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Saturday, 30 November 2019

Kilburn District Heating Scheme

A commentator asks whether the district heating scheme in South Kilburn is proceeding.  To the best of my knowledge, it is.  I imagine that there was a delay for the ballot on whether the entire South Kilburn area was still being redeveloped.  It is also usual for these schemes only to go ahead once a critical mass has been put into place, so it may well be a while before it is fully operational.

Friday, 29 November 2019

Two Brent Council By Elections in Barnhill

The resignation of Cllr Mike Pavey in Barnhill which was announced shortly before the similar resignation of Cllr Sarah Marquis for the same ward is likely to lead to two Brent Council by elections, probably in January next year. 

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Pavement Surfaces and Trees

Following on from the burgeoning controversy over street trees in Furness Road, I thought I should add in something about what I know about their effect on pavement surfaces.  During the Harlesden Town Centre redevelopment, the group agreed that wanted standard paving and that trees should either have hoggin around them (which is a kind of sterile soil piled up) or resin coated gravel (as in the photo of Wembley Market Square below).  The advantage of this is that they still let the water in to feed the tree (and of course help its survival).

Examples of resin costed gravel are plentiful around Harlesden Town Centre, and tend to be favoured in the more urban sites.  These sites tend to be replaced by smaller trees because the bigger trees (e.g. London Plan) tend to undermine peoples' houses which can lead to successful insurance claims and if taken that far, a court order to remove tree.

The more suburban sites are more likely to have grass verges and wider front gardens are less likely to be affected by insurance wrangles as the distances from the housing is sufficient to avoid subsidence. 

Paving with gravel and paving stones in my opinion looks much nicer, but it can be hard to reconcile with bigger trees as the stones immediately around the tree tend to get lifted up.  A combination of paving and asphalt can be tried, but also looks somewhat unsightly (see the photo below), and can become cracked creating tripping hazards.  Of course that also applies if the paving is replaced entirely by asphalt.  There are alternatives to asphalt, such as the granite materials used in Hazel Road, although I believe that is more expensive. 

When Brent Council decided to move away from paving stones in 2016, I believe it was fundamentally a cost based decision, and I think the councillors should be more frank in acknowledging that. 

Monday, 25 November 2019

Harlesden Neighbourhood Plan and Trees

Following yesterday's post, I thought it would be worth adding the tree guidance that appears in the Harlesden Neighbourhood Plan passed at the end of May.  This says:

“8.27. It is realistic to provide new areas of public open space only on development or redevelopment of large sites. Given the lack of breaks in the urban environment, and of opportunities to provide new ones, greening of streets through tree planting is a way of improving the environment of the area. As well as improving the visual attractiveness of streets, trees help to mitigate the effects of climate change. Trees also reduce pollution and the impacts of pollution on health. Trees can act as both a visual and an acoustic barrier, softening the hard edges of the built form, screening residential properties from road traffic and absorbing traffic noise. It is also accepted that it is important to continue removing and replacing existing trees where these may be causing a nuisance or result in excessive maintenance.

8.28. London Plan policy for development is that existing trees of value should be retained and any loss as the result of development should be replaced following the principle of ‘right place, right tree’.”

The wording of the policy is:

Policy E8 – Tree provision
There should be appropriate mitigation for the loss of trees on development, including a contribution towards the planting of new street trees locally if new trees cannot be provided on site.
One of the priorities for any CIL funding in the Neighbourhood Plan area will be for the provision of new street trees.

These policies cover the current controversy over trees in Furness Road, which is a road that has also been subject to concern over the quality of its pavements and "walkability" 

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Green Party Claims on Street Trees in Brent

The Green candidate in Brent Central is trying to stir up controversy around street trees in Brent.  Frankly he seems to me to be coming quite late to the issue, and from a narrow point of view.

Firstly he is talking about a handful of trees when the Borough has many thousands.  Each year a few hundred are lost to disease, age, storm damage, accidents and building works.  Where they are lost to building works, Brent has a policy of always replacing them as closely near by as possible.

There are a number of schemes to pay for replacement plantings, as well as in new developments such as the redevelopment of Harlesden Town Centre.  Nonetheless, they sometimes need to be replaced for safety or insurance reasons.  The Greens talk simply of trees as a kind of carbon capture, which they are.  Yet it would be nice if their role in flood control, air quality, mitigation against rising temperatures and enhancing the "livability" of streets was also acknowledged.

As always the value of the trees has to be considered along side other needs such as ensuring that the pavements are walkable.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Alex Salmond in Government

By now it is well known that Alex Salmond has been charged with a number of sexual assaults on women (claims that he denies).  These offences are alleged to have taken place when he was First Minister.  Is it not cause for reflection in Scotland and elsewhere that such serious charges can be brought about a time when he was such a senior politician?

Friday, 22 November 2019

Labour's Manifesto Doesn't say Enough on Libraries

I notice that yesterday's Labour manifesto included a pledge to "preserve libraries" and reintroduce national standards.  I welcome the second part of that promise, but I am always rather disappointed that library debates all seem to be somewhat conservative in talking about preserving the past rather than developing the future.  Libraries should be reacting to changes in their communities and in society.  The obvious example is digitalisation, although one could also pick other such as increasing demand for social space and interaction.

I always feel that these debates tend to be intellectually thin.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

The Queensbury Redevelopment

The redevelopment of the Queensbury pub in Willesden has finally gone ahead after a long saga of different applications.  The final scheme is substantively different from the one I voted against in 2014.  In that sense long standing opponents can claim a kind of victory, but the idea that you can just block redevelopments forever is not realistic.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Sunday, 17 November 2019

What is the UK Library Sector Like?

This is a handy summary of where public libraries in the UK are and how they match up to other parts of Europe.  Despite central government cuts, still fairly high.  Other countries are also available

Saturday, 16 November 2019

The Wife of Willesden

The Kiln Theatre is staging an updated version of the Wife of Bath's Tale by Zadie Smith who likes using Brent as a location.  It will be interesting to compare it to Wife, which was staged earlier in the year.

The latter was a play set in 1959, 1989 and 2019 with three different scenarios taking Ibsen's A Doll's House as a starting point.  Indhu Rubasingham record includes directing a production of a Doll's House in the past.  The Chaucer tale is a reminder that depictions of assertive women are nothing new.

It is being produced as part of the wider Borough of Culture programme.  

Friday, 15 November 2019

Frank Dobson's Death

Sadly, Frank Dobson has died.  Frank was the long serving MP for Holborn and St Pancras, Health Secretary in Tony Blair's first Cabinet, a Leader of Camden Council and Labour's first London Mayoral candidate in 2000. 

I was his election agent in 2005 and his reputation across the constituency was extraordinary.  He had served there from 1979, and by the time I got there he was extraordinarily well known for all the work he had done as a constituency MP.  People would thank him for things he had done from them twenty years before, and that was no part of the community that he hadn't touched in some way.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Brexit Climbdown

What bemuses me about Nigel Farage's standing down of more than 300 of his candidates for the Brexit Party is that none of them get any say in the matter.  He just announces it and none of them are quoted as saying anything.  This is almost as odd as their original launch when their names were not announced.  To add to it all Arron Banks is apparently instructing Farage to remove even more of their "candidates".

It is almost as if they were not a real party, and Farage was a Leader in name only.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Oliver Sacks and Links to Brent

It may not be widely known that the noted neurologist grew up in Brent.  His home was the now non-residential 37 Mapesbury Road.  In his works he makes occasional references to Brent.  His father was a member of a sailing club on the Welsh Harp.  He enjoyed frequenting Willesden Library, which would have been the original 1894 building. He worshipped at the now defunct Cricklewood Synagogue in Walm Lane.

I hope some day he gets a blue plaque recognising his links to the area

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Brent Local Plan Review

Brent is now (until 5 December) reviewing its Local Plan.  This is an important document that underpins all the Borough's Planning Application decisions.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Fanny Mendelson at Willesden Library

Willesden Library is hosting an unusual event about Fanny Mendelsohn on 21 November, whose more widely known brother was Felix Mendelsohn (and both of them grandchildren of Moses Mendelsohn).  Among other things it is an interesting example of how Herstory aproaches can provide a new angle to familiar stories.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Optimism on Climate Change

Away from the rhetoric of gestures such as having a climate assembly, there is actually good news coming on carbon emissions.  Advances in wind technology should lead to a huge rise in production, and if the battery problem can be solved, this could contribute to baseload production.  Even aviation appears to be making progress with possible small electric only aircraft.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Reconfiguring Willesden Library

I suggested a little while ago reconfiguring Willesden Library to create a cafe directly on Willesden High Road in the "Reading Room".

The next question would be what to do with the current cafe space.  One option might be to see if some one else wants to rent it.  A second might be to see if the library wants to use it?  For instance, it might make a good semi-detached space for the Council advice services currently towards the back of the library.  It could also be used for the childrens sessions, which (because of the noise) can sometimes irritate other users.  It could be used as exhibition space by the Brent Museum.  It might have some entirely new use as a maker space for example.  It could also be used as a hiring space for events in general, including live music.

I see no inherent barrier to any of these purposes.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Orientalism at the British Museum

It is worth trying the new Orientalist painting exhibition at the British Museum, although the items are restricted to those of the Museum itself and some items from Malaysia.  Orientalism as an idea really needs updating from the Edward Said perception.

The exhibition and its aims are described in a blog by its curator

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Tory Cock Ups

The line on the Tory launch appeared to be that someone had just "cocked things up".  It is come to something when you think that the best line of defence for your Party is that you are the Party that cocks stuff up.

In fact, it is much worse.  Aside from the Keir Starmer film being not just a mistake as James Cleverly appeared to be trying to argue it was a deliberately false piece of footage.  It was not just "shortened" but edited in a way that was manifestly false. 

When your Party is led by a man who has repeatedly been associated with lying to everyone including his employers, the voters and even the Queen, the circulation of deceptive videos is really not good.  The resignation of the Welsh Secretary and the prior endorsement of Donald Trump risks this current Tory campaign in danger of making Theresa May's 2017 effort look like a triumph.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

New Referendum on Brexit

I am surprised by those politicians who have been telling us for ages that a new referendum might lead civil unrest seem to have no such worries about a new General Election just over two years into a five year Parliament.  Why one but not the other?

Perhaps they have been influenced by the expected riots by people after the delay of 31 October were apparently limited to somewhat diminutive rioters going from door to door.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

The Kiln and Community Engagement Again

Following my praising the Kiln Theatre's efforts at community involvement, I note that it is now being subjected to criticism on the grounds that the people in the production were not paid.

I think this is to misunderstand the long tradition of community engagement that is being invoked here.  This production is more in the tradition of Noye's Fludde and other "Peoples' Theatre".  Complaining about it is a bit like complaining about Amateur Dramatics, or amateur musicians giving recitals, or Brent Dance Month.  It ignores part of the country's long tradition of occasional arts participation.

The principle of paying people who doing a professional job is an important one, and one that undermined many of the pitches for "Big Society" volunteer libraries.  Although I had to examine these during the Libraries Transformation Project, it was never satisfactorily resolved as to when being a volunteer passed into effective employment and therefore demanded things like minimum wage employment, insurance and so on.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Kensal Rise Library Opening Hours

Kensal Rise Library is now operating.  Its opening hours are for three and a half days a week starting 10am, ending at 8pm on Wednesdays; 5pm on Thursdays and Fridays and 1pm on Saturday.  One of the big problems with running a volunteer service is that it will be difficult to keep this up on a long term basis, as the mix of volunteers will change. 

At the time of writing, there appear to be no events planned.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Climate Assembly

A group of elect Committee chairs have decided to invite people to a Climate Assembly.  I don't know how effective this will be although I have been told the Irish experience over their abortion referendum was positive using similar techniques. 

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Kingsbury Library Temporary Closure

Kingsbury Library will be closed for refurbishment between 11 November and 15 December before reopening.  The refurbishment is somewhat overdue, and decided back in early October.  I recall that with previous refurbishments, some "campaigners" made great play of the need for interim measures, but I haven't heard anyone argue that here.  I wonder why that is.

Friday, 1 November 2019

When the Crows Visit at the Kiln Theatre

I saw when the When the Crows Visit at the Kiln Theatre this week.  Reviews are now out and they rightly point out that it is much tougher going than more feelgood shows such as White Teeth.  Given the subject matter of extreme violence against women, that is not a surprise.  Nonetheless it is an extremely powerful piece of drama and well worth a visit.