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Saturday, 31 May 2014

Improving Road Safety

Edinburgh has become the latest city to announce plans for more 20mph limits.  Interesting that they are advocating them on air quality grounds as well as road safety.  20mph zones have well established research showing that they substantially increase road safety.  I also see that the Edinburgh police are willing to do some enforcement.  Traditionally, enforcement is seen as a low priority by many police forces.

Brent has rather missed the boat on this agenda.  Where other authorities such as Camden, Islington and soon I understand Croydon have committed to this agenda, Brent has had a piecemeal approach.  I think this is a mistake.  The Borough still has a substantial Highways budget and a major improvement could be obtained if there were sufficient will.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Automatic Library Membership

I have blogged before about Brent's contribution to the Arts Council's automatic library membership projects.  The evaluation report on these is now published. 

The evaluation seems to indicate that Brent was right to emphasize the importance of follow up.  Simply giving people cards without follow up requires little in resources, but also gives back little in results.  The Brent scheme concentrated on getting cards to children through schools, and encouraging school visits.

Getting buy in from schools turned out to be surprisingly difficult.  I am not sure why that is, because schools and libraries would strike me as a natural fit.  Hopefully as relationships develop and word of mouth spreads, the schemes will become more popular.  It is also interesting that, it was decided to become more parent focused part way through the project.  It is easy to see how getting parents on board would help with engagement, but it presumably has the downside of being resource intensive.

I like the idea of a class membership card, which seems an ingenious way to overcome possible confusions in data management.  Tracking the performance of the scheme effectively is obviously also crucial.

Although I tend to bang this drum a lot, I would emphasise again that this kind of innovation is only possible if you are prepared to take a positive strategic approach.  If we had not had the courage to concentrate our resources on a smaller number of buildings, I don't believe that projects such as this would ever have happened.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Liberal Democrat Meltdown

The Liberal Democrats appear to be going through a political assassination whose bungling incompetence makes the murder of Rasputin look well executed.  There really is no point in them trying to get rid of Nick Clegg now.  The process would be bloody, and any successor would not have time to establish themselves before the General Election.  I am sure that Nick Clegg is now in a position of sufficient strength to sack Vince Cable if he wants to, but I suspect he will prefer to keep him in post; like Lambert Simnel turning a spit in Henry VII's kitchen.

Perhaps Mr Clegg may even get some satisfaction from humiliating Vince Cable in the same way that David Cameron has been humiliating him since 2010.

However, the whole mess could have an implication for Brent.  By now, surely every Liberal Democrat will realise that the next election will be about damage limitation for them.  They need to concentrate their resources on the seats they can retain, and it is hard to see how that could include Brent Central.  The incumbent MP cannot not be expected to commit much effort to a campaign where she is standing down for a party she finds "catastrophically depressing".  The membership in the constituency is reported to have collapsed.  The loss of their MEPs will leave them with less campaigning resources, and the defeat of all but one of their councillors deprives them of foot soldiers.  There surely must be better bets for them.

Monday, 26 May 2014

No One Happy About the European Elections

I sat up to watch the European Election results last night, which thanks to Tower Hamlets, took far longer than they should have done.  It strikes me that none of the parties should feel happy about them.

That may seem a strange thing to say about UKIP, which has just sprung from minor party to winning an England & Wales poll (as I write the Scottish results have yet to be declared).  Although that is a triumph today, I can't help thinking that UKIP are just a vehicle to express unhappiness for many of their voters.  I suspect that if there were a "none of the above" category in our elections, a lot of UKIP supporters would tick that instead.  I can't really believe that Nigel Farage's Thatcherism Ultra philosophy really appeals to many of his supporters.  If I am right then he is riding a tiger, and his support could collapse just as fast as it has arrived.

Labour can point to various reasons not to be too unhappy.  It is the best Labour performance in a European election since 1999.  Labour now has MEPs in every region.  The vote is concentrated in areas that are disproportionately important to winning a General Election.  The party has increased vote share by 10%, and has many more MEPs (including the excellent Lucy Anderson in London).  The London result was very strong, and the rise of four party politics makes historical comparisons very difficult.

Nonetheless, Labour were only slightly ahead of the Tories with a year to go before the General Election.  Whereas Labour Londoners can feel cheerful, the party is not getting across to a lot of our potential supporters around England.  That needs to be addressed if Labour are to win in 2015.

One other consolation that Labour can take is that the Tories have had a historic disaster.  I thought the BBC coverage underplayed this, but last night was the first time the Conservative Party has ever come third in a nation wide poll.It got less than a quarter of the vote, and there are polling indications that a larger number of those voters will stick with UKIP than in previous general elections, which is likely to damage the Tories.

The Greens will be happy that they are now in fourth place ahead of the Liberal Democrats, but that is in spite of their vote falling.  Their relative position went up because the Liberal Democrats collapsed.  Nathalie Bennet came across well in her interview (By the way, why did the BBC devote so much air time to Tories and so little to Labour candidates?), but there is no sign that she is making headway with the voters.  That is a shame as what she says tends to be very sensible.

Liberal Democrats
This election makes me wonder whether the Liberal Democrats will still exist in a few years.  As I argued before, their awful results stem from the decision to jump into bed with the Tories after spending many years attacking Labour from the Left.  The loss of all their MEPs bar one will reduce their campaign resources (I suspect that some of the Liberal Democrat literature through the door is funded through the European Parliament's notoriously lax expenses regime).  Their local government wipeouts last Thursday leave them even shorter of footsoldiers. 

Whereas Labour and the Tories have survived such periods, the Liberal Democrats are a party overwhelmingly dependent on momentum.  Repeated defeats demoralise them more than Labour or the Tories, and I don't think simply ditching Nick Clegg will substantially change their predicament.

Origen Housing in Harlesden High Street

Passing down Harlesden High Street on the 18 bus a few days ago, I noticed that the new block on the old service station site is now virtually erected.  It has been a long time since the first application on that site that I opposed.  The application eventually approved is much more in keeping with High Street Harlesden than many of its predecessors.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Brent Elections 2014

The elections for Brent Council are now complete, with Labour sweeping the board with 56 seats (up 15), the Lib Dems collapsing to just one seat and the Tories retaining the remaining six seats.  While Labour nationally has not had a stellar performance, London has shown widespread success for Labour.

Brent Liberal Democrats
The main factor in the Labour success is undoubtedly the collapse of the Liberal Democrats.  Even Paul Lorber, who had been a Liberal councillor in Brent since 1982, was swept aside.  Similar defeats can be seen in other parts of London.  Nick Clegg's decision to form a coalition with the Tories to implement an extreme right wing agenda was simply a kick in the teeth for many Liberal Democrat supporters in Labour leaning areas such as Brent.  Sarah Teather's decision to stand down as a MP was probably also a factor.  The collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote indicates that their chances of retaining Brent Central are slight.  How it impacts on Hampstead and Kilburn is harder to predict, and really depends on which way the former Liberal Democrat supporters go _ Labour or Conservative.  I can't think of a single positive feature for the Liberal Democrats in this election result.

Brent Conservatives
The Brent Tories also have little to feel happy about.  They failed to capture key targets such as Preston, Northwick Park and Queensbury, and lost the remaining councillors in those areas.  Their gains in Brondesbury seem to me to be linked to the personal reputation of Cllr Carol Shaw, who led her co-candidates by a significant margin.

Minor Parties
As usual the minor parties had little impact.  "Independent" Alex Colas, who actually seemed to be in some sort of alliance with the Green Party, found, as I predicted, standing for election was harder than it might seem.  I think he underestimated the hard work put in by the Labour (now) councillors for Willesden Green, and the amount of work there that has been done over many years by Cllr Lesley Jones in particular.  Ironically, they apparently celebrated the end of their campaign in Villiers Road pocket park, which was renovated after years of campaigning by Lesley

The Greens struggled to find candidates, and seemed to put most of their effort into Willesden Green.  Despite their defeat, they can take a crumb of comfort from getting a slightly higher vote in the south eastern parts of the Borough than in recent years.  I would think that some disillusioned Liberal Democrats are switching support to them. 

UKIP were happily little in evidence as far as the Council elections in Brent go, although I fear they will have a much bigger impact when the European election results are declared on Sunday.

Little Local Campaigning
As far as I can see, this election was determined by broad national trends, rather than local campaigning.  This is not always the case.  When Labour were defeated in 2006, that was mainly linked to the national picture, but there was still a noticeable impact from campaigns such as the now largely forgotten Stop the Tower campaign in Queens Park.

This may surprise some as the libraries issue was said by some to be damaging the Labour Party.  No such damage can be found from the election results.  The two main libraries in the campaign were Preston and Kensal Rise.  The traditionally Tory ward of Preston has now returned three Labour councillors, and Harshi Patel (who tried very hard to exploit the issue) lost his seat.  Kensal Rise is in Kensal Green and right by Queens Park (where many of the campaigners actually live).  Both seats were won by Labour.  Indeed, Labour did well in this area even in May 2012, when the libraries campaign was at its height.

At the count, one Labour activist suggested to me that the other parties were actually hurt by their concentration on libraries.  He argued that it caused them to ignore issues such as the cost of living that affect more people more directly.  Whereas a small number of people feel passionately about the issue, it does not affect the way most people vote.  I would add that the improving figures and satisfaction survey returns indicate that the overall library service is actually better than it was in 2011. 

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Last Day

Today is my last day as a councillor.  I shall be continuing to post on subjects that interest me, but with greatly reduced frequency, and possibly with longer posts.  Posts over the past few days have been about what I feel I have achieved as a councillor, as well as the page Kensal Green ward achievements.  Altogether, I think there is quite a lot there.

Doing lots of stuff as a councillor is becoming harder and harder as budgets tighten.  The past four years have probably been the hardest in Brent's history.  The next four have been made still harder as the Council has lost momentum as an organisation. To achieve any kind of success the new administration will need to have a clear set of priorities and stick to them.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Brent Libraries Arts and Heritage

Another area of Brent Council that I have been greatly concerned in has been Libraries, Arts and Heritage.  I have already done lots of posts on our Libraries Transformation Project.  Anyone who doubts its success can look up my previous posts on the increased visit and loan figures, the improved home library service, the improved outreach services, improved homework clubs, refurbishments at Ealing Road and Kilburn libraries, improved customer satisfaction and so on.

I want to use this post to talk about other parts of the department.  I do regret that I was not still the lead during the restructuring of the Museum and Archive service.  This will get a new improved home as part of the Willesden Library rebuild.  Brent is increasingly unusual in deciding to maintain its musuem service (where other authorities are cutting theirs) and in maintaining and enhancing the archive service.

The part where I feel I had a bigger impact was on the Arts side.  In particular, during my time as lead member I was successful in fighting off attempts to cancel the Tricycle Theatre grant, both during the passage of the Arts and Festivals report in 2011 and the attempt alluded to by Martin Francis in 2013.  Aside from the good work that the Tricycle does with the grant in helping excluded young people, the Tricycle Theatre is vital to the economic success of Kilburn High Road.  I am also glad that I helped the Tricycle's financial planning by shifting their grant from a one year cycle to (eventually) a three year cycle.

Defending arts spending remains an uphill struggle since many people still see the Arts as an "add on" that can be dispensed with at will.  I think this is a very short sighted view, which ignores the role of the arts in bringing in tourism, wider economic benefits and just making Brent a nicer place to live.  I am happy to say that the national Labour leadership seem to agree with me

I wish it had been viable to do more in other directions, but inevitably resources were limited.   However, I did my best to support the importance of the visual arts.   The LTP also has an often neglected role in promoting the arts.  Some in the sector are suspicious of this, seeing it as a zero sum game where arts spend takes away from libraries.  I think the two can reinforce each other.  The most obvious area is in encouraging writers (Writing is one of the Arts, after all).  However the events in Brent Dance month, now made easier by seven day opening of Brent libraries and increased suitability of venues, helps dance groups by giving them venues, and can draw people into libraries who might not generally use them.  One of my regrets in this area is that we did not find a way to use public buildings as hanging space more comprehensively, although I was pleased we did manage to create Brent's first artist in residence schemes for sculpture and poetry.

On the. Ultralight side, I should also mention our role as an Olympic Borough.  To be frank my main concern was in case there was a screw up, which thankfully was not the case. It all went quite smoothly.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Public Realm and Planning

Another area of Council achievement that I think deserves more praise than it gets is in the development of public space.  Much of the improvement here should come through the Public Realm contract and the changes hopefully embedded in procedures by the Placemaking Guide

However, there has also been major progress around specific areas.  The biggest of these is Wembley, which has really come together with the new Civic Centre.  I think the crucial points are that (a) a number of different features _ the Civic Centre, the retail facilities, the Arena, the Stadium and so on _ come together in a way that makes a bigger impact that any of them could do individually (b) the street scene works in a way that knits the different areas together.  The importance of that second point is best illustrated by an area such as South Kilburn, where the street scene signally fails to link the disparate elements.

A third point that I don't feel is always picked up on, is the way that areas outside a buidling relate to the inside.  Wembley Library benefits from the gallery space and atrium (pictured below) as events and activities bleed from one to another.  I hope that Wembley Market Square will soon have a similar function.  It is also noticeable how the tables around the atrium and surrounding areas are used by teenagers who I suspect are also using the library facilities.

These often seem to be overlooked in political debates which are often about how much money to spend, rather than the way in which it is spent. 

Monday, 19 May 2014

Willesden Library in Use as a Polling Station

There have been false claims that Willesden Green Library is closed.  On polling day, the George Furness part of Willesden Green Library actually will be closed, as it will be in use as a polling station.  However, you can still access library facilities at the Lewinson Centre three minutes walk along Willesden High Road or Kilburn Library, or indeed Harlesden Library.  You can also take the Tube up to Wembley Library if you so wish.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Waste and Recycling in Brent

Another area that I thought would be controversial in Brent but turned out not to be was the various changes we made to waste management.  This started with the introduction of the blue top bins.  A second wave of more incremental change followed in April 2013.  We also introduced improvements to the Council's internal processes, amended the old waste contract and negotiated the new Public Realm contract

Less visibly, West London Waste has gone through a transformation with the award of a new contract to Sita, which will see the waste from West London shift from being sent to landfill at Calvert to being burnt for energy. From the later part of 2016, the proportion of West London waste sent to landfill should fall below 5%. 

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Climate Change and the Green Charter

As I said yesterday, I am doing a few posts over what has been achieved over the past four years.  In terms of climate change, Brent has built one of the greenest buildings in Europe in Brent Civic Centre, further improved environmental performance at other buildings such as Willesden Cultural Centre and Kilburn Library,  improved planning guidelines in terms of environmental performance, reduced greenhouse gas emissions from waste management, plans for district heating in Wembley and Kilburn and introduced emissions based parking permits. We have also encouraged the take up of car clubs.  Although I found it disappointing in some ways, the Climate Change Steering Group succeeded in having worthwhile events geared at raising awareness of business and of schools. There has not been as much progress as one might hope, but there was a noticeable improvement on the previous quadrennial. 

The other key change in Green Charter terms from the previous Lib Dem / Tory administration was the achieving and renewal of the Fairtrade status. 

Friday, 16 May 2014

Election Prediction

Some one asked me recently how the elections are going in Brent.  I have always been quite wary of predictions, but I shall be surprised if Labour does not come back with a good, possibly increased, majority.

The main Labour opponent in Brent are the Liberal Democrats, and they have been shattered by the shock of going into coalition with the Tories.  Especially in Labour leaning areas, their pitch was to be Labour without the difficult bits, so clubbing together with the Tories in the most right wing government this country has seen for decades was an enormous blow to many of their supporters.  Locally, I am told their membership is falling, and that they struggled to get a full slate of candidates. Indeed, some of their candidates are not even Brent residents.

The Tories in Brent are somewhat isolated from general trends.  There is only a limited UKIP presence here, but the Tory organisation is again threadbare and has been for some time.

The Greens, perhaps wisely, have drawn their horns in compared to previous elections.

Sports, Parks and Cemeteries in Brent

As the elections draw close I thought I would reflect on what has been achieved in different parts of the Council that I have been involved in the past four years.

Cemeteries have been quite a quiet area, which surprises me given that potentially one can imagine plenty of scope for controversies.  Following the merger of the cemetery department with parks in late 2010, we put together Brent's first comprehensive cemetery strategy for many years.  As I have pointed out with the allotments strategy previously, having a coherent worked out strategy helps gives shape and accountability to Council services.  

On parks, we managed not just to bundle it with the rest of the Public Realm Contract to create a more seamless service, we also changed the planting regime to bring it in line with expectations of climate change.  We also had a large range of investments in Brent parks, including the Borough's first new park for many years at Chalkhill, outdoor gym equipment in several parks, improvements at Tubbs park, improvements at Furness park, Challenge Close in Harlesden improvements, the BMX track near St David's Close, improvements at Tiverton Green, improvements in Gladstone Park following the demolition of Dollis Hill House, the granting of nature reserve status to Mason's field and a longer term strategy for Barham Park.  We also saw new measures to regulate dogs and dangerous and wild animals in parks

With sports, we concluded an award winning cross Borough contract to run Vale Farm.  A new sports centre (owned by Westminster) is being built at Moberley.  There are possible plans for Bridge Park and Dexion House, although these are far from being settled.

Altogether, that seems to me to be quite a lot of stuff. 

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Local Government Association Financial Gloom

The Local Government Association has come out with another gloomy report on Council finances.  It estimates that 60% of Councils will be under serious pressure in 2015/16.  Only 20% think they can cope financially simply through more efficiencies.  By now, I am surprised that figure is so high, as years of shrinking budgets have been the lot of most Councils for some time now. 

Looking at the suggested options in the report, I am struck that Brent has tried most of them.

Increasing fees and charges: Brent put up most of its fees and charges in 2011, and adopted a default of inflation or above increases.  There may be a few minor adjustments that can be made, but there is little likelihood of any significant rise in revenue.  Brent does not really have substantial assets to invest and gain further income that way.
Using Reserves:  Brent has historically had very low reserves.  They were only £7.5 million when the current Labour administration was elected in 2010, and it is only about £12 million now.  In 2010, George Osborne's "emergency budget" gave us a projected overspend of more than £7 million, and I would think the possibilities for future overspend are greater.  Those authorities that use their reserves can only delay the issue.
Increasing the Tax Base:  Scope for raising Council Tax is limited by the referendum criteria.  Building new homes increases the tax base, but is limited by lack of land, planning considerations and the vagaries of the market.
Reviewing the use of assets: The Council has had a policy of tightening its property management for some time.  The obvious big example is the Civic Centre, which was the centrepiece of a policy to reduce the Council's property portfolio.   However, Brent Council does not actually own many buildings, and disposing of them can sometimes run into planning and other problems.

In addition to these, Brent Council has engaged in a number of genuinely transformative projects.  Although the libraries have hogged much of the publicity, there have been other financially more significant examples such as the increase in recycling and a lot of the activity around adult social care, helping people to stay independent for longer.  There have been a few examples of ceasing to do things altogether, notably in the festivals strategy.  There will have to be more such examples over the next four years. 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Letting Agent Vote

The House of Commons voted on letting agents on the Consumer Rights Bill, following Stella Creasy tabling an amendment on the issue.  The idea of the amendment is to help people renting privately who find themselves being ripped off by landlords.  Exactly the kind of thing that effects many people in Brent Central.  Almost all Tory and Liberal MPs voted against.

Sarah Teather chose to be absent.

Debating the Issues

I had another comment on the libraries issue on this blog, which I am not going to publish as it is abusive about a named councillor.  Descending to personal abuse in anonymous posts is not an attractive characteristic. 

However, the phenomenon of ad hominum attacks is worth commenting on.  I have mentioned before that both councillors and officers get targeted personally by these commentators.  One way of seeing this is as a campaign target for people with a weak case.  If the facts support your opponent, an obvious way to overcome that is to smear the person rather than the policy.

I think, however, that is just too rational.

The people concerned just seem too enraged.  Taking the libraries issue.  One might imagine that anyone who thinks libraries are a good thing would welcome the increase in numbers at Brent libraries, not to mention the greater satisfaction levels of Brent library users.  If you are a Brent resident, you might take some satisfaction in Brent libraries outperforming those elsewhere

In fact all these facts just seem to make some people angry, and I can only assume that these sort of debates have become personal contests for them devoid of actual effects.  The actual effect on peoples' lives is simply a non-issue for them, because they are just interested in proving themselves right in some sort of self absorbed debating game. 

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

More on Harlesden Town Centre Parking

In a follow up on my previous post, officers have informed me that there are some technical difficulties around enforcement in Harlesden Town Centre.  Enforcement needs precisely worded traffic orders, and these are still being drafted for the new layout.  Unfortunately there is a statutory consultation period, so that they will not be ready until September.  However, enforcement against double parking or parking on the pavement is ongoing.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Resources and Free Schools

The Liberal Democrats are waking up to the damaging effects of Michael Gove's free school policy.  A pity that such concerns did not occur to them before they voted for it.  Then the damage might have been prevented, rather than just resulting in an exchange of childish insults.

Possible misdirection of resources is an obvious possibility in any system which depends on groups of people gathering together and bidding for resources.  That applies to schools and to other areas.  It is a constant complaint among those outside London that well connected lobbyists in the Capital get disproportionate resources.  Within an area, such as a Borough, there is an obvious danger that people who are good at publicity will obtain resources at the expense of those in greater need.

The solution lies partly in having correct procedures for allocating resources, and partly in having decision makers with the guts to stick with them.  Decision makers who cave in to the pressure of (generally) wealthy lobbyists are betraying not just the people who have resources directly withdrawn, but also the public who want their money spent wisely.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

WEEE Recycling at the Tricycle Theatre

From tomorrow, the Tricycle Theatre will be hosting another opportunity to recycle electrical goods.  This is in partnership with the West London Waste Authority (WLWA), and runs from 12 to 18 May.  It follows a similar initiative in January.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Willesden Green Library Images

Willesden Green Labour candidate Bernard Collier has posted a number of photographs of the building work at Willesden Library Centre here.  It includes an image of the Brondesbury Park side as it is expected to look on completion.  The view contrasts with the dead frontage provided by the old building. 

Happy World Fairtrade Day

Today is World Fairtrade DayBrent Fairtrade Network is teaming up with Harrow for a Fairtrade event there.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Barham Park Planning Appeal and Local Democracy

Barham Park has been the subject of a lengthy blog by Philip Grant on Wembley Matters.  Without wishing to pick on anyone, I think it worth looking at in detail as it illustrates many of the confusions about local government debates that create unnecessary heat. 

Member and Officer Roles
One of the key confusions is between the roles of members and officers.  The elected members (councillors) determine the policy of the Council in committee. The reports that committee considers is a set of recommendation by Council officers, based on their professional expertise.  Therefore the suggestion that there is a split where the officers are forcing the councillors to make a decision is wrong, and cannot be right.  When councillors feel they are being "forced" into a decision that usually means that they cannot think of an argument why the officer recommendation is wrong.  To me, that seems more likely councillors failing to engage intellectually.

Essentially, the role of officers is to give information and advice on technocratic questions like cost, legality, feasibility and so on.  The councillors are supposed to make value judgements.  For instance how much weight should be given to retaining community space compared to bringing it into use for another purpose, for example?

The odd thing about Mr Grant's post is that he explicitly refers to officers being overruled by councillors in an earlier planning decision, but seems to feel that councillors were "forced" to follow advice at a meeting of the Barham Trust where the councillors decided to appeal the planning refusal. 

The Barham Park Trust
The five members of the Barham Park Trust could have overruled the officers in exactly the same way as the Planning Committee.  They interpreted their role as trustee as appealing the planning refusal, which is entirely in line with the earlier decision to rent out the property to ACAVA.  The Council officers are simply implementing the decision that the councillors have made.  They would be professionally remiss, and probably sackable, if they did anything else.

Incidentally, I dislike the way that Mr Grant names specific officers and accuses them of particular forms of misconduct.  Not only have none of these officers committed any misconduct, by convention they cannot answer back to such accusations.  To make personal criticisms of named individuals when they cannot answer back violates the principles of basic fairness.

What is the Agenda Here?
I am now going into speculation about motives, which is risky as I think Mr Grant demonstrates.  I don't think his speculations about various peoples' motivations make sense, and in speculating on other peoples' motives I risk the same problem.  However, here goes.

This whole row has essentially been whipped up by Cllr Paul Lorber, who seems to me to have two motivations.  One is party political.  He wants to whip up controversy ahead of the election on 22 May as he thinks that may benefit his party.  That is perhaps understandable.  The second relates to his position as one of the bidders in the original tendering process.  Despite his best efforts to muscle in on the committee's decision, Cllr Lorber's bid was considered on the same basis as everyone else.  I was on the Committee and it was obvious to me that Cllr Lorber's bid was markedly inferior to that of ACAVA.  I believe that Cllr Lorber's second motivation for seeking to use legal and planning objections to block the new tenant is down to a combination of sour grapes and an attempt to use the planning process to secure a tenancy when a decision was made not to give him one. 

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Lessons from New York?

Help to Buy has been condemned by both Tory and Labour former Chancellors.  Let us hope George takes notice.  It is a deeply stupid policy.

Meanwhile, the Mayor of New York is putting forward some interesting plans for affordable housing over there. New York is about as close a comparison to London as you can get, so let us hope that we can learn from whatever the Americans propose.  There is a lot in it, but as I have pointed out before, these things are not just about saying what you want and getting it.

His proposal for trading extra height for a greater proportion of affordable housing is an interesting one, which might work over here.  It could work if the economics stack up, but I can see it being controversial.  More tall buildings will not go down well with many people.  Family housing in blocks with little or no amenity space may not be suitable, and lack of family housing is one of the big problems in areas like Brent.  The big problem is that developers might simply choose not to make an application in the first place if they don't think they will get sufficient profit.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Parking in Harlesden Town Centre

It is good to see that most of the work on pavements around Harlesden Library is now complete as I went past this grey morning, but I notice that there is some parking on the pavements.  I have asked the officers to enforce against this as parking on the pavements will crack them up.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Boris Johnson Supported the Iraq War

I notice that Boris Johnson is now implying he was against the Iraq War by criticising Blair.  I went on the big anti war march, but I don't recall Boris Johnson.  Boris, as is his wont, has been frivolous on the subject before.  He has also appeared to make remarks in favour of the Iraq invasion in the past.  The BBC record him as voting against an anti invasion amendment.

I wonder what might have made him change his mind?

Total disaster maybe?

Ash Tree Dieback in Brent

An estimate of tree deaths from Ash tree dieback is out.  The figures are gloomy with 80% loss looking likely.  In Brent, we have seven or eight hundred ash trees in the streets.  That kind of death rate would be about 600, equivalent to Brent's total tree loss over one and a half years.  That is not counting however many there are in Brent's parks.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Registering to Vote

Tomorrow is the deadline to register to vote in time for the elections on 22 May.  Every election there are seats that change hands by very narrow majorities, so a handful of votes can make all the difference.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Bristol Water Slide

I can't help but remark how the Bristol Water Slide seems to add to peoples lives at very little cost.  Perhaps this message might be taken home for libraries, arts etc. as well?

Harlesden Jubilee Clock Movement

As I mentioned some time ago, this week should see the temporary removal of the Harlesden Jubilee Clock.  This is part of the final phase of the Harlesden Town Centre rebuild.  The clock will be refurbished and restored to its original position.


The date has now been moved back to late June.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

How Far Can Public Health Spending Go?

Calderdale is reportedly putting aside some of its Public Health Budget for road safety.  Intellectually, thais makes a lot of sense.  20mph zones have a well documented and beneficial effect on public health.  Spending their public health funds in that way may well save more lives than whatever else they were planning to do with it, but I suspect it will still be seen as too radical a step for many people, who would prefer the money to be spent more traditionally _ on anti-smoking campaigns for example.

However, my view is that local authorities taking on the public health responsibilities gives an opportunity for a much more imaginative use of such funds for issues that traditionally don't get the attention they deserve; for example, air quality.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Lack of Debate

The stereotype of election campaigns are that they are supposed to be opportunities for debate, with the various candidates putting forward proposals.  Sadly I don't think this is really true either in Westminster or locally in Brent.  The specious promises of the Liberal Democrats are one such indication.

As is well known, Brent is facing swingeing cuts from central government on top of those we have already endured, but I see little sign of any debate as to what the options are for dealing with them.  The more obvious changes have already been implemented.  Over the last four years, the main mechanism in Brent has been the One Council programme.  This has delivered more than £70 million in savings, and in some cases led to considerable service improvements.  However, few future projects have been identified for the One Council work programme

I also detect a general unwillingness to face up to the tens of millions that need to be found, or the difficult decisions that will be inevitable in finding solutions.  The longer such questions are put off the more difficult will be the final reckoning. 

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Willesden Library Centre Finally Visible

I am glad to see that the new Library Centre for Willesden is finally taking shape.  Hopefully this will put to rest the rather strange idea that was being circulated that was not going to be a Library Centre.  I find it hard to understand why people invent such stories, but people can now see for themselves that they are untrue.