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Wednesday, 31 July 2019

The Turn of the Tide in Library Provision

It interests me that people are now turning against the whole staffless library approach that Brent was criticized for not taking during the Transformation Project.  The main alternatives to Brent's traditional style public library service were:

  1. Automated machines as in Camden and Barnet.  These allow entry to a library with no staff at all, but still require security checks to be made occasionally, and crucially to my mind exclude "passing trade".  They restrict users to the club of people who have signed up with a library card and a pin number, which is a category I suspect will rapidly dwindle.
  2. "Co-located libraries" where colocation actually means try to get the service to do anything other than run a library.  These include all sorts of things like repairing computers and gym hire.  Some of these schemes may be good, but only so long as it does not become just a "nameplate" library with little in the way of actual library facilities.  
  3. Volunteer libraries where I just don't believe that unpaid volunteers will be able to provide the same level of support as paid staff.  Indeed I think they probably would not have the same level of ability in terms of dealing with "challenging behaviour" and other problems.  
  4. The adoption of libraries as makeshift benefit claimant points, which I think is really a specialist role that libraries cannot easily fulfil.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Peculiar Volunteer Library Grants

Northamptonshire, that poster county for poor local government practice, is alleged to be having an example of inappropriate links between the Councillors bestowing community grants and the beneficiary.  The complaint is being lodged in Desborough, and is yet another danger of volunteer libraries, that they are given public resources simply because the councillors are too close to them or too cowardly to stand up to the threat of a hostile campaign.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Is Johnson Ruthless or just a Bad Shuffler?

Boris Johnson's reshuffle is being widely depicted as a ruthless exercise of power, but those with memories of his Mayoralty might just see it as incompetence based on a failure to understand how other people work.  It is unsurprising the Jeremy Hunt did not want to replace Penny Mordaunt given she had just been fired for supporting him.  That Johnson did not see that coming reminds me of how he stumbled into firing Ian Blair.  We might also find the pattern of appointments being made without properly checking out the backgrounds of those appointed being repeated

The peculiar approach of putting an English MP in the Scottish Office and diverging the UK EU policy from opinion North of the Border will do no good either to the continuation of the UK or the possible Tory revival.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Brexit and Johnson in a nutshell

The cover of this week's UK Economist is a superb comment on the new Prime Minister.  He appears full of glee as he sits atop one his "new routemasters" at the head of a roller coasters.  The passengers look terrified.  The rollercoaster is clearly rickety and will after much rolling around eventually send the bus flying over a cliff edge.

Brexit and Johnson in a nutshell. 

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Priti Patel Already in Trouble

Priti Patel is already at risk of resigning her job as Home Secretary as a result of accepting a job within two years after losing office without clearing it with the government according to the Guardian. 

Judging by Johnson's carelessness and cynicism in other cases, I doubt whether the rule will be enforced. 

Ward Paradox

Among the paradoxes around the ward boundary review is that on the existing figures, the boundaries aren't actually all that equal.  The sheer scale of population change in the northern part of Tokyngton in particular indicates that only by 2024 will the population represent enough voters to vote in two councillors.  If there are any delays in the building programme (as things often can be) that may leave the figures seriously awry.

In other words, it is possible to imagine a scenario where the changes make the wards less equal than they are today.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Former Cllr Pat Harrison Dies

I was greatly saddened that former Preston Councillor Pat Harrison has died.  She was well known in Brent through her work as a teacher in Jesus & Mary in Harlesden, and as a school governor at a number of different schools in the Borough.  She was also a long standing stalwart of Brent Labour Party. 

I first met her many years ago when we were both in Brent East Labour Party and worked with her closely over the next twenty years, even after she moved from there to Sudbury and Brent North.

Details on Harlesden

As part of my role at the Harlesden Neighbourhood Forum, I have been looking more into Park Royal and immediate Harlesden Town Centre area.  There is a surprising, if rather indigestible amount of detail on Park Royal, but rather less round Harlesden.

I have also been asked what the boundaries of the Harlesden Neighbourhood Forum are.  They are on the map below.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Failed NHS Reorganisation in West London

The Guardian, picking up on points earlier trailed by Private Eye, has reported the largely failed reorganisation of the NHS in West London.  Brent Council unlike Ealing or Hammersmith and Fulham has done very little to oppose this reorganisation.  Local concerns over the effect on Central Middlesex Hospital were not voiced.  The result is that Brent has done particularly badly whilst other areas have seen their services survive.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Bee Friendly in Kensal Green

Apparently, Friends of Kensal Rise Library have asked Cllr Krupa Sheth to plant the green space by Kensal Green Tube station with bee friendly planting.

A better site would be Hazel Road Open Space (the other side of the road) or the fringes around the Hazel Road MUGA.  The reason is that both are owned by Brent Council.

Despite appearances, the space right by the Tube is owned by Network Rail.  I know this from my previous efforts to get the land reinstated after it was left as a "moonscape".  This is what it looked like back then.

The land was left like this in the Summer and was not restored until February the following year.  Network Rail are notoriously hard to pin down to any kind of improvements, as I have often found round Willesden Junction.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Tory Government Falling Apart

Tobias Ellwood, who has been a junior defence minster since 2014, has publicly suggested that cuts to the Royal Navy have been so deep that the national interest is endangered since we cannot defend our shipping in the Gulf.

When long standing members of the government admit that the government is seriously failing on a vital national interest, is it not time to admit that the government has just collapsed?

Kensal Rise Residents Association (KRRA) In the Balance

In a few days time (29 July), Kensal Rise Residents Association (KRRA) will be voting on whether to self-dissolve.  This is a result of volunteers failing to come forward and is a constant threat to all such community groups.  A particular problem of many of the groups in this area is that they tend to be very small and resistant to looking to outside their immediate areas.

Monday, 22 July 2019

YouGov Polling of Labour Members

There is a YouGov poll of Labour members now out.  It appears to show a major change in the approval rating of the Labour Leadership with London members for the first time in a long time having a net disapproval rating.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

South Kilburn Referendum

South Kilburn is being given a yes/no vote on whether regeneration should stop.  Given my past comments you might think I would welcome this. 

 This is not as democratic as it might appear since it leaves the community with a veto on whether anything happens at all but no apparent say on what might happen in future. These could include issues such as tenure mix, size of units, levels of affordability and so on.  The effects on shared services such as community infrastructure or possible district heating are unclear.  Just yes or no strikes me as an inadequate choice.

If the veto is cast, than it is unlikely that any redevelopment will be possible for many years.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Future Tory Homeless Policy

The picture below shows a Tory advert in circulation on twitter as a joke, but who can forecast the future?

Friday, 19 July 2019

How Much Does a Community Library Cost?

How Much Does a Community Library Cost?  That is the question I have occasionally asked.  Friends of Kensal Rise Library say it costs £100 a day to operate.  That would be £36,500 a year.

The trouble is that it is unclear what makes that figure up.  A proper costing would include the maintenance of the building, training for staff or volunteers, utility bills, cost of promoting events, cost of materials.  Transparently, it should also include the advice given by Brent Council  and any grants.

In the case of Kensal Rise, Brent Council has apparently given £100k which has been used for building work which should reduce the maintenance cost.  The original cost of when it was a Brent run facility are summarised in the original report

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Wembley Troubadour Theatre

Wembley Troubadour Theatre has opened, giving Brent its second theatre after the Kiln, and marking out a major milestone in the Wembley regeneration.

This second theatre is a very different beast to the first.  It is very large at about 1,200 users in the audience, roughly four times the size of the Kiln.  It also sounds as if it will be taking shows from elsewhere and staging them rather than producing its own productions.

The new theatre is therefore in a fundamentally different business to the Kiln, but it should be an excellent thing in terms of diversifying Wembley from being just about the Stadium, and more towards a real community.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Progress on Streetlighting

Brent Council is currently installing LED lights on its street columns, which I have long advocated.  The new columns are expected to save the Council around 60% of its carbon emissions from street lighting.  I am not sure how much that is but street lighting is roughly the third biggest source of the Council's carbon emissions after property and transport.  The full year financial saving to the Council will be almost one million pounds.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Purpose of Libraries

Public Libraries News has a thoughtful piece on the core purpose of public libraries.  It is somewhat critical of the "Jack of All Trades" approach, which I think is one that Councils in themselves may particularly value.

Whilst I understand what is meant, having a service that can be flexible and accommodate all sorts of different needs is actually inherently valuable to a local authority that constantly needs to change with local circumstances.  A flexible service that can change from saying a toddler group in the morning to pensioners in the afternoon and school students in the evening is actually inherently valuable and potentially grows quite naturally out of the libraries aspirations to universalism.

I also think it is not always the case that "theatre does theatre better" and so on.  It is true that there are some theatres that do outstanding productions and some that do outstanding outreach work (our own Kiln Theatre for example), but there may well be whole groups of people who would literally never go near a conventional theatre as it may have all kinds of stereotypes associated with it.  Many people, for instance, might see the theatre as being for people of a certain class and age, whereas drama can be made accessible to all sorts of people who get a lot from it.  Some of the story telling and semi dramaticised readings that occur in Brent libraries may well fall into this category.  The same might be said of other artistic presentations such as dancing, various kinds of exercise and so on.   

Similarly, one doesn't have to approach the central aim of education/information provision in a Victorian sense of topdown "improvement.  One can easily see libraries as a form of self help and a means to give people tools to pursue their own ends. 

Where I do think the current approach is running into trouble is libraries are seen as kind of dumping grounds for activities that really need specialist.  The amount that libraries can do to help "disadvantaged groups" is easily overestimated.  People in such groups often need quite specialised support that a generalised library service simply cannot provide.  Still worse is the way that politicians have thoughtlessly just dumped public libraries with the task of providing help with universal credit.  This sort of thing really needs specialist knowledge of the benefit system, confidential IT access that libraries are seldom set up to provide and quite lengthy preparation time to go through forms whereas most libraries time-ration access to IT.

Provided that you bear in mind that you are mixing valid purposes that may have quite different rationales there is genuine value in this kind of public space.

Monday, 15 July 2019

Step Free Access at Willesden Green Tube

There is a long standing demand for step free access at Willesden Green Tube, as reported in the Brent Times.  Attaining this would be challenging and no short term project, although the Jubilee line is a natural place to put such an improvement as it already has a number of lifts at stations along the route.

The two main elements are getting the money and designing a scheme.

At present it seems quite optimistic to imagine that all the money could come from section 106 or Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) money.  I would think that some would have to be borne from TfL's disability adjustment grants.

As I understand it the favoured scheme at the moment would be that there be a bridge from the Station Parade side in what is now Mapesbury ward, that would stretch across to the main platform roughly half way along its length.  Thus a new station entrance would be created.  This would be expensive and disruptive to construct but it is possible.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Queensbury Appeal

The Inquiry into the Queensbury appeal I predicted has gone ahead a lot sooner than I expected.  It will be heard in the morning on 28 August.  I suspect that the applicant, given the history of refusals, had already lined up their case in anticipation of another refusal.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Queens Parade in Willesden High Road

The Queens Parade site in Willesden High Road has come back as an application, once again with a recommendation to be accepted.  The full details are published on page 77 here

Friday, 12 July 2019

Housing at Pharamond

I notice that a new housing block behind Pharamond, a Brent Council, housing development on Willesden Lane, is currently under discussion.  This appears to still be at an early stage.

Guidelines for Corbynista Outriders and Antisemitism

Paul Waugh has managed a scoop be getting hold of "the line" for Corbynista responses to the antisemitism crisis.  It is interesting to see the quite close connection he alleges between these unofficial spokespeople and some one in the Corbyn machine.  It is also quite striking how the matter still seems to be being dealt with as a public relations exercise rather than, you know, an actual problem in the Labour Party.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Gloucester and Durham Blocks in South Kilburn

A rumour has been started that Brent Council sold land to a developer for £3 million and has now bought it back for £92 million.  It is a classic case of data being cherrypicked to mislead people.

The land was sold for £3 million, I believe with the  empty tower blocks still on it.  The retention of the freehold by Brent suggest that buying it back was always envisaged.

Anyone familiar with the tower blocks of the old South Kilburn estate will know how awful those were.  Demolishing them could not have been a simple matter of blowing them up, since their sheer size would have risked damaging the surrounding buildings and the building dust would have been hazardous to everyone nearby.  Therefore the only way to clear the land for replacement building was through a relatively slow and costly dismantling.  This should be seen as an extra cost to the £3 million price.

There is then the cost of building the new housing blocks on the same site which further diminishes the effective gap between the cost that the land was sold at and the "buy back" price.  There was also the risk of delays, which gives an additional cost.

Further details are published on the Brent Council web site.

What is being made to sound like an outrageous rip off for the taxpayer actually makes better sense once you think about it.

The real rip offs occurring in Brent's public housing are the continuing right to buy which Eric Pickles keenly promoted and the introduction of permitted development in office space for it to be turned into slum housing.  The first results in Councils being forced to sell off property at a discount.  The property then being sold to commercial developers and then Council paid for tenants being placed there at great expense or actual repurchase of the buildings at market prices.  The second leads to poor quality housing that will lead to a series of social problems of which overcrowding is just one.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Willesden Library 125

Willesden Library will be celebrating its 125th anniversary on 18 July this year.  The original library was founded in 1894.  That library was largely demolished in the 1980s, with an updated building opening in 1989.  The 1980s building was taken down as the final part of the Libraries Transformation Project in 2012 and officially opened in September 2015. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Bearing Grudges

In a remarkable display of bearing a grudge, Gloria De Piero's former office manager is going to stand against her in the Tory interest.

He says this is because he doesn't like Jeremy Corbyn, although Gloria De Piero is hardly known as Jeremy Corbyn's keenest supporter.  He also says that he loved his previous job working for the homeless, not exactly a cause widely identified with Tory priorities.

If he really doesn't like Jeremy Corbyn could he not find another party slightly less extreme?

Monday, 8 July 2019

Brent's Climate Emergency

Tonight, Brent Council is debating a Climate Emergency declaration, the text of which is now available

What I find curious about it is that it restores many of the features that were in place in 2010, but which seems to have been magically forgotten.  Thus, it doesn't mention:

  • The Councils attempts to reduce transport emissions
  • The very real efforts made through the planning rules to encourage renewable energy, water conservation, better insulation and generally more effective buildings in environmental terms
  • The provision of monitoring to ensure that environmental targets are met although this was a feature of both the green charter and subsequently.
  • The promotion of more recycling, less landfill and various waste reduction initiatives
  • The more sustainable planting regime in Brent parks.
Even more oddly, it calls for a lead member to be tasked with driving a climate change agenda, which was part of my role from 2010 to 2013.  I am not sure when it was dropped as part of that portfolio.  It is possible that Cllr Roxanne Marshari who is proposing the motion for a climate emergency tonight , and was my immediate successor, might be able to say.  In any case, I welcome its return. 

I am also struck by the call for what sounds like a successor group to the climate change steering group.  This unfortunately had a chequered record as many of the participants did not seem to understand its purpose, and simply saw it as a way to

It also seems to omit some rather obvious consequences for Brent, which I would have thought relevant.  There are likely to more climate refugees in the decades to come, and such people often seem to come to Brent in preference to other parts of London or the UK.  There is no mention of the effect that many people consider likely on eating habits and food production, despite Park Royal being at the centre of many food supply networks. 

As I have remarked before, it is easy to sign various pledges, the difficult is following them up with effective action.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Restricting Car Use

A few days ago I suggested that getting serious cuts in carbon emissions was going to be a lot harder than just declaring an emergency.  Shortly afterward Martin Francis green activist and merry proponent of such declarations gave a good illustration of the problem.

Although Martin is a keen supporter of the extinction rebellion, when a school of which he is governor is required not to hire itself out for extra parking he soon complains of the lost revenue. In a separate post he implicitly decries the Tories for seeking to protect diesel drivers, which is something that raises quite similar issues.  These are quite trivial examples of the kind of changes needed to achieve zero carbon, yet a supposedly dedicated environmentalist baulks at the necessary restrictions on car use.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Rainbow Flag Raised at Brent Civic Centre

Today the Rainbow flag of Cooperation will be raised at Brent Civic Centre.  This is the first time that the Flag has been raised at the Civic Centre and the first time this flag was raised on behalf of the London Borough of Brent since the last century. 

Friday, 5 July 2019

Elected to the Harlesden Neighbourhood Forum

I went to Tavistock Hall on Thursday to attend the latest Harlesden Neighbourhood forum AGM.  I am now one of the Committee.  Following the success of the referendum, it will be interesting to see which way the group goes. 

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Showing Up

I notice that during the recent Tory leadership hustings in Northern Ireland, Jeremy Hunt was asked about the members of the Northern Ireland Assembly still not sitting.  He was reported in the Guardian as suggesting that:

"Hunt says it is totally unacceptable that MLA (members of the legislative assembly) are being paid when they are not sitting and not doing their job."

I wonder whether he is going to extend that logic to Westminster MPs, especially those from Northern Ireland that do not take their seats?

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

2022 Brent Ward Boundaries Announced

The LGCBE has reported back with its final report on the Borough of Brent.  As I expected, the final report largely follows the provisional one.  Although this could still technically be changed, it is very unlikely to be.

A lot of the debate in the final round of consultation appears to be around the ward names, with the provisional names being simplified.

The changes to the boundaries from the provisional map are slight.  The most consequential is the inclusion of more of the old Harlesden ward in to the new Harlesden and Kensal Green ward.  The LGCBE also now include the whole of Willesden High Road in the Willesden Green ward (which combines the northern part of the old Willesden Green with the southern part of Dudden Hill).  A summary of the report has been published.

It is worth noting that 12 of the wards actually contravene electoral balance limit of 10% on existing boundaries, but they are all expected to fall into line by 2024.  This might well be different if the franchise changes, as it well might, or the predicted population changes don't happen. The worst variance on current electorate figures is new Wembley Park ward which is currently  44% below what it should be.

On the submissions, only nine Brent councillors chose to make submissions on their opinions of what the boundaries should be, and only the Cooperative Party and the Conservative Party chose to make any comment.  I find that slightly odd as the Labour Party certainly agreed a response so I wonder why it was not sent in. The councillors who are listed as commenting are:

Councillor A. Aden
Councillor M. Butt
Councillor S. Choudhary
Councillor L. Colacicco
Councillor T Dar
Councillor L. Dixon
Councillor J. Long
Councillor M. McLennan
Councillor N. Nerva

UPDATE 03.07.19 (13.09 pm)

I have just heard that there was "confusion" as to who was supposed to send the submission in, and that some one has chosen to resign their officer post as a consequence.


Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Calls to Halt Housing Regeneration

I notice that there is a call to halt all new regeneration going ahead.  This is problematic for several reasons. 

Firstly, halting work on such projects creates a cash problem for whoever is funding the work.  Typically, private developers need the work to be completed as soon as possible since they don't get any funding until they can start selling the properties.  Halting regeneration is therefore a call for landbanking by another name.

Secondly a key part of dealing with the climate emergency that I suspect Brent Council is about to declare requires changes to housing stock since out of date housing stock is responsible for much of the UK's climate change emissions.  There is flat contradiction in declaring this an urgent problem and then refusing to try to reduce the emissions.   Admittedly new housing is only part of that solution, with retrofitting of huge importance as well, but anyone who just wants to block regeneration clearly doesn't believe reducing carbon emissions is urgent business.

Thirdly, the problem that seems to be complained about above is mould growing on some of the buildings.  That might quite easily be down to poor management of them rather than anything to do with construction, so the process of halting new build is unlikely to address the problem that has been identified.

Fourthly, anyone who knows Brent knows that we have (a) a massive, and I mean massive, shortage of housing supply in raw units or in types of housing (b) a crisis of affordability with many people totally unable to find remotely affordable housing.

Is this just another case of ill considered protest politics?

Monday, 1 July 2019

Brent Climate Emergency Petition

A new Climate Emergency petition has been started for Brent.  What I find odd about this is that it seems to take little notice of Brent's existing policies.  These have already seen Brent cut its carbon emissions by about 40%.  The authors sound as if they are unaware of Brent's numerous planning and transport policies to reduce emissions, or the move to reduce emissions through better street lighting, or Brent's Energy Plan, or the work in schools, or the work on waste processing.  An idea of the sheer range of things that Brent Council is simultaneously supporting can be found in the Brent Civic Centre project (at the time of opening said to be the greenest building in Europe). 

Have the people behind this petition only just woken up to the climate change issue?