Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Action needed to save small shops

Since the 1960s, there has been a massive shift from shopping a local, specialised independent shops, such as green grocers and butchers, to purchasing at larger conglomerates.

A new report from the Greater London Assembly Planning and Housing Committee warns that if these habits continue, we could see the total eradication of small shops as early as 2015. The numbers reflect this:  London lost more than 7,000 individual or family-owned shops in the period 2001 to 2007.

This is problematic for many reasons, besides the sense of community and local cohesion they lend; local stores provide a wider social and economic role and one that is central to a sustainable neighbourhood. For example, over 50% of the turnover of independent retailers goes back into the local community, compared to just 5% per cent from supermarkets. They also meet the needs of the disadvantaged, socially excluded and elderly, particularly those with a lack of mobility who cannot access more distant shops.

The main threats to small shops come from the supermarkets and rising rents. The recent shift from retail to service-based vendors also poses a threat. Businesses such as coffee shops, internet caf├ęs,sandwich shops, or beauticians do not require planning permission and are taking over retail spaces.

The report states it is lawful, and perfectly acceptable in planning terms, for local planning authorities to seek to protect and strengthen established shopping centres through specific planning policies. This legitimacy must be recognised, and boroughs must be confident that they can act to protect their small shops. A number of London boroughs are actively looking at measures to protect small shops through the planning system by defining some retail uses as "essential services."

Following a six month investigation, the committee recommends that all boroughs ensure that they have policies to:

*Protect retail uses in neighbourhood parades within walking distance;
*Protect small retail units from adverse impacts from new retail development; and
*Reflect the need for local small shops to be easily accessible via a full range of sustainable modes of transport.

Ultimately, the fate of London’s small shops rests with their ability to persuade Londoners to use them on a regular basis. Many London communities have made use of unique initiatives to encourage local spending, such as the Brixton pound or the Wedge card. There is scope for improvements in policy at all levels – national, London wide, the borough and local levels. If the report’s suggestions can be recognized in the development of London Plan policy, it will go some way to helping support London’s small shops and neighbourhood centres.

Barnet Rushes Through Brent Cross Plans

This Thursday 29th July, Barnet Council planning and environment committee will be discussing the controversial Brent Cross Cricklewood planning application. The proposals have been recommended for approval by the committee. The Coalition of groups opposing the controversial scheme is questioning the need to rush through the detailed proposals, given that the planning application has to come before the committee in October in any case.

A number of Brent Cross Coalition members have applied to speak in opposition at the meeting, and the opponents will be holding a demonstration outside Hendon Town Hall at 6.30pm .

David Howard, Chair, Federation of Residents Associations in Barnet and BXC Coalition spokesperson, says:
Barnet Council’s decision to rubberstamp plans for the Brent Cross Cricklewood redevelopment at the end of an ordinary planning meeting this week is suspicious, but not surprising.

The scheme has been inadequately negotiated between the Council and developers, and reneges on conditions applied in November. Given that section 106 documents have largely been rewritten, it is completely unclear what the Council is being asked to approve at this week’s meeting.

We would like to know why Barnet have brought the Brent Cross report to committee this week, with barely a week’s notice and at the end of July, when it could have been more fully considered in October. We believe that documents sneaked through without proper scrutiny now will become more difficult to challenge at the October meeting - or at least, that is the Council's intention.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Brent school students, teachers and governors turn out for rally and lobby

School students, teachers, governors and parents were out in force yesterday for the rally and parliamentary lobby over the cuts in the Building Schools for the Future programme and the Academies Bill.

School students from Copland, Alperton and Queens Park Community School were among those attending the rally and who met with Brent MPs to press the case for their schools. Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North, said that he was going to concentrate on the BSF issue but said that he would also sign the EDM on academies consultation.

Meanwhile the Guardian has published a LIST of those schools who have applied for academy status. In Brent only two schools, both religious schools, are listed: The JFS (Jewish Free School) and the Convent of Jesus and Mary. Claremont, whose head expressed an interest some weeks ago was not included after the governors decided to take time to research the issue.

The Methodist Central Hall, where the rally was held, was packed and an overflow room had to be opened. The mood was militant and it was good to see school students out in force to fight the cuts.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Lobby and Rally on BSF Cuts and Academies

An urgent lobby of Parliament has been called on July 19th over the cuts in the Building Schools for the Future programme which will affect Alperton, Copland, Cardinal Hinsley and Queens Park schools in Brent. It may also impact on the scheduled rebuild of the Crest Academies (formerly John Kelly Boys and Girls schools).

The BSF cuts are intimately linked with the academies programme because many local authorities were forced to convert schools to academy status to secure BSF funding. A cursory glance at the Michael Gove's notoriously unreliable list shows that there is a bias towards maintaining funding for academies and stopping it for community schools. In many areas only academy projects remain.  LIST HERE (Item 2) (As a good Green I am sending Gove some used envelopes so that he can use the backs of them to work out some more policies).

The Anti-Academies Alliance will be joining the lobby on the 19th July . There will be a Rally at Methodist Central Hall, opposite Parliament at 1pm followed by lobbying. The AAA's focus is on the Academies Bill which gets its second reading that day.  They state:

This Bill seeks to develop a 'revolution' in education policy by which academies become 'the norm'. As it stands, the Bill denies parents (or staff and the local community) the right to any consultation over the decision to seek academy status. It paves the way for an unprecedented deregulation and privatisation of schools. It will create the conditions for the undermining of Local Authority support for schools in vital areas such as SEN, admissions and behaviour. It will prevent the rational planning of school places in the future allowing dis-economies of scale to develop. The new 'free' schools it will encourage with mean other schools have to close.

On July 8th, Lord Hill of Oareford , appointed Academies Minister, wrote to schools considering becoming academies, on a number of issues including the Freedom of Information Act, Special Educational Needs, Consultation and Transfer of Land.. LETTER HERE The letter says that Academies will now be covered by the Freedom of Information Act on a par with maintained schools and that Part 4 of the Education Act 1996, covering Special Educational Needs will now apply to Academies. The section on consultation is weak requiring governing bodies of converting schools to only 'consult those person whom they think appropriate' before entering into funding arrangements with the Secretary of State. Further guidance is promised to be published on the DES website.

An Early Day Motion (EDM 135 02.06.10) has been tabled amending the Academies Bill to ensure proper consultation. You can e-mail your MP to sign it HERE. I suggest you amend the model letter on the site before sending it on.

WILL TEATHER FIGHT FOR BRENT SCHOOLS?

Meanwhile it will be interesting to see Sarah Teather's response on BSF. She told the Wembley Observer (July 8th) that 'Brent schools had been led up the garden path'...'Brent children who desperately need new classrooms have had their hopes raised and dashed, only because Labour wanted parents' votes. The lasting legacy of the previous Labour administration is a string of extravagant election promises and not enough cash to pay for them'.

Six years ago when she argued in the House of Commons for Brent to be included in the BSF programme she didn't appear to think the programme was 'extravagant':

'The executive summary of the Government's consultation document, "Building Schools for the Future", stated: "School buildings are important to pupils' education." The research showed a clear link between capital investment and school standards. In practical terms, the budgetary pressure has prevented the council from taking action to replace the portakabins in the John Kelly secondary schools.

'Brent has a poor stock of school buildings; the lack of available cash for maintenance means that many have a large backlog of minor repairs that may well be more expensive to fix now than if they had been dealt with sooner. Brent is desperate to be part of the second wave of "Building Schools for the Future", which is due to be announced in the autumn. At the moment, some schools are forgoing expenditure in the hope—indeed the expectation—that BSF funding will be made available soon.'

Sarah Teather described the Tories' 'free schools' policy as a 'shambles' during the General Election campaign. I wonder if she agrees with Simon Hughes', Liberal Democrat deputy leader, speaking about free schools on the BBC Politics Show, 'It would be nonsense to take money that could be used for improving existing schools to create new schools'.

Anti-Academies Alliance Website HERE

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Fight Tooth and Nail for Decent School Buildings

Brent Council confirmed the impact of the BSF programme on Brent schools with the following release.

Head teachers and students in Brent were shocked at the announcement  by the Government to axe the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

The timing couldn't have been more poignant for Brent's schools. As the Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, addressed the House of Commons, students from Alperton Community School, Queens Park Community School, Copland Community School and Cardinal Hinsley Mathematics and Computing College were presenting to Brent Council their ideas and plans for their future buildings.

The four schools had been allocated £80m under the BSF programme.

Maggie Rafee, Head teacher at Alperton Community School, said: "There can be no denying that the news about the BSF programme being axed is absolutely devastating.

"This will mean our school will face uncertainty while we await the outcome of the review and go through whatever new hoops are set to secure the capital monies that the minister announced will still be available for schools in the greatest need. Our school will do whatever is necessary to make politicians sit up and take notice."

Students at the school have written to the Secretary of State for Education and invited him to visit the site and see why the investment is needed.

Councillor Ann John, Leader of Brent Council, said: "Yesterday's announcement will have a devastating impact on the educational opportunities of Brent's students for generations to come.

"The rising population in the borough has meant a shortage of school places and, with many of our schools in poor condition, this investment was vital.

"We will be drawing on the support of our MPs to argue our case to Government for this much-needed investment that goes beyond new buildings. Without funding Brent will not be able to meet the demand for pupil places in the future."

The axing of this programme along with the Coalitions claim that 'free schools' can be housed in closed down factories and warehouses, empty shops and disused churches, shows that they are completely out of touch with the needs of schools. We will be returning to private affluence (from whence most of them came) and public squalor.

I started teaching in the 1970s and remember classrooms with carefully positioned buckets catching rainwater leaking through ceilings, windows held together with tape and string,  walls covered with sugar paper to hid cracked and mouldy plaster. Are we really going to put up with this Government returning us to that state - along with oversized classes and shortage of text books and resources? 

The message given to pupils in such schools is: You don't matter.

We must fight tooth and nail to ensure our children have decent, sustainable school buildings which are fit for purpose.

Hard times ahead but we can still enjoy ourselves!

New Schools....shattered dreams?



Sarah Teather MP spoke about the Building Schools for the Future Pogramme in the House of Commons, July 1st 2004:

As a result of the budgetary pressures, Brent LEA spends a much higher percentage of its school budget on pay—85 to 90 per cent., compared with an average of about 70 per cent. for other LEAs. That is highly significant. High wage costs result in reduced funding for other areas; that is common sense. Brent cannot provide the teaching assistants that it feels it needs; it cannot refurbish buildings; and it has a higher proportion of schools in budget deficit than the rest of London. Some 12 Brent primary schools, about 20 per cent; of the borough's total, are in deficit, compared with 12 per cent. in Greater London. Five Brent secondary schools are in deficit, 37 per cent of the total, compared with 24 per cent in Greater London.


Refurbishment is a particular concern for such schools. The executive summary of the Government's consultation document, "Building Schools for the Future", stated: "School buildings are important to pupils' education." The research showed a clear link between capital investment and school standards. In practical terms, the budgetary pressure has prevented the council from taking action to replace the portakabins in the John Kelly secondary schools.

Brent has a poor stock of school buildings; the lack of available cash for maintenance means that many have a large backlog of minor repairs that may well be more expensive to fix now than if they had been dealt with sooner. Brent is desperate to be part of the second wave of "Building Schools for the Future", which is due to be announced in the autumn. At the moment, some schools are forgoing expenditure in the hope—indeed the expectation—that BSF funding will be made available soon.

On Monday Brent Council said:

Brent Council heard today of Government plans to cut the national Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. Four schools will now miss out on an initial investment worth £80m.

Councillor Ann John, Leader of the Council said: "This is dreadful news for Brent. The withdrawal of funding will have a devastating impact on the educational opportunities of Brent's students for generations to come.

"The rising population in the borough has meant a shortage of school places and with many of our schools in poor condition, this investment was vital.

"We will be drawing on the support of our MPs to argue our case to Government for this much-needed investment that goes beyond new buildings.

"Without funding Brent will not be able to meet the demand for pupil places in the future."

Brent awaits further information from the Department of Education.

I await comment from Sarah Teather MP.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Never mind climate change, let's save some money....

Environmental groups across Brent angered at Brent Council’s decision to cut key Environment posts will be holding a protest outside Brent Town Hall on Monday 12th July.   They have requested speaking rights at the Council Executive meeting to voice their concerns.
 
Brent Campaign against Climate Change, made up of environmental, trade union, political and community groups across the Borough are infuriated that Brent Council have cut two posts in Environment and Culture, including a new Climate Change Officer post.  The campaigners believe the post, which would have would oversee and deliver the Borough’s Climate Change strategy, should be exempt from the cuts which will otherwise seriously impede the Council’s work to deliver a sustainable agenda.
 
Brent’s Climate Change strategy was launched at an event in Wembley in December last year.  A strategy steering group was due to be set up comprising public services, businesses, voluntary sector and community group representatives, but this new post was the only paid one on the committee.  The other places are entirely voluntary, non-expert and do not carry any authority.  The steering group is yet to be set up and the officer post, due to be recruited last year, was put on hold due to a recruitment freeze across the Council this Spring, and has now been axed.  This work is instead being designated to existing staff, which campaigners believe will compromise what can be achieved.
 
Ken Montague, Chair of Brent Campaign against Climate Change said:

Brent Council really need to get their heads round the seriousness and urgency of the problem facing us. Climate change is happening now and it won't wait till they've balanced their budgets.  This is a short sighted decision which shows that Brent is not planning for the future.
 
We should save the planet not the bankers.  Brent Council must lead the way and not give way to Con Dem budget cuts.

Brent Councillors don't have to answer to us. They will have to answer to their grandchildren.
Steffi Gray, of Brent Friends of the Earth (FoE), who is hoping to address the Council meeting said:

This is outrageous.  Brent have spent forty thousand pounds of our council tax hiring consultants to come up with this strategy, but have now pulled the plug on any further money to actually deliver the scheme.  What’s more they have made a big deal of signing up to the 10:10 campaign to reduce emissions by 10% in 2010, but this target is actually LESS than the amount they agreed to previously.
We want Brent Council to get serious about climate change, but we fear these cuts will put a sustainable agenda at risk.  Given the urgency of climate change, this post should be a priority and be made exempt from the cuts.
 
Shahrar Ali, Brent Green party spokesperson for planning and environment added:

We need to take urgent action on climate change mitigation locally. The Brent climate change strategy called for a full-time officer to work with other agencies and the public - today, not the day after tomorrow. Failure to recruit the post is environmentally irresponsible. We are calling for all newly elected councillors to see sense, for the sake of current and future generations.
 
Brent Council faces two hundred staff cuts in September, whilst Council tax has been frozen for the coming year.  The decision was made without consultation with community groups who had previously been involved in shaping the Borough’s climate change strategy.
 
Members of Brent FoE, Brent Green Party, Brent Red-Green Forum, Brent and Harrow Socialist Workers Party, Brent Socialist Resistance, and  Transition Kensal to Kilburn will be outside Brent Town Hall in Wembley from 6.30pm on Monday 12th July.  The Council executive meeting starts at 7.15pm.
 

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Church speaks out against English Defence League

John Root, vicar of St James's Church, Alperton has written the following letter to the Wembley Observer:

We, the people of St James's Church, Alperton are committed to strengthening the bonds of peace and understanding between Islam and our own faith, Christianity.


We were concerned to read your report 'Protest Planned at Muslim Rally', about the demonstration planned in Wembley on June 26th.

We believe that the aim  of the Engl;ish Defence League is to stir up anti-Islamic feeling and to pull Brent's different communities apart.  We oppose this.


Also, although members of our church come from many different nationalities, those of us who are English reject the right of the English Defence League to speak on our behalf.


We assure your Muslim readers of our continued prayers and support. We believe that God is dishonoured when the seeds of hatred are sown and we refuse to share in the English Defence League's agenda of hatred.

Claremont Takes a Step Back on Academy Status

The Governing Body of Claremont High School has acted after contradictory statements from the headteacher over applying for academy status. Terry Malloy's statements to the press had ranged from the tentative to the gung-ho and resulted in an anti-academy demonstration outside the school. Reading between the lines it appears that there might have been a good old-fashioned row on the governing body.

A statement published in the Harrow Times said:

"The discussion was full and frank. At this point in time, the governing body has concluded that no expression of interest in pursuing academy status will be made and the school will continue to explore the specific and wider implications of academy status to be better informed."

As Brent Green Party spokesperson on Children, Families and Schools I welcome the governing body's statement which indicates that they have recognised their democratic responsibilities and the need to be accountable to the wider community. I hope that after due deliberation they will reject the academy option on the grounds that it would undermine central services provided by the local authority, take money from other schools, and remove democratic accountability.