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Saturday, 30 September 2017

Brent Library Events

After many years of downright hostile reporting on Brent libraries, it seems that the Kilburn Times has finally just published a straight piece about an event at Willesden Library (on new African writing).  Of course the staff at Kilburn Times have been turned over so the new ones are probably not as hostile as in the past.

You can see more about Brent library events here

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Welfare Assistance in Brent

Brent's local welfare scheme appears to be staggering on.  I remember devoting a lot of time to trying to make the Brent scheme work, so I am glad that it survives when many English schemes have been done away with altogether

There is good evidence that the kind of cheap and early interventions made through this kind of scheme are disproportionately beneficial to the public purse, since they work to prevent problems like homelessness that can cost a lot more to solve at a later stage.  I hope therefore that Brent will maintain its scheme, or even enhance it as some lobby groups advocate.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Mismatching Politics and Economics

It looks to me that the UK's long period of mistimed austerity is about to be replaced by a mini-boom in spending.  There is no doubt that Ed Balls was quite right in criticising George Osborne for going too far and too fast in cutting spending.  The result pushed the Bank of England to make up for the government's spending cuts with historically low interest rates for an extraordinary period of time.  Ed Balls didn't get credit for his prescience, because most of the public accepted the "common sense" approach that a time of deficit was a time to cut back on spending.

Now inflation is above the UK target of 2%, and in danger of rising further.  Conventional demand management suggests that should mean limitations on spending, but the politics is now going strongly in the opposite way, with people fed up by years of austerity demanding more spending to build public service from the ruinous state they have been allowed to fall into under the Tories.  The fall of the pound following Brexit has not helped.

The result is likely to see the Bank of England raising interest rates to compensate for increased spending and the possibility of the inflation rises becoming self reinforcing.  This is going to lead to a very nasty situation, and possibly even a period of stagflation.  Again Brexit adds further poison to the mix as the Bank uses the interest rate tool to limit inflation and possibly even an old fashioned run on the pound.  Anyone holding debts is likely to get a nasty shock as the cost of servicing the debts gets ratcheted up at a quick rate.The real architects of this situation, step forward Mr Osborne, are gone, but it is likely to destroy the reputation of whoever is in office.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

2 Scrubs Lane Overdevelopment

There is an appalling proposal to build a twenty storey development on the site of the church at 2 Scrubs Lane.  Anyone who knows that area will know it is wholly unsuitable.  However, as the application falls under the Park Royal Development Area, the decision may well be made by people who don't know the area.

I have written to object in the following terms:

I am writing to oppose the above application which simply appals me as an example of grotesque overdevelopment.  The proposed height of twenty stories dwarfs any other building in the area.  The very highest building in the existing neighbourhood is Cumberland House, to the South, which is eight or nine stories and part of the industrial estate.  The rest of this area is characterised by low rise residential housing, often of only two stories.  The sheer size of this proposal should mark it out as unacceptable.  I can only assume that the site's peculiar position in both Hammersmith and Fulham and Brent has allowed an obviously unsuitable proposal to slip through the net during the Summer.  It should simply have been rejected out of hand.

The proposal envisages installing a major source of traffic generation at a site where there have been significant traffic problems in the past.  These were improved thanks to TfL investment some years ago, but are likely to worsen if such a huge development goes ahead.  This is likely to damage road safety at this junction, but also significantly worsen air quality in an area where air quality is already a concern.  The creation of traffic problems at the site will also lead to knock on effects in Harlesden Town Centre, which has only recently been remodelled at considerable expense.  The usages of any successful application should be geared to minimise the addition of traffic given the site's crucial significanace to the transport network towards Baker Street and also towards White City.

The proportion of affordable housing is said to be only about 24%, which seems very low, and well below Brent's normal aspirations.

I also find it hard to imagine how such an overbearing building can be squeezed on to what is quite a small footprint, especially if it is to contribute any sort of "circulation space" or public realm element.

I further note that this post Grenfell application appears to have only one staircase for escape in case of fire.  It will also of course be determined without the benefits of the Grenfell inquiry, as that has yet to report. 

I also note the point made in Andy Slaughter MP's objection that the planning guidelines for this area are yet to be fully formed, which adds to the impression that the proposal is being rushed through in the hope of securing approval for developments that would not get through on their planning merits.

I urge other people to also object.  The email address to write to is, and details of the plans can be found here.  At the time of writing, no one from Brent appears to have made any comment despite the negative effect it would have on our area.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Ashford Place Community Cafe

It is interesting to see how Ashford Place Community Cafe is developing.  Although Ashford Place has a long history, the community cafe idea emerged as a kind of by-blow from the Brent Libraries Transformation Project.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Business Rates

Tonight's Brent Council Cabinet report on business rates makes passing reference to a "lack of clarity" about the government's policy on business rates.  The long term aim of the government is said to be 100% retention of business rates by each area.  In practice that could mean dramatic differences between winning areas and losing areas.  A London wide approach would limit the risk considerably.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Library Improvement

It is sometimes said that the decline of libraries in the UK is inevitable and part of a wider social change.  I think the success of the Brent Libraries Transformation Project demonstrates otherwise, but advocates of that view should also explain the performance of libraries in the USA, where usage appears to on the rise. 

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Research into Volunteer Libraries

The Government has finally decided to some research into whether volunteer libraries work.  Frankly, it is rather late in the day.  As I have pointed out (as have many others) this research has been an obvious gap with now hundreds of volunteer libraries in operation, but no evidence of far they really work.  The patchy evidence I have been able to find suggests that they don't all that much. 

One line that I think really hits the mark is "a small minority of stakeholders reported that, in some cases, their expectations were set low to begin with, raising the question as to whether the performance of CLs is assessed by stakeholders on an equal basis with local authority led libraries."  My suspicion is that it isn't as there is a real incentive for all concerned to big up the performance of volunteer libraries.  The volunteers themselves want to have a sense of achievement, and have to sell a story of success in order to attract support.  The Councils that have gone down this route have no incentive to argue that their policy didn't work. 

Brent unfortunately has the model about which least is known about the "Independent Library" model, where the local authority gives no real support