

Ebook Lending

I found the Channel 4 broadcast on ebook lending the other day too short to be informative, but they now have a longer item online (appropriately).  Some of the comments on the piracy issue are interesting.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Willesden Social Club Update

I had a recent conversation to confirm that the development of the old Willesden Social Club is going ahead.  This site has been a centre for anti social behaviour for so many years and I have campaigned for it to be sorted for so long, I shall be delighted when it finally comes to fruition.

Legal Actions and Planning

Eric Pickles is eager to encourage people to sue their local Councils over planning.  He seems to think that relaxing planning restrictions will be popular; much as he assumed alternate weekly collections would be unpopular.  I suspect, however, that more people will find new developments objectionable than will want to build them.  It also strikes me as being rather beside the point. The economy is in recession because of lack of demand, not because we have had planning laws all these decades.  Still, one should not expect Eric Pickles to want to be confused by the facts.

Word up in Brent

Word Up had its first event at Kilburn Library last night.  Unfortunately, I had to attend the Planning Committee, but the programme has events at Brent libraries throughout the Autumn.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Planning Committee Again

I find myself attending Planning Committee again tonight.  One of the cases coming up is for outdoor gym equipment in King Edward VII Park, Wembley.  This is the first of several sites that have been put forward for outdoor gym equipment around the Borough.

Anglesey and Local Democracy

Anglesey has had its powers returned to it after a break down in governance there.  Anglesey is a salutary warning to any authority that try's to set a deficit budget.  Ultimately the government can do as the Welsh government did in Anglesey, and simply appoint commissioners to run the authority because the local councillors are incapable.  That is likely to lead to short term budgeting, longer term disruption and a democratic deficit.  Not outcomes with any appeal beyond a tiny number of people on the loony left.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Technological change and Town Centres

Some concerning research on Town centres reported by the BBC.  Coping with new technology is a huge challenge for all sorts of parts of society, but I don't believe this is widely recognised.

Red Tape Returns

At the same time as claiming that red tape is holding back the private sector, the Tory/liberal Democrat coalition appears to be increasing red tape in the public sector. It has drastically broadened the definition of which decisions need a written description of why they were made.  Imagine the kind of hullabaloo that be made by the same ministers if private sector companies had to do this kind of thing.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Well Done Brent Parks

I am delighted to see the success of Brent Parks in the most recent London inBloom awards.  Mapesbury Dell got a gold award in the small park category.  Fryer Country Park got a SilverGilt award in the country park category.  Brent parks as a whole got third prize in the biodiversity award for the changes we have recently made to bedding in a more sustainable way.  Overall, Brent got a Silver Gilt award in the large city category.

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Rise of Ukip

Yesterday,s Observer suggested that Ukip have overtaken the Liberal Democrats for the first time, making the party of Nick Clegg Britain's fourth party.  That is no great surprise given the way the Liberal Democrats have turned their backs on their former supporters to join the current exceptionally righting government.  However, it might not just be a blip but become permanent.

If Ukip are seen as more credible by pollsters, it means that they are likely to become one of the party names used to prompt interviewees.  That may appear minor, but it will almost certainly lead to Ukip automatically seeing their poll ratings rise, and therefore being taken more seriously. That means more influence for Ukip's anti-European ideas and probably lots more people in the TOry Party calling for a shift (even further) to the right.

If Ukip can overcome the traditional weaknesses of smaller parties in translating votes into seats, it might mean that they hold the balance of power in any future hung Parliament.  That looks like leading to a majority for some very rightwing and nationalistic policies in future.

Harlesden in The Guardian

The Harlesden and Willesden Junction area has appeared in the Guardian.  The fact that this kind of article can appear these days is an encouraging sign.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Ebook Prices

I note that there is an ebook price war going on with some prices as low as 20 pence for a novel.  Presumably, this is the same publishing industry that resists allow libraries to lend ebooks on the ground that it would price them out of the market.

Cutting Library Opening Hours

One of the objections we had to our libraries plans was the suggestion that it would be better to cut opening hours instead.  We didn't go down that route, but an analysis has been done on Hertfordshire Council which did. It demonstrates how falls in usage follow from cutting opening hours, although there is some people do seem to alter their patterns of access to suit the new hours.  Of course, the issues around library services in Hertfordshire are quite different to Brent, not least in terms of public transport.  But I think it illustrates how budget reductions are bound to affect services, and therefore the important thing is to analyse the best way to minimise them.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Tax Evasion

The Economist, of all sources, does a good job of exposing the legerdemain of confusing tax in general with in come taxes.  The article focuses on America, but really this confusion was pioneered by Mrs Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe in the early 1980s.

Basically, a successful confidence trick is pulled off where income taxes (inherently progressive) but paid by all but the poorest are defined as "real tax".  Other taxes, like VAT, are ignored despite everyone paying a flat rate and the tax base being broader. Hence the poor are stereotyped as parasites.

Willesden Library Lab

The work done at the Willesden Library lab, based in a vacant space at Willesden Green Library Centre deserves to be better known.. Here is a short video about it.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Election Petitions

The Electoral Commission is calling for the law on election petitions to be reformed.  It is not clear whether they want to make it harder or easier. 

I attended the Court hearing in the only case that Brent has had of an election petition in the past decade _ that contesting Liberal Democrat councillor Pawan Gupta in Dudden Hill in 2006.  It certainly gave me the impression that electoral law was less than straightforward.  I recall the Judge at one point asked Gavin Millar QC for references to precedent.  The response came that there might well be precedents on both sides of the point.   Election law seems to have developed in quite a haphazard way partly through Common Law and partly via occasional and isolated bits of legislation.

I suppose that is precisely the kind of thing that Harold Wilson set up the Law Commission to sort out. 

In any case, even if the cost of challenging is reduced, I suspect that challenges will will remain rare, as even if a new election is called the challenger is often unsuccessful.  This was true of Pawan Gupta's case.  He lost in Court, forcing a by election, but won the by election in 2007 by a narrow margin.  The successful challenge by a Liberal Democrat to Phil Woolas in 2010 also led to a by election in Oldham and Saddleworth, which Debbie Abrahams wn for Labour by a fair margin.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Healthy Eating in Brent Schools

There are reports of cutbacks in Breakfast Clubs, as well as the apread of junk food in free schools.  This is worrying as the only way to get funding for a new school is to accept it being a free school, and even existing schools are increasingly becoming free schools. 

In Brent one of the principles that we are insisting on for any new free school to be built will be a committment to providing healthy food in its catering.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

3D Printing

Thinking more of the 3D printing issues that I mentioned in my post on Monday, the implications for society at large could be quite dramatic.

Of course, the present technology remains primitive.  One imagine that it will develop over time to allow a greater variety of materials.    It presumably would only apply to simpler products.  In the video a bike is mentioned, but I wonder how good a bike it is.  A high quality bike needs a number of different components to be fitted together, and I would have thought it would remain a lot easier to buy one rather than try to make one yourself.  However, lower end manufacturing should probably see this kind of thing as a real threat as making, say, a coathook would become something anyone could do.

More interesting, would be machines that allowed a greater degree of customisation so that you could alter the designs.  John Ruskin famously denounced modern manufacturing (i.e. Victorian) for being soulless and mechanical compared to workmanship in a medieval cathedral.  Perhaps this kind of mass customisation might restore a greater element of creativity?

Death of Localism

Peter Hetherington writes on the death of localism for the Guardian here.  In fact, I suspect localism was never more than a slogan for the government, intended to localise blame for their programme of budget cuts on anyone but themselves.  Eric Pickles attempt to micromanage all kinds of local decisions such as frequency of bin collection or the even the exact wording of letters sent by councils to council tenants show his cast of mind.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Redefining Libraries

Hidden away in yesterday's letter from Maria Miller confirming that there is no need for an Enquirey into Brent library services is the statement that the number of PCs in Brent libraries is not "a relevant matter under the 1964 Act".  This is quite startling.

During the High Court action, both the claimants and the Council regarded the provision of IT services in libraries as an intrinsic part of the library service.  The judge made no ruling on that as it was not brought up as a matter of dispute. The SoS now appears to be saying that not only ebooks are not part of the service, but also any electronically transmitted materials.  This is effectively legally defining libraries out of existence, and a far greater threat to public library services than any number of building closures.

It underlines the need for a new legal definition to bring the 1964 Act into the modern age.

Brent Civic Centre Rated

Brent Council's Civic Centre has achieved its BREEAM Outstanding rating in fine style.  It is the greenest public office building in the UK, according to the BREEAM system.

Monday, 17 September 2012

No Library Enquiry in Brent

The DCMS has written to Brent Council confirming that there is no need for a public enquiry into library provision in Brent.

Challenge Close Again

As well as the Kilburn Library opening, I went to the consultation event at Challenge Close on Saturday.  It was fairly well attended, and a number of people expressed opinions, but I think the project needs to solidify around a proposal fairly soon.  The next difficulty will be obtaining funding.

More Library Speculation

Quite the most mind blowing piece of speculation I have seen on the future of public libraries I have seen can be found here.  I doubt the stuff about prohibiting 3D printers by law, but I can imagine libraries as technical instruction centres. It would be an extraordinary transition back to analogue learning and demonstration when for decades knowledge transference has been increasingly digitalised.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Separatism Challenges

It seems open to question whether a separated Scotland would be part of the EU automatically.  This raises all sorts of problems for Mr Salmond. What conditions would the EU put on entry. For instance, would Scotland be forced to join the Euro? Would the remainder of the UK use EU membership as a lever to extract concessions?

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Adele Parks at Kilburn Library

Adele Parks has kindly agreed to be the guest speaker at the launch day of the refurbished Kilburn Library today.  She should be there round about 1.30.  Incidentally, the latest figures for library visits show only a 4% drop in August this year compared to August last year. Many people will find this hard to believe, as they assume that having 12 libraries last year must mean a bigger drop now that we have only six libraries this year.  Still more striking, Kilburn Library was not open at all during that time because of all the building work, so the comparison is actually between 5 and 12.  It does indicate that one of the essential principles of the Libraries Transformation Project was correct. People will travel to a library if they think the offer is good enough.


A friend of mine has been urging me to take up twitter, but I see little point in it. The messages are so short that only an accomplished writer of haikus could convey any real meaning in them.  However, it is undeniable that many people use it. Can anyone explain to me why?

Friday, 14 September 2012

A Barnet Mystery

I must admit that I am somewhat mystified by Barnet Council's approach to squatters in Friern Barnet library.  They decided to close the library. They have no objections to volunteer libraries in principle, as they support one in Hampstead Garden Suburb, but they felt those who wanted to start a community library in Friern Barnet weren't up to it. A group of people have entered the building and now occupy it. Barnet's reaction was to go to them and suggest that they might start a community library where the local resident group were not suitable.

I am not making a partisan point. I just find the whole sequence of events very strange.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Brent Council Procurement

I went to some training about Council procurement yesterday, largely because the new Social Value Act could easily involve Councils in yet more legal action if we are not careful. However, it also threw up a number of interesting ideas about promoting the local economy. I have always suspected that many people have over optimistic expectations in this area, but there are still a number of things we can do. To make it work, we would need to look beyond the Borough boundaries.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Recovering Costs in Brent Parks

I will have just one report at the next Brent Executive, entitled "Recovering Costs in Brent Parks".  This is really about ensuring that people who want to hold events in a Brent Park are clear about the various safety requirements and have thought through the other things you need to consider when organising an event (some of which can involve thousands of people).  The actual fees that the Council will charge are deliberately low so as not to discourage people from event attendence.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Kilburn Library

Here is a picture of the renovated Kilburn Library.  I will try to get hold of some better quality pictures to post within the next few days.

Yesterday's Full Council

Yesterday's full Council meeting was inconsequential, but notable for one reason.  It is the only time I can recall a Council meeting being so disrupted by protesters that it had to be moved to another room.  The protest was about some housing casework that was not even on the agenda of the meeting.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Refurbished Library in Salusbury Road

Work on refurbishing the library on Salusbury Road in Queens Park is now complete, meaning that four of our six libraries have had a make over since 2008.  The plans for Willesden Green are still under development, and the new Wembley Library will open in June next year.  The official launch of the Salusbury Road library will be on 15 September.

Of course, we would not have a refurbished library in Salusbury Road if the various "library campaigners" had had their way.  Instead we would have had a serious of run down buildings with greatly diminished opening hours and services.

Public Libraries News Post

Public Libraries News has published a post from me about our libraries policy. It can be found here. 

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Closing the Olympics

This afternoon Gladstone Park will host a festival to mark reg closing of the Olympics.  The events start at noon and last until 7pm, with plenty of music, food, stalls and of course sporting activities.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Improved Road Safety at Princess Frederica School

Brent Council is currently considering improving the safety measures around Princess Frederica School.  Princess Frederica certainly has a fairly high traffic volume, and a pretty constricted street pattern.  The ideas that are being mooted are:

  • Introduction of a zebra crossing in College Road near the school
  • Extension of some of the guard rails
  • Changes to the waiting restrictions.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Moberly Sports Centre Development

I understand Westminster Council have now confirmed that they want to redevelop Moberly Sports Centre in Queens Park.  We can therefore look forward to a planning application for the site.  As the building is actually located in Brent, it will be the Brent Planning Committee that makes the decision.

Brent Civic Centre as an Arts Venue

Brent Council has announced a consultation on what kind of events it should hold at the new Civic Centre once it opens in 2013.  The Civic Centre, among other things, will be a key venue for encouraging arts in the Borough.  This was a feature of the Arts Strategy that the new Labour administration passed. I think it is essential that we continue to drive innovations despite the budgetary difficulties we are in.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Brent Civic Centre and Carbon Emissions

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is one of the main justifications for the new Civic Centre, and one I promised to cover.  Whilst I accept this is a subject of little interest to Brent Green Party, I hope others will be interested.

As a BREEAM Outstanding building, the new Civic Centre will use every imaginable device to reduce emissions.  The building is designed so that it should only require mechnaical ventilation on one or two days a year (although encroaching climate change may alter that).There will be an air source heat pump.  The lighting will be low zoned and equipped with sensors.  There will be a bio-fuel based boiler, possibly using fish oil.  This could be connected to the other buildings in the Wembley area as part of a district heating scheme (which is envisaged in the Wembley Masterplan).  The new building will also be equipped with a comprehensive suite of paperless technology which is already being rolled out across Brent Council.

This is in addition to measures to discourage car use, which reduce transport related carbon emissions. 

Altogether, the new Civic Centre should be by far the biggest single contributor to cutting Brent Council's carbon footprint.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

More on Animal Welfare in Brent

Brent Council has a specific animal welfare department, which puts it ahead of neighbours such as Westminster and Barnet.  As the current Liberal Democrat/Tory government continues to strip away local government funding, non-statutory services such as animal welfare come under more and more pressure.  In the past year, Brent's animal welfare service has achieved:

  • The microchipping of 28 dogs
  • Six BARK patrols
  • A dood to door survey of the Stonebridge estate (alongside Hillside Housing) to give advice around dog ownership
  • Stalls to promote responsible dog ownership with partners like BHP
  • A gold footprint award from the RSPCA for its procedures with stray dogs

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Doncaster Budget Decision

The Doncaster budget decision which puzzled me earlier in the year has since been subjected to further analysis by LocalGovernmentLawyer.  The upshot appears to be that Full Council cannot bind the Executive to spend on any specific item, but merely has the ability to calculate the overall rate of Council Tax.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Brent Civic Centre and Water Conservation

I promised some posts on the environmental benefits of Brent Council's new Civic Centre, so here is one about water conservation.  This subject doesn't exactly hit the headlines, but our planning guidelines give a lot of attention to it, and the effects of climate change are likely to make it more and more important as time goes on. 

All large planning applications are asked to consider sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDs) to reduce surface water flooding , and the Civic Centre was no exception.  The Civic Centre also uses rainwater harvesting, low water use plumbing and grey water recycling to further reduce water use.

All this is in the public domain, but never mentioned by the building's critics.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Permit Free Developments

Conversations I have had before and following the Park House planning permission suggest that the point of the Council's "permit free" policy is not widely understood. 

When the Council gives planning permission to a new block of flats in an area with good transport links (such as Harlesden Town Centre) it usually does so with a permit free condition.  This means that if the residents of the new block find themselves in a controlled parking zone, they will not be allowed to apply for a permit for themselves or a temporary permit for visiters. 

The purose of this draconian restriction is to reduce the number of car users in a given area to make parking  and traffic congestion more managable.  It also has the effect of reducing air pollution.  Officers believe it is linked to the measureable improvement in air quality in Brent in the past few years which should help improve life expectency.  Of course, it is also linked to the reduction of carbon emissions and therefore retarding climate change.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Pickles Taken to Task on Trading Standards

Trading Standards professionals have taken Eric Pickles to task for misleading people about the use of investigatory powers.  I am sure they are correct that Eric Pickles is misleading people about how these powers are used, and that in fact they are essential to the important work Trading Standards do.  What worries me is that I suspect Eric Pickles does not care.

Paralympic Flame in Brent

The Paralympic flame went through Brent with great success, as can be seen here.  I often think the dedication and grit of the paralympians is even more impressive than that of the able bodied athletes.

Willesden Green Comparison

Critics of Brent Council's plans to redevelop Willesden Green Library Centre might like to look at the new library at the Mary Seacole Centre in Clapham (Lambeth).  This was successfully developed using proceeds from property sales on the site _ a very similar model to Willesden Green.  Even the objective of using the property development to help a wider regeneration of the area is similar.