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Monday, 27 June 2016

Brent Parking Controversy

As I anticipated, Brent Council's big rise in parking charges is attracting controversy.  Some of Brent Council's previous problems in setting parking policy are referred to by Martin Francis here.  It is a naturally controversial issue and I can recall meetings that degenerated into shouting matches about it. 

My view is that the Council and residents have had a kind of covenant based on consent.  Residents in controlled parking zones get two options:

Pay a fee and get effectively privileged parking in your neighbourhood because outsiders can't park there.


Pay nothing, but accept that many more cars park in your area so you may find far harder to park close to your house.

Brent has only installed such zones where the majority of residents have voted for them.  This latest very steep rise looks to me as if it may be taken as a breach of this "contract".  To many residents, it may look like an attempt by councillors to squeeze them for money.  I wonder how many of the present Cabinet actually live in CPZs themselves?

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Sunday Opening for Harlesden Post Office

It is interesting to see Sunday opening at a new Post Office in Harlesden.  I can remember campaigning against Post Office closures on many previous occasions, so it is good to see the network making progress.  It is also striking that the Post Office, like Brent libraries, see Sunday opening as an important way of making themselves more accessible.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Democratic Debate and Libraries

As we all look forward to the Brexit recession, an old story has come up again _ libraries.  An anonymous commentator has suggested that the undemocratic nature of the developments in South Kilburn, which I criticised the other day, are similar to the arrangements around the Libraries Transformation Project

South Kilburn is going through what is described as a "fundamental review" without any public debate at all.  Indeed I am not sure that even councillors are involved.  

The Libraries Transformation Project went through a whole series of discussions.  these included several public meetings when I presented the proposals, a number when council officers presented to specific groups, a questionnaire that elicited more than three thousand responses, the entire gamut of official decision making meetings that lasted from November to May, and where members of the public spoke, coverage not just in the local and national media, but also in the international media and a full blown judicial review.  It therefore had more publicity and discussion than any other Brent Council decision that I know of.

By contrast, South Kilburn could be drastically reshaped without anyone taking official responsibility and without the residents or their representatives being involved.

That is quite a contrast.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Flooding in King Edward VII Park

As the UK ponders whether to inflict utter disaster on itself today, I have never seen the Willesden King Edward VII park so badly flooded.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Parking Charge Increases

Looking at Brent Council's parking plans, I see that it is still proposed to go forward with very high charges for visitors in CPZs.  I suspect that this will be enormously controversial.  I wonder whether the Councillors pushing it will actually be willing to go out to defend their policy?

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Brent Council and Civic Enterprise

One of the paper's before Brent Council's next Cabinet is on Civic Enterprise, i.e. using Council resources to make money.  It is short to read, and strikingly uninformative.  Other authorities are approaching this sort of agenda much more robustly.  Whether Brent is not giving any detail because it wants to be secretive or because it doesn't really have any worked up ideas is not clear to me. 

Monday, 20 June 2016

Underground Car Park on Deerhurst Road

Bumping into some one outside the Willesden Sainsburys on Saturday, she reminded me that there is a renewal of the proposal for housing and a new car park at the Deerhurst Road Temple.  This is a reworking of a controversial scheme that failed to get through before

I recall at that Planning meeting, one of the Committee suggested to the applicant that he could build the care home without the proposed basement car park.  He din't welcome the idea.  This is not surprising as the main purpose of the development is to provide more car parking for the Temple.  The effect of this would simply be to increase the number of cars coming into the Willesden area, and hence traffic congestion.  For this reason the proposal runs completely counter to Brent's sustainable transport policies.  For e3xample, the next Cabinet meeting, in reviewing the Borough's parking policies is being told that:

"Car usage makes a significant contribution to the borough’s carbon emissions and air pollution.  The council is seeking, through its Transport and Parking Strategies, to Encourage a greater uptake of more sustainable modes of transport for those journeys. For example, a  5% reduction in visitors travelling by car would equate to over 20,000 fewer return car journeys, and would therefore make a significant contribution to reducing both air  pollution and carbon emissions in Brent. Concerns about air quality were expressed by residents in the consultation and many understand the direct relationship with the need for behaviour change regarding car usage."

In light of that it strikes me as very strange that officers are apparently recommending approval.

As with the previous occasion, this proposal has attracted numerous objections.  I recall previously, local residents were so exercised that one even threatened judicial review if the proposal went through.

In discussing the transport implications, officers suggest that numbers will be limited by a planning condition.  I doubt very much whether such a condition could be successfully enforced.  More remarkable still is the officers' statement (under 1.1.9) that the new car park will reduce congestion.  It is widely accepted that providing more car parking spaces simply encourages car use, and therefore increases traffic congestion. 

Sunday, 19 June 2016

South Kilburn and a Lack of Democracy

I had a couple of comments on my post on the new Marks & Spencer in South Kilburn.  "Food desert" may seem a bit extreme, but the area certainly seems short of common amenities to me.  During the recent by election, I recall being asked to get some food, and I had to trek all the way from the campaign base in Peel Precinct to Kilburn High Road.  Of course, one shop isn't going to change this, but it does seem to be a sign of improvement. 

On the wider point, it does seem to me a great pity that there isn't more public input into the changes in South Kilburn.  What makes me most unhappy is that when I went out door knocking there during the by election, many people seemed to think there was nothing they could do.  Whether they wanted changes or not, they seemed to feel that things would be done to them regardless of their wishes.  This is exactly the opposite of what local democracy is supposed to be about. 

Currently, there is supposed to be a "fundamental review", but why isn't that happening in public with the participation of those who live in and represent the area?

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Tricycle Theatre Capital Project

The Tricycle Theatre is taking a tremendous leap with its new capital project.   The idea has been kicking round for some time.  Indeed I think Indhu Rubasingham envisaged major changes as soon as she became Artistic Director back in 2012.  I hope it goes well. 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Co-op Food Store

I note that the Co-operative food store application in Burnley Road was refused last week, which seems a shame to me as I think a Co-op food store would enhance that parade.  I hope that the applicant redraws the application and tries again. 

Monday, 13 June 2016

Brent and School Academies

The Guardian recently published a letter on academies with a lot of signatures, many of them from Brent.  Two things puzzle me about this. 

The first is what exactly is Brent Council policy?  The Labour Group voted only to support academies if they met certain conditions.  This was passed some years ago, and to the best of my knowledge has never been rescinded.  However, as I have previously observed, the Council does not appear to be following this policy.  I have heard a number of people in Brent Labour Party, and Brent Labour councillors, express opposition to academies, but this never seems to translate into action.  Why is this?

The second point is that I find it noteworthy that Cllr Muhammed Butt has not signed the letter, althoiugh the current Deputy Leader and the previous Deputy Leader have.  Is Cllr Butt a secret academies supporter?

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Ealing Road Library Development

Following yesterday's post on Willesden Library, it is worth pointing out that something might be afoot at Ealing Road Library too.  The proposals include the idea of using the upper floor and a building at the front.  This seems less driven by improving library services, and more by a need to generate income from assets.  Given the current budget position that is not terrible I guess.  A cafe might help the library a bit, but I can't visualise what the upper floor would be used for.  

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Return of the Library Lab to Willesden Green Library?

It seems something like the Library Lab may return to Willesden Green Library.  Some may recall the Library Lab.  It was a project to try to use part of the old Willesden Green Library Centre to encourage networking among entrepreneurs.  It was very popular, despite being located in the former Cafe GiGi in less than unideal premises, and helped the regeneration of Willesden High Road _ particularly with the shops at the corner of Walm Lane and Willesden Lane. 

Unfortunately the money ran out, so it shut down after ten months.

The new proposal is to finally make use of the Long Room at the new Centre,.  This was originally intended for use by Brent's Revenues and Benefits service who decided their premises at the Civic Centre were adequate.  The Long Room was kept closed for quite a bit, before being opened as extra reading space until a recent incident

The idea is that the room will now be hired out as co-working space.  Brent Council say the aim is "to develop a space that doesn’t just provide a great working environment but also acts as a catalyst for local enterprise. We want to create a place where start-ups, entrepreneur’s freelancers and small businesses can thrive. We want to create a space where the users feel that they are part of a community that networks, innovates, collaborates and supports."

The Council's four aims are described as:

  • Provide demand led business support programme, including services such as signposting, capacity building and opportunities to network (the Council may be able to support the appointed provider with this) 
  • Create a community amongst the businesses, facilitating networking and information sharing between the users of the space 
  • Work with the Council to help identify suitable move on spaces for entrepreneurs who require larger premises to operate from as their business grows
  • To support the creation of a successful, commercially viable co-working space

This last sounds the most tricky.  After help with start up costs and a peppercorn rent for the first year, the new scheme is supposed to be commercially viable.  That means not only breaking even, but yielding a profit, part of which can go to the library's running costs.

Altogether, I think this sounds a really good innovative idea, and in line with some of the work done by the British Library and others, but I have two concerns.  The first is that the scheme may be extended to other parts of the building.  The Board room, at the top, would probably be no great loss as no one seems to use it anyway, but other parts of the building are used for community events and I would not like them to be squeezed out.

The second is the possible effect on opening hours.  Many local people regret that it is not possible to hire the meeting spaces outside library opening hours at an affordable rate.  This is because security guards have to be specially employed.  A scheme like this might allow greater access to the building in the evenins and at weekends, which would improve all the activities at the centre.  I certainly hope that turns out to be the case. 

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Marks & Spencer in South Kilburn

A new Marks & Spencer food store opened in South Kilburn yesterday.  It is on the ground floor of the controversial development near Queens Park station. 

The site has rightly attracted controversy in the past because of its "poor doors" layout, but the food store should be welcome.  South Kilburn is one of the few areas in Brent that approximates to a "food desert".  This is partly psychological since people in South Kilburn are very reluctant to go on to Salusbury Road.  Assuming that South Kilburn goes ahead as a development, it could have the opportunity to remodel itself as a much more liveable space.  Sadly, I don't detect much determination in the Council to really think through how to create South Kilburn as a sustainable neighbourhood at the moment.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The Plot Thickens at Willesden Library

Willesden Library has a small display about an Innisfree allotment project that is both cross cultural and intergenerational.  Exactly the sort of thing libraries have the potential to promote.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Fulton Road Junction Let Down

Brent Cyclists have raised concerns over the safety of the Olympic Way and Fulton Road junction.  I entirely agree with them and suggested that this was one of the areas that needed improving around the Civic Centre back in 2013.  In April 2014, Brent Council's planning committee agreed to request that the Highways Committee look at the issue specifically (see item 7 of the minutes in the link).  My memory of that discussion is that we were told that there was planning gain money available.  Nonetheless, I have been unable to find any follow up in the Highways Committee records.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Paving in Kensal Green

Brent Council recently decided to introduce tarmac surfaces where paving has previously been used.  An example of this practice from Furness Road is shown above.  I have long complained about this road, where the pavements have been bad for years.  I think that rather than take what the late Dan Filson called the "liquorice allsorts" approach to surfaces, it would be better simply to do the whole stretch the same way.  I would prefer the kind of surfacing you see at Hazel Road in front of Harriet Tubman House, although that is more expensive. 

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Butt Undergoes Another Probe

A third probe, this time by the Labour Party, has been announced into Cllr Butt.  This adds to the two existing Council probes into Butt.  I suggested previously that the other probes would by themselves be inadequate to deal with the issues, so I am glad that a third investigation is now launched.

I raised a concenr a few days ago about one of the Standards Committee's ability to deal with Butt impartially.  I have now been told that, contrary to the practice when I was a councillor, the membership of the Standards Committee is now effectively simply picked by the Leader.  If true, this might seem to undermine the credibility of the exercise.  It would imply that Cllr Butt had handpicked his own judges, which rather undermines confidence in the whole exercise.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Willesden Library Incident

Sitting in Willesden Library yesterday, I was told that the Long Room would be closed until further notice.  The reason given was simply an "incident".  I wonder what it was.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

St Pauls Pianos in Willesden

I notice that the faded St Pauls Piano sign was repainted some time ago.  I am sure that with the rest of the North London Piano business, it ceased a while ago.  Who and why repaints it?

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Cafe Coming to The Library at Willesden Green?

On Sunday I noticed that the area earmarked for a cafe in The Library at Willesden Green appears to have been cleared .  Hopefully, this means a cafe is finally coming to the Library, after the delay caused by an unsuccessful procurement process. 

That should be a big boost to the success of the Library, so I look forward to it.