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Sunday, 27 November 2016

Kilburn Regeneration Finally Under Scrutiny

I have been worried by the lack of public engagement in the South Kilburn regeneration before, so it is good to see that the public are at last demanding a say.  But why has it taken so long?  Possibly the Scrutiny Committee, who have this as an upcoming item, might have some answers.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Butt Sticks out on NHS

In a recent dialogue with Cllr Muhammed Butt, I discovered a reason why Brent Council is apparently so relaxed about the NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP).  In his view, it is going to enhance service at Central Middlesex Hospital.  

This is, to put it mildly, not a commonly held belief.  Even the STP's defenders think it is being driven partly by expenditure cuts and involves shifting resources away from Central Middlesex, Charing Cross and Ealing Hospitals in particular.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP)

It always strikes me as remarkable what attracts controversy and what does not.  Brent Council normally has enormous rows over buildings that, whatever there merits often affect fairly small numbers of users.  By contrast, big policies that affect thousands of people like taking BHP properties back in house get little comment. 

An even more striking example is the NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan for North West London.  The Cabinet minutes show little concern over this.  Yet, it is likely to see a substantial downgrading of Central Middlesex and Charing Cross Hospitals, which affects a large part of the southern part of Brent.  Why the reticent response?

Monday, 21 November 2016

Brent Council Finally Updating Air Quality Plan

I am glad to see that the most recent Forward Plan for Brent Council finally includes an update of the Air Quality Action Plan.  I must say it does seem to come rather late in the day.  The last one became due for an update some years ago.  As I have pointed out before, Brent Council's main influence on air quality is through reducing transport emissions.  Its parking policies are not always consistent in this.  Let us hope they sharpen up.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Brent Tory Shambles Deepens

The Brent Tories appear to have issued a sort of clarification of their earlier "deselection" remarks which really just muddies the waters further.  I am not sure what it all means, other than leaving me with the impression that they all, perhaps understandably, loathe each other.  In particular, I am struck by Cllr Davidson's quote:

"He added: “Originally it [the party fallout] was about money, it was about allowances and that was a problem.  Now we have the allowances we should be one group.”

It is unusual for a politician to suggest that he and his colleagues just want the money.  Generally politicians of all parties try to sound (and I think are) a bit more high minded.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Ealing Road Library Redevelopment

I have been learning a bit more about the proposed development of Ealing Road Library.  It is a more interesting development than I thought earlier

Firstly there is obviously some thought into how to develop the site in a way to help the Town Centre.  I think all Brent libraries have this potential to some extent, with Willesden and Wembley being perhaps the best examples.  I like the way the author is trying to get the open space to fit in with the buildings and be part of a wider vision for the future of Ealing Road in what he calls a "gem chain strategy".

Gem Chain - screen.jpg

The picture above shows a kind of stylised Ealing Road with the library as one of the gems. The plan for the library itself is to have two wings, one with a cafe and one with some sort of " rentable community and enterprise hub".

The space between is a courtyard that can be used for outdoor events. According to the developer: "The public space will be truly public and accessible to all. The intention of the space is that for the majority of the week the space will act as an informal gathering and meeting space with adequate permanent public seating and cycle parking to service the existing library function and support the proposed new uses. The cafe will use the space for outdoor seating with furniture that is removed in the evenings. The library might also choose to run some of its activities in the space from time to time."

 The whole thing is an interesting concept, and would help connect the public building to the public realm in an interesting way.  I hope the designer, Mark Projects, doesn't mind me using both photo above and his rather old school model:

03 - lo.jpg

Further details can be found here

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Tory Shambles at Brent Council

The shambles of the Brent Tories continues.  Half the Tory councillors in Brent are now deselected.  Does the group really merit having a leader, deputy leader and whip for a group of only three councillors?  Do they still get an office and a political assistant?

UPDATE (2.11.16)
It seems that there was more to this story than I immediately realised.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Reviewing Kilburn Plans

The next Brent Council Cabinet has important documents on South Kilburn.  Among other things these include changes to the Carlton and Granville Centres, which have generated controversy.  Some controversy on such matters is, I suppose, inevitable. 

Yet I can't help but feel that the Council should be concerned at its failure to engage the public, or indeed their elected representatives.  I have remarked this before.  I am sure that some of the reasons for this are understandable.  Putting these questions in an accessible format is not easy, and people often have other things to do than respond to Council consultations, but in a situation when even the local councillors feel somewhat removed form the process surely something is wrong somewhere? 

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Inconsistent Parking Policy

Predictably, former Cllr Paul Lorber is attacking Brent Council's parking policies here.  Cllr Southwood explains the broad reasoning behind the strategy.  Essentially the reasons for the charges (and the whole principle of regulation) are to do with the need to regulate traffic, rationing very limited space and environmental benefits particularly in terms of air quality.  Before winning office in 2006, Paul Lorber and Liberal Democrat colleagues were promising free CPZ parking, a promise they reneged on in office. 

However, if the Council supports the use of charges, and very steep rises in charges, for the purposes cited, how does that square with the free parking policy at certain sites in the run up to Christmas?  Doesn't that encourage car use in the way that raising car parking charges is designed to discourage?  Isn't following both policies at once rather contradictory?

In fact, I don't believe that the free parking policy is going to be much use to Brent Town Centres, and my reasons are these:

  • When I was looking at changes to Harlesden Town Centre, I was assured that only about 15% of shoppers to an average London Town Centre came by car.  Most travel on foot or by public transport.
  • To some extent, the free parking policy will encourage negative factors such as poor air quality and traffic congestion that make the centres less attractive to shop in.
  •  Thirdly, the free parking only forms an attraction where there are Council parks that are part of the scheme.  Places like Kilburn High Road lose out from any supposed benefit because it has no Council owned park.
It all seems to be a rather unclear set of policies.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Willesden Library Debacle?

Several points come out from a recent account of a Willesden Connects meeting here.  A small group of Chandos Road residents are unhappy about highway works in their road under the policy change I referred to here.

Essentially, in what I guess is a largely savings driven exercise, Brent committed to greater use of tarmac to replace paving.  There are circumstances, such as where there a large number of trees, where this may give a better walking surface.  Anyone familiar with the extremely uneven paving of Furness Road pavements will know what I mean.  This kind of unevenness if often the result of  tree roots.  The description is not very clear.  It implies that all the trees are being destroyed, although Brent's policy as far as I know is to replace trees one for one as close to the original tree as possible.  Of course, this will generally be with a younger tree and often involves  a different species either to avoid subsidence or because a different species is judged to have a greater chance of survival.

The report also includes a personalised attack on Cllr Janice Long implying that she doesn't take an interest in highway matters, although she is actually the Brent councillor with the greatest knowledge of and interest in highway matters on Brent Council.

The report is also notable for suggesting that Cllr Butt disclaimed knowledge or responsibility for the policy.  As I have observed before, this is his standard approach.  I am more surprised to find people accepting it apparently at face value when several previous episodes suggest that Cllr Butt simply agrees with whoever he is speaking to at the time.  In this case, his audience said they didn't like the surfacing and he played along.  Apparently his interlocutors don't notice that in previous meeting he has been one of the people voting through the policy they disagree with.

Willesden Green Library
However, what really caught my eye in the piece is the reference to the "Willesden Green Library debacle".  I would guess this phrase comes from Martin Redstone, who is a member of the tarmac group and a lead opponent of the new Library at Willesden well as a long term critic of any changes to Dollis Hill House.

How could Willesden Green Library reasonably be described as a debacle?  In terms of the library user visits and loans are up, as is public satisfaction.  A number of the objections to the building have been proved to be untrue, and the objectors don't seem keen on returning to them.  

Moving beyond the library, I would say the permanent exhibition is impressive.  The recent Grunwick exhibition strikes me as just the sort of display that a good local history museum should aim at.  There is also the archive service, which is a service available in fewer and fewer Boroughs, since (like the Museum) it is non-statutory.

The spaces around the Library proper have hosted a broad range of film, dance, theatre and other events, including a number of book readings.  Some of this is referred to on the Libraries Taskforce web siteThere is also a good range of exhibitions in the art gallery.  To my mind, all this vindicates the Libraries Transformation Project, and I really don't see how any one can refer to it as a debacle.  

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Driving in Parks

I have discovered the reasons for the new kissing gates into King Edward VII park.  Apparently, it is to prevent moped drivers from using the park as a cut through.  It reminds me that several years ago, car drivers would also drive through between the Sports centre and Treetops nursery.  Why can't people see that is not something you should do in a public park?

Friday, 4 November 2016

Brent Libraries Finally Blowing its Own Trumpet

I am glad to see that Brent Library Service is blowing its own trumpet on the web site of the Libraries Task force.  In my view, Brent Libraries don't do that enough.  The piece concerns the wider promotion of arts in public libraries and Willesden Library in particular.  This was an important part of the Libraries Transformation Project, which liberated the Culture service to expand in new ways.

As well as being valuable in themselves, these services help to bring the libraries into use for more traditional purposes, the promotion of reading and writing.  Just as with the libraries' digital offer, this is too often seen as a zero sum game whereas these other activities can actually bring people into libraries who might not normally go. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Why are Bigger Libraries Better?

I have suggested that, at least for urban areas with good transport links, fewer but bigger libraries tend to be better.  This goes against the grain of many people, who want as many library buildings as possible.  It also has not been a policy generally pursued.  I suspect because of the sheer controversy associated with consolidating the numbers of libraries, many authorities, such as Lambeth and Islington have gone to great lengths to keep their buildings open.

Let us look at the example of Willesden Library, which has sixty odd PCs.  Some of these are drop in, some are bookable, and some have special facilities such as scanners.  If you go into a building with that many PCs, the chances are some will be free at any one time.  If the same number of PCs were scattered across more than one building, your chances of turning up and finding all the PCs occupied would be greater.  Where you are looking at specialist equipment such as accessibility software or scanners the total number in even a big library like Willesden might be quite small.  If a smaller library has such facilities at all, there may be only one PC available when you want to use it.  In that sense the bigger library becomes inherently more accessible.

A similar logic applies to book stock.  The bigger library is more likely to have multiple copies of a given book, so that if demand is enormous (for say text books in the run up to exams), the bigger library is more likely to have them to hand. 

This is also true if there are break downs.  If say a printer gets broken, the big library with multiple printers can help you get round that.  A smaller library with only one would just have to wait for an engineer.

When we were going through our Libraries Transformation Project in 2010/11, it was pointed out to me that Islington was keeping a dozen libraries open in six sets of pairs.  Each pair would keep a library open three days a week and the pairs would alternate.  That is ingenuous in terms of avoiding building closure, but doesn't make the maximum use of resources since half the PCs and books would be in a closed library half the time.

Other Advantages
Another advantage of bigger libraries is that the wider number of activities in a bigger library such as Willesden can draw in a bigger audience, and the sheer size of the building has greater flexibility, so you get more flexibility for different activities.  For instance a noisy children's group can take place simultaneously with quiet study on the top floor.  That is harder if the space is constricted.