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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Brent Musuem in Willesden Opening Soon

When the Brent Museum re-opens in Willesden this Summer, we are promised an exhibition on Britain's relationship with Gujarat.  This is partly funded by Arts Council England, and follows on from other successful exhibitions in Brent in the past.  Having the Museum co-located with the new library helps attract visitors to both.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Brent Libraries Under Ambitious?

I have been looking at Brent's Corporate Plan for 2015 to 2016.  My general experience of such documents is that they are not massively useful unless the people writing them really think it through.  However the library targets are worth commenting on.  They are:

"an increase in library visits to 2,205,179 visits a year" 


"an increase in issues to 1,124,383 a year."

The first surprise is the precision of those figures, which I assume have been generated by some mechanistic formula. 

The second is the low ambition, compared to the most recent completed year figures.   2,205,179 visits is scarcely up form the 2014/15 figure of 2,112,149.  Unless the new Willesden Library is a disaster (which I am sure it will not be) that is amazingly modest growth.  The issue figures also seem low, although given difficulties with increasing issues in the past, that caution is more understandable.

Is something going to happen in Brent Libraries to overturn the success of the last few years?


Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Air Quality Action Plan?

I notice that Brent Council's corporate plan has an aim of agreeing a successor Air Quality Management Plan by June 2015.  I wonder when it is going to happen, and what will be in it?

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

School Places in Wembley

I see that the next Brent Cabinet, is making emergency provision to have temporary school places at Elsley Primary School in Wembley.  Of course, the rise in school places is a problem afflicting most London authorities.  However, it does seem odd that Brent Council have recently emptied temporary classes in the former Preston Library, also in the Wembley area, whilst rushing through an expensive conversion of school premises fairly close by.

Why not just use the classrooms that were already kitted out for primary school children in a building that the Council owns?


I now understand that the former Preston Library building is being used for pupils from Wembley High. 

Monday, 22 June 2015

Gordon Brown Outdoor Education Centre

I see that the next Brent Cabinet is considering investing in refurbishing part of the Gordon Brown Outdoor Education Centre.  The situation for Brent Youth services is not quite as bleak as it appeared at one time, but they are still likely to be cut back dramatically.  The report points out the benefit that children gain from using the centre in outdoor activities and improving environmental awareness.  It occurs to me that very similar arguments could be made for the Welsh Harp Environemental Education Centre, which has now been put out to tender.  

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Political Importance of Air Quality

John Vidal has a long piece on air quality in the Guardian.  This seems to be getting more of a profile after years in which it was seen as a fairly minor issue.  I recall raising it with some London Councils colleagues only for it to be seen as a fringe concern.

Brent actually has quite a reasonable record on improving air quality.  There is, of course, the ongoing blight of poor air quality in Neasden Goods Yard.  The trouble here is that the Environment Agency is extremely reluctant to take action.  Boris Johnson until recently had no interest in air quality at all, and only seems to have woken up to the seriousness of the situation in the last few months. 

Aside from that specific area, London Boroughs main contribution to better air quality is by reducing traffic pollution.

This was one aim behind the introduction of emissions based parking charges in Brent.  Although most of the publicity behind this concentrated on carbon emissions, those are also a good proxy for other pollutants, such as PM2.5 and NOx. 

Councils can also use planning policy to limit car use and encourage other forms of transport as Brent generally does.  This is also the justification behind most of the Council's policies on parking charges.

However, I suspect progress on these issues is likely to be stymied by a reluctance of decision makers to accept that political decisions can have a good outcome in one direction but not in another.  I get that sense from some of the comments in the Vidal piece.  It also seems to happen locally here in Brent, where the Council has tinkered with parking charges in a way that seems to encourage car use at the same time as having other policies to discourage car use.  That really doesn't make much sense.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Willesden Library Opening

I am glad to see that the new Willesden Green Library is scheduled to officially open on 27 July.  This is the final stage in the Libraries Transformation Project, which has been so successful and overcome such formidable obstacles.  As well as being a great success in itself, I hope the new Library centre can also boost the regeneration of Willesden High Road.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Legal Action on Libraries

Public Interest Lawyers are apparently gathering evidence prior to a legal action against the DCMS for not exercising its powers of supervision over libraries.  I assume that this is largely as a result of their involvement in the Sheffield case.  It will be interesting to see whether they get anywhere.  In the Brent case both the SoS' reasoning and that of the High Court struck me as unarguable.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Alternate Weekly Collections in Ealing

I see that Ealing Council is proposing to introduce Alternate Weekly Collections just as Brent did.  The article cites Brent as having achieved a big recycling increase through precisely this technique as indeed Brent did.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Cutting Councillors

Apparently, the Local Government Commission for England is considering cutting the number of councillors in various northern cities.  This isn't actually new.  The last review in Brent (implemented in 2002) cut the number of Brent councillors from 66 to 63.  However, the writer may well be right in suggesting that Whitehall is pushing an agenda around promoting directly elected mayors, despite their obvious unpopularity with the public.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Brent Appears in Private Eye Again

Brent has appeared in Private Eye again, although not to the detriment of the Authority this time.  It comments on how Free Schools have found it difficult to find a site in the Borough.  The exception is the Michaela School, which after being refused various sites in South London, ended up near Wembley Park.  As Private Eye suggests, it looks as if the Michaela School was just put in Brent, because nowhere else was available.  There appears to have been no real consideration of local needs; just a determination that Tory crony Birbalsingh be given something.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Corrib Rest Queens Park

The Corrib Rest on Salusbury Road is closed, and a number of residents are seeking to prevent its redevelopment by listing it as an asset of community value (ACV).  Unfortunately ACV status does not do what many people seem to think it does.

An idea has gone around that ACV status is important in refusing planning permission.  This emerged as widely held belief as part of the campaign against rebuilding The Queensbury in Willesden.  In fact, the Planning Inspector gave no real consideration to ACV status in that case.  Whereas ACV status is a "material consideration" that just means that the Committee consider it, it carries no particular guidance as to how much weight they attach.  In both The Queensbury and the former Kensal Rise Library cases, officers advised that ACV status was not an important factor. 

What can be more important is change of use from "community use" (D1) status.  Brent has a policy of resisting loss of community space (defined as D1 class in planning terms), so that can be a barrier to redevelopment.  It certainly was in the Kensal Rise case, as library use is unequivocally D1 status.  It also featured in The Queensbury, as it was argued that some of the pub uses were effectively community use (especially the Busy Rascals toddler group).  However, the developer met those concerns in the proposal so it was not a reason for refusal, and therefore never came before the Inspector.

I am not sure whether parts of the Corrib Rest might have a claim to D1 status, given its former somewhat controversial history as the Irish Centre.  It may do as it might be viewed as a community centre, and it might be possible to retrospectively classify it as such, although I am sure that any developer would challenge such a move.  If it is simply seen as a pub such a move would not be possible and it would not have protection against change of use.

Pub Protection
In some authorities, pubs do have specific protection, but not in Brent.  I understand The Queensbury campaign lobbied for such a policy, and were even promised changes would be made to the Council's Planning policies, but no such changes were made at the relevant meetings.

ACV Status and Ownership Transfer
Where ACV status might be relevant to any Corrib Rest development is in terms of transfer of ownership.  This is in fact the main purpose of ACV status under the Localism Act.  If successfully listed, ACV listing would force a moratorium on any sale for six months to allow community groups to see if they could muster sufficient funds to buy the property. 

Again this is not as much of a barrier as it sounds.  With London prices, I doubt whether any community group could afford anything like the market price.  The owner does not actually have to sell to such a group in any case, merely allow a six month pause.  Ownership has no effect on planning permission.  I have heard a rumour that people are being told that the Council can delay considering a planning application because of ACV status.  I am sure that is wrong.  The Council is obliged to consider all applications (including any that came from some one who did not own the land).  If it were to refuse to do so, or delay without good reason, the applicant could appeal to the Planning Inspector and get a decision that way.

A final point worth making, is that ACV status only kicks in if the Council actually decides to grant it, which is not automatic.  If the building were to be sold prior to ACV status being granted, there would be no moratorium, as happened in the case of the former Kensal Rise Library.


One of the comments below points out that ACV status will automatically force an applicant to ask for planning permission if they want to change the Corrib Rest from a pub to something else, following changes to the use class rules that came into force from April.  I still suspect that this something of a distraction, however, as Brent has historically given little weight to ACV status as a planning consideration.


It is odd how irate anonymous comments can be.  In response to the most recent comment, I have published a correction.  As far as I am aware, no one currently knows if there is any plan to change the use of the Corrib Rest.  There may be, or it might reopen as a pub/restaurant again as has often happened in other cases.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Congratulations Cllr Lesley Jones

Congratulations are due to Cllr Lesley Jones who has been awarded a MBE.  Cllr Lesley Jones represents Willesden Green and is also this year's Mayor for Brent.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Harrow Libraries Debate

I see that Bob Blackman MP is doing some grandstanding on libraries in Harrow.  He has apparently also called for a Westminster Hall Debate on Tuesday.  This all sounds like an effort to distract from the fact that his government is imposing huge cuts on local authorities like Harrow.  Any vote in Westminster Hall will in any case have no effect on Harrow's library policy.  I suspect the article's reference to a review by Ed Vaizey will actually turn out to be considering whether to review.

Incidentally, I don't recall Bob Blackman once mentioning libraries in his time as a Brent Councillor.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Visits to Wembley Library

I mentioned that the extrordinary success of Brent Libraries is linked to the growth in Wembley Library numbers.  It is worth seeing just how dramatic the improvement at Wembley has been in graphic form.

That growth in numbers probably puts Wembley Library in the country's top ten libraries.  The first two years show the visit numbers for the Brent Town Hall library.  The third column starts to show the effect of the new Wembley Library, which opened on 17 June 2013.  It shows growth of more than 200% on the previous year.  The final column shows the numbers for a full year of operation.  It is fortunate that the efforts to stop or downgrade Wembley Library failed.


Once again, there is a comment suggesting that the methodology of counting users is wrong.  I have dealt with this suggestion here.  I have also dealt with the even more far out suggestion that the growth in numbers is all down to fire drills here.  The methodology is defined by CIPFA and applies to all 151 library authorities in England.  If you don't like it, you can ask CIPFA to change it.  The point of having CIPFA using the same standard for all library services is so that meaningful comparisons can be made. 


I think this is the last comment I am going to publish on this subject as the anonymous poster simply refuses to accept the facts.  The CIPFA methodology applies to all library authorities, and Brent meets their criteria.  That is just the way it is.  There is nothing "dishonest" in that assertion.  The simple fact is that Brent's Library Transformation Project was found to be entirely sound when examined in exhaustive detail by the High Court, and the subsequent satisfaction ratings and user & loan figures confirm its success. 

Monday, 1 June 2015

Bulky Item Collection in Brent and Hounslow

I see Hounslow are adopting a Brent style bulky items collection service, with a very similar reasoning.  The introduction of charging for this service led to a steep decline in collections, and it is reasonable to assume that some of the items no longer collected for free get dumped on the streets.  Brent should think about this in case it is again suggested that charging be re-introduced