Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Brent Labour elections update

Islington Council leader Catherine West appears to have ditched her possible bid for the Labour Brent Central nomination following reports that she is setting her sights on the Hornsey and Wood Green seat currently held by Lib Dem Lynne Featherstone.

Meanwhile senior Brent Labour sources have bigged up Regent's Park councillor Tulip Suddiq's chances in Hampstead and Kilburn although veteran left-winger Graham Durham immediately commented, 'We don't want another Blairite, we have enough in the PLP already.' The Labour Party source suggested that Sophie Linden, a former special adviser to David Blunkett had no base in Brent and that Fiona Millar had withdrawn when soundings indicated she had little support.

The only new candidate to come forward for a Council Executive position is Cllr Aslam Choudry who will fight Cllr Willehema Mitchell-Murry for Crime and Public Safety.

Other contests so far are:

Children and Families: Michael Pavey vs Mary Arnold
Environment and Neighbourhoods: Roxanne Mashari vs James Powney
Customers and Citizens: James Denselow vs Lesley Jones

There is still time for others to come forward as the hustings are not until May 9th and the Annual General Meeting, where the voting takes place, is on May 11th.

Millar's withdrawal from Hampstead and Kilburn highlights Labour's failures on education





The announcement yesterday that Labour education activist Fiona Millar has withdrawn from the contest to represent Hampstead and Kilburn is a clear sign of the frustration that many party members, teachers and parents feel about Stephen Twigg's failure as Michael Gove's shadow.


Twigg's failure to take Gove on regarding examination reform, free schools, forced academies and the curriculum have led to him being given the hashtag #silenttwigg and facebook commentary on Silent Twigg focus on his latest non-pronoucements as open goals loom before him..

Millar herself is quoted in the Standard as saying:
It is very important that Michael Gove and his policies are challenged vigorously. At the moment that is probably easier to do from outside the party machine and is what I will continue doing.
She went on to say that Labour policy on education 'is too vague at the moment'.

Fiona Millar, along with Melissa Benn and Francis Gilbert are part of the Local Schools Network LINK

Their core message is:
  1. Every child has a right to go to an excellent local state school, enabling every child to achieve their full potential.
  2. Every state school should have a fair admissions procedure.
  3. Every local school should be responsive to their parents and pupils’ needs and wishes and be accountable to the local community.
  4. That local schools in difficulties should be supported to improve, not attacked and  demoralised.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Salusbury Academy Federation split?

Unconfirmed reports are reaching me that the Park Federation Academy Trust LINK  have pulled out of the federation arrangement with Salusbury Primary School.

The split is alleged to have happened as a result of Salusbury staff being unhappy about the possible imposition of a headteacher by the Park Federation's Chief Executive.

The federation is made up of two large primary schools in Hayes, Cranford Park and Wood End Park. Its website currently carries no mention of Salusbury Primary. Park's Chief Executive is Dr Martin Young.

Salusbury governors decided to join  the federation following pressure from the DfE  to become a forced academy as a result of a critical Ofsted report. Gladstone Park Primary parents are fighting the imposition of academy status after the school was given Grade 4 by Ofsted despite previously being Grade 2 and having above average SAT results at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2.

Survey reveals gap between teachers' beliefs and government diktat


A newly released survey of early years and primary professionals, released at the launch summit of the Save Childhood Movement on the 27th and 28th of April and prepared in partnership with the Barrett Values Centre, has revealed an enormous disparity between the values that teachers feel are important for the education system and what is actually going on.
- While 67% of those surveyed thought that education should be child-centred as a matter of priority, only 2% thought the current system fulfilled that.

- While 60% of respondents thought creativity should be prioritised, less than 2% thought the current system supported it.

- And while 50% believed that early education should emphasise the importance of play, only 2% thought the current system did that.

- Only 2% of respondents thought that the current system cultivated a passion for learning, and 0% believed that it fostered empowerment.
When asked which words best described the current state of British education as they experienced it, the most common words were: 
focus on targets, bureaucracy, results focus, top-down pressure and adult agenda.
In contrast, when asked which words they believed should characterise education the words most commonly chosen were:
child-centred, creativity, importance of play, passion for learning and empowerment.

The gap between the values held by the practitioners themselves and those of the education system as a whole revealed a level of 'Cultural Entropy' (meaning the degree of dysfunctional or fear-driven behaviour) that the Barrett Values Centre terms "a critical situation requiring leadership changes to avoid organisational
 failure'.

The survey examined the values of 177 early years professionals including childminders, nursery and primary school teachers and headteachers, school governors, lecturers and academics and was conducted between the 10th and the 17 of April, 2013.

Wendy Ellyatt, Founding Director and CEO of the movement, shared her own deep concern about the current situation -

" It is simply unacceptable that there should be such a disparity between the values that teachers themselves hold and the systems that we are then asking them to work within. How we can expect them to be the creative, spontaneous, passionate and empowered adults that we really need around children when they are empowerment, constantly ground down by the demands of the system? We need something better and the movement is determined to help fight for this."

The movement hopes to soon extend this survey to include a much more significant percentage of the teaching profession.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Bullying academy brokers spotlight falls on Jacky Griffin

Fiona Millar has written about the so-called academy brokers on the Local Schools Network site. A particular focus is Jacky Griffin, who was Director of Education for Brent before moving on to Kensington and Chelsea where she was restructured out of a job.  Her brokering work at Gladstone Park Primary has led to allegations of bullying:

There has been a lot in the news this week about academies and their funding. As we suspected all along,   DFE  management of thousands of schools has proved inefficient. Money ear-marked for school improvement has been squandered and while the government sprays money around with abandon on its favoured projects, other schools are facing cuts.

One particular story caught my eye. It was in the Telegraph and concerned the academy brokers. These are representatives of the DFE who move in on schools that are allegedly failing and forcibly convert them to academy status. I say representatives because it turns out that  they don’t actually work for the DFE. They are consultants and paid through personal service companies which pay corporation tax rather than income tax.This is in spite of the fact that Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander has said that this practice should be outlawed by government departments.

Recently the Conservative leader of Lancashire County Council complained to the Secretary of State about the activities of these people. So who are they? One name that comes up frequently is that of Jacky Griffin. She featured heavily in the forced conversion of Downhills Primary School and several other governing bodies who are being bullied by the DFE into converting to academy status have mentioned her name to me.

She was also involved in the last Labour government’s moves to encourage academies and trust schools as part of the BSF building programme.

Here is a little bit more information about Ms Griffin, in which she is listed as a consultant at the DFE and a Director of Griffin Taylor Consultancy Ltd. And here is some information about her company’s financial position. As it is an exempt small company, with only two directors, facts are limited but one thing seems clear,the DFE consultancy business is a very comfortable one.

Last year the government did provide some information about the tax arrangements of off payroll consultants and employment agencies. Here is a link . It would appear that the daily rate paid to personal service companies is slightly less than that paid to employment agencies,  but in return the  identities and addresses of the consultants are not provided. Does anyone else know who they might be?


Barratt's Welsh Harp development proposals in stark illustration

The illustrations below show the present West Hendon Estate and Barratt's proposals. The new plans are much higher density and sited closer to the wildfowl reserve.

#

Friday, 26 April 2013

Brent Council still fails to support Gladstone Park parents

As you probably know I have had an exchange of letters with Cllr Mary Arnold (Brent Executive lead member for children and families) over education in Brent and my claim that the Labour Council is not standing up for a democratically accountable local school system and in particular backing the Gladstone Park Primary parents in their campaign against becoming a forced academy. (Mary Arnold saw that as me 'attacking Brent Education'.)

James Denselow has posted this defence from Mary on his blog:

What is Brent Labour doing in response to Gove’s agenda?

Answer from Cllr. Mary Arnold – Lead Member for Children and Families:
We are primarily campaigning with London Councils tackling  Gove on free schools  which are unaccountable and in the wrong places, unaccountable academies, cutbacks in the Early Intervention Grant reducing surestart for early years and unfair access to childcare.
In Brent we joined other local authorities in a national campaign to challenge the injustice of moving GCSE grade boundaries so over 100 Brent pupils were downgraded in English, undermining their career chances. Our campaign was covered by the national and local press with lots of my quotes over the period..
My letters to the local press on Gove’s u-turn on the curriculum are published
and my article on Gove forcing schools in his academisation drive and his shocking dismissal of parents’ views at Gladstone is on the website.
I sent my letter published in Brent and Kilburn Times challenging Martin Francis’ letter attacking Brent Education the previous week to all Labour activists but I think the H and K members are not always included. Lee is therefore including website references in his campaign newsletters
There is more including a H and K education ‘think piece’ I am contributing to. Happy to talk to members and send on campaign articles with more coming up.
Cllr Michael Pavey, (Labour, Barnhill) Chair of Governors at Wembley Primary School is said to be challenging Arnold for her Executive post at next month's AGM. Denselow is challenging Lesley Jones for her position and a good source has said that Cllr Roxanne Mashari (Labour, Welsh Harp) in challenging Cllr James Powney. 

So we can expect some manoeuvring ahead of the votes and a debate is always healthy. However a Brent Council spokesperson in the report below on the Gladstone Park Primary campaign again seems to indicate that Brent Council is willing to do little to fight forced academisation:
A Brent Council spokesman said the authority was working with the headteacher and governors on offering 'programme of support':

The DfE's default position is that a school which fails its Ofsted inspection becomes a sponsored academy and parents are campaigning against this. We understand that governors are still making their case to the secretary of state. It is inappropriate for the council to discuss future options directly with parents' groups. We discuss options with the governing body, which in turn has the role of consulting parents. We're sorry if we didn;t respond in a timely way to explain that.
No condemnation of forced academies policy, no condemnation of DfE bullying, no support for the parents' battle and no expression of confidence in the staff and governors' capacity to improve the school without being forced to become an academy.

I think that's pretty poor.


Thursday, 25 April 2013

Kids take over Chalkhill Park


I was greeted by whoops of excitement and shouted greetings as I passed Chalkhill Park at 6.15pm this evening. As you can see the children have taken it over and made it their own.  It is not yet officially open and a pensive child outside whispered, 'You know this is illegal'.  But a parent said, 'How can we tell them they can't go in. They have been waiting for the park for 3 years and here it is now and they just love it!'

A decision will be made tomorrow about a possible earlier opening. There are concerns that the grass sown between the gaps in the safety matting of the children's playground, which is at an early stage of growth, will be damaged but anyone wanting to keep the children out now that they have had a taste of the park  will have quite a job on their hands!

Garth McWilliams who designed the park should be thrilled by the children's reaction.

Chalkhill 'People's Park' may open sooner than expected after direct action

The 'People's Park' today
The recent warm weather has resulted in children and families making use of the new Chalkhill Park despite it not yet being officially open and still surrounded by builders' fencing.

The temptation of green grass and exciting play equipment proved too much of a temptation after three long years of waiting. A bit of low key spontaneous direct action resulted in an unofficial entrance being created.

I recently saw parents sitting chatting while their children played, a teenager doing her homework on a laptop at a picnic bench and young people chilling out. It demonstrated to me how badly the park was needed and how keen people are to get in there and use it.

Today there were 10 labourers working on the park. I checked and was told that the play equipment has received its final safety check and that a decision will be made tomorrow on whether the park should open now with any uncompleted areas being fenced off temporarily,

I think that would be a sensible decision as public use by families would be likely to deter any misuse of the park and why on earth shouldn't it be open if it is largely complete?

The official opening by the new Mayor of Brent will be on Saturday June 8th and plans include special activities, performance, bouncy castles, talent show and much more on the Saturday, outdoor gym equipment training on Sunday and Chalkhill Primary School pupils will take it over for a Carnival procession and other activities on the afternoon of  Monday June 10th.

Local authorities must be allowed to plan and build more community primary schools

This was my response to Boris Johnson's call for educationalists to drop their 'ideological'  opposition to free schools in order to solve the shortage of primary places crisis as reported in the Evening Standard this week. Johnson said, “There’s a lot of prejudice against free schools on the part of the education establishment and they need to lose it and need to build more.There’s a huge demographic crisis looming in London and we need to fund the schools. At the moment we’re worried there’s some kind of ideological foot dragging about free schools. They’ve got to blast ahead and make space."

It is truly shocking that 118,000 children will be without a school place by 2016 and Boris Johnson's solution of 'more free schools' will not answer the problem. Free school provision by its very nature is ad hoc, depending on a group coming forward often with unproven back of the envelope plans (just look at their websites)and there is no guarantee that they will be sited in areas of need.

The Coalition's insistence that any new schools should be academies or free schools means that local authorities cannot carefully plan the construction of new community schools across their borough ensuring that there is equal distribution and access.  The fragmentation of the school system under present government policies alongside the undermining, politically and financially, of local authorities means that LAs have the statutory responsibility to provide a school place for every child but not the powers to do so.

This is forcing them to adopt sticking plaster short-term solutions including bulge classes and expansions of present buildings which result in over-large schools, with in some cases more than 1,000 5-11 year olds in one building, loss of play space and cramped conditions. This worsens the quality of provision of all children order to cater for the additional numbers.

If we put children first, and not Michael Gove's ideology, we will restore a local authority's right to build new community schools with all the quality assurance provided by a properly planned and  funded, democratically accountable, local school system.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Reclaim St George for multicultural Britain - Patrick Vernon

Guest blog by Patrick Vernon, first published in The Voice. Vernon is one of the contenders for Labour's parliamentary candidate for Brent Central.

AS THE BNP, EDL and UKIP party activists, candidates and sympathisers huddle around their campfires to review their misinformed campaign tactics for the upcoming May local elections in England and the European elections in 2014, they will take comfort from their inspiration leader and symbol of Great White Hope: St George.

Yes, folks, St George’s day is upon us again! The far right and certain members of the coalition government will be tooled up with passion in their hearts, renewing their vows against black and minority ethnic people, gay and lesbian community, feminists, trade unionists, socialists and democrats who are destroying the so-called ‘English way of life’.

The English patron saint St George represents medieval tradition and the role of the Crusaders who ‘fought the good fight’ in the advancement of Christianity and morality in an uncivilized and heathen world. In today’s society, Islam, the hip-hop/hoodie generation, refugees, people on benefits and gypsy/traveller communities are seen as the new public enemy where a new moral crusade is required for them to be ‘civilised’.

One of the greatest inspirations of the right and fascists to justify their policies and convictions around immigration and citizenship has been the values and principles around the virtues of the patron saint St George.

Namely that St George represents the genealogy of Englishness and British family history and heritage as a pure race with undiluted bloodlines.

And that St George represents the tradition of fair play, respect, tolerance, diplomacy and values of an England where people lived harmoniously and where multiculturalism and integration was not an issue.
Well, I have news for the BNP, EDL and David Cameron, what they promote is either incorrect or full of contradictions. It was back in 2003 while researching and developing the 100 Great Black Britons campaign and website (www.100greatblackbritons.com) that I found St George or, to give him his correct name, George of Lydda was actually of black and African descent.

Contrary to public opinion, St George never came to England to slay dragons or save princesses but was born in Cappadocia, then in Asia Minor what is now Turkey. He was persecuted and died at the hands of Roman Emperor Diocletian on 23 April, 303 AD in Nicomedia, Bithynia, on the Black Sea.

St George’s life and the lives of other African people during this period of ancient history have not been recorded and documented in a systematic way by European academics. However, black scholars such as J.A. Rogers in the three-volume book called Sex and Race in the 1930s have traced the black presence during the Greek and Roman periods. The impression that is given in public debates and the recent bicentenary slave trade events is that that black people did not exist until the slave trade.

St George and Septimus Severus, another Great Black Briton who was the equivalent of the Prime Minster of his day, and many others played a key influential role during the Roman Empire.

Unlike Septimus Severus, George of Lydda was a successful Roman Tribune who turned his back on the Roman political system and converted to Christianity. His commitment to religion and his subsequent torture led to his iconic status by the Crusaders when they travelled to the Middle East and North Africa. St George was subsequently adopted in the 14th Century in England as our patron saint.

It is 20 years since the murder of Stephen Lawrence and as a society we still have not fully grasped and acknowledged the nature and the impact of instutionalised racism and the legacy of Empire. Michael Gove’s social engineering of the national curriculum and Eric Pickles’ integration strategy reflects an ill-conceived and rose-tinted vision of Britain.

The recent cuts in public services, spate of deaths and mass unemployment of young black men is a major concern which is part of the wider legacy of post-Empire and its impact on social exclusion, inequalities of wealth, class and the status of black and other minority ethnic communities in Britain today.

It is a sad fact of history that victims of institutionalised racism over the years such as Orville Blackwood, Colin Roach, Smiley Culture, Roger Sylvester, Rocky Bennett, Mark Duggan, Sean Rigg and many others reflect the symbolism that St George is really the patron saint of black men, oppressed people and the maturity of our multicultural society.

I hope the BNP/EDL hierarchy and supporters will continue to honour George of Lydda but recognise that they are supporting a black role model.

Over the past 20 years, mainly through sporting achievements such as the Olympics, boxing and representation in national team sports such as football and rugby, there is a growing acceptance and ownership of St George being adopted by black and minority ethnic communities.

I also hope the 2015 General election will focus on celebrating and focusing on the achievements, benefits and opportunities around immigration and migration.

So let’s continue to reclaim St George’s day and make it symbol of our multicultural society and a rallying cry in the fight against racism and fascism.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Major concerns on academy funding and oversight raised by Public Accounts Committee

 We are sceptical that the department has sufficient resources to properly 
oversee the expanding programme

The BBC reported yesterday that the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has issued a critical report on academies financing:

Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said inefficient funding systems and poor cost control had driven up the cost of the programme.

"Of the £8.3 billion spent on academies from April 2010 to March 2012, some £1 billion was an additional cost which had to be met by diverting money from other departmental budgets.
"Some of this money had previously been earmarked to support schools struggling with difficult challenges and circumstances. £350 million of the extra £1 billion represented extra expenditure that was never recovered from local authorities."

Part of the overspend will be due to the increase from about 200 open academies in April 2010 to more than 2,886 in March 2012.

But the committee warns the "oversight of academies has had to play catch-up with the rapid growth in academy numbers", and heard concerns of money being allocated twice in some cases.

The report also notes that much of the extra costs of the programme were met out of existing budgets - most notably £95m from a fund previously earmarked for improving underperforming schools.

But it warns that because so many converters were high-performing schools, those that might have needed the extra financial help more had arguably lost out.

The report also warns that the present system makes it hard for the department to prove academies are not receiving more money than they should. Ministers are still unable to convince those interested that academies do not get more money than regular schools.

It says central government may be "too distant to oversee individual academies effectively", and suggests that things will get tougher as the programme expands further in the future.

"We are sceptical that the department has sufficient resources to properly oversee the expanding programme, especially as schools now joining are less high-performing and may require greater oversight and scrutiny."
It notes that the number of central staff overseeing academies' finance and assurance has doubled since May 2010, while the number of academies has increased tenfold.

It points to some "serious cases of governance failure and financial impropriety in academies" that went undetected by the department's own monitoring.

It warns that oversight systems have not kept pace with academy numbers and expresses concern that only now - more than two years into the expansion programme - has the department started to address value-for-money issues.
'
The committee also says there is too little public information about finances at individual academy level.

It calls on the department to publish school level expenditure, including per-pupil funding, for academies and to subject them to the same level of public scrutiny as experienced by regular state schools.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Brent Council to provide incentive for council tenants to downsize

With the 'Bedroom Tax' leading to protests across the country and some Labour Councils joining Brighton and Hove Green Council in announcing that they will not evict tenants in arrears solely because of the tax, Brent Council has announced that it will introduce an incentive for tenants to down-size.

So far neither they or their arm's length Brent Housing Partnership have defined what constituents an 'extra bedroom'. Some housing associations have reclassified small extra rooms as boxrooms rather than bedrooms thus avoiding tenants getting caught by the tax.

This is the  proposal to be discussed by the Executive at tonight's Brent Town Hall meeting:
"The Size Criteria, or ‘Bedroom Tax’ will be implemented for underoccupiers of social housing stock from the 1st April 2013, and tenants will receive a reduced amount of Housing Benefit to pay the rent with. Given the current demand on social housing, particularly from homeless households who will be affected by other Welfare Reform measures, transferring underoccupiers to right sized accommodation is favoured, and needs to be encouraged. The currently financial incentive offered to households to motivate the move is a flat rate of £1,000. The proposal is to increase this to £2,000 per bedroom released, per household (to a maximum amount of £6,000) to encourage underoccupiers to move to smaller homes. The cost of providing the increased incentive payments is offset against savings to both the Temporary Accommodation (TA) budget and the Housing Revenue Account (HRA)."

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Councillors belatedly realise they can have a role in director apppintments

Brent's Labour Councillors seem to be arising from their slumber, albeit rather late in the day. Standing in for Muhammed Butt on April 18th, Ruth Moher gave the Leaders' report.  She is alleged  to have admitted,  when speaking about the proposed restructuring LINK , that councillors had only recently realised they should get involved in the appointment of Directors. I can only assume, although that seems rather incredible, that appointments have previously been made by officers themselves.
 
This adds a different perspective to my call at the General Purposes Committee  LINK that they appoint a strong director for education who will champion the local authority's role in education. Perhaps they hadn't realised they could do that?


Barry Gardiner says no demand for Michaela Free School and urges residents to make their views known

In a letter to a constituent, Barry Gardiner MP (Labour, Brent North) has said that he has seen no desire in Brent for the Michaela Free School which is run by Katharine Birbalsingh:
Although there is a shortage of school places in Brent, I do not think that a free school In Wembley is the best solution to this problem, especially as there has not been, to my knowledge, a call from the community to open such a school.
He goes on to urge residents to make their views known on the issue before tomorrow's deadline:
The school has not yet been approved by the DfE and as the consultation period is still open, I would urge you and other concerned residents to complete the online questionnaire so that the views of local people are taken into account. The deadline for submissions is on Monday 22nd April 2013 and the questionnaire can be found here: http://www.mcsbrent.co.uk/questionnaire/ .
Be aware that the questionnaire contains some seemingly fairly innocuous statements which few would disgree with but where agreement can be used to claim that the school is supported.

Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, had written to Gardiner on behalf of Michael Gove and claims that Michaela have had 'production meetings' with Brent Council officials:  
The proposers of Michael Community School are committed to opening a school with a distinct ethos and high expectations that will serve disadvantaged communities in London. The Department considered that their application to open a Free School was strong   and we have been working with them seince September 20122 to develop their school. As Free School projects develop, there are often aspects of the original application that evolve and change. Ministers will consider the final location, evidence of demand and revised plans for the school before making the final decision to open the school.

The Michael Community School is proposing to open in Brent for September 2014. Following an extebnsive site search, the Education Funding Agnecy has been helping the proiposers identify as site which ahs the ca[acity for their proposed school and can serve disadvantaged communities. We believe it is likely that the school will help meet rising demand for places across Brent. The Secretary of State will also consider any evidence that the school proposers provide that the school will improve choice for parents alongside any evidence of basic need for places before deciding whether to enter a funding agreement.

Brent Council has been aware that the Michaela Community School was looking at potentially opening in Brent since last summer. I understand that representatives of the school have had productive meetings with council officials. The Department will write to Brent Council during the school proposers' consultation to seek their further views on the school before a final decision on whether to open the school is made. (My emphasis)

The Secretary of State will ot make the final decision on whether to pen the Michael Community School until the school is ready to enter into a funding agreement. By that point, the school's proposers will have completed a public consultation on the opening of the school. The Secretary of State will also consider the evidence of demand for the school and the potential impact on other nearby state-funded schools.

Finally, we are fully committed to making the Free School programme transparent and accountable. The Department will publish the final pre-opening development cost of each project shortly after the school opens. The Department will also publish the final capital cost of each school once it has been established, which can be after the opening date as sometimes work continues after a school has opened.
Clearly it is important that we know what Brent Council has said during the consultation. The fact that only 8 people in total turned up to the consultation meetings and most, if not all, were opposed to Michaela should have given Brent Council the message that the school is not wanted her.

It is telling that we cannot know the cost, which might well contribute to our views on the project until after the school has opened.


  

 

Green perspective on fragmentation of education through academies and free schools

For the record and for the wider audience beyond Brent interested in academies and free schools here is the letter I had published in the Brent and Kilburn Times two weeks ago:

Mary Arnold (Labour, lead member for children and families) claims  that Brent schools are 'far from fragmentation' and accuses me of 'distorted views'. In June 2011 the then Brent Chief Executive, Gareth Daniel warned against fragmentation of the education service when he spoke at the Brent Governors' Conference. In a reference to academies and free schools he said that it was crucial to keep Brent's 'family of schools' together.  He stressed the vital  role of the local authority when things go wrong in individual schools

At the same conference Krutika Pau, Director of Children and Families,  urged governors to keep their eyes on the long-term and reflect on the permanent damage that would be caused by a fragmented school system.

In May 2012 Mary Arnold herself wrote to Queens Park Secondary Community School which was considering academy conversion and said:

'It is vitally important to maintain high levels of collaboration across Brent’s education community and avoid the risks of fragmentation from academy conversions.

The government’s school reform legislation, the huge reduction in capital spending just at a time when population increases demand school expansion in Brent (and London-wide) and the diversion of funding away from local authorities towards academies is changing the education landscape and putting significant pressure on local authorities.'
Now In April 2013 we only have one non-academy non-faith secondary school left in Brent: Copland High School, which may well come under pressure after its recent Ofsted report.  In the primary sector Sudbury has converted to academy status, Salusbury converted to academy status with the Park Federation after Ofsted put it into Special Measures and Kensal Rise last week announced it was being taken over by Ark Schools. Academies are answerable to Michael Gove and not the local authority.

Gladstone Park Primary is under enormous pressure from Department for Education brokers to convert to academy status after just one poor Ofsted Report and despite its above average results.

Despite this escalation of the situation since the earlier warnings Mary Arnold now seeks to downplay the danger, She
prefers to see this as a 'mixed economy' of schools rather than fragmentation and appears ready for this continue with the added ingredient of free schools over which the local authority has no control. Brent Labour Party appears to have given up the fight against Michael Gove's policies and instead seeks to work with them. An early promise to write to the DfE stating that the local authority thought that Gladstone Park had the capacity to improve with local authority support has not been fulfilled. Parents have been left on their own to challenge DfE bullying.

I understand that the argument within the council is that if they were to make a stand against the DfE and challenge forced academies it would bring the wrath of the DfE and Ofsted down on the council and local schools and make matters worse. An alternative view is that if the local authority acquiesces so easily the DfE will see easy pickings in Brent  and move to force more primary schools to become academies. The council's policy gives in to bullying and leaves parents and residents who want to support their local school and the benefits of the local authority school system out on a limb.

I spoke at the recent Brent General Purposes Committee calling for strong leadership in education that would champion the role of the local authority  in school improvement, in ensuring equality of access to schools, and in making schools democratically accountable to the local community. I too am proud of what Brent schools have achieved and want to ensure that this is not undermined by Michael Gove's ill-thought out reforms. I think this is best down by challenging forced academies, free schools and the privatisation of education  while Mary Arnold thinks  a softly, softly approach of collaboration which retains an arms length role for the local authority will succeed.



Martin Francis
Brent Green Party spokesperson on children and families

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Greens make frontal assault on austerity agenda in local elections

As in all political parties in the Green Party there are different views and emphases and considerable debate, not least on issues such as the the implementation of cuts as a result of the Coalition's attacks on local government and its financing.

In Brent we have no elections coming up in May (unless the absent Lib Dem councillors do the decent thing and resign), but I thought it was worth sharing our party political broadcast with you:


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Brent Central hopeful calls for Labour to embrace entrepreneurship

Sabina Khan promised something different as a candidate for the Brent Central Labour nomination and her  post on Progress on-Line LINK is certainly that.

Writing as a 'businesswoman and Labour activist' she calls for Labour to embrace entrepreneurship to harness the energy and creativity of youth:
There is another way to approach this. It involves making use of the third sector and social enterprise to promote collaborative working with communities to offer a practical vision for young people to engage in the world of work. By establishing a single national social enterprise operating across the country, funded and supported by central government, with the remit to help young entrepreneurs in turning their ideas, passion and creativity into businesses generating income and profit and a livelihood for them.

In addition this would support community groups to focus on developing young people as potential entrepreneurs. If a young teenage mother has a passion and talent for clothes and fashion, the community group should have the tools and support in place to spot the opportunity and encourage her to pursue her passion through the social enterprise. This government-backed enterprise would utilise the services of industry specialists, able to help and develop people and their ideas based on their own knowledge and experience of starting and running businesses. This last point is important as it needs to be a body seen to be competent and being able to ‘walk the walk’ in delivering in its goals.

It is often said that the best ideas and successful businesses arise during hard times.  Labour needs to position itself as the party of choice for young people by offering hope and a vehicle for their aspirations through innovative models such as this. By implementing this entrepreneurship scheme in conjunction with Labour's youth job guarantee, this will offer a real chance for everyone which breaks away from the idea that jobs are made only within the confines of existing businesses. Labour should commit itself to helping young people start their own businesses in this way.
There is only one comment so far on the article but the individual concerned seems to be well aware of Sabina's ambitions:
I can tell from your article you are a no non sense person and an Innovative Leader. Please take my word and do - become a politician. Britain needs people like you.
I felt the conviction, passion, attitude and strenght when I read your article and hope your idea can become a policy for the next Labour Goverment.

If I was eighteen years old or parents of an eighteen year old and you were my Member of Parliament candidate or your policy was on the table I will vote for you any day because I know you will make a difference to my life.

Veolia question banned at Wembley Connects on grounds that it may 'offend'

A question regarding the Brent Public Realm contract and Veolia was cut short by the Chair, Cllr Wilhemena Mitchell-Murray at the Wembley Connects forum this week.

Michael Calderbank got only about 20 seconds into his question for Cllr James Powney when Mitchell-Murray cut him off. saying that some people had found the Bin Veolia leaflet distributed earlier 'offensive' and she wasn't prepared to let people be offended. To be fair Cllr Powney himself seemed willing to answer the question.

The leaflet raised the issue of Veolia's conduct in the occupied territories of Palestine where its operations are claimed to be complicit in supporting illegal settlements.

In contrast, after initial opposition, people were heard at the Kilburn Connects event last night where Cllr James Denselow was more sympathetic.

Friday, 12 April 2013

News from the Coming Soon Club, Wembley

The Coming Soon Club is at 5-7 Wembley Hill Road, on the corner with Wembley High Road, opposite Wembley Stadium Station

From the Coming Soon Club LINK

Well, the weather is warming up, we are very pleased to have reached 409 Coming Soon Club members and our spaces are all brightened up for the summer, fresh paint, new signs and new users.

This is my last newsletter before I head off on maternity leave.  I just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed bringing the project this far and to thank you all for Making Your Ideas Happen in Wembley.  It has been an amazing year.  Next week is the anniversary of the opening of the shop and I am very proud of everything that has happened and hope that it continues to go from strength to strength.  I have met so many interesting and inspiring people and I know that the project will continue to grow over the coming months.
Desmond and Jessica are being joined by an experienced Project Manager, Jessica Courtney Bennet.  Jessica has run projects in Whitechapel, Willesden and Sutton amongst others and is going to be a great asset to the project.

So what is happening next;

We are pleased to have Love London Cycles in the Coming Soon Club shop this month.  The bikes look great in the windows and there are going to be some bike repair workshops over the next couple of weeks.  If your bike needs some TLC before the summer or you are looking for a new bike please do pop in and chat to Corey and Jaine.

Joseph Cook has also put together an inspiring window display in the warehouse, it promises to be a great asset to the street over the next couple of weeks.

The Coming Soon Club shop space is filling up with bookings if you would like to try out your business idea please complete the application form or get in touch with Jessica, Jessica and Desmond.  Remember you can apply to use the space at any time.

Cottrell House Enterprise Space is nearly ready and we and the Decorators would like to thank those of you who have volunteered over the past few weeks to help to get the space ready, you know who you are - Thank You.  The furniture and signage will arrive next week and final bits of painting and cleaning will bring it all together.  We will then be ready to welcome you to come and work in the space and begin to build the community there.

We will be holding a small opening event on Tuesday 23rd April 3 -7 pm.  Please come along and have a look around and see how this shared workspace is going to work and talk to us about how you can get involved.  The applications for the café operator have now closed but we are accepting applications until the end of April (final date to be confirmed) for the Studio and Fixed Desk spaces please download the application form from the website.  Access to the co-working desk area will be on a day by day basis be open to all CSC members from as little as £2.50 a day.

best wishes
Alison

Brent tells Gove Gladstone Park improvement should be via local school partnership

Yesterday I had another letter published in the Brent and Kilburn Times responding to Mary Arnold's letter of the previous week when she accused me of having 'distorted views' on Brent Education.

In yesterday's letter I wrote that 'Brent Labour Party appears to have given up the fight against Michael Gove's policies and instead seeks to work with them. Parents (a reference to Gladstone Park parents fighting forced academy status) have been left on their own to challenge DfE bullying.

A posting appeared on the Brent Labour website by Mary Arnold containing the very welcome news that Brent Council has written to the Michael Gove asking him to accept that Gladstone Park's school improvement plan is 'most effectively delivered with the support of a local school partnership'.
Gladstone Park is the latest school to be challenged by Michael Gove's obsessive drive to academise all schools nationwide. 

When Ofsted comes and finds weaknesses, the DfE has a single solution to insist on a 'management change' which Gove equates with status change and imposing a sponsoring academy. This is regardless of the school's track record, the improvement plans or the parents' views.
We have a major responsibility to represent our parents and pupils to ensure high standards. We have written to the Secretary of State to ask him to accept the school improvement plan that would be most effectively delivered with the support of a local school partnership that is both knowledgeable and experienced in our children's needs.

The Academy Commission Report pointed out that academy status alone is not a panacea for improvement - some academies are good, some can turn round schools and others are failing or have weaknesses. As the Gladstone plan is declared fit for purpose and the school is keen to deliver with early signs of raised achievement already, it is more sensible to concentrate on this rather than disrupt the structure and disadvantage the pupils and teachers.

Our schools must not have inadequate standards or under perform but we know in Brent, based on sound evidence, that local federation and partnership is the best solution
Cllr Mary Arnold is the lead member for Children & Families at Brent Council


Thursday, 11 April 2013

Kilburn Times names Brent officers facing the axe

I reported recently on the restructuring of top jobs at Brent Council which would cut a number of senior positions. The Kilburn Times in an exclusive this week puts names to some of the those facing redundancy..

I'll let you read the full list in the paper or on-line LINK but they include Krutika Pau, Director of Children and Families; Phil Newby, Director of Strategy, Partnerships and Improvement; Chris Walker, Assistant Director for Planning Development and Toni McConville, Director of Customer and Community Engagement.

Consultations and negotiations are still in progress. It will be a difficult and uncertain time for those concerned.

Last days of the Palace of Industry, Wembley


Mark Cummins, Lib Dem councillor for Brondesbury Park, is reported in today's Wembley Observer as calling on Quintain Estates to 'rethink their plans to destroy one of the last remnants of the Wembley Empire Exhibition'. As you can see from the video, which was taken today, the destruction is almost complete and Cllr Cummins is too late.

Quintain estates turned down an appeal from local historian Philip Grant to at least leave one wall of the historic building, one of the first to extensively use reinforced concrete,  in time for celebrations of the 90th anniversary of the British Empire Exhibition which takes place next year.

Brent's lack of respect for our local heritage continues...

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Glenda 'tells it like it was' in magnificent anti-Thatcher speech


Magnificent speech by Glenda Jackson who represents parts of Brent as well as Camden. The  section of her speech on the state of schools and classrooms back then absolutely ring true to my experience as a teacher at the time. Unfortunately schools like Copland are experiencing the same kind of conditions now.

Labour 'Young Turks' may challenge for Brent Executive positions



The challengers are probably too young to remember this!

The Brent Executive may have a more youthful profile following Labour's Annual General Meeting in May. AGMs of any organisation are an occasion for elected positions to be open to challenge and part of that process is for members to assess the performance of the incumbents and consider alternatives.

According to my sources among the incumbents under particular scrutiny this time round are Cllr Lesley Jones, Cllr Mary Arnold and Cllr James Powney. 'Alternatives' that have been mentioned include the very able Cllr James Denselow who has a background in journalism; Cllr Michael Pavey, energetic Barnhill by-election winner, who is  a school governor and has launched a high profile campaign to safeguard Children's Centres; and Cllr Roxanne Mashari who yesterday announced she was not standing for the Brent Central parliamentary selection. Presumably experience as a member of the Brent Executive would stand her in good stead in any future parliamentary bid. I have heard that Cllr Lincoln Beswick is not expected to carry on but Jim Moher, contrary to weekend reports, is to stand again.

Meanwhile Cllr Butt himself has contributed a new blog on the Council website which calls on residents to campaign on cuts to the fire service and on the A&E closures. This adopts a slightly harder line than previously.  LINK

Following my posting yesterday on the front runners for the Brent Central selection I have had somewhat conflicting information. There has been a suggestion that Cllr Ann John has joined James Powney in backing Catherine West but others claim that West is seeking nomination in another constituency.

Apparently there has been some disquiet that members of the short-listing panel, who it is claimed should remain neutral, have been involved in backing particular candidates. Meanwhile I have let all the  prospective candidates I am aware of  that in the interests of an informed public I am happy to carry their Guest Blogs on this site.

Brent Housing Action launched to campaign on housing emergency

After a successful strategy meeting last night Brent Housing Action has been formed and a website and Facebook group have been set up.

The website states:
Brent Housing Action was formed by a group of residents, campaigners and community organisations in Brent in April 2013.

We want to support our friends, our neighbours and one another to fight against cuts to vital benefits and to the threat to our homes an communities. We want our council to support us in challenging changes which might mean the difference between home and homelessness for over 600 Brent families. And we need your support.
The next meeting with be on Tuesday 23rd April 7pm at Mencap High Road Willesden,
 


Brent's message to Birbalsingh: 'You are not wanted here'



Having attracted only six (almost all critical) people at its first consultation, Michaela Secondary Free School hit rock bottom at its second, evening, consultation last week. As far as I can ascertain two people went along and they were both opposed to Katharine Birbalsingh's 'traditional' and 'disciplined' secondary school where she has appointed herself headteacher.. One was a union representative who wanted to put her reservations on record.

The small room at Chalkhill Community Centre looked crowded, but it turned out to be full of Michaela staff and governors.

Apparently Katharine Birbalsingh didn't look very happy.

It will be interesting to see whether the DfE nonetheless goes ahead and gives Birbalsingh a stash of taxpayers' money to refurbish Arena House and pay herself and her staff salaries when Brent schools could do with the money.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Brent housing and welfare campaign meeting tonight


Frontrunners emerge in Labour battle for Brent Central nomination

Patrick Vernon and Catherine West are emerging as front runners in the contest for Labour's selection of a candidate to challenge Sarah Teather in Brent Central at the 2015 General Election.

Cllr Roxanne Mashari who was mentioned in early speculation confirmed this morning that she will not be standing. Cllr Zaffar Van Kalwala, butt of frequent teasing about his job at an investment bank in the City but with excellent local credentials, has yet to reveal his hand. Sabina Khan is also holding back but promises a different,  if not unique, campaign. Amina Ali is due to address a Labour meeting soon and Dawn Butler has arranged a private Brent Central viewing of Ken Loach's Spirit of 45 in Harlesden on April 29th sponsored by the GMB and LFC.

Catherine West's address  to the Kensal Green ward meeting impressed a number of Labour Party members of different tendencies who are usually at loggerheads.  It was her record as a 'doer' with the policy giving free school meals to all Islingon Primary children a real winner, that convinced some of the audience that she had sufficient weight to take on Teather.

Her approach can be seen from this extract from her address to the Labour Local Government Conference:
If Labour are to return to power in 2015, I don’t think any of us are naïve enough to believe spending will return to pre-2010 levels. In the short term the next Labour government need to reverse the Tory policy of hitting the poorest areas hardest.

However, a message we all need to be communicating as local authority representatives is that the current model of local government needs to change. The financial model does not work anymore. We need a new relationship between central and local government that recognises WE are the people who know our own areas best and we are the people who should lead them. Going forward this means three things:

First, it is vital that the future way of funding social care is decided quickly with defined financial responsibilities for the individual, the NHS and local government. Without this, all Councils will be bankrupt within a decade. Thankfully Andy Burnham has already announced that Local Government will play a role in integrating social care and acute care and Liz Kendall is in conversation with us as local leaders about the exact design of that commissioning.

Second, recognise the limitations of national employment programmes and devolve the budgets and responsibilities to local councils either individually or as part of a consortium such as the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities or Central London Forward. Once again local government’s intimate knowledge of our areas and their jobs market makes us well placed to lead on getting local people into work.

Third, generate economic growth through much needed housing and infrastructure projects. But crucially, to allow more flexibility than the last Labour Government over the procurement of this work so all of the contracts don’t go to the usual same few major construction companies and myriad sub-contractors that leach money and jobs out of local areas.

Communication matters. Our experience shows that when we focus on the issues that resonate in our communities and we communicate a clear alternative to the governments slash and burn approach we can win the support of local people. This will help pave the way for a Labour government in 2015.




New round of Brent Connects forums start next week

The next round of Brent Connects local forums are starting next week. This is an opportunity to hear about the latest developments in council policy but also to make your voice heard. You can do this by arranging to speak at a Soapbox. Book on-line or just before the meeting begins.

The format varies between meetings with some having a Question Time style section and others consisting of mainly presentations from council officers, which can be rather tedious. All would be much improved by a higher attendance of young people ands a wider cross-section of the local community.

Cllr James Powney will be giving an update on his brief at the Wembley meeting. Some of the meetings will discuss the priorities for the spending of ward working money,

The links below take you to venue details and the agenda.

WEMBLEY Tues 16th April 7pm, Patidar House, London Road, Wembley

KILBURN AND KENSAL Wed 17th April 7pm, Gaumont State, Kilburn High Road

KINGSBURY AND KENTON Tues 23rd April 7pm, Kingsbury High School, Prices Avenue, Kingsbury

HARLESDEN Wed 24th April 7pm, All Souls Church, Station Road, Harlesden

WILLESDEN Tues 30th April 7pm, College of North West London, Denzil Road, Willesden

Monday, 8 April 2013

Remembering Bernie Grant on the day Thatcher died by Patrick Vernon


Apart from the death of Margaret Thatcher, today also marks the 13th anniversary of the death of Bernie Grant one of her greatest enemies. In this guest blog first published on The Voice website, potential Labour candidate for Brent Central, Patrick Vernon, asks what would Bernie make of the current political climate:

TODAY IS the 13th anniversary of the death of the late Bernie Grant, MP for Tottenham between 1987 to 2000 and former leader of Haringey Council.


In the 1980s and 1990s Bernie often spoke the truth, real feelings and passions on behalf of every one which meant he became a thorn in the side of Thatcherism and New Labour.


However, he was still respected and revered as the elder statesman and father of the house for black parliamentary representation.


People today still talk about Bernie’s life, achievements and legacy at times in a present tense which reflects his impact but also the gap in current black leadership and the question of more elected representatives.
Just imagine if Bernie were still alive today. What would he have made of this period of austerity and the coalition government with increasing inequality facing BME communities; the introduction of bedroom tax; welfare reform, immigration policy, and massive cuts to public services?


How would Bernie make the case today for all black Parliamentary short list, social justice and reparations?


I believe that Bernie would be turning in his grave to see how the coalition government has no or very little regard to race equality policy and legislation which he and many others made this a life and at times a death struggle over the last 50 years.


The issue of black representation and self-organising groups like the development of Black Sections in the Labour Party (now BAME Labour) and black workers groups in trade union movement was one of his strategies for empowerment and developing a black-led perspective on Democratic Socialism.


Bernie today would be supporting and sustaining a new breed of candidates based on following policy and campaigning areas: climate change; defending public sector services; fighting for all equalities; stopping the privatisation of health and social care; affordable and more social housing; tackling education inequality; open government; regulation of financial services /taxing the bankers; tackling poverty and social inequality; police accountability, foreign affairs, international development, heritage and the arts.


One way of taking forward the legacy of Bernie Grant is developing a political education programme around his vision and principles to attract and identity the next generation of potential councillors, MPs, MEPs and community activists.

Bernie supporting a traffic protest
Bernie believed in the community and the community believed in him.


That is why he is still popular and an iconic figure which was reflected in Bernie being in the top ten of 100 Great Black Britons back in 2002.


So let us use this opportunity to reflect on his legacy in politics, the trade union movement and grass roots activism.


I know many of us are trying to do capture and follow his vision today. That is why his political legacy, The Bernie Grant Arts Centre, The Bernie Grant Trust and his archives at the Bishopsgate Institute are essential resources for political education, learning for young people, aspiring, seasoned politicians and campaigners.


‘The Importance of the Black Vote’ will be held at Dalston CLR James Library, Dalston Square, Hackney, London, E8 3BQ on Friday April 12th 2013 at 18:30- 21:00. Speakers include Simon Woolley of OBV, MP Diane Abbott, Jules Pipe Mayor of Hackney, Ngoma Bishop of BEMA and Pauline Pearce from the Hackney Liberal Democrats. The event will be chaired by Andrea Enisuoh of BEMA & Hackney Unites.

Vernon explains why he wants to represent Brent Central at the beginning of this video LINK

Teather denounces 'Grubby Osborne's crude opportunism'

By coincidence, following my Saturday post calling for Sarah Teather and Brent Lib Dem's to disown the Coalition, this article by Sarah Teather was published in the Independent on Sunday. It makes a more unequivocal stand against scapegoating than the Opposition has yet managed. 'Divide and Rule' was one of Margaret Thatcher's favourite weapons and its use will live on well after her death unless decent people across the political spectrum take it on.


By the time this column is published, I expect that the commentary on the grubby little intervention by George Osborne on the Philpott case will have moved on. We should be well into post-match analysis of tactics and strategy.


Political dividing lines are de rigueur for modern politics – no one actually pauses to ask whether something is right. We ask instead whether this gamble was an astute reading of the public mood. Somewhere in all the excitement of keeping score we forget entirely that those caught up in the middle of the debate are human beings with real lives and concerns.

There is nothing like insecurity to bring out the temptation to scapegoat. Instead of offering a bit of statesmanlike leadership, Conservative ministers have engaged repeatedly in crude opportunism, capitalising on fear. And so the battle is drawn: good against evil. Those without benefits against those who claim. Strivers against shirkers. The deserving against the undeserving.

Then, just before Easter, all parties chose to reignite that old flame: the immigrant against the local. Demonising successive groups of people makes us less empathetic, less cohesive – a vision, to me, that is the very definition of "Broken Britain". And what of the subjects instrumentalised by this political game? They are placed further and further outside society, less able to change their own lot.

To demonstrate a tough stance against that most hated of groups, so-called "failed asylum seekers", ministers in the last Labour government introduced a series of cards and vouchers to control what they could buy with the meagre rations we gave them. I know, from my work as a constituency MP, the humiliation, shame and practical barriers such schemes impose on those who are unable to return home for a whole host of reasons.

Now local councils are using similar voucher and card-based schemes for today's hate-group, the British poor.

If your empathetic instincts have been too dulled to feel a common humanity with those at the bottom of the hierarchy of public approval, remember this: the abuse that is hurled on to those on the bottom eventually infects us all. Privations imposed on one group quickly become acceptable for others. The marginalisation of immigrants and the poorest is tangible. Silence will only entrench that still further.

Government is an ephemeral business. Whichever party you are in, you have but a brief period to make a difference. This Government needs to decide what kind of country it wants to leave behind. One more cohesive, more sympathetic, more neighbourly? Or one more divided, more brutal and more selfish? That is the responsibility and the privilege of power. Ministers should use it wisely.

Planners recommend approval for relocation of Harlesden's Jubilee Clock


Brent planning officers in a report to the April 17th Planning Committee have recommended approval for the proposed relocation of the landmark Jubilee Clock as part of the new road layout. The new site will be outside numbers 53-55 Harlesden High Street and about 5 metres from its current site.

THE JUBILEE CLOCK THROUGH THE AGES



The report LINK states:

Although the clock is statutorily listed feature it is not in its original location which by definition makes the specific location less important as a criteria for listing. At the time of the clocks origin (1887) there was far less traffic than there would be a few decades later. At least two trams derailed and collided with the clock in the first half of the twentieth century, one of them tearing off one of its four decorative arms. In 1938 the Clock Tower was relocated to a location 3m from its original position. It was hoped that in relocating the Clock Tower, motorist would find it easier to navigate the area. As explained above, the relocation of the Clock is required to bring about a better traffic management scheme here also.

The proposals do not call for any alteration or changes to the clock itself which therefore means it will retain the architectural quality and character that instigated its listing. The Clock is to be moved (5m) from its present location which by definition would mean that the setting of the Clock would not change significantly.
The clock will not be quite as prominent in the streetscape given that it is currently located in a traffic island in the centre of a road junction as before but will however still be visible along the High Street. The new location will make the clock less susceptible to damage from passing vehicles, thereby protecting the listed feature.
 
The Planning Service is not committed to this new location ahead of any others and whilst there may a range of locations that might be acceptable, particularly given that the current location is not original as mentioned above, no objection is raised in principle to the new location in listed building terms. 
AND IT WILL TELL THE TIME!

As part of the proposals the clock will be repaired and will tell the time, which is a welcomed addition to its listed status.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

New threat to Welsh Harp - time to act quickly

The view today from the west bank of the Welsh Harp
The view in the future if the development goes ahead
Four years  ago a united campaign of local political activists and environmentalists saw off proposals for housing developments in both Barnet and Brent areas of Brent Reservoir, popularly known as the Welsh Harp.

Those proposals are dwarfed by the enormous West Hendon development proposed by Barratts which is soon to be considered by Barnet Council.


The development is adjacent to an SSSI (site of Special Scientific Interest) on the Welsh Harp which is home to nesting birds and used by over-wintering birds.  It draws visitors from all over London and beyond. The footpath is well used by many Brent residents who start their walk at the Birchen Grove end of the Welsh Harp.

The development will include tower blocks of up to 26 storeys high - double the height of the one in the photograph.The existing 597 homes will be demolished and replaced by 2,000 houses and flats including 4 tower blocks. There are proposals to build footbridges over the Silk Stream and beside Cool Oak Bridge which are likely to cause water pollution during construction. The area is already one designated as having poor air quality and the development is likely to increase traffic in the area.

Barratts have already built a 12 storey block next to Cool Oak Bridge which gives an indication of the overbearing nature of such blocks and the extent to which they rise above tree height. The new blocks will be twice as high.


There is some confusion about the date by which letters have to be received by Barnet Planning Officers, the safest assumption is that the deadline is April 30th. The Planning Reference is H/01054/13 and the Barnet Planing contacts is: Thomas.Wyld@barnet.gov.uk 

Full documentation can be found HERE

I reproduce below a submission on the development that sums up the issues very well:

Comments on West Hendon re-development Proposals



Significance of Northern Reservoir/Refuge/Marsh and associated woodland.

The Northern reservoir is an important refuge used by wildfowl when there is disturbance on the main reservoir from sailing. It functions this way throughout the year but especially during the winter months when the normal numbers of birds increase by several hundred displaced ducks and other wildfowl. The area most used by these birds is along the bank next to the estate. It is a SSSI which should afford a high level of protection under wildlife legislation. An important screen of trees currently separates the water from the estate. The marshy northern end of the water is also important for breeding wildfowl in the sheltered pools and channels. Finally at the northern end is a quiet area of wet woodland in which a number of shy woodland birds breed (owls, woodpeckers, warblers). The area of the re-development abuts the whole of the edge of the waterway, marsh and woodland.



Proposed re-development- key features

The proposal involves a huge increase in the density of housing and greatly exceeds the GLA recommended level for a site of this size increasing from 7-800 housing units to over 2000. A key feature of the proposal is the construction of a number of extremely high tower blocks, up to 26 stories in height; these are sited immediately adjacent to the Water and the SSSI boundary. The excessive height of these towers seems more appropriate for a central financial district than a North London suburb. The development will have a major impact on the surrounding area and put a huge strain on local health, education and road infrastructure.



Impact on the SSSI, reservoir and local area

  • There will be a major increase in disturbance of the wildfowl refuge both during construction and when occupied, both due to the excessive height of the buildings and the tripling of the number of occupants
  • The developers would like to remove tree screening to open up sight lines. This will make matters worse and increase disturbance. We can expect that this will have a major impact on roosting and nesting birds. The existing tree buffer hides all but the single 15 storey tower that currently exists and in addition to increased disturbance any reduction in the tree cover will have a major and detrimental landscape effect when viewed from the bridge or the footpath to the west of the north reservoir. The tree screen needs to be effectively managed and maintained.
  • There will be a large increase in the amount of night-time light pollution in what is currently a dark area. This will affect birds and mammals such as bats. External night-time lighting of the towers must be kept to a minimum. Brightly lit towers have been shown to have a detrimental effect on night flying and migrating birds
  • The extreme height of the tower blocks will interfere with flight lines for birds trying to get away from sailing disturbance on the main reservoir. There could also be an increased risk of bird strikes made worse by the large number of high level glass windows.
  •  A proposed bridge and circular route crossing the river further upstream will disturb and damage the wet woodland where shy woodland birds such as woodpeckers, owls and warblers breed. This woodland forms part of the SSSI buffer and Local Nature Reserve.
  • This proposed bridge will also disturb scarce breeding wildfowl such as Gadwall, Pochard and others which breed in the pools and reed-beds at the end of the reservoir next to the woodland.
  • The proposed location of the towers next to the SSSI boundary appears to be mainly for commercial and marketing reasons and has little regard for the nature reserve. They should be lower and further back.
  • Due to the huge increase in occupancy of the estate there will be many more people visiting the lake and therefore greatly increasing the disturbance. The planned occupancy level greatly exceeds the level proposed for the site by the GLA.
  • The provision of car parking, schools and health centres appears inadequate for the level of occupancy. This will put great strain on local infrastructure, facilities and roads.
  • The two reservoirs have an important secondary function as a flood buffer. The huge increase in the local built footprint and areas covered by concrete will have an adverse effect on the carrying capacity in times of heavy rain. Flood events seem to be on the increase at the site from my own observations over a period of 30 years.
  • The SSSI boundary with York Park has long been a dumping ground for domestic appliances and waste. The huge increase in occupancy will clearly make this much worse.

Summary



This development will have a major and detrimental impact on both the Reservoir Nature Reserve and the local community. It is inevitable that the SSSI will be adversely affected.  The planned occupancy level needs to be greatly reduced to a level more appropriate to the area and the setting. The tower blocks should be reduced in height and placed back from the margins of the reservoir. The part of the development already completed shows the overbearing and inappropriate nature of the building design next to one of London’s most important sites for recreation and natural history. 


The local council, the owners (of the reservoir) and the developers have a legal duty under existing wildlife legislation to conserve and improve the SSSI. As the proposals stand it is impossible for them to achieve this aim and we can only expect deterioration in the standard of the SSSI.