Wednesday, 25 February 2009

PALESTINE: CONTINUOUS SUPPORT - NOT JUST SHORT-LIVED RAGE

Monday's meeting on Palestine could well have been an occasion for hyperbole and ranting after recent events in Gaza, but instead was impressive, sober, passionate and educational.
Sarah Teather who was in Gaza last week with a parliamentary delegation showed a film of her trip which gave ample evidence of the huge amount of damage done by the Israeli attacks, not least the destruction of schools, hospitals and mosques. Her accounts from families showed the intimate, personal affect on ordinary people. Sarah told the story of a family whose home and possessions had been destroyed. The young son held on to a football, his remaining possession, for dear life. Sarah equipped only with the usual parliamentary gifts described the helplessness she felt when she left the boy sitting amidst the ruins holding on to a tin of House of Commons biscuits, the only thing she had to offer the family. Sarah stressed how important it was to support MPs making a stand on the issue and said that the wave of public pressure on MPs had contributed to David Miliband eventually coming out and saying that the Israeli action had been 'disproportionate'.

Audrey Bomse, from the National Lawyers Guild, who was on the second Free Gaza boat, said that as a child of holocaust survivors she had no hesitation in likening the situation to the Warsaw Ghetto. She said Israel had the ability and technology to target accurately so that the killing of civilians that took place was either deliberate or the result of indiscriminate firing. She said that however illegal the rockets fired at Israel may have been, there was no justification for the collective punishment of the Gazan population. She described the various possible legal remedies via different international courts and said Israel was already bracing itself for such action, describing them as 'legal terrorism'. She finished by saying the people of Gaza need medicines, they need food but most of all they need friends.

Sultana Begum, who spent seven months as a Human Rights Observer for a World Council of Churches programme described the work she had undertaken in Hebron on the West Bank. This included escorting Palestinian children at the Cordorba School who faced attacks from settler children on the way to school. 69 different check points in the inner city area created huge problems for routine movement of Palestinians who lived under military law while 400 settlers, subject only to civilian law, were protected by up to 2,000 soldiers. She described brave non-violent action by Palestinians to try and get access to the agricultural land on which they depended for sustenance. She told stories of ordinary families and the immense struggle they faced to maintain daily existence.

A Gazan from the audience said that it was important that there should be long-term. continuous support, not just rage that flares and dies out, leaving the situation as before.

There will be a lobby of MPs to take action in support of Palestine on March 11th at the House of Commons. Brent PSC will be lobbying Sarah Teather (Brent East), Dawn Butler (Brent South) and Barry Gardiner (Brent North). For more information and to write to your MP click here or e-mail brentpsc@hotmail.com
Brent PSC is on Facebook

Monday, 23 February 2009

ARK GETTING DESPERATE?

"Cor! You must be really desperate!" I couldn't help exclaiming when I saw the shivering figure armed with glossy brochures in the entrance hall of Wembley ASDA today. She was vainly attempting to get busy shoppers to apply for a place at the Wembley ARK Academy - just down the road from the store.

This year the Academy failed to fill all its Reception places and there were vacancies in other local schools. Applications for admission in September 2009 close on Friday. Perhaps ARK is failing to persuade parents to send their children to a school which consists of temporary huts in the middle of a building site. It would be fun if all the infant and primary schools in Brent set up a stall in ASDA - there would be no room for shoppers!

The brochure states that ARK will launch the admissions process in September for the first secondary cohort due to start in September 2010 'if planning permission is granted'. This is an important caveat as Brent Council is still waiting for revised documents that it commissioned following the GLA's rejection of the Stage 1 Planning Application for the permanent academy. The revised traffic report will be crucial and the council will be re-opening consultation only when all the documentation is complete. This adds up to a significant delay for a process that was supposed to be completed earlier this year. The earliest possible date for the application to go to committee now looks like March 24th but it it more likely to be April.

Meanwhile shoppers at ASDA should be wary of adding a pig in a poke to their shopping trolley.










Sunday, 22 February 2009

CAMPAIGN TO DEFEND BRENT'S HEALTH SERVICES

The Campaign to Defend Brent's Health Services was set up originally to bring together health service workers, patients and trade unionists in opposition to the massive cuts in Brent's community health services made by the Primary Care Trust in response to their 2007 financial crisis. Now the NW London Hospitals Trust have announced that they need to make "saving", i.e. cuts, of £32 million. Although they say that they hope to make these savings without compulsory redundancies, they admit that up to 400 jobs will be lost, and campaigners are convinced that such job losses are bound to impact on patient care and lead to greater stress for the workers who keep their jobs. People's health deteriorates in times of economic recession like the one we face now, so we need more and better health services, not cutbacks.

Supporters of the Campaign gathered outside Central Middlesex Hospital on Valentine's Day, Saturday 14th February, to declare "We love our NHS". This was one of many protests across London and the country as a whole called by Keep Our NHS Public declaring support for the ideals of the NHS and opposition to cuts and privatisation. The campaign will be organising more events and activities as the effects of the cutbacks become clearer.

If you are interested in joining the Campaign to Defend Brent's Health Services, you can email Sarah Cox, the coordinator, on roundwood@redmail.com or ring 07951 084 101

Friday, 20 February 2009

LET CHILDREN ENJOY LEARNING AGAIN


The Cambridge Review of the Primary Curriculum is a chance to expel Big Brother from our classrooms.

The Review’s recommendation that schools should be freed of SATs and league tables is in line with Green Party policy on education. We want children to become eager, empowered learners who are given the chance to explore their own individual needs and interests. As a primary school headteacher I strived to promote learning but had to constantly battle the dead hand of government targets and league tables. This 'Big Brother' presence in the classroom narrowed the curriculum and turned teachers into stressed target chasers and children into passive recipients of lessons geared to maximising SAT results and the school's league table position.

Research for the report has been extremely thorough and I was pleased to meet up with its authors, alongside other local headteacher, some time ago. Its recommendations have been backed by teaching unions and major educational organisations. The government must take notice and return the encouragement of a love of learning to its vital place in primary education.

GET THE LATEST NEWS FROM PALESTINE - MEETING THIS MONDAY


Brent Palestine Solidarity Campaign is holding a meeting on Monday February 23rd 7pm at Willesden Green Library. Speakers will include Sultana Begum, a human rights observer who was recently in Hebron; Audrey Bomse, from the National Laywers' Guild who was on the Free Gaza Boat, and Sarah Teather who has just returned from a visit to Gaza and has witnessed the devastation first-hand.


On March 11th the PSC is asking local people to lobby our MPs to ask that they support the call to:


End the blockade on Gaza
Suspend the EU-Israel Trade Agreement
Bring Israeli war criminals to justice
End the arms trade with Israel
Urge the government to act to implement international law, including an immediate end to Israeli occupation

Cycle Paths Video

Barn Hill Conservation group have produced a Youtube video about Sustrans proposal for cycle paths in Fryent Country Park. Go to http://bit.ly/NDzsv

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

BRENT'S LOW ECOLOGICAL AND CARBON FOOTPRINTS


The Environment Agency today publishes Environment Fact Sheets for each London borough as an extension of the London State of the Environment report.
Key environmental facts from the report:

  • Brent has one of the lowest ecological footprints in London at 5.02 global hectares per capita, ranking it 29th out of the 33 London boroughs. It is lower than the total London footprint of 5.48 and the UK footprint of 5.30

  • In Brent housing accounts for 26% of the total ecological footprint and food 25%

  • Brent has one of the lowest carbon footprints in London at 11.28 tonnes CO2 per capita, ranking 29th and lower than the London average of 12.12 and the UK of 12.08

  • In Brent commercial consumption accounts for 34% of the emissions and the primary contributor is electricity

  • Brent has one of the lowest recycling and composting rates in London at 20.98%. It ranks 29th out of the 33 boroughs. The recycling rate is 12.08% ranking lowest in London.

  • However the household recycling/composting rate has improved dramatically since 2000/2001 rising from 6.4% to 20.98% in 2007/8- but still well below the total London rate of 25.5%

  • Approximately 4% of Brent land is within flood zone 2 (1 in 1000 year probability of flooding) and 6% within flood zone 3 (1 in 100 year probability). This land is predominantly located around the River Brent, Wealdstone Brook and the Wembley Brook.

  • The water quality of the Grand Union Canal and the River Brent is historically poor, with a slight improvement in the latter. This means only pollution tolerant species can survive.

  • The most common invasive plant species in Brent is Japanese Knotweed found on both the Wealdstone Brook and the River Brent.

  • The borough has one SSSI, the Brent Reservoir(South)/Welsh Harp (illustrated) and the Reservoir, canals and Fryent Country Park have been designated sites of Metropolitan Importance by the London Mayor.

For a PDF of the full report go to:

http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/static/documents/Research/BRENT_factsheet.pdf

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

SUSTRANS RESPOND ON CYCLE PATHS


I e-mailed Sustrans to try and get a more detailed map of the proposed paths on Fryent Country Park. This is part of the response:

Dear Martin,

Thank you for your email.

As you may have seen from our NW London Greenways consultation document, the idea is to promote the concept of a cycling and walking 'Greenway' network, rather than the detailed consideration of the exact alignment of particular routes. We do not have a detailed proposal for Fryent Country Park but, following site investigation, believe that it may be useful to upgrade some the existing mud tracks. To deliver this kind of improvement would require detailed local consultation and very specific plans (this process is outlined in our consultation document). We are not at this stage yet and I am aware that there is particular local interest in Fryent Country Park. Feedback from the consultation will help shape our final report on which the proposed greenway network will be developed.
Matt Winfield
Greenways Manager
Sustrans London

Sunday, 8 February 2009

CYCLE TRACKS IN FRYENT COUNTRY PARK?

Sustrans is currently consulting on possible cycle routes for the North West London Greenways. Part of their proposals concern routes around Wembley.

Illustrated (in green) are possible routes in Fryent Country Park. Fryent Way is the road running from left to right down the centre of the map and the Jubilee line can also be seen. This would mean the construction of tarmac paths over meadows and grass paths.

Although, as a 'Greenie' and a member of the London Cycling Campaign I support the construction of more cycle routes and the promotion of cycling for commuting, exercise and leisure, I have reservations about these proposals because of their impact on the unique environment of the Park which includes woodland, hay meadows, wetland and many ponds. As well as being a certified organic farm the Park is also a haven for wildlife and has remained relatively unspoilt for many years. It is one of the last remaining examples of Middlesex countryside. I am also concerned that the cycle paths will disturb the peace and tranquility of the Park and will reduce the pleasure of visitors, including those primary school children who accompany me on nature walks there as part of my work with Brent School Without Walls.

Barn Hill Conservation Group, which is a voluntary organisation that helps maintain the Country Park is also concerned about the impact of the cycle paths. They are proposing that the pavements either side of Fryent Way, which are currently under-used and in poor repair, should be upgraded for use by cyclists instead. Their are also proposals for other parks and roads in Brent which can be seen on the Sustrans consultation website.

The consultation, which has received little publicity in Brent and has not been discussed in Area Forums, ends on March 6th, 2009. For documentation and to fill in a questionaire go to:
http://www.sustrans.org.uk/

Pictures and information about the park can be seen on Barnhill Conservation Group's website:
http://bhcg.btik.com/
or Brent Schools Without Walls website:
http://brentschoolwithoutwalls.btik.com/




BARRY GARDINER BACKS HEATHROW EXPANSION


Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North, voted against the parliamentary motion calling for the abandonment of Heathrow expansion plans despite his recent interventions on climate change. He was joined in the No lobby by Dawn Butler MP for South Brent and a candidate for the new Brent Central seat. They voted for the government despite the opposition of Brent Council and many other London local councils to airport expansion. The vote was very narrow: 28 Labour MPs rebelled, if 32 had done so the government would have lost the vote. Andrew Slaughter, MP for neighbouring Ealing, Acton and Shepherds Bush led the revolt. Gardiner and Butler should have joined him
Doubt has now been thrown on the Government's economic and environmental case for expansion by parliamentary researchers. They question some of the claims made by Geoff Hoon during the debate. His claim that only low-emitting planes would be allowed to use the runway is undermined by the researchers who say 'aircraft designs do not at the moment incorporate many of the features highlighted by the secretary of state'. They question whether emissions can be cut to meet EU targets by 2015 stating, 'unless there are some very rapid improvements in technology, it will be some time before more environmentally friendly commercial aircraft are in widespread operation'. The DfT's estimate that the runway will bring £8.2bln benefits 'does not account for various factors' and its value could be £1.5bln or less. Finally they say that the DfT's cost-benefit analysis'does not consider' alternative schemes and the investment 'might be spent on a new airport in the Thames estuary, or high speed rail.'


The government's position also reinforces doubt over the value of public consultation. Of the nearly 70,000 responses to the consultation only a little over 8,000 wanted any form of expansion. Just 11% of people. That is, nearly 90% said no. Noise and air pollution were the biggest concerns, with nearly half the people responding expressing worries about these issues. There were 306 responses from aviation and airline companies but only a total of 241 from all other businesses. HACAN commented: “These figures give the lie to the claim that business is clamouring for a 3rd runway. Outside the aviation industry, only 241 businesses from right across the UK felt the need to express their view.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

ASDA PROMISE ACTION ON TRAFFIC HAZARD

video

ASDA have said that it hopes to apply for planning permission soon to move its goods depot gates back so as to end the danger posed to pedestrians by parked lorries.

Brent Greens have been campaigning about the issue for some time raising it with Brent Council, the police and ASDA head office. The Greens met with the Wembley ASDA manager in December and presented photographic evidence of the hazard.

The issue is even more urgent now that young children and their parents cross the access road to go to the ARK Academy in Forty Lane.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

RE-THINK NEEDED ON WEMBLEY MASTERPLAN


The Council's Wembley Masterplan completely underestimates the present financial crisis and recession and assumes that everything will be 'back to normal' in the short-term, according to Brent Green Party.

They call for the plans on be put on hold until the Council have completed an analysis of the likely impact on the borough of a long-term recession and the subsequent restructuring of the local economy. This should include a green economics approach that would create a low-carbon economic sector in the area based on developing green technologies, providing local jobs at a time of rising unemployment.

Despite evidence of a down-turn in retail and the building industry, the non-availability of mortgages, the over-supply of office space locally, and existing Wembley hotels operating at under-capacity, the Masterplan depends on the development of more retail outlets, up-market flats, office space and hotels. It relies on developers supplying Section 106 money for projects such as the rejoining of North End Road to Bridge Road, a swimming pool and the Wembley Live! project despite Quintain Estates, Brent's main developer partner, stating that the Masterplan is 'unrealistic, undeliverable and unaffordable'. Their fall-back position of relying on cash from central government or the Mayor's office is similarly unrealistic in the current dire economic situation.

The Greens support the Government Office for London's demand that Brent provide 'strong and convincing evidence on realism and deliverability of the Masterplan's aspirations'. They also support the Wembley Community Association's call for urgent, realistic short-term action in the area rather than grand long-term schemes.

Brent Green Party strongly supports the Masterplan's approach to improving the area through tree planting, the naturalisation of the Wealdstone Brook and provision of a variety of green spaces. They call for the provision of a variety of children's play areas including spaces for team games, bike and roller blade courses, fixed play equipment and areas for adventurous and exploratory play. They oppose the rejoining of North End Road to Bridge Road to create through traffic flow in the area as this will encourage cars in the area and be detrimental to the quality of life of North End Road residents.

IS CONSULTATION A CON?

‘Consultation’ has become a buzz word – the government consults about the third runway, the post office consults about post office closures, the health service consults about ‘super surgeries’ or ‘polyclinics’, the local authority consults about graffiti, climate change, care charges for elders, planning including the Wembley Masterplan and the Wembley Academy.

Too often, consultation seems to offer us a way of affecting decisions but leaves us feeling disgruntled and rather cheated. What starts as an extension and deepening of democracy leaves us cynical about decision makers and politicians. Despite a fight post offices closed, despite a fight Heathrow expansion is going ahead.

“It doesn’t make a difference. They’ve already decided anyway.”

For Brent Council I suggest the questions should be:

1. What do we consult about? When do we decide a consultation is necessary? How do we justify not consulting on some issues? It sometimes seems that the most controversial issues are not directly consulted about. We had no consultation about whether the people of Brent were in favour of City Academies as a form of semi-private provision (publicly funded but private controlled), little about where it should be – but were asked about its name and catchment area. We weren’t asked if we wanted a Civic Centre and the subsequent loss of the Town Hall, but were asked (rather glossily and expensively) about graffiti. A new contract has been awarded for play-services but the clubs and clients were not consulted during the bidding process. The new provider, ‘Kids’ has an odd trio of patrons (David Cameron, Cherie Blair and Elton John) and its inadequacies have been exposed by Private Eye – Kensington and Chelsea have already thrown it out.
2. How do we consult? It is not just a question of Area Forums, questionnaires in Brent Magazine, meetings with the Youth Parliament, on line forms, focus groups etc but what information is made available, how and when. There are major questions of accessibility. Having to down-load tens of multi-paged documents is not an option for all, working out from cryptic list of documents on the planning site which are relevant is a full-time job, trying to get hold of documents at libraries and one stop shops can be a marathon under-taking. Timing is crucial major increases in care charges were consulted about over the Christmas holidays when day centres and voluntary organisations were closed. The most telling recent case has been the Wembley Masterplan when local residents and businesses (small and large) were forced to form the Wembley Community Association because they were so enraged by the Council’s failure to reach the people most affected. They managed to force an extension of the consultation process so that they could put their case against the opening up of North End Road and for a more realistic project to be completed sooner. An approach reinforced by Quintian’s comment that the Masterplan was ‘unrealistic, undeliverable and unaffordable and the Govt Office for London demanding more convincing evidence of ‘realism and deliverability’.
3. How good is the quality of information we use for consultation? This includes the quality of questionnaires and whether they enable credible, useful information to be gained (e.g. school places question on school size gave no opportunity to state a preferred size – only to agree/disagree with Council policy); the quality of the often expensive reports carried out by consultants; whether reports actually do the job they are supposed to (the traffic survey for Wembley Academy assume Wembley Primary and Preston Manor pattern of trips to school when children will be travelling from South Brent, flood report says no evidence of local watercourses from street names when Brook Avenue and Kenbrook are nearby - duh!)

4. How fair are our consultation procedures? This relates to accessibility of information as above but also who is consulted and to what lengths we go to reach everyone. The Climate Change Strategy, Wembley Masterplan consultation, and the Care Charges consultation have all had to be extended to give people more time to respond – and it is to Brent Council’s credit that it has bowed to public clamour and done that. But there have also been complaints about the geographical limits of consultation and the need to write to more people and involve the ‘hard to reach’. A colleague has also raised the question of payment for attendance at Focus Group meetings, whether such payments are just known to those ‘in the know’, and how such payments stand ethically. How do you get on a focus group and how are they constructed to give a fair representation?

Perhaps more important is the question:
Does consultation raise unrealistic expectations about changing or reversing decisions? If consultation is really only about small, often cosmetic changes, perhaps it is best to say that at the outset rather than mislead people into thinking they can make any substantial impact on a decision and alienate them by seeming to ignore their well-thought out arguments. After all the ultimate consultation is at election time but if people are fed up with consultations, and thus also with politicians by then, they probably won’t vote.

What we (the people) should be demanding:

Don’t be humbly grateful to be granted a small say – instead:

Demand Council learn from recent problems:

· Widen consultation
· Ensure accessible and high quality documentation
· Ensure procedures are fair with adequate time lines

To strengthen democracy and accountability

Sunday, 1 February 2009

COUNCIL URGED TO REJECT ACADEMY PLANNING APPLICATION

Brent Green Party's submission to the Planning Committee due to discuss the application for the Wembley City Academy on January 14th calls on them to reject the application because of missing documentation and misleading information.

The Green Party argue that residents and other interested parties have not had access to full and accurate information for the following reasons:

*No Environmental Assessment has been made for a development that builds on playing fields, includes a Site of Local Importance for Nature Conservation, and will increase traffic flows in the area
*The council Screening Checklist that was used to decide an Environmental Assessment was not available on the planning website for public perusal
*Several items on the Screening Checklist were based on out of date information used for the temporary primary planning application, a key item on congestion was not completed, and the council say there are no nearby water courses when the Wealdstone Brook flows a few hundred yards from the site
*The Transport Assessment was not available on the website and only one copy of a very large document was available for study on site at Brent House
*The Traffic Assessment was based on the mistaken premise that pupil travel methods would be similar to Preston Manor High School and Wembley Primary, where 56% of pupils walk to school, when the Academy will be serving pupils from the south of the borough who will have to travel by car or public transport
*The Habitat Survey and Protected Species Assessment was carried out in mid winter when identification is most difficult

GLA REFUSE STAGE 1 PLANNING FOR PROPOSED ARK ACADEMY

The reasons for the continued postponement of the Brent Planning Committee date to consider the planning application for the proposed permanent academy on the Wembley Park Sports Ground is now clear. The Greater London Authority (GLA) has stated in their Stage 1 planning report that, “the application does not comply with the London Plan”. (Report attached) The Report gives Brent Council a long list of areas where they need to revise, review and carry out more research as to the impact of the proposed academy.

A wide range of well thought out and detailed objections have been sent to Brent Planning Department and many have also been copied to the London Mayor. It is not surprising that the Mayor’s officers are concerned about this ill thought out proposal. They question whether this is the right site for such a project, something that WPAG and Brent teachers have been saying for years.

There is also the question as to whether the academy is really necessary. Brent’s own figures on school places showed in November (report attached) that there were 205 spare reception places in the borough, 8 at the temporary ARK academy which was supposedly over subscribed! That number is now down to 100 empty places. A Brent spokeswoman claimed that “the vacancies are so scattered it disproves the idea that places are not needed.” She obviously didn’t look at her figures properly as there were, for example, 19 and 20 spare reception places in schools close to the temporary ARK school. These figures show clearly that it has undermined the local authority primary schools already and was not needed. It was a costly and cynical attempt to bolster the claim that the permanent application had to receive approval.

If the permanent academy goes ahead, then it is clear that it will also undermine the local secondaries. There are sites elsewhere including in the South of the borough. There is still time to look at these and build a secondary school at one of these places.

The academy programme itself has yet again shown itself to be making little or no difference to children’s achievement. Nearly a quarter of ‘failing’ secondary schools in London are academies! It is the first years of any new project when you would expect the best results but, despite the millions poured into them, academies have not achieved what the Government promised. The most recent Price Waterhouse Coopers report concluded that there is “insufficient evidence to make a definitive judgment about the Academies as a model for school improvement”.

It is the state comprehensives that are doing best in the value added stakes. In Brent the ordinary state comprehensives’ A* to C’s results increased by approximately twice the average of those in the Capital City Academy (See Brent’s results for last year and this year). The teachers in the Academy are adding value, but are hamstrung by the ridiculous and counterproductive system of private control.

We are faced with the unbelievable situation when the Government are nationalising the banks while privatising the education system. Campaigners against the Wembley Academy will keep up their pressure and stop this ill thought out scheme.

WEMBLEY PARK ACTION GROUP