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Sunday, 29 November 2015


It appears that the Treetops closure that I referred to earlier has been resolved.  What a curious turn of events. 

Friday, 27 November 2015

Treetops Nursery Closure

Treetops is threatened with being closed by Ofsted.  I remember when the current arrangements were set up.  Indeed I helped shaped them after some constituents contacted me.  To close the whole operation down over one unpaid invoice seems a massive over reaction.  I assume that there is a back story that has yet to be made public.

If Treetops does close, it will leave the Council the headache of an empty building for which there is no alternative use.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Desperate Liberal Democrat Bar Chart

I have mentioned before the notorious subject of Liberal Democrat bar charts.  The Liberal Democrats have made an art of distorting election results to mislead the voters.  Following the Kensal Green by election announcement, their first leaflet has an especially desperate example of the genre:

Whereas generally they show their opponents as way behind or about to be overtaken.  Here, they are reduced to pretending that their opponents don't exist.  I guess that they felt they still had to have some sort of bar chart in that place in their standard template, but the 2015 Brent Central General Election result just wouldn't do.  Nor would their dismal 2014 Kensal Green showing

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Where is the New Brent Library Strategy?

Curious to see that Brent Council's Forward Plan still has no item on libraries.  The Libraries Transformation Project, which was effectively the Council's strategy from 2011 until now, has been completed with the opening of Willesden Library.  Officers should be given political direction on the long term future of the service so that they can plan service development, including whatever cuts councillors decide to make to the libraries budget.

The omission is curious, as the Budget included proposals to spin off libraries in some sort of undefined form.  Full scale privatisation would probably be politically controversial, and possibly technically difficult.  Certainly I think separating out the co-located libraries at Harlesden, Willesden and Wembley strikes me as a tricky issue.

The whole design of these three libraries is based on blurring the distinction between the library and the co-located service.  For example at Willesden Library, you have to go through the library to reach the Musuem, archives, one stop shop, art gallery and meeting rooms.  A new arms length arrangement goes in the opposite direction of trying to separate everything out again.

It reads to me as a line put in the budget by someone for financial reasons without really understanding how Brent Library services work. 

Monday, 23 November 2015

Brawl in Tubbs Road

Reports of a massive night time brawl in Tubbs Road.  Boris Johnson's massive cuts to local police in Brent and across London are hardly going to help deal with this sort of thing.  Andy Burnham has written to Theresa May to think again on the police cuts.  Lets hope she listens. 

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Kensal Green By Election

Kensal Green is now gearing up for a by election following the sad death of Cllr Dan Filson.  There are five candidates standing, including what I think is the first ever UKIP candidate to stand in Kensal Green.  Only two candidates _ Labour and Liberal Democrat _ actually live in the ward.  Polling Day will be 17 December. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Furness School Academisation

It appears that Furness primary school is drifting towards academy status.  I am not sure whether this is supposed to benefit the school or is merely a consequence of its linkage to Oakington Manor School.  Either way it doesn't seem satisfactory.

As I have pointed out before, the widespread conversion of schools into academies is making life impossible for local authorities.  They retain the responsibility for providing school places, but have almost no powers to create them.  They can't build new schools unless they create new academies, and they can't force an existing academy to take pupils.  If the academy fails financially (as some have) the local authority is left to pick up the pieces.

Brent Council sought to get around this by ensuring that new academies be part of the Co-operative network of schools.  Despite this being the official Brent Council policy, the Council appears not to be implementing it.  It is the closest that, under the existing government, we can get to the Labour Party's official policy of having schools under local authority control

I find it quirte baffling that the Council is not pursuing its duly passed policy.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

New Exhibtion at Willesden Library

Willesden Library's gallery has a new exhibition called Déjà Vu.  I think it is greatly to the credit of the officers concerned, that this kind of project is still going forward despite the financial crisis.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Longer Library Opening Hours

No one seems to have noticed that, at a time when most authorities are reducing library hours as the only alternative to closure, Brent have extended them even further.  Seven day opening was introduced at all Brent libraries late in 2012, but now Wembley and Willesden Libraries open not from noon as in the other cases, but from 10am.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

School Place Crisis

Among the reports at the next Brent Cabinet meeting is one on school places, with frankly terrifying implications.  It asks members to:

"Note that the demand for  Secondary Places will increase  from September 2016 with demand outstripping supply from 2018. depending on the size of sites, the equivalent of two or three additional secondary schools will be needed by the 2022/23 academic year."

I well recall the controversy over the building of the ARK Academy in Wembley which attracted some very strange debate.  The Lib Dem/ Tory administration in charge of the Council ordered a review of all the available sites, and none of them were brilliant.  I simply can't imagine where two or three secondary schools can be built.

It also illustrates a point I have made before that authorities still have a requirement to provide school places, but not the powers.  As the report says, Brent has no community secondary schools, and no power to demand an academy expands or ability to build a new school, except as an academy.  The Council is dependent on other parties to make things happen.  In the case of the Gladstone Free school, they simply didn't.  Altogether, it strikes me that such a system is unsustainable.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Play Streets in Brent

The next Brent Council Cabinet has an interesting piece on play streets _ temporary closures of a street to allow children to play in it.  This sounds like an interesting idea, and I look forward to seeing how it works in practice.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Ash Tree Die Back

Ash tree die back hit the headlines some time ago.  The melancholy fact appears to be that the UK will lose most of its current ash trees in the same way that Denmark already has.  I find the search for developing new strains of ash heartening as a solution to this problem, but it is sad to see that there is so much opposition to it simply based on the technology being new.  The Woodland Trust is quoted as saying that the "test tube" must be a last resort.  Why should it be presumed that the latest scientific research risks being disastrous?  Surely, whether a solution works or not should be assessed without worrying about whether it is based on old or new technology.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Boris Johnson Learns of Flooding Risks

Boris Johnson seems to be coming rather late to the the issue of surface water flooding.  As his Mayoral term peters out he seems to be desperately reaching round for some sort of legacy.  He has a reputation as something of a climate change sceptic, so that may explain why he has had so little interest in the subject.  Authorities like Brent have developed policies for reducing flooding over some years.  The effect of these can be seen in the use of permeable paving, tree planting, the use of sustainable urban drainage as a planning condition and the encouragement of soft planting. 

People sometimes blame the use of controlled parking zones for people paving over gardens, but I am not really convinced.  The expense of paving over a garden would take a while to recoup from the money saved on parking permits, and I suspect it has more to do with people wanting minimal maintanence for their gardens.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Scrutiny and Dumping

Thursday's scrutiny committee has a report on dumped rubbish, which is a model of what Scrutiny should be doing.  The Committee has taken a growing problem and major concern of residents, looked at in detail and with promptness, and come up with a series of imaginative recommendations.  That really is what the system is supposed to do, and it is a tribute to the recently deceased Chair that he got the Committee actively engaged in this way. 

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Parking at the Willesden Sainsburys

In the Willesden Sainsburys recently, I saw they are advertising their car parking for customers.  I hope that they remember that they have a planning obligation dating back to the 1980s, they have to make some of their spaces available for general town centre use.

I have often argued that parking is not as central to town centre success as many people seem to think.  During the early stages of the Harlesden Town Centre regeneration, I was surprised to learn that 85% of shoppers travelling to a London Town Centre do not come by car.  I was less surprised to find that getting people to linger in a pleasant urban environment is seen as important to the success of a High Street.  Political debates about parking often fail to recognise these factors.


The comment below states that Sainsburys are ignoring their obligations on car parking.  If so the Council should remind them ofr their obligations and, if necessary, take legal action.  By the way, the land on the Willesden Library site was not "given away". It paid for the new library.  It is also worth remembering that it was not for general parking but specifically for users of the Library Centre.