Saturday, 14 May 2022

Councils for PR - Launch Event May 23rd 7pm


 

Councils for PR is a new campaign by Make Votes Matter and GET PR DONE! We aim to encourage our councils to declare their support for proportional representation (PR) voting for Parliamentary elections.

Join us on Zoom at 19:00 on Monday, May 23rd to hear from our speakers as to how you can contribute:

  • Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South;
  • Amelia Womack, Deputy Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales;
  • Cllr Max Wilkinson, Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham Borough Council;
  • Cllr Ricky Knight, Green, Barnstaple Town Council

In our Zoom session, we will discuss:

  • How councils can contribute to national political campaigns by passing resolutions. Many, for example, declared their recognition of the Climate Emergency.
  • Our model motion for councillors to move at their council.
  • Which councils have already passed a motion in support of PR.
  • How you can help take this fledging campaign forward and./or join our core organising team. .  

Please RSVP and we'll send you the Zoom link.

Both Make Vote Matter and GET PR DONE! believe we should today practice the collaborative and co-operative politics that PR can deliver in the future. Hence, C4PR as a joint venture.

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About our Guests:

Clive Lewis has been the Labour MP for Norfolk South since 2015. He is widely recognised as the leading campaigner for PR within the Labour Party and regularly works on a cross-party basis with the Layla Moran of the Lib Dems and Caroline Lucas of the Greens.

Amelia Womack has been deputy leader of the Green Party of England and Wales since 2019. Since taking up that post, Amelia has worked across the country, visiting hundreds of local campaigns, events and organisations

Max Wilkinson is the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Cheltenham constituency. Max, a former journalist, is the cabinet member for the climate emergency at Cheltenham Borough Council.

 

Ricky Knight is a Green councillor in Barnstaple and a founding member of Councils for PR.

Friday, 13 May 2022

Brent’s Cecil Avenue Housing Scheme – Where is the Scrutiny?

 Guest post by Philip Grent in a personal capacity

If you have read my recent guest post, Deputation on Poverty Commission Housing Update – Brent finally responds! , and my Deputation to the Resources & Public Realm Scrutiny Committee meeting on 9 March, you may have noticed that something was missing. 

 

Information on the Committee from Brent Council’s website

 

The Council’s reply of 9 May completely failed to acknowledge or respond to this section of my Deputation:

 

‘One place where Brent could increase investment in social housing is the former Copland School site. It is vacant land, owned by the Council, which has had full planning permission to build 250 homes there for over a year.

 

I wrote to Cabinet members last August, when that item was on their agenda, urging them to fulfil their Poverty Commission promises, and make at least some of this development homes for social rent.

 

Instead, they approved a proposal which allows 152 of the new homes there to be sold privately. Of the 98 Council homes, 61 would be for shared ownership, and only 37 for London Affordable Rent.

 

Overall, the Wembley Housing Zone scheme claims to provide 50% “affordable housing”. But the balance of that is 54 flats at London Affordable Rent level on the Ujima House site, and only 8 of those would be family-sized homes.

 

There would be NO social rented homes. That’s the reality hidden in this Poverty Commission Update.

 

You, as a Scrutiny Committee, need to challenge that, and demand that Brent Council does better.

 

You can recommend that in meeting its Poverty Commission commitments, it should invest in more social rent housing as part of the New Council Homes programme, including at its Cecil Avenue development.’

 

The Resources & Public Realm Scrutiny Committee meeting on 9 March was the last before the 5 May Brent Council elections, and the last with Cllr. Roxanne Mashari in the Chair before she stood down as a councillor. Chairing that committee must have been a frustrating role, trying to hold Cllr. Muhammed Butt’s Cabinet ‘publicly to account’.

 

I could see her frustration in emails she wrote, apologising to me for the continuing delay in getting a written response to my Deputation. It should have been provided within ten working days, and was initially expected from Cllr. Ellie Southwood, Lead Member for Housing, who had been the Cabinet member presenting the Poverty Commission Update report to the Scrutiny Committee. In her final email to me, on 5 May, Roxanne wrote: ‘I would finally like to thank you for your continued engagement with policy and practice at the council and for playing an active role in holding the council to account.

 

From the Scrutiny section of Brent Council’s website.

 

I have certainly tried to hold the Council to account over the plans for Cecil Avenue in its Wembley Housing Zone. My initial approaches to Cabinet members from August 2021 got no response. I tried using a Public Question at last November’s Full Council meeting to get a proper explanation over why 152 of the 250 homes on a Council housing development should be for private sale, and only 37 at affordable rent for people on the Council’s waiting list, but without success. 

 

I even tried a satirical approach, using some of the Council’s own images of the three key Cabinet members involved (Cllrs. Butt, Tatler and Southwood), to show graphically how their Cecil Avenue proposals made a mockery of their “New Council Homes” promises. Still no real engagement on the issue from councillors or Council Officers!

 

Parody of a Brent publicity photo for its “1,000 New Council Homes” programme.

 

Brent’s website says that ‘Scrutiny … seeks to involve the public,’ and in January I wrote to the Chairs and Vice Chairs of both Scrutiny Committees. I sent them a copy of a guest blog I’d written about the Cecil Avenue proposals, saying ‘It looks bad. It looks wrong’, and asking: ‘Why are Brent’s Scrutiny Committees not asking for explanations?’ 

 

The (then) Vice Chair of the Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee, Cllr. Suresh Kansagra, copied me into an email he’d sent, saying that he thought it should be an item on the agenda for their next meeting (9 February). The day before that meeting, a Scrutiny Officer at the Council wrote to me saying: ‘As the issue you have raised relates to housing, your request falls under the remit of the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee.’ 

 

I queried this, and three days later she wrote again, saying: ‘It is correct that this is within the R & PR Committee remit and I am sorry for my misinterpretation of your request as a housing matter.’ Unfortunately, the agenda for the next (9 March) meeting was already full (that was the chaotic “joint” meeting which spent two hours considering Baroness Casey’s report on the Euros final at Wembley Stadium).

 

I had to resort to including my Cecil Avenue points in a Deputation on the Poverty Commission Update report. As you will have seen at the start of this blog article, those points were not answered. Brent’s Cabinet and Senior Council Officers do not want their Wembley Housing Zone proposals to be scrutinised. That makes me all the more convinced that they do need to be scrutinised, and soon!

 

Notice of an intended decision, posted on Brent Council’s website.

 

Last month I wrote a guest blog about a “hush hush” decision over the terms of a contract for the Wembley Housing Zone project. The actual decision was due to be made on 4 May (the day before a new Council was elected), but this doesn’t appear to have been confirmed yet (as of 12 May).

 

What has appeared, on the gov.uk “contracts finder” website on 30 April is an invitation to contractors to apply to be Brent’s “Delivery Partner” for the Wembley Housing Zone development. They must do so by 31 May 2022, with the construction contract expected to begin on 28 March 2023, and be completed by 31 March 2026. The advertisement had first been put online earlier that day, but was quickly taken down and replaced. 

 

The only change made, as far as I could see, was that the original start date was shown as 1 April 2023. My guess is that the additional funding of £5.5m, which the GLA agreed for Brent Council’s Wembley Housing Zone housing scheme last year, is only available if work begins “on site” by 31 March 2023!

 

Main contract details from the official public “Contracts finder” website.

 

Proposed Development details from the “Contracts finder” website.

 

From the published details, it appears that there has been no change in the proposals for Cecil Avenue from when the Cabinet approved them in August 2021. The 39% “affordable” would be 98 homes, with only 37 at London Affordable Rent and 61 for shared ownership (or intermediate rent level, which would be unaffordable to most Brent residents in housing need). The remaining 61%, that’s 152 (with 20 3-4 bed) of the 250 homes Brent Council will be building here, would be for its “Delivery Partner” to sell privately, for profit. How can that be right?

 

Proper scrutiny of the proposals for Cecil Avenue is needed urgently. Can Cabinet members and Senior Officers explain in detail how their plans are justified? If not, they should be told by a Scrutiny Committee that they must do better. Why can’t all of the 3- and 4-bedroom family-sized homes be for Council tenants, as that is meant to be a high priority for Brent? Even if only 98 of the 250 can be affordable, surely they should all be for “genuinely affordable” rents, as recommended by the Brent Poverty Commission?

 

As Brent Council’s website clearly states, Scrutiny is there ‘to ensure that decisions are made in line with council policy and in the public interest.’ We deserve to see this work in practice!


Philip Grant.


Thames Water updates on Wealdstone Brook pollution

Thames Water have suppied Wembley Matters with the folloing updates on the polution of Wealdstone Brook


Wealdstone Brook Pollution Update

Date: 13 May 2022 Watercourse clean

·       Daily pump outs at key locations have been undertaken to minimise odour.

·       Rainfall on 11 May appears to have provided a flush of the surface water system

·       The clean-up team will be onsite across the weekend in expectation of warmer weather.

·       A programme for routine flushing frequency is being finalised with the contractor.

Investigations to find the source of the Pollution:

·       Following multiple CCTV and man sewer entries, several point sources of fatty/oil waste have been identified in the Forward Drive/Cullington Close area and we are undertaking the formal gathering of evidence to establish if these are linked to the current pollution to the Wealdstone Brook.

·       From next week we will be beginning investigations into a different catchment area (Greenhill/Harrow) that feeds the Becmead Road outfall to continue the investigation.

Next steps

·       Thames Water Operations to begin investigations in Harrow Greenhill catchment.

·       Identified sources of fat/oil waste to be addressed through Thames Water’s formal

investigation and enforcement processes.

·       Further flushing and cleaning of the brook is planned to minimise the odour.

Next update: Latest Tuesday 17 May

Date: 10 May 2022 Watercourse clean

·       A manual clean of the section from Becmead Avenue to Kenton Road was conducted across Friday 6 May – Sunday 8 May. The cleaning crew also extended the section past Kenton Road.

·       Periodic flushes of the brook by Thames Water tankers are being arranged to limit stagnation and reduce odour.

·       A further pump out of the brook by the Kenton Lane trash screens is being conducted on the afternoon of 10 May following an increase in odour reported.

Investigations to find the source of the Pollution:

·       Following tracing work last week, the investigation crew found evidence of two potential wastewater inputs suspected to be linked to this current pollution event within the proximity of the Forward Drive area of Wealdstone.

·       Additional Operational resources have been present onsite at this location 9 May and 10 May working to confirm if these sources are the cause.

·       One input is a misconnected commercial premises – details of this property have been passed to our commercial and trade enforcement teams to resolve as an urgent priority.

·       The second input found was evidence of a previous fat/foul discharge from an unmapped surface line directly into the culvert. The source of this discharge is yet to be established as it is originating from an unmapped line which slows the ability to trace the source.

Next steps

·       Thames Water Operations continuing to trace the unmapped line on 10 May for the source of the fat/foul waste discharge.

·       Further flushing and cleaning of the brook is planned to minimise the odour. Next update: Latest Friday 13 May

 

Thursday, 12 May 2022

A glimmer of hope on Wealdstone Brook pollution?

 Yesterday Thames Water tweeted to Wealdstone Brook campaigners:

Our teams are currently working hard to clean the brook up. They believe they have found where the pollution is coming from and have plans to CCTV the line over this weekend to determine that the pollution is coming from where they suspect. The minute there are any more updates we will let you know.

There  have been a few false dawns in this saga so don't hold your breath (rather than your nose!)

 

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Brent FoE hit the LDO with climate change message

 

From Brent Friends of the Earth

We had a great afternoon with the Brent FoE stall in the sunshine at the London Designer Outlet, near the Brent Civic Centre on Sunday. Some re-elected and newly elected councillors were among the volunteers running the event.


 

We engaged with adults and children, using our bunting flags to get pledges and demands from members of the public. The bunting was hung on the railings of the children's playground behind the stall, and later transferred to fencing around a building site in Neasden, where it would be seen by people at the nearby bus stop. 

 


We also had some lively contact with people using our 'fortune-teller' gizmos, which opened up, after people made their choices, to give some advice on what people could do about climate change. 

We handed out a lot of our newly printed 'Climate Crisis - What you can do' trifold leaflets.Click bottom right corner for full page version.

 

 

Deputation on Poverty Commission Housing Update – Brent finally responds!

 Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity

 

Brent Council’s written response to my Deputation to the 9 March meeting of the Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee was finally received on 9 May! 

 

Opening paragraph from the Housing section of the Poverty Commission Update report.

 

The response was meant to be from Cllr. Eleanor Southwood, then Lead Member for Housing, as my Deputation had sought proper scrutiny of the housing section in the Poverty Commission Update report to the 9 March meeting. The response has eventually come from a Council Officer, the Head of Affordable Housing and Partnerships.

 

The Brent Poverty Commission housing recommendation on which progress was meant to be reported.

 

Before you read the response below, I would invite you to read my Deputation of 9 March (it should not take more than five minutes – the time allowed for members of the public to present a deputation to a Council meeting).

 

This is the full text of the Brent Council written response, as sent to me on 9 May. I have simply added, in square brackets, the full name of two items where abbreviations were used:

 

‘In reply to the presentation made by Philip Grant to the Scrutiny Committee I wish to make the following comments on behalf of the Affordable Homes & Partnership Department.

 

Firstly, to answer the comments made on the 655 homes already delivered and their tenure, taking each development in the order Mr Grant listed them. 

 

         Gloucester & Durham in South Kilburn forms part of the Council’s Regeneration Programme. The regeneration of South Kilburn is an ongoing total regeneration of the area as a whole and the homes are actually replacements homes for tenants whose homes where demolished to make way for the development. 

 

         Knowles House was purpose built as temporary accommodation to meet homeless needs it is not for permanent Council Homes.

 

         Grand Union in Alperton, includes 23 Shared Ownership and 92 London Affordable Rent 

 

The above is a snap shot of some of the ways the Council meets its statutory duties to provide a number of different homes and tenures to suit its different legal responsibilities. 

 

The Council received £65.6m in GLA [Greater London Authority] grant within its 2016 – 2021 programme to provide 817 homes at LAR [London Affordable Rent]. 

 

LAR was the recommended GLA rental advice for many years and provided by Brent in earlier developments, following research by Brent Council on level of rental affordability within the Borough, the decision taken by the Council was to provide as much Social rented housing as was possibly viable on all future developments. 

 

In 2021, following discussions with the GLA the council received £111m of GLA grant, this falls within the 2021 – 2028 programme and will allow the council to build 701 Social rented homes, which are currently in development and feasibility stages. 

 

Delivering social rented homes remains a major priority of the council.

 

However with raising build costs it may be the case that in the future to achieve as many Social rented homes as possible the Council will need look at other forms of tenure, to cross subsidise the social rented.’

 

I asked the Council Officer who sent this to me to confirm ‘that a copy of this response will be supplied to members of the new Resources & Public Realm Scrutiny Committee, once that has been appointed at the Council's Annual Meeting later this month, and before the next meeting of that Committee’. That has now been confirmed.

 

Please feel free to add any comments on this response below. These could include suggested points that members of the new Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee might like to raise, under matters arising from the minutes of the 9 March meeting (which have yet to be published).


Philip Grant.

UPDATED: Raw sewage problems in the Lexington Building, Wembley Park, purchased by Brent Council from Quintain for key worker housing


 

Brent Council borrowed up to £110.5m for a property deal with Quintain Ltd, the Wembley Park developers, a proportion of which was to purchase Lexington Building in Wembley Park for key worker housing. LINK

 

Overnight the new build hit Twitter with reports of sewage flooding the apartments.


 In a series of Tweets Brent Council responded today:

We are working urgently to fix the blocked drains at Lexington. The two affected flats and the communal areas will be deep cleaned, and we’ve found alternative accommodation for the tenant who has been directly affected in the meantime

 

As soon as we were alerted to the problem yesterday, we dispatched an engineer to make urgent repairs and to remove the blockage. Officers were on-site talking to residents all day and delivered letters to flats with advice about the communal areas that were affected.

 

When our engineers left yesterday, it appeared the issues had been resolved.

 

Overnight, residents reported another leak in the bathroom of a different flat – we dispatched emergency engineers as soon as possible, and officers have been at the building speaking to residents all morning.

 

We’re treating this matter very seriously, and are on hand to help anyone at Lexington who is affected

 

However, resident Emma Clark commented on the community website Next Door:

 

This issue was reported days ago and Brent left it till Monday just after we called LFB (London Fire Bridgea) because the 4th floor flooded the 3rd floor. They did a half job fixing the issue on Monday and the issue deteriorated so right now the 4th, 2nd, 1st and the ground floor is flooded. They didn't treat this as a matter of urgency till we called out the press. A child slept in the flat shown. Disabled residents and a disabled child are affected. Took Brent 3 days to start looking for an emergency accommodation. Initially they said it's not a health hazard. Not to mention they hoovered the carpets and called it a day. After being called out on social media they reevaluated and deemed it necessary to change the carpets an floor boards This morning we called emergency repairs and we been told to call back at 0800hrs 🤦🏻‍♀️ Many of us attempted to contact Dawn Butler with no luck. Cllr Iman came to our building to reassure us. https://www.itv.com/news/london/2022-05-11/blocked-toilet-sends-raw-sewage-pouring-through-council-flats

 

The purchase of Lexington Building  was made via i4B Holdings a Brent Council owned company. LINK 

 

i4B's brief for tenants:

 

i4B is a company set up to help Brent Council provide affordable accommodation to reduce homelessness. The company's aim is to provide permanent, high quality housing with the hope that tenants enjoy their home year after year.

Expectations

What you can expect from us:

  • Tenants of i4B can expect high quality homes at an affordable rent with a responsible landlord.
  • Tenants can expect their properties to be repaired when issues arise.
  • Tenants can expect their views and concerns to be listened to. If you have any concerns about your property, please contact your management agent.

What we expect from you:

  • We expect tenants to report any repair needs and to provide access to workers to complete the repairs.
  • We expect tenants to abide by the tenancy agreement, this includes respecting neighbours.
  • We expect tenants to pay rent. If you are having difficulty with rent payments, please contact your management agents as early as possible.

This incident follows the Granville New Homes scandal on South Kilburn Estate when  the bill for remediation of homes purchased by Brent Council from Higgins Homes exceeded the purchase price. LINK

 

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Harlesden Mass Children's Bike ride on SUNDAY

 

The 'big metal gate' is at Roundwood Park

 We will leave from Roundwood park at 11.30am.

The ride is part of 200 rides happening across 15 countries at the weekend.

We will ride slowly and adults will secure junctions to make sure that everyone can cross safely at their own pace. It's a great opportunity to meet people, get some fresh air and discover Paddington Rec if you haven't been there already.