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Saturday, 31 August 2019

The Complexity of Ending Free Movement

Jonathan Portes on the difficulty of ending free movement after 31 October once again demonstrates the government's addiction to creating policy by slogan and why it doesn't work. 


Belatedly, the government has realised it had not thought this through.  The same is essentially true of the entire Brexit policy.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

ACV Status at "Preston Library"

The Planning Committee's decision on Wednesday to grant permission to develop the former Preston Library site supercedes its status as a an ACV (Asset of Community Value).  This may be to the advantage of the group occupying the current building.

This is because ACV status compels the Council to put the building up for a bid to any community group.  If there was more than one expression of interest there would then be a delay in converting the building so that groups could develop an offer to the Council. Abolishing the status altogether makes a private deal without an open process much easier.

I have expressed concerns about this before

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Returning to the Odd Finances of Preston Library

Remarking on the odd intervention of the Secretary of State for CLG to the Planning Committee, I have been thinking more about the curios nature of the financial decisions made by Brent Council.

The "Preston Library" charity makes its financial details available via the Charity Commission.  For the year up to 1 April 2018 there appears to be an income of £10,600 and an expenditure of £8,500 for the year.  The grants of CIL money to this group seems to be vastly out of proportion to its ability to spend it.

I highlighted previously, that the Council appears to be willing to give this group more than £250,000 as a one off grant.  This reportedly includes £18,000 for a reception desk.

A Long Lease
The proposal for a 49 year lease also looks very odd.   A previous Council report estimated the potential rent of the building to a market level would amount to about £50,000 per year.  If peppercorn means zero, that means the Council is considering giving this group the equivalent of almost £2.5 million over 49 years.  That is a lot, and for a very long time.  I would expect most leases on buildings to be for say seven to ten years, why should this group be given such a long lease?

The group itself claims to be a temporary organisation, telling the Brent Times that:

"All of us at Preston Community Library agree that public libraries should be publicly funded, and run by paid professional staff.  But, as custodians - for the time being - of Preston Library we are extremely proud of what we've achieved.”

I wonder if some one at the CLG has noticed all this and is wondering just what is going on between this group and Brent Council?  It certainly is a striking difference with the way that other public services in Brent Council are being savagely cut back.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Saving Community Spaces

The Cooperative Society is helping people save communal spaces. There is huge demand for shared spaces to be maintained and recognised for their value.  Unfortunately, this is often disguised as campaigns for something else which tends to disguise how much people want it.

Monday, 26 August 2019

London's largely forgotten shipbuilding tradition

A short piece on London's largely forgotten shipbuilding tradition in On London, although it misses some of the highlights such as Brunel's Great Eastern, the importance of the naval dockyards at Deptford under Admiral Benbow (where Peter the Great came to learn more about it) and the reasons for the demise (largely the increased size of ships).

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Scottish Independence

Euan McColm has constructed a possible line of reasoning for John McDonnell's ill judged offer another independence referendum North of the border.  He strikes me as being right in both his assessment of Scottish politics and of the likely effect on English voters.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Preston Library Development Controversy

Interesting take from Martin Francis on the proposed "Preston Library" development.  It sounds like a stormy and difficult meeting, not least because of the inaccurate statements being made.  In particular Cllr Hirani should know better than to condemn the Brent Libraries Transformation Project since as a member of the Labour Group at the time he repeatedly voted for it. Cllr Kennelly's position is more forgivable since he was not a councillor back in 2011 and is presumably relying on inaccurate reports.  However, his reported comments seem to be somewhat inconsistent.

Turning Down the CLG
Also interesting to have the CLG SoS ask the Planning Committee not to decide that night.  That seems like an ultra low level for an SoS to operate on.  It can't be based on the DCMS duty of supervision of libraries duty since (a) the Preston building is not part of the Library statutory service (b) that would be the job of the DCMS Secretary. 

It could be based on a planning ground, but I can't imagine what.  I think it is unhelpful if the Committee did, as in Martin's report, tell the public it was some kind of provisional decision which wasn't binding as I don't think that is really arguable under Brent's own rules (in which case he may have exposed the Council to a judicial review).

The final possibility I can think of is that someone at the CLG thinks that there is something decidedly about the way this whole development is being handled.  The relatively small group running the "Library" has been given £258,000 grant by the Council, which dwarfs most of tits budget, and is reported to be expected a 49 year peppercorn rent.  The amount of money going into such a small organisation seems to be disproportionate since the only publicly available figure about the number of users suggests that it managed 663 users in one month in 2015.  I have suggested that this might be annualised to about 8,000/yr.   Compare that to the usage of Brent public library at (say) Kilburn of about 200,000 per year.

Decline in Behavior
The reported raucous behavior of the audience is sadly a return to the way the library litigants behaved at various previous hearings and decision meetings.  There were a num,ber of incident when they just shouted at people.  In that respect, the 2011-12 process was somewhat reminiscent of the increasingly nasty behavior being normalised on twitter.  Of course, it did no good when the case was decided in the Council's favour by the High Court

I am saddened, but not surprised to find that Committee members made no effort to stick up for officers, who are just giving professional advice, and should not be subject to abuse as a result.

Friday, 23 August 2019

Catalyst Excessive Rents

This is a deeply concerning story of Catalyst charging rent to someone literally from the moment that their parent passed away.  This seems to be completely disproportionate and distressing for the relative, since they would have no real chance to hand the flat back without being forced to pay rent. 

Local Authorities across the UK are being pushed to reduce the length of time a property can stand empty before it is liable for Council Tax, with increasing numbers making an immediate charge from the moment of transfer.  Such a policy carries a likelihood of hitting people in distressing circumstances.  I believe that at the time of writing, Brent still allows a three month window, and I hope it remains so.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Taking Over Vacant Shops

The primary question that comes into my mind when I see the proposal to take over vacant shops is do the owners get compensated?  There has been quite a lot of work done with meanwhile uses especially for arts projects, but suggestion of forcing this policy really would be a dramatic departure, and have a major effect on landlords..

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Bring in the Army

Apparently, 42% of Londoners would want the government taken over by the Army, which is a deeply scary thought.  Is this yet another deleterious effect of Brexit?

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Wider Opinions on Redevelopment

Martin Francis has helpfully summarised some of the range of opinion around the proposed redevelopment of the former school buildings in Preston previously used as a library.  As one might expect local people have a broad range of views, but I am struck by the number criticised the old building as "flimsy" and "not fit for modern purposes".  I seem to recall many of the Library litigants had different views when the Libraries Transformation Project was underway.

Incidentally, I wonder whether the £268,000 of taxpayers money that is being handed over will be the last.  I suspect Brent Library Service could have used that money far more effectively.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Argenta House Proposed for Development

I see that Brent Planning officers are recommending a very large new tower block in Stonebridge.  It would be close to Stonebridge station and be 28 stories tall, as opposed to the current two storey building.  This is a surprising departure from the planning guidance of the Council which, in a legal process fully signed off, sought to concentrate tall buildings in the five growth areas of Alperton, Church End, Colindale, Kilburn and Wembley.  Of course that is guidance given to the Committee but it should be given significant weight.  As far as I can see the officers do not comment on this.

It is also striking that the planners intend a controlled parking zone (CPZ) to be introduced here.  Stonebridge and nearby Tokyngton have traditionally resisted CPZs even though parking in southern Tokyngton has been extremely crowded for many years. 

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Dawn Butler MP Seeks to Protect Central Middlesex Services

Dawn Butler MP is seeking to protect Central Middlesex Services at the Urgent Care Centre.  It is a pity that Brent Council did not follow this lead earlier in the NHS plan's history.  The plan is widely regarded as unsuccessful, and has not been effectively opposed by Brent Council for its own reasons.  This despite the negative impacts on Harlesden and Stonebridge. 

Dawn Butler's petition is available on her web site. 

Saturday, 17 August 2019

A Return of Estate Agent Boards

I gather that the Kensal Green and Queens Park areas are likely to see an exploding number of estate agent advertisements on billboards in the area.  This is a result of an income generation effort by " Kensal Rise Library" who say they will receive a ten pound fee for each one.  The boards will also carry an advert for their latest event.

Reportedly one of the trustees is financially linked to the estate agent concerned.

Normal estate agent boards are often the subject of complaint by local people as they are often considered to be unsightly, and they are sometimes subject to planning enforcement action as my late colleague former Cllr Lesley Jones explained.  A similar argument applies to satellite dishes

Friday, 16 August 2019

Saint GKC?

G K Chesterton has been rejected for canonisation because of his antisemitism, which is fair enough.  Yet I wonder who suggested him in the first place.  I have never heard of him being involved in any miracles.  He was not especially pious, and I don't know that anybody is known for venerating him.

Writing the Father Brown stories doesn't seem to be enough.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Furness Junction Finally Improved

For years I have been complaining about the junction of Harlesden High Street and Furness Road.  As a result of the recent work on the traffic lights this is now sorted and the bizarre mix of different paving has also been turned into a uniform look.


Less happy is the destruction of the community mosaic which I understand fell victim to a mix of weathering and vandalism.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

South Kilburn Housing Referendum Update

Somewhat predictably, the referendum on regenerating South Kilburn is being turned into an all or nothing debate.

The anti campaign is trying to link it to alleged poor behaviour by a number of housing associations in the area, but the outcome of the vote will have no effect on those bodies one way or another.  They will do whatever they do regardless of any vote and according to their own business plans.  What this debate might do, however, is kill off any new housing in South Kilburn, leaving the area frozen in its current state. 

If that were to happen, I suspect that the only way to get things moving again would be through a fundamental change in central government.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Brexit and Control

The UK is going to stop taking part in EU decision making, even though the decisions are still of enormous consequence for us.  In what sense is that "taking back control"?

Monday, 12 August 2019

Harrowing Housing Decisions in Haringey

Haringey is currently squabbling about social housing because they want to build it themselves via an inhouse team.  The trouble with this that Councils tend not to be very good at building housing.  It is not what they do so they don't know how to do it.  Developing an inhouse company would cause delay, quite possibly over runs, expose the Council to maximum risk and quite possibly not lead to housing that was any better than what was there already.  Since any big contractor is almost certainly going to benefit from economies of scale and established expertise, that company will almost certainly be able to do things faster and cheaper.  It will also allow the Council to up the proportion of social housing via a clawback planning condition, which wouldn't really work if the Council did it all itself.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Scottish and English Parliaments

John McDonnell's comments about another Scottish referendum on Independence have rightly created controversy. 

It is hard to know what his intentions were, but I am struck by the inaccuracy of his analysis.  Firstly, he seems to think, along with Richard Leonard, that it is a Scottish only decision with the implications felt only north of the border.  In fact, any effort to separate Scotland and England would lead to years of wrangling and suck up vast amounts of political oxygen in much the same disastrous way that Brexit has.   It would therefore help paralyse the UK, surely a matter of interest for both sides of the border.

Secondly, John McDonnell refers to the "English Parliament".  As he should know, there is no such thing.  The Parliament that sits in Westminster is a UK Parliament with MPs drawn for all over the UK.  What countries does he imagine that MPs representing Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Cardiff and son actually come from?

Thirdly, he should also know that the Scottish Parliament is a devolved body under the Scotland Act.  If Scotland were made independent the Scotland Act would have to be repealed, and a new body set up.  This would all be a reserved matter debated and decided in Westminster.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

The Speed of Change in Campaign Technology

I recently read Mark Pack's 101 Ways to Win Elections.  Despite the latest edition having been published in 2016, it already strikes me as somewhat out of date as it talks about the "online campaign" as a totally separate thing from the rest of the campaign whereas these days there is just one campaign with different tools, direct mail, emails, facebook, doorknocking etc. as elements.   It is astonishing and slightly scary how quickly things can change.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Brent Ward Review Submissions

Anyone curious about the submissions made in the recent LGCBE review of ward boundaries in Brent can now see them online. I notice that one of them did actually include an internal Labour Party document summarising Labour Party decisions, even though Brent Labour Party failed to submit anything itself.

Altogether a thoroughly odd way of going about things. 

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Rewilding in Bristol

A rewilding project is underway in Bristol.  Whilst rewilding is an interesting idea, a much more pressing problem is getting our entire landscape better adapted to current climate change to minimise problems like flooding, maintain production as the temperature climbs, accommodate the human population (e.g. for housing) and preserve biodiversity outside "reserved areas". 

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

How Would You Brent Provision for Children and Parents Cut?

That is the question Brent Council is currently asking.  Today is the date of Brent Council's second consultation meeting on the development of family hubs in Brent.  This will mean the replacement of the 15 extant childrens centres with eight "family hubs".  This is part of a budget driven process based around the central government cuts.  The philosophy is similar to that followed elsewhere in the Council of reducing the number of service points people can access.

The consultation meeting is today in Brent Civic Centre, board rooms five and six from 2pm to 3.30pm.

Once the Council has decided on which sites to close, it will no doubt have another debate over how to dispose of the buildings.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

More Female Labour Councillors?

There is an interesting speculation going on in the Labour Party, that the new ward arrangements may result in more female councillors.  This is if the party stays to the principle introduced in 2002 of always having at least one female candidate per ward.  If more wards become two member wards, you would expect more female candidates automatically.

There are nine two member wards mooted for Brent, and 13 three member wards, a full slate of Labour wins would result in at least 21 female councillors with possibly more than that if wards select more than one female candidate (as they have in the past).  

Monday, 5 August 2019

Priti Patel's Immigration Balance

Priti Patel is going to have a difficult balancing act to pull a viable immigration policy together.  At the moment she is still doing the standard points based system slogan.  Changing that slogan into a policy will be tough.

Firstly, many of the leave voters expected a fall in numbers and will be bitterly disappointed if they don't get one.  Promising that businesses will still be able to import Labour is all very well, but areas like hospitality or seasonal picking need huge numbers of people and that need them on a certain timescale.

The promise of requiring English might also be problematic.  Many immigrants might want to here precisely because they are learning English.  Others might have skills (musicians for example) but poor language skills.  Some of the communities that she promised might see improvements in immigration practices, e.g. making it easier for Asian people to meet their families may find that their relatives are found lacking in languages.  She will also need to find solutions to some of the "hostile environment" practices that are frankly racist and also the post referendum atmosphere where indigenous ethnic minority people are now experiencing racism

It is also a paradox given her "free market" approach that she now appears to want to plan and direct businesses in a decidedly non Tory way: keeping tabs on who is employed, where when and why.  The effective creation of a kind of ausländer database would alarm many libertarians, although we don't seem to have many of those left.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

National Social Care?

This report from the House of Lords has not received the attention it should.  Despite being chaired by a Tory member, the Committee argued for a taxpayer funded "National Social Care Service".  This is an issue that has been repeatedly ducked.  I can recall speaking to a former Cabinet member in the Blair government who recalled the failure to create such a thing as being a major failure of that government.

Certainly it is surprising to hear Michael Forsyth, who when he was in the Commons was regard as an arch-Thatcherite, suggested such an expansion of state services.

Certainly the current system of just topping up the Council Tax bit by bit is not a viable alternative.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Council Tax Support Returns

Easy to miss that Brent Council is consulting on changes to its Council Tax Support scheme.  Councils.  The consultation started on 19 July and is supposed to last 12 weeks from then.  The new scheme will be effective from 1 April next year.

Brent Council had previously suggested this as an area to make savings

Central government (i.e. the coalition) forced Councils to design their own schemes back in 2012.  Brent Council, in a decision in which I was involved, adopted a tough approach. 

The current consultation is here.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Saving Libraries in Essex

The turning of the tide on library provision is really notable in my native Essex, where the SOLE campaign is fiercely hostile to volunteer libraries.  This is of course quite contrary to the experience in Brent where the library litigants actually sued the Council for not having volunteer libraries.  Since their unsuccessful litigation they have had some success in siphoning off money from the taxpayer, although fortunately not directly from the Libraries budget.

Diverting resources from public libraries is one of the real dangers of the volunteer library route, and one that the Essex campaigners are right to be wary of.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Voting and Identification

The Guardian reports that several hundred people were turned away from polling stations because they did not have identification.  This is considerably more than the numbers of people successfully prosecuted for impersonation.  It follows an initial range of trails where no one was found to have impersonated anybody.  The whole scheme, and the idea of rolling it out for all elections looks more like an effort in voter suppression than a genuine concern.