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Thursday, 28 February 2019

Blackmail at Willesden Library

Brent Libraries are advertising a screening of Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail on 15 March.  This was Britain's first ever talkie, although the opening scene is actually silent.

Back then, films were still being issued in a silent version and a speaking version, as the technology for sound was so new many cinemas did not have it.  Throughout his life Hitchcock maintained that something important was lost from film when sound was introduced.  Nonetheless, the film contains some striking visual images (including a chase at a major landmark, the British Museum below) and one of the most imaginative uses of sound I know of in the well known "Knife" scene.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

The Name of Dollis Hill Ward

I am constantly surprised at how people can take an existing status quo and assume that it has always been there.  I find this in Martin Francis' view on the ward name of Dollis Hill which he believes to be a "strong" identity.  In fact, although a long established name, it was actually created as a ward name in only 2000.

Prior to that the southern of what is currently Dollis Hill was part of Cricklewood, and the Northern end was known as Brentwater.  Although, as I said, the name was well known for the tube station well outside the ward and the now demolished Dollis Hill House

Those who feel strongly about such things can write in the LGCBE with their views of whatever the name is.  It is the kind of thing that can be changed easily as it has no particular knock on effects. 

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

What Does Class Mean?

It is sometimes suggested that class has now become entirely divorced from party allegiance in the UK.  This statement is based on the 2017 General Election voting figures which do indeed show at best a weak relationship. 

The trouble is that "class" has always been a slippery concept.  In the days of Attlee I think it usually referred to your type of work with manual labour being at the bottom of a ladder and professional qualifications (say, lawyers) at the top.  A more modern take focuses on the standard of living, although this seems to ignore changes in expectations e.g. the proliferation of white goods since 1945.  I recall one critique put out by an extremely Corbynista MP seeming to argue that no one who was elected prior to 2015 could be counted as working class, which I find rather startling.  Mary Creagh MP once complained that some people regarded her as posh simply because she uses received pronunciation (if that is what it is still called.  Certainly in Scotland an anglicized accent can be a signifier of class. 

It seems class is now so differently defined that it is no longer a useful tool for categorising people.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Brexit and the Tories

As the UK stumbles along with its European policy, it is worth revisiting this analysis from flipchartfairytales.  It argues that Brexit has as it core support middle class Tory voters of a certain age and the leave voters in 2016 in Labour held seats are melting away.  So, the argument runs, Labour would be much more sensible to oppose what is a fundamentally Tory owned project.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Changing Purposes at Kensal Rise Library

"Kensal Rise Library" appears to have altered its twitter bio to suggest that it is now interested in becoming a Council staffed and run library.  Specifically it now says "We will hang in there until it is publicly funded and run by the council."

It seems to follow this twitter exchange with veteran library campaigner Alan Wylie (I am indebted to equally veteran Brent campaigner Martin Francis for this information):

You will no longer find these tweets as @KensalRLibrary has deleted them, as indeed has @wylie_alan.

I am not sure how it ties up with the current fund raising campaign,  Nor am I clear how it works with whatever volunteer structure it is building up given it now occupies the building, or with what message they are giving people that they are asking funds from, or their status as a charity (no. 1141606) set up to "To advance public education by running and/or assisting in the running of a library at Bathurst Gardens, Kensal Rise, London NW10 5JA, for the benefit of the residents of the London Borough of Brent."

It doesn't seem to me to be a very realistic goal since the publicly run libraries in Brent have only just escaped a round of budget cuts to reduce their hours further.  It is certainly different to what they said during the Court case which was partly based on a bid to run the building which Brent Council turned down

I think that the group would be well advised to have greater clarity over what their objectives are.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

More on Bridge Park, Stonebridge

Those seeking more information about any new sports centre in Bridge Park can look at the Council's Bridge Park mini-site.  Anyone doing so will find it is not always helpful.  To be fair a legal action automatically creates uncertainty on timing, so some of the answers are genuinely difficult to give.

When the time comes to actually consider a form of community engagement, I think it would be very sensible to consider a Co-operative model. 

Friday, 22 February 2019

Universal Credit and Public Libraries

I have mentioned before the difficulties for many people in accessing computers for universal credit purposes.  This is a description from a library assistant working in Dundee in Scotland.  I really don't buy the department quote at the end.  The scheme was introduced on an "easiest first" basis i.e. the simplest cases with fewest problems were the ones done first of all.  Brent Council needs to think this sort of thing through before proposing cuts to library hours

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Former Copland School Head Ordered to Pay

According to the Kilburn Times, the former head of Copland school is going to finally pay back the £1.4 million he took from the school.  This whole sorry saga has taken years to resolve.  It illustrates how vulnerable the public sector remains to the misuse of taxpayers' money.  Most of the pupils who were there during his tenure will have left the school by now. 

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Knowles House Development

As I pointed out after years empty, Knowles House is finally being redeveloped.  The overall cost is said to be £28 million and the completion date the middle of 2021 (including a £6.5 million grant from the GLA).  The 149 new homes will include some sheltered accommodation for old people. 

I wonder what the attitude of local councillors will be (given their previous aversion to new housing nearby)? 

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

An Opening in Northern Ireland?

A little noticed development on this side of the Irish Sea is the SDLP's relationship with Fianna Fail.  Wherever that goes for Labour's traditional sister party, it does pose the question do the Labour and Cooperative Parties want to start contesting elections in Northern Ireland?  With politics so febrile, there is a real sense of things potentially changing dramatically.

The Cooperative Party have issued a statement about the four Cooperative MPs who resigned yesterday.  

Monday, 18 February 2019

Bridge Park Statement

Some people have suggested that the Council has said nothing about the litigation that it has got itself into over the proposed Bridge Park redevelopment.  In fact there is a lengthy statement attributed to Cllr Krupesh Hirani.  It seem Cllr Muhammed Butt always magically disappears when asked to defend Council decisions.

The statement says:

Cllr Krupesh Hirani, Cabinet Member for Public Health, Culture & Leisure, said:  “We are keen to work with the community to deliver a modern facility that meets their current and future needs.
We aim to improve the area surrounding the Unisys buildings by working with the building owners to deliver a brand new Community Hub that will bring new jobs and opportunities to Stonebridge residents.

Due to the condition of the buildings at the Bridge Park site, the council agreed to sell part of the land to an adjoining land owner. We recognise the work that the Harlesden People’s Community Council have done in the past and realise that lots of people have an emotional attachment to the current Bridge Park Leisure Centre, given its history. We want to retain and enhance that by working with local people to ensure that we have a facility in the area that is purpose built and there for all the community to use for the foreseeable future. Residents were consulted in October and November 2017. 

The council considered all responses and agreed that the draft proposals should be enhanced to reflect the wishes of Stonebridge residents.  We are pleased to confirm that the new facility will be a vast improvement on what is currently on site.  
We aim to provide a bigger and improved Community Hub including new leisure facilities, more space for businesses than is currently available, new accommodation for our vulnerable residents and bigger community space.

The council is negotiating amendments to the contract to increase the use of the land in line with the feedback received from residents in the consultation.  A paper will be put to Cabinet on 11 February 2019 to seek agreement for this proposal.

All the proceeds from the sale will go into building and delivering the new facility.
You may be aware of the extensive amount of publicity surrounding the sale of the land. You may also be aware that the Harlesden People’s Community Council (HPCC) has stated that they have an interest in the land and that the council should be prohibited from selling it. 
HPCC have therefore applied to the Land Registry to place a restriction against the council’s title.
It is important to note that HPCC have not been successful in placing a restriction against the council’s title.

The council has applied to the courts to determine this issue rather than the Land Registry/First-Tier Tribunal. Having the courts determine this issue was the quickest and most cost effective way of dealing with this matter.

The council has made an interim application to court to obtain a declaration confirming that HPCC do not have an interest in the land.

At the same time as the legal proceedings, the council is attempting to mediate the dispute to see if we can possibly come to an agreement and achieve a resolution to settle this matter.
Whatever the court decides, the council remains committed to working with the local community to ensure that any proposals taken forward are done so with the aim of improving the lives of its residents.”

 It is a great pity that this has all gone into legal action which is an expensive and debilitating process whatever the outcome.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

EU Population in Brent

Brent4europe has published some interesting data on the number of EU citizens living in Brent.  It says:

EU population in Brent

The Office for National Statistics, in their Annual Population Survey for July 2017 to June 2018, estimate the number of Brent residents by their country of birth from several groups of EU countries:
Total population in Brent335,000
Total population born in EU countries other than the UK55,000 (16.4%)
EU14 (the pre-2004 countries): Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Spain and Sweden23,000 (6.9%)
EU8 (joined in 2004): Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia14,000 (4.2%)
EU2 (joined in 2007): Bulgaria and Romania17,000 (5.1%)
Other: Malta and Cyprus (both joined in 2004) and Croatia (2013)~1,000 (<1 em="">
Source: Office of National Statistics Annual Population Survey for July 2017 to June 2018. See the source data for confidence intervals on the estimates and other constraints and interpretations of these data.
All these people will lose their rights under Brexit unless they successfully go through the Home Office's complex processes for retaining them. 

Saturday, 16 February 2019

The Naming of Wards

I have now had a look at the LGCBE boundary proposals for Brent.  Last time I mentioned this I mentioned my hopes for the North Circular Road and for a Harlesden Town Centre ward.  Both seem to have been taken on board, so now it is a matter of looking for refinements.

When the Borough was last looked at I recall the actual names of wards were often contentious.  In at least one case I am sure that this will remain so.  I doubt whether the inhabitants of Queens Park will take kindly to losing their long standing moniker to a new "Kensal Green East and Kensal" label.  I dare say that many will protest furiously.  Those who do have plenty of time, as the final phase of the consultation ends in April, and this is the kind of thing that can be changed fairly easily. 

Friday, 15 February 2019

Brexit Billboard

Jeremy Corbyn now has a billboard reminder about his stance on Brexit outside his home.  I hope he appreciates the virtues of such direct action. 

Thursday, 14 February 2019

No Deal Brexit

Rather terrifying account that Theresa May's Plan B may be a "No Deal" Brexit to keep the Conservatives together.  The whole Brexit disaster is because the last two Tory leaders have seen this issue as a matter of their own party management rather than the national interest.  If the UK goes out with no deal, the result will be huge damage to the UK economy and many of our neghbours.  We will not be forgiven by them, and once they are actually impacted I don't believe many leave voters will forgive the Conservatives.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Council Tax Rise in the Pipeline

As well as the immediate figures for Council Tax rises, the Cabinet papers also proposed to change the Council Tax Support scheme to get an extra three million pound plus in future years.  I took part in the decision of the support scheme currently in use.  A redesign of the current scheme that increased revenue by three million would be a very much bigger change and by definition would affect some of the most hard up people in the Borough.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Shaun Bailey has Problems with Religious Diversity

I am struck by the sheer oddity of the Brent Times interview with Shaun Bailey, the Tory Mayoral candidate.  It gives some quotes of him saying some pretty outrageously insensitive things about ethnic minorities in 2005.   They include criticizing the idea that "people from Brent" had been celebrating "Muslim and Hindi days", which since many people from Brent are Muslim and Hindu strikes me as unsurprising.  He also states that it is not his way to offend, which it clearly is.  Even more oddly he is quoted as saying "I’ve been to Gurdwaras across Eid – sorry, across Diwali – and spoken to people, and they understood."  Since Gurdwaras are Sikh Centres of worship I find his visits "across Eid – sorry, across Diwali" even odder. 

Monday, 11 February 2019

Brent Council's Annual Budget

Brent Council Cabinet gathers for its most important decision later today, on the Council's annual budget.  At the back of the papers is a report on the 2018/19 consultation, which doesn't really tell you anything.  Only 175 people have responded to the consultation.  I daresay that, as in previous years, many of those people did not know the kind of constraints Councils operate under.

That is unsurprising.  People elect a Council to get it to do that job for them.  The councillors have put themselves forward for that role.  They should make the decisions openly and accountably.  At the moment too many Brent councillors give me the impression that they don't control  the Council, or aspire to.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Old Oak Common Set Back

There are reports that the Old Oak Common developments have hit a major set back with a big developer naming it financially unviable.  I don't know whether that is true but it illustartes the kind of issues that make such projects highly difficult.  That is why they take many years and do not lend themselves to simply solutions.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Objectiveless Protests

I have been thinking some more of the weird ideological mash ups that make some demonstrations these days.  They are obviously not designed to get any real action, so I wonder whether the participants want them to?

O f course there are demonstrations, which at least by showing strength of feeling, can help to raise the profile of a subject.  The two biggest demonstrations of the last hundred years, against the Iraq war and in favour of a referendum on the final terms of Brexit both did this.  Where the issue is clearly defined, it is possible to get a concession from some one to achieve an end as the fuel tax protests did in 2000.  However as President Macron has discovered with the more recent French yellow vest protests, a really disparate set of demands can't be bought off since the protester aren't demanding anything definable that you can actually give them.  His efforts to placate the yellow vest by reversing the fuel tax rises simply led to more demands which I think were just conveying a sense of general unhappiness.

In that case, I suspect the general unhappiness is the message.  However, there are other protests where some people just enjoy going on these demonstrations and causing a lot of noise.  In other words attending protests about almost anything is just a sort of hobby.  You get to (sometimes literally) bang a drum and feel good about yourself.  Where you simply cause disruption for the sake of it you may be actively harming the cause that you are ostensibly supporting.

The exception to this I suppose would be if you had a clear objective and you were just inflicting damage in order to bully concessions.  This is what some of the library litigants told me that they were trying to do during the libraries transformation project in Brent.  At some level that makes sense as a tactic although it is not a very nice one.

It didn't work in the case of Brent libraries, partly because that litigants were demanding things such as increased budgets or the possession of buildings that Brent Council was unable to give them.  In fact rather than ending the transformation project and going back to the libraries status quo of 2010, it has actually preserved Brent libraries as they were at the culmination of the Project.  If it were not down to fear of awakening such demons, I suspect that the present Council would not have abandoned its mooted cuts.

So ironically, the protesters that wanted to kill the transformation of Brent libraries have ended up preserving it.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Rejected Libraries Budget Savings

The options not pursued in the Brent Council budget include the mooted cuts to library hours, despite my scepticism

This means that they have a good chance to continue all their good work.  As it says in the Borough Plan 2019-2023:
Our libraries are amongst the most popular in the country, and saw more than a million items

loaned in 2017/18, and more than 2.5 million visits. Over 4000 children also took part in the

Summer Reading Challenge, and over 650 adults took part in the 2018 Reading Ahead scheme to

improve low literacy."

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Knowles House Redevelopment

The next Brent Council Cabinet meeting is being asked to approve the redevelopment of Knowles House on Longstone Avenue.  This promises 149 units and a new community centre.  A short description is available. I don't really understand why they are building a "community centre" when the building is immediately in frontof Roundwood Youth Club which they are proposing to turn into a PRU.  I would have thought keeping the Youth Centre, would be a more sensible use of resources since it was purpose built only a few years ago

I do remember suggesting that giving Roundwood Youth Club a frontage on the Avenue and the possible housing to be built on the Knowles House site a view of Roundwood Park, but was told at the time that the funding would not allow it. 

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Reflecting on the Tory Boundary Proposals

Aside from the Cooperative Party and Brent Labour Party, the only other group to submit a Borough wide submission on Brent's new ward boundaries was the Conservative Party, and it makes for rather odd reading.

In many cases the information is wrong or out of date.  For instance, the statement that the Kensal Triangle RA is located in Kensal Green is simply wrong.  That organisation is actually located in the Wakeman Road area of Queens Park.  The Tories also say that Kensal Green cemetery is in Kensal Green ward, when actually it is not even in the Borough of Brent.  The Dollis Hill section refers to an art gallery at "the farmhouse" in Gladstone Park.  I take that is a reference to the now demolished Dollis Hill House and the Stables Art Gallery that moved from there in 2010/11.  "Cricklewood Library is referred to as if it was still a library, and Anson Baptist Church is mentioned without reference to its conversion to housing.  The Jubilee Clock is regarded, correctly, as a "major focal point" of where Harlesden is, but the writer appears not to be aware that the clock is right on the edge of where the existing Harlesden ward boundary is.  That is one of the major arguments I would make for having a new Harlesden ward centred on the Town Centre.  Incidentally, the Boundary Commission proposals are now published and they appear to have accepted the Town centre argument.  The Queens Park section references include a number of mentions of buildings, such as the Jubilee Sports Centre that are actually in the London Borough of Westminster. 

I suspect that the author is not local and is relying on either some very old notes or from some one who really doesn't know the southern end of the Borough. 

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

New Ward Boundaries by the LGCBE

Today is the due date for the LGCBE to publish its proposals on Brent's new ward boundaries.  I shall be particularly interested to see if they accept my arguments for the centrality of the North Circular Road, and the focus on Harlesden as a Town Centre and effectively resurrect the old Harlesden ward, which was dismembered in a peculiar process.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Councils and Commercial Property

Just a reminder about a danger to Councils when they invest in commercial property, which some appear to have embraced as a panacea.  Brent Council has not done this on a big scale although the occupancy shrinkage at the Civic Centre and the use of sites for commercial advertising has given it some commercial exposure.  If I were a Spelthorne councillor, I would be seriously worried.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Culture and Appropriation

One of the weirder aspects of the event I highlighted in yesterday's post was the cultural appropriation of the Palestinian cause and its flag to whatever seems to concern western activists.  Were I Palestinian I think I would find it quite offensive, which these days is a feeling automatically implied by the term "cultural appropriation."

However, it does not always have to be so. 

The implication comes from Edward Said's Orientalism, which introduced the idea as a form of colonial oppression, and seems to be in the vocabulary of lots of "woke" who presumably taught the term in university (although I wonder how many have read the book, which I thought was really not a good read.

The trouble with seeing the world in these terms is it discourages study of other cultures and adapting aspects of them.  It also tends to be corrosive of institutions such as the British Museum that seek to put different cultures together.  It also tends to run up against the fact that many of the most interesting and dynamic achievements of the arts are just such mash ups of other elements.  Where they don't come from foreign elements, they often come from the past _ like the Renaissance (which could be seen a massive appropriation of Greco-Roman culture by subsequent Europeans.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Weird Ideological Mash Ups

Above is one of the most curiously mixed mash ups of political causes I have come across.  It is a graphic for an event simultaneously protesting about "wrecking the climate, Israeli apartheid and the arms industry." I can't think of any natural links between those three topics.

Climate change is a vastly complex issue with so many different aspects you could (and many have) write a book just outlining the problems.  Getting solutions to those problems doesn't really involve shouting through a megaphone so much as developing technologies, policy tools, better regulations and so on.  It doesn't really require convincing policy makers that there is a problem, because, in the UK anyway, there is a political consensus that there is.

Israel and Palestine is one of the world's most intractable political problems that needs to be solved via a political agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis.  In my view that means a two state solution, and frankly shouting insults at Israel (which rather than being an apartheid regime is actually a democracy, albeit an imperfect one) is unhelpful.  Palestinians really deserve better than to have their national cause and flag hijacked by western activists.

The arms industry is another sprawling global problem linked to corruption, wars and underdevelopment.  Contrary to the implication of the event it is not particularly focused on Israel, and the people at this event might do better to think about how to influence much bigger arms exporters such as the UK.

But then influencing anyone doesn't really appear to be the agenda here.  It really seems to be more about telling yourself how virtuous you are.  That seems to be the real connecting thread between the themes which have no intellectual connection at all. 

In fact I think an event like this is worse than useless since it distracts from  any real solution to what are crucial and pressing problems.  It really is a pity that any the energy being put into this sort of thing isn't put to use producing solutions that might actually help.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Bridge Park Sports Centre Redevelopment

One of the sadder stories currently rumbling on is that of the Bridge Park development in Stonebridge.  This appears to have led Brent Council into a quagmire of some kind of litigation, but I doubt whether had to be so. 

The Council has been developing a long standing scheme involving a mix of affordable housing, a new sports centre, market housing and an hotel.  It would involve the current sports centre site, the fairly derelict area behind and the Unisys site by the North Circular Road.  There are legitimate questions around the Council scheme, but potentially it could deliver significant benefits for the Stonebridge area.

Objections have been lodged by some of the people involved in the original development and now by Raheem Sterling.  A large public meeting has been held and so far Brent Council seems to have made no real effort to explain what it is doing (or trying to do).  As with the Stonebridge Adventure Playground I fear that unimaginative political leadership will lead to lots of people being disappointed where something much more beneficial could be organised.

UPDATE 01.02.19

Brent Council's plans were published today.