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Monday, 31 March 2014

Willesden Green Library Centre Under Construction

I was sent a couple of photos of Willesden Green Library under construction, which I thought I would post.  As you can see, the work is quite advanced now.  The new library centre will open in 2015.

Changes in Library IT Use

I was talking recently to someone who works in IT who told me that he thought deskbound PCs like the ones in Wembley Library pictured above were archaic, and that the future lay with iPads.  If true that would have a number of implications for library design. 

Of course, public libraries are likely to continue to have devices for patrons who can't afford their own, but these are more likely to be stacks of ipads, like the ones below (also in Wembley Library). 

It will be interesting to see how successful Wembley Library iPad lending service has been, as I suspect many people are probably still not aware of it.

However there seems to be an increasing trend for users to bring in their own devices.  This means that libraries may need to shift their emphasis to empty table space for laptop users (designed not to have too many trailing wires), and also softer seating for people who want to sit in an armchair and read.  Taking a longer term perspective, I suppose this is merely the latest in line of changes since the days when you had to stand in a library reading a chained book at a lectern.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Council Tax Summons

There has been a lot of publicity about Council Tax Summonses, so I though I would get hold of some facts.  According to the information I have been sent, Brent have issued 27,102 summons this year (compared to 21,746 last year).  4,728 of these have been to Council Tax Support accounts (i.e. people impacted by the changes to the Council Tax Benefit scheme).  Collection rates for CTS accounts iare 88.5%, while the forecast for Council Tax collection as a whole is 95.5%.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Food for Thought

A little while ago, I attended a Co-operative Party meeting.  There was a workshop on Co-operative Schools attended by a senior figure from the Co-operative schools network.  Obviously, all of us were there because we believe in co-operative values, but he suggested that creating co-operative school was in itself a means of avoiding enforced academisation.  I wondered what other views there are?

Friday, 28 March 2014

Odessa Road Footway

Odessa Road's pavements are being relaid from 1 April.  The work is due to be complete by 23 May.  The work will be done under the new Highways contract which is designed to let Boroughs across London to make extra savings.. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Spring in Furness Pocket Park

The daffodils have come out in Furness Pocket Park, signalling that Spring is finally here.  The new mosaic is due to be unveiled on 5 April. 

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Ofsted condemns Academy Chain

As expected, E ACT academies have had a damning report from Ofsted.  Or rather they have had sixteen different reports because Michael Gove does not allow Ofsted to inspect them as a chain.  Is that not perverse?  If a local authority can be looked at as a whole, why not an Academy chain?  After all these large chains of academies are effectively scattered education authorities without democratic accountability or the same safeguards.

Although Gove is doing his best to oppose proper scrutiny, the truth will out, and his full throttle embrace of academies looks like it is turning into a disaster.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Benefits Cap

Flipchartfairytales has an analysis of how the benefits cap hits the working poor, a truth that Iain Duncan Smith is desperate to deny.  The only solution I can see to this is through developing mechanisms like the Living Wage and genuinely affordable housing.  The IDS plan of simply bullying benefit recipients simply won't work.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Green Charter

Tonight, the Executive shall be debating the Council's Green Charter.  Unfortunately, I shall be otherwise engaged.  The Green Charter for the first time gives a mechanism to monitor important objectives like carbon emissions, recycling, Fairtrade And so on in an environmentalist context.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Lots About Candles

The attempt to recreate Elizabethan theatre has thrown up more about lighting and candles than one might imagine.  Who would have thought candles could be so complex?

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Budget and Betting Shops

In a rare piece of good news, the Budget suggested creating a separate use class for betting shops.  I have been trying to use the planning system as a tool to limit the spread of betting shops for some time.  This sounds like it could be a way to limit them without costly legal action.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Academy Chains Barred

Slipped out during the budget is the news that a number of academy chains have been barred from taking on more schools.  If there is enough concern to bar them from new schools, I would have thought there would also be concern over the schools they are currently running.  Yet the government does not have a proper inspection regime for academies, just some vague supervision by civil servants.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Cross Borough Procurement Award

I understand that Brent has won another cross borough procurement award for the contract that includes Vale Farm.  Well done to all those involved.  It follows a previous award for the same contract.

Contracts like this involve important savings with little impact on frontline services.  In the case of the Vale Farm Sports Centre, it is easy to argue the service will be much improved despite the lower cost.  However, central government has made such savings as difficult as possible by front loading the cuts, giving minimal notice, and changing the goal posts as they go along.  They are no friends to good government.

Police Rotation

A couple of days ago I went to a meeting with the new Borough Commander for Brent.  I never understand why the police rotate their officers so frequently.  It seems that as soon as you get used to one, a new officer is appointed.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

One Council Scrutiny

Last night I attended the One Council Scrutiny committee, which I ended up chairing, as the Liberal Democrat Chair simply failed to turn up.  The Conservative Vice Chair has never attended as far as I recall.

The One Council programme has been Brent's main vehicle for savings and service improvement over the past four years.  By the end of next year, it should have saved more than £70 million.  It is therefore concerning that it is not clear where it's pipeline of future projects can come from.  Almost all the existing projects have been completed, and only two new projects have been identified.  Given that the Council has a budget gap over the next three years of about £50 million, this is concerning.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The Misery of Food Banks

Patrick Butler has a thorough account of the government pushing people towards food banks.  It is a depressing story of ministers not caring about the effect of their policies, but only trying to cover up the negative publicity around them.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Passenger Transport Services

The next Scrutiny Committee I am going to is on the One Council project.  This is the main savings project of the Council, and has been running out of new projects.

Therefore I am happy that Brent Passenger Services is among the services being looked at. Currently, Brent runs about 100 buses transporting adults and children with special needs around the Borough and beyond.  There is a case that this locks people into a way of doing things determined by the Council rather than by themselves.  However, users in this sector tend to be highly resistant to change, so any changes need to be sensitive to that.

Hopefully, the new project will find ways to help people in a gradual manner.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Biodiversity and Owen Paterson

The sheer incompetence of the current government is once again being illustrated by climate change denier Owen Paterson.  As with the badger cull, he is steaming ahead with a policy ahead of any evidence to support it.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Queensbury Decision

I suppose I should offer some comment on the Queensbury decision, as it has aroused so much controversy.  I am somewhat constrained in what I can say as it may be that
Fair view (the applicant) may take legal action.

I voted against the application.  My principal reason is that a ten storey building in an aggressively modern style in Mapesbury Conservation Area seems a bit much.  In the past, I have sat on lots of Mapesbury applications.  I recall one lengthy discussion on the design and composition of stained glass in private houses in particular.

The Queensbury application just seemed so dramatically out of kilter.

Friday, 14 March 2014

South Kilburn Milestone

After years of waiting Bronte and Fielding House in South Kilburn are finally to be demolished.  This is the most dramatic change in the South Kilburn landscape to date, and will clear the way for a step change in the quality of housing in the area.

Recycling Complications

The complications of the recycling industry are covered in a good Guardian article.  Of course, we need to go beyond recycling to reduction and re use as well.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Planning Last Night

Last night's planning committee lasted almost five and half hours.  The main reason for this was the refusal of the Queensbury development. However, the same meeting accepted a new application on the site of the former Willesden Social Club, which has been derelict for many years.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Brent Cross Delay

The Brent Cross development has attracted some publicity as the Secretary of State to demand more time to consider it.  This has excited some people, like myself, who oppose the scheme as wrongheaded. Unfortunately, on seeking advice, I have been told this is a largely technical issue that is unlikely to affect outcomes.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Falsehoods on Food Banks

The DWP appears to have been caught out in telling falsehoods about food banks.  The fact that the government's benefits cutbacks are forcing increasing numbers of people to rely on food banks for survival is deeply shameful to an advanced society. The government's attempt to conceal reality merely confirms this.

Returning Yet Again To Willesden Library Centre

Willesden Green Library Centre still appears to be subject to controversy in some quarters.  I had hoped that I exploded these a while ago.  Some people seem to repeat the various canards nonetheless.

In fact, the new library will be bigger by about 100 square metres, and the interim library is the second most popular library in Brent.


The comment below really strains the facts to be as negative as possible.  In fact there was no cinema, in the sense of a place you might watch a film.  It went out of business years ago.  The bookshop, like Kilburn Bookshop and many others, was struggling financially because of developments like the Internet.  The sale of housing is a necessary part of the deal to pay for cultural centre, in a similar way to the development at Clapham.

Using a series of distort ions to denigrate anything that is new is unlikely to lead to any form of progress.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Two Cultures

Reading this story in the Guardian, about engineers working to restore rail links to Cornwall, I can't help but reflect on the City's bonus culture.  The engineers all seem to take pride in the usefulness of what they are doing and how long it might last.  I imagine a bunch of bankers would not even attend unless they got exorbitant bonuses.

Brighton Shows the Way?

Interesting story here about the Greens indulging in spending in Brighton.  The story suggests a vanity project at vast expense to the public made by councillors who don't expect to pick up the can when everything goes wrong.

It pretty much sums up the problem of accountability in politics where there can be such a mismatch between the time a decision is taken and all the consequences playing out.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Potholes Again

In what appears to be an annual fixture, central government is doling out a small amount of money for repairing potholes.  Rather than always dealing with this issue via one off payments dependent on the grace and favour of government ministers, would it not be more sensible to have a long term plan?  We could call it a Highway Asset Maintenance Plan.

The aim of such a plan is to use the resources available to the greatest possible effect through rational planning, foresight and other concepts that the ministers of this government appear to scorn.

Brent and the Co-Operative Party

An interesting day yesterday at the Co-operative Party manifesto launch for London.  Lots of good ideas about schools, credit unions and so on. I wonder how many will get through to Brent?

Saturday, 8 March 2014

HS2 Petition

The Council agreed to petition Parliament about the HS2 scheme on Monday.  There seems to have been some confusion about what was agreed.  The Council is seeking to object to aspects of the scheme that negatively impact Brent.  It is not the decision maker.  I have been keeping an eye on HS2 for quite a while now, and the issues have changed over time.  There are three areas of concern:

1) HS2 appear to be asking for CPO of some bits of land in South Kilburn.  The Council is concerned that it does not understand the reasons for this, and is concerned about compensation.  Informally, I understand from officers that there have been meetings with HS2 and that they are quite optimistic that this will get sorted out before more formal action is necessary.

2) The proposed ventilation structure at the car park near Queens Park Tube station is a more formidable problem.  Obviously, some residents will dislike this as unsightly.  It also has a major effect on the South Kilburn regeneration as the area had already been marked for development.  HS2 taking it over would make it unavailable for decanting purposes, and have a knock on effect on other building projects in South Kilburn.

3) The third area of interest is Willesden Junction.  It is obviously very important to Brent that Willesden Junction be well connected to the HS2 site at Old Oak Common, and this is the third area where the Council is trying to influence the Bill.


In answer to the comment, what does Martin Francis think? No idea.  If he wants us to know, he is welcome to post a comment below.

Another Free School Failure

Another one of Michael Gove's free schools has run into trouble.  Running so hard and fast into the free school policy looks more and more problematic.


The Guardian has an update here.

Friday, 7 March 2014

The Cost of Flytipping

The Guardian has an article on the cost of flytipping in the UK here.  It covers the financial cost of cleaning up, but there is also an indirect cost as flytipping drags an area down.

Brent and a Low Carbon Economy

I suggested a little while ago that Brent Council's response to climate change needs rebooting.  An interesting report into moving towards a low carbon economy has been published, that might usefully be adopted to Brent needs.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Where Martin Francis Went Wrong

As the local elections approach, I thought it would be good to examine the record of some of the other parties.  As he writes a frequently updated blog, the easiest to examine is Martin Francis and the Green Party.  Indeed, for many purposes Martin appears to be the entire Brent Green Party.

Martin refers to himself as a "pain in the arse" and seems to regard this as a good thing. I think that, while no doubt well intentioned, the effect of much of his campaigning is to spread cynicism, denigrate lots of the good work being done in Brent despite the Tory cuts and sometimes get things so fundamentally wrong as to undermine the very objectives he claims to support.  Let's look at some of the issues he has campaigned on.

1) Martin strongly opposed the Brent Civic Centre despite its financial, regeneration, organisational and environmental benefits.  This is stunningly perverse in anyone, but to ignore a project which cuts the Council's carbon emissions by about 20% is spectacularly strange for anyone who calls himself an environmentalist.

2) Martin tried to derail the award of the Public Realm Contract in order to damage Veolia.  I have explained that the effect of his campaign would actually have been to give Veolia lots of money.  Odder to my mind is that the anti-Veolia campaign ignored everything the contract was about, waste and street cleaning, which are the most frequently raised subjects on the doorstep in my experience.

3) Martin was also hostile to the adoption of the West London Waste Plan.  As was explained at the time, the purpose of such a plan is that identifying a reasonable number of sites in industrial areas makes it easier to resist unwelcome developments close to housing, such as the Harlesden Incinerator.

4) For our recycling roll out, we can turn to the Brent Green Party website.  While it doesn't explicitly oppose the alternate weekly collections that have been crucial to our increasing the recycling rate, you can detect the foot dragging tone.
5) On allotments, I have posted before that the Greens opposed our allotments strategy when it was being developed and then praised the results once the debate was over.

6). On Libraries, the Greens have opposed the strategy all the way through.  They have failed to provide any alternative vision for libraries, and I suspect will become more silent now that it is clear that Brent libraries have bucked national trends.  I have often got the impression that they actively want Brent libraries to do badly, which is why they fail to recognise so many positive aspects of Brent's libraries strategy.

7) Martin gave his first announcement on Fairtrade as far as I know quite recently.  Characteristically, it was negative, complaining about Brent not showing enough commitment to Fairtrade despite Brent Labour achieving Fairtrade status after the Lib Dems failed.  As far as I know, Martin has never been interested in Fairtrade, which is a shame as it is a left wing cause that is unequivocally positive. Indeed one Fairtrade supporter told me that was precisely why she enjoyed campaigning for it.

8) Martin had a similarly naysaying attitude on carbon emissions, where he recently attacked the Council.  Opposing the Civic Centre more or less puts you dead against Brent Council reducing its carbon emissions.  Arguably, a more important way in which the Council can reduce carbon emissions is through its role as a regulator (in planning particularly) and as a service provider (where our increased recycling and through the new Public Realm Contract).

9) Martin also objected to some minor changes we made to littering regulations in 2012.  This were effectively amendments to regulations originally put in place in 1994.  I suggested at the time that the objections were simply an attempt to whip up controversy ahead of election day.

10) Quite recently, I argued that the Green attacks on the Council's effort to boost the local economy were deeply misleading and counterproductive.  

Altogether, Martin and Brent Green Party can be seen to have been on the wrong side of the argument in various causes.  Often they appear to argue for measures that would have the opposite effect to what they claim to want.  Certainly, I have argued before that his whole strategy is just wrong.  Of course, it is also possible to have a rather more Schumpeterian analysis of their motives. 

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Budget Priorities

While not as much of a shambles as the last Council meeting, Brent Council's Budget setting meeting on Monday was not inspiriting.

The budget is something of a tread water budget with most of the major savings items being agreed in previous years.  Central government is demanding yet more savings to come; more than £50 million in fact.  No one had any suggestions as to where this money would be found.  The discussions centred on minor items of expenditure largely in Environment, and (as Cllr Krupesh Hirani pointed out) pretty much ignored big items like Adult Social Care.  Despite some ill judged frivolity from time to time, it was also the most subdued budget meeting I can remember attending.

A contrast with four years ago is that then we had a broad sense of what to do and how to do it.  This included raising income streams as far as possible, controlling demand, dampening down unrealistic expectations of what the Council could do, ceasing non-essential activities and implementing some genuinely transformational projects like Alternate Weekly Collections.  Pursuing all this with resolution allowed us to maintain freedom of action and make real choices about priorities. 

The danger of not having such a strategy is that you just wait for a financial crisis to come along, and then are forced into panic measures where you are unable to pursue any political priorities.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

CPZ Parking Permits in Northern Brent

A few weeks ago, I was on the Planning Committee asked to give permission to a 4 FE primary school near Wembley High ( making it an "all through" school).  We did so, despite the complaints of many residents that parking in the area was impossible.

Looking at the parking around there, it is undeniable that the problems are severe.  Yet they remind me very strongly of the paring issues around Kilburn, Cricklewood and Kensal Green before those areas had CPZs.  I know that CPZs are anathema in much of the north of the Borough, but perhaps it is worth considering them again. They can constitute a reasonable trade off for residents to limit parking demand at the price of paying an annual fee.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Budget Attendance

I am at the start of the Brent Council meeting, which sets this year's budget. All the Tories are here apart from Carol Shaw; the vast majority of the Labour councillors are here, and only four members of the Liberal Democrat councillor group have shown up.  I know one of the Liberal Democrats is severely ill, but I don't know of any other reason for this poor attendance.

Democracy in action.

RSPCA Animal War Memorial Dispensary in South Kilburn

Waiting for the 206 bus recently, I was reminded that I have been meaning to post on the RSPCA Animal War Memorial Dispensary in South Kilburn.  It was opened in 1928. and commemorates animals killed in the Great War (of which there were an enormous number since horses and mules still transported a lot of supplies).  I have always thought it one of Brent's most interesting historical buildings, and it is still in use as a veterinary service.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Barham Park Work Begins

I understand that the initial work has begun on improvements to Barham Park.  This first phase is to remove a number of conifers that have become the focus of anti-social behaviour.  The total programme of works is very ambitious.  Only part of the funding is available (from the sale of a couple of houses near the site).  What I find extraordinary is that Cllr Paul Lorber, Leader of Brent Liberal Democrats and Sudbury ward councillor has opposed improvements to the park every step of the way.

The whole programme has taken a long time to develop.  I have remarked before that it is very odd that one of the local councillors should be the fiercest opponent to improvements to their own ward.  Possibly his diehard opposition is linked to his desire to take over the buildings in the park

Saturday, 1 March 2014

A Note on the Harlesden Incinerator Plans

The plans for the Harlesden Incinerator were dished by HS2 requiring the land, but Harlesden residents should not entirely relax.  If HS2 were to fall through, which is always possible with a project of that size and complexity, the site could become available again.  That is why the continuing progress of the West London Waste Plan should be of great interest to Harlesden residents.  It is due to be agreed for consultation before the middle of the year, go to Examination in the Summer and be ready for adoption by Spring 2015.

Academic Perils

The E Act Academy chain, which includes the two Crest Academies in Dollis Hill, is reported to be having ten schools removed from it because of inadequate performance.  The Crest Academies are not among the ten.

I have pointed out before that when such schools fail, the local authority can be made to pick up the pieces.  Such a large scale transfer does illustrate another area of potential instability, where the management of a school and it's finances can simply be shunted from one overseer to another without any input from any of the stakeholders in the school or the wider community.  This really does not sound like an effective system.