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Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Queensbury Listing

The Save the Queensbury group is continuing their campaign to have the building locally listed.  I really don't understand how it is that they come away from meetings thinking it has, only to find that the commitments are not pursued.  The campaigners are certainly entitled to feel aggrieved if councillors tell them that something will be done, but then don't do it. 

In the case of the Queensbury, it was previously rejected for listing as you can see here.

What worries me about the whole local listing thing, as I have pointed out before, is that it does not actually have all that much relevance in planning terms.  If there is an application, local listing will be noted in the report, but it generally hasn't had much weight in the Planning Committee deliberations.  It tends to give false hope, I think because it often get confused with statutory listing, which gives a very substantial measure of protection. 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Shared Surfaces Around The Library at Willesden

On Monday I commented on how the area around Wembley Library and Brent Civic Centre was coming into its own.  I think there is similar potential for the share surface spaces around Willesden Library.  Most obvious is the area at the back which was unfairly derided as a "muggers' alley" by some of the objectors to the planning application.

When I was up there on Sunday, it was already being used by some lads for skateboarding.  I think it could have a lot more potential once the cafe on the Brondesbury Park side opens.  This is especially true when one considers that the Grange Road space is pretty extensive as well. 

In front of the library there is a small pedestrianised space by Willesden Post Office, with a larger street behind, that could be adaptable to other uses.  Indeed, there were some stalls there during the recent official opening of the library. I think it is probably too residential for regular use but some occasional use might be possible.

Finally, even the Brondesbury Park side has a fairly good stretch of pavement.  Certainly it is better than the unwelcoming side of the old Willesden Library Centre. 

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Fire at Harlesden Primary School

I was shocked to learn of the fire at St Joseph's Primary School in Harlesden.  The press reports seem to suggest that no one was hurt.  I hope the damage is less than it appears.

PC Usage in Brent Libraries

Now that the opening of Willesden Library effectively finishes the Libraries Transformation Project, it is worth thinking about how Brent Libraries can progress further, especially in terms of PC usage.  The Brent case, and a case subsequently in Lincolnshire, confirmed that this is now part of the statutory duty for public Libraries

The current arrangement in Brent is that people can use their own devices on WiFi for an unlimited period, but the use of desktop PCs is limited to two hours per day.  In Wembley Library, I believe the staff have discretion to extend this to three hours if it is not a busy period.  Once you use your time that is it for the day.

Why not instead have (say) a weekly time budget?  You could roll over your allocated time to spend it all in one day or eke it out day by day.  It would certainly give users more flexibility that way.  I can see it might also create problems at peak periods, which I would imagine would include week ends and perhaps exam periods as the sheer volume of people might lead to congestion, but it is worth thinking about, and might broaden usage of libraries to a wider number of people.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

What Not to do about Flytipping

I mentioned the rise in flytipping in Brent a little while ago.  I was glad to see that Brent Scrutiny are taking the issue up.  I hope they will have a thorough look at whether the increase is down to flaws in the waste and street cleaning contract, failure to monitor well now that the Environment and Neighbourhood Services Department has been abolished, or some other factor. 

The abolition of the department comes at the same time as a change to a completely different kind of contract, and it would not surprise me if the two together have led to balls being dropped.  If Brent keeps on top of the contractor, the changes might actually led to improvements, despite the reduced spending.  The new waste and street cleaning contract has new time bands on town centre collection, more waste reduction, a more hands on approach by the contractor in communications and so on.   One thing that I am pretty certain will not work is signs telling people not to dump.  As you can see from this recent example, they seem to actually encourage dumping. 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Wembley Market Square Coming into its Own

On Saturday I up near Wembley Library for the first time in a while and I saw that a food market is finally coming to the Wembley Market Square just by the Library.

This is excellent, and effectively enhances the co-location that I have seen as one of Wembley Library's main selling points.  It also fits in well with the philosophy of the Libraries Transformation Project to try to concentrate libraries in centres of other activities.  This also fits well with siting the new Brent Civic Centre where it is as part of enhancing the regeneration of the Wembley area.  The people in the Civic Centre will themselves form a hefty source of potential customers for the traders in the market.  I notice that the short stay parking is also finally in operation. 

Sunday, 20 September 2015

David Cameron and Housing Failures

The past week of controversies over anthem singing etc.  have been dispiriting not so much because of the natural of the controversies covered as because of the things not covered.  There was little coverage of the infamous Trade Union Bill or the cuts in tax credits that not only break Cameron's election pledge, but drastically affect the lives of millions of people for the worse.  That is before you get other areas, such as the tottering state of the NHS and social housing and the forthcoming death of Council Housing.

The Tory government's plan is to force Councils to sell off housing to pay for more Housing Association housing at the same time as forcing Housing Associations to sell off their housing as the Right to Buy is extended to the Associations.  It seems that no thought has been given to how this will destroy the ability of housing associations to plan their finances.  One of the effects, I imagine, will be a seizing up house building as Associations become reluctant to commit to housebuilding in such a climate of uncertainty.  I doubt whether David Cameron has any understanding of this, not least because he referred at the last PMQs to Housing Associations as "part of the public sector". 

They are not of course; they are free standing organisations running their own businesses.  Imagine the outcry there would be if the government simply ordered private sector businesses to reduce their income levels.  Any free market conservative would be up in arms.

Rather than trying to solve the housing crisis, especially of affordable housing, the present government seems to be actively stoking it.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Building Continues at the Old Dust Club

Building work is still going on at the former Willesden Social Club.  I suppose given the length of time it took to get the site back into use, I shouldn't get impatient, but I am.  As well as turning the site from derelict land into actively useful land, it will also add some affordable housing in the area, which is something need across London. 

Incidentally, it was nice of the building firm to put their hoarding around the street sign so that it can still be read.  Willows Terrace is hard to find if you don't know the area.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Wembley Central up for Sale

I see that Wembley Central shopping centre has been put up for sale.  My memory is that the development was rather less golden than described in the articles, being plagued by delays as a result of being built over Wembley Central Tube Station. 

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Willesden Library Again

Going into Willesden Library on a wet evening yesterday, I was pleased to see the Willesden History Society being given a tour of the new Brent Museum.  I was also glad to see that the junction in front of the Library was not as flooded as it has often been in the past.  At times it could be impassable if you wanted dry feet.  During the planning application for the new Willesden Library I specifically raised this flooding point with the Committee, and I hope it had some effect.  Unfortunately a lot of the rest of the High Road remains fairly washed out in bad weather.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Cuts to Public Health in Brent

Cuts to public health in West London have not had the kind of attention they deserve since they were announced in June.  If they are implemented on a pro rata basis, which appears to be the Tory government's intention, Brent will lose out to the tune of £1.34 million.  The whole thing rather undermines David Cameron's pledges to protect the NHS budget.  He has redefined NHS spending as local authority spending, in itself quite possibly a good idea, and then reduced the budget.  Whatever the cuts are, they are likely to increase the burden on the NHS.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Pickles Bin Collections Binned

I see that the Eric Pickles' pledge to restore weekly bin collections has finally been binned itself.  The evidence from Stoke on Trent that restoring weekly bin collections would vastly outweigh the value of the grant does not surprise me.  It was obviously just an expensive vanity project for a minister who cared more about headlines than good government.  That is why no councils took it up.  It made no sense.  The £250 million cost of the fund dwarfs any savings that Pickles is likely to make as anti-corruption czar.  This, despite his track record in weakening anti-corruption and anti-waste controls in office

I get the impression that this government does not even care about its incompetence. 

Monday, 14 September 2015

The Library at Willesden Fully Functioning

The highway building work around Willesden Library Centre seems to have been completed, which means that everyone can now see that the Library is fully functional.  This includes the pedestrian bit at the back, which I think looks rather good, and certainly not the "Muggers' Alley" some predicted. 

The doors at the back are now open, making the Library easier to access and encouraging footfall in the new walk way.

I see that the wall opposite the artwork in the entrance hall is being used for a temporary exhibition about rugby following the Webb Ellis cup coming to Brent.  That seems a good use of space, rather similar to the use of another bare wall in the old Willesden Library.  

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Willesden Library Opening Yesterday

The official opening of The Library at Willesden yesterday was fun.  The BBC reported it here.  They correctly link the new Library at Willesden to the successful court action back in 2011.  This is fair.  Building a new library at Willesden was a natural part of the philosophy behind the whole Libraries Transformation Project.  I get the impression that some of the opponents of the Libraries Transformation still don't really get that.  I hope that now they can see what a success the new library is, they will learn to love Brent libraries. 

At the opening, the ground floor featured a floor show with an extraordinary fusion dance troupe who I haven't seen before.

As well as the St Michael and All Angels steel band, who I have seen before, and who are fantastic:

Meanwhile it was also good to see a temporary use for the saved library fragment, now renamed the "Reading Room", it seems:

Cycle Stands at Willesden Library

The cycle stands are now in place at Willesden Library Centre.  As more and more bits get completed, the numbers of users should go up.  Wembley Library took several months before reaching its current high rates of usage. 

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Setting Up for Willesden Library Opening

I am currently in the dedicated quiet area in Willesden Library which is so insulated I can't hear anything from the sound testing happening as they set up for the opening ceremony below.

Around The Library at Willesden

As we wait for the official opening of The Library at Willesden today, and the result of the Labour Leadership election, I notice that mush of the work around Willesden Library Centre is now complete.

Trees are now planted at the back walk way that opponents claimed would be a "Muggers' Alley":

The contractors appear to be finishing off the paving, and we must be close to the point when people can start using it either to access the Library or as a cut through between the bus stops on Harlesden Road and Brondesbury Park. 

On the Grange Road side, where work seems pretty much done, a "tuning stone" has appeared.  I have never heard of one of these before, but this is what it looks like:

This is what the plaque by the side says:

I imagine that these rather odd looking pipes near by must be linked to it. 

Friday, 11 September 2015

Willesden Library at the Heart of Regeneration

I have mentioned before the development at the former Spotted Dog in Willesden.  Some people deeply regret its loss as a pub, although from what I remember it really wasn't a very good one, which I imagine why it failed commercially.

Now that The Library at Willesden Green is open, it could become the centre of a wider regeneration of the area.  There are lots of ways in which Willesden High Road should be improved.  Hopefully the various improvements to the new Library will help to generate improvements in the wider area.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Read It and Weep

Scottish Unison has come up with a report into the workings of public libraries in Scotland: Read it and Weep. It gives a good idea of the kind of pressures that library staff are under.  I suspect it holds true not just in Scotland but in the UK in general.  It also makes it clear that there is more to the debate than just counting library closures.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Muggers Alley?

I am glad to see that the lighting columns have now been installed, but I would guess not connected, at the pedestrian way at the back of Willesden Library.  This was a major gripe among some of those who objected to the new development.  You can see from the photo here, Alex Colas (who subsequently stood in the local elections as an "Independent" in alliance with the Greens,holding a sign referring to "Muggers Alley".  It was also a point raised by some of those who supported the "Town Green" application.  I would say that the area is actually quite broad, and looking at the spacing of the lighting columns, reasonably well lit.  It will also benefit from the natural surveillance from both the Library Centre and the flats. 

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Festival of Freedoms in Parliament

In Parliament the other day, I picked up a booklet for a Festival of Freedoms which is being promoted this year.  It is a year long series of events which deserves better publicity.  A list of events can be found here

Monday, 7 September 2015

Activites at The Library in Willesden

I mentioned before the excellent exhibition on the links between Europe and Gujarat currently on at the Brent Museum in the newly opened Willesden Library.  As well as the exhibition, there are a number of small events along side it, such as this one on cookery.  It does seem a real shame that these aren't better publicised.  I just found this by chance as I happened to be in the Library on Thursday morning

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Mike Pavey's Economy Column

Cllr Mike Pavey, Deputy Leader of Brent Council, has an interesting column here.  He is quite right that ceding economic credibility is incredibly damaging to the Labour Party's electability.  It has also led directly to the damaging and unneeded austerity that we have suffered since the Tories came to power in 2010. 

Always demanding that the government spend more (as many on the left do) actually undermines the case for counter cyclical spending when it is needed.  Whereas Mikey seems to feel that this is a past debate, I think it may well come back fairly shortly.  UK inflation is now more or less zero.  If events in China lead to falling oil and commodity prices, that may well lead to an extended period of deflation.  The classic Keynesian response to that would be a fiscal stimulus to raise prices in order to avoid a deflationary spiral.  If that is conflated with sheer extravagance of simply spending to no great purpose (such as simply nationalising everything), I suspect that many voters will find it incredible and adopt George Osborne style cuts instead.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Moberly Sports Centre Update

I have started receiving Karen Buck's newsletters (I guess because I did a little campaigning for her before the General Election).  The latest links to Westminster's update on the Moberly Sports Centre Development.  This has been controversial in Karen's constituency because it involves the loss of the Jubilee Centre, which is obviously much loved.  However, the Moberly Centre will be much improved.

I hadn't realised that Westminster had also constructed a football pitch at St Augustine's in South Kilburn.  It is quite standard in Brent for school buildings to have conditions to make their sports facilities available for hire outside school hours.  Indeed I recall giving planning permission for St Augustine's Sports Hall with just such a condition attached many years ago.  Unfortunately, actually enforcing this can be difficult as schools often regard community access as a nuisance. 

Friday, 4 September 2015

Flytipping Increase in Brent

The Evening Standard recently published a piece on flytipping, which appears to be increasing across the country.  Brent is cited as having the worst increase, at 84%, although it is still not as bad as several other London Boroughs.

I suggested when Brent adopted its new Public Realm Contract that it would need careful monitoring.  The new contract had a number of imaginative ways to improve waste and street cleaning services whilst lowering costs.  However, effective monitoring was essential.  I suspect Brent's recent decision to abolish its Environment Department was not an aid to more effective monitoring.  Brent Council needs to work out how it is going to effectively respond to whatever it is that is causing the increase in flytipping.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Mural Art at Willesden Library

At Willesden Library this morning, and delighted to see that the mural art at the front of the building is almost finished.  It is too big for one photo so I took two:

You can see that it covers the whole of the back of the 1894/1980s fragment, and adds some welcome colour to a fairly black & white interior.

I think community art projects like this have a value out of all proportion to the cost, and leave a permanent legacy.  This and the earlier Positive Arts project were things I pushed for in the design phase.  Sadly, this sort of thing is likely to become less common as budgets are shrunk tighter and tighter.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Willesden Library Opening Ceremony

Willesden Library is having an official opening ceremony on Saturday 12 September.  I find Brent Council's habit of staging opening ceremonies long after the facilities have actually opened (In this case about a month and a half) rather odd.  I certainly hope that the ceremony is not as extravagant as the official opening of the Civic Centre.  What might be more worth while would be a publicity campaign to make sure that residents are actually aware that The Library at Willesden Green is now available for them to use.  Given that the builders are still at work in the surrounding area, I am not sure that the public are fully aware the of the new facilities. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Lecture Room at Willesden Library

Another feature of the new Willesden Library that makes it superior to the old one is the lecture theatre.  The old Willesden Library had spaces that were used for meeting rooms, but they suffered from two disadvantages.  One was the lack of tiered seating, which meant that if you were sitting behind a tall person you could not see anything.  The other was the pillars which also blocked the view if you were in the wrong place.  The quality of the new building is simply much higher than the old.