Sunday 29 March 2009


When planning permission was given for the temporary ARK Academy on playing fields it was only done so on the condition that the playing fields were accessible and maintained. The conditions, set out in Schedule B (08/0799) said that the departure from Policy OS8 state that 'there would be no overall loss of playing fields and access would be regulated via a Community Use Scheme to the benefit of the local community and in accordance with the requirements of Sport England.'

The pitches were closed off during the building of the temporary Academy on the grounds of security and it was stated that they would be made available once the building work was completed. This was not done and the pitches have remained out of use, despite council claims that they are available but that no one has requested permission to use them. Peter Moring counter-claimed in the local press this weekend that three local senior teams have asked to use the pitches but have been 'flatly refused access by Brent Council's Park Service'. If true this is in contravention of Condition 11 which states, "...the development shall not be occupied unless prior thereto, the football pitches have been re-provided in accordance with details submitted to and approved by the Local Planning Authority".

A glance at the photographs show that the pitches are not fit for use: there are no goal posts or pitch marking and the field resembles medieval ridge and furrow. Sports England would not be impressed and the condition of the pitches is in direct contravention of conditions 12 and 13. 13 states, "Prior to the commencement of the use a Management and Maintenance Scheme for the football pitches and the existing pavilion for a period of 3 years, to include measures to ensure the standard of pitch surfaces over the next 3 years, and management responsibilities, a maintenance schedule and a mechanism for review, shall be submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority after consultation with Sport England".

The Planning Authority and Sport England have clearly not kept their eyes on this particular ball and the result has been a loss of facilities to the local community.


Brian Orr, Chair of Brent Green Party, saw The Age of Stupid at the Tricycle Cinema last week and took part in several of the discussion sessions. This is his view of the film:

I was very taken by the The Age of Stupid. I saw it as a 'collage' of seven fascinating documentaries, cleverly woven together by a bit of science fiction that allowed for some seductive 'climate change facts' to be slotted in. It provided little in the way of answers, nor did it provide an orderly analysis along the lines of An Inconvenient Truth, but the material would stimulate most people into thinking, 'Hey, there's something fundamentally awry here."

It is pretty clear that a high proportion of those who have seen the film were moved emotionally. Only time will tell how far the film will leave its mark on our collective psyche, but it certainly won't be forgotten for a long time. It should remain in the environmentalists' armoury for a good few years yet.

Click here to see what Ed Miliband thought of the film

Saturday 28 March 2009


Consideration of the Wembley Masterplan by the Brent Executive, due to be table at its meeting on Monday April 6th, has been put off following intervention by the Conservative Group.

The Masterplan has been been heavily criticised by the Wembley Community Association, Brent Green Party and Quintain Estates on the basis that it is unaffordable and undeliverable.

The reconnection of North End Road to Bridge Road at an estimated cost of £20mln (the cost of two new primary schools) which has been a particular bone of contention in the Plan has been thrown into doubt. At present the closed off road provides a low traffic haven which is safe for children from the nearby flats. The Masterplan envisaged the demolition of the present pedestrian footway linking Bridge Road and Olympic Way which provides access to North End Road. (see photograph) However the Planning Inspectorate last week over-ruled Brent Council and approved the building of a 20 storey student accommodation tower on a nearby site, raising issues about the practicality of the Masterplan proposals.

Click here for the WCA's Submission on the Masterplan

Click here for Brent Green Party's Submission on the Masterplan


Meanwhile ARK Academy campaigners have raised concerns about missing essential documentation on the council planning site ahead of the re-scheduled planning hearing on Tuesday April 28th. They argue that they are unable to make an informed submission if essential documents are unavailable for detailed perusal.


I fully support the move by the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers to boycott next year's SAT tests in primary schools.

The independent Cambridge Primary Review has already said that SAT tests and league tables are incompatible with their curriculum reforms (see February 20th posting) and the less far-reaching changes advocated by the government initiated Rose Review make little sense within the constraints of a narrow exam-orientated curriculum.

The two unions are putting identical resolutions to their Easter conferences that state they will conduct this year's tests for 11 year olds, which take place in the week beginning May 11th, only on condition that they are the last.

My experience as a teacher and head teacher on the negative impact of the tests on children's enthusiasm and enjoyment of learning was endorsed by the NAHT's general secretary Mike Brookes, when he said, "There is high stress for children children; some will already be spending up to 10 hours a week rehearsing these tests. It's a complete waste of time. It is unconscionable that we should simply standby and allow the educational experience of children to be blighted."

I couldn't agree more. The Green Party remains the only main-stream political party to support the abolition of SATS and League Tables in order to return creativity and a love of learning to primary schools.

Friday 27 March 2009


“The Masterplan is a long term plan that should reach far further than the current economic down turn. A wide range of studies have been conducted that provide confidence that the proposals within the document can be delivered.”
Brent Council response to concerns about the Wembley Masterplan, December 2008

Brent Green Party and other objectors to the Wembley Masterplan called for Brent Council to put the Plan on hold until a full analysis of the impact of the recession on the local economy had been carried out and the Council’s Climate Change Strategy was in place.

A report entitled ‘The Local Impact of the Recession’ was tabled at the Council Executive on 16th March 2009. The Climate Strategy is long overdue and there appear to be concerns over the adequacy of the Consultant’s report. It is essential that a long-term project should be based on such a strategy. Despite this vital missing ingredient the Executive is due to make a a decision on the Masterplan at its meeting on Monday April 6th.

The Recession Report resists engaging in detailed economic forecasting but states, “In short we face possible deflation, continuing low interest rates, a continued lull in property and housing markets and unemployment rising and possibly peaking in 2011-12…….At the same time, the government borrowing to defend the economy and provide fiscal stimulus will put huge pressure on public finances.” (4.5)

The Council faced with challenges on the financial viability of the Masterplan had earlier said that funds would be available from the government or the GLA in the event that Section 106 funding was not available.

The Wembley Masterplan envisages 47,000m2 of retail, restaurants and bars and a ribbon of retail running from Wembley High Road to Wembley Park. The Recession Report reveals that employment in wholesale and retail in Brent stands at 22%, a greater proportion than the British average (5.5.2) which ‘therefore may be an area of concern’. Brent has a greater proportion of firms involved in wholesale and retail than the British average: “This may be an area of concern, as the retail-related industry is predicted to be one of the sectors most severely hit by the recession.” (6.1.2)

So retail is already disproportionate, is likely to be hit most severely by the recession, but forms the backbone of the Wembley Masterplan. The Masterplan stated that further retail development was dependent on the successful completion of Quintain’s Phase 1 Wembley Boulevard development. A ‘success’ that looks unlikely in the present economic climate and the competing attractions of Westfield and a refurbished Brent Cross.

The Report suggests that with the fall in house prices and sales at a 30-year low, there may be an increase in demand for temporary and social accommodation. “A consequence of this could be that more people will turn to renting or seeking council housing. Brent already has one of the highest levels of demand for housing in the country, where we are unable to meet even a small proportion of the existing demand.” (8.2.1)

The Wembley Masterplan envisaged the provision of 3,727 new homes of which 1,400 were to be affordable. Much of this would be financed by Section 106 receipts (money paid by developers to the local authority towards infrastructure improvements). However the Recession report notes, “A quarter of the local authorities surveyed by the Audit Commission state that they have seen falls in Section 106 receipts of more than 5%, which is of particular concern because about half of the affordable housing supply in recent years has been provided under Section 106 agreements.” After noting that school building improvement plans will also be affected the Report states, “Opportunities to generate improvements in public sector infrastructure through regeneration projects will also be affected. (10.5.4)

The Report notes that the current forecast is that, “Brent will struggle to achieve the LAA target to deliver 458 affordable homes annually between 2008 and 2011 by 17.4% due to delays or terminations of development schemes. Wembley regeneration schemes were also expected to contribute to the supply targets, but some of these sites will be delayed, as developers such as Quintain concentrate on the non-housing part of their development.” The Report expects new starts to “drastically slow” and “in some cases where construction has commenced developers are delaying internal fit outs that allow new homes to be habitable in the hope that the market will improve”.

So housing, and particularly affordable housing, is essential and a major part of the Masterplan but unlikely to be completed in the short or medium-term, and some, already largely completed, will not be coming on the market. The Report pins its hope on government action to stimulate the housing market despite the constraints imposed by the huge long-term debts incurred by the government’s recent interventions to stabilise the economy.

It is worth quoting the first paragraph of this section in some detail:
“The construction industry has been severely hit by the squeeze on credit, and delays in development schemes have had a negative effect on the pace of Brent’s major projects, for example timetables have been put back for Wembley development….The lack of credit and economic recession may well both stop and delay private development, which may adversely affect our regeneration ambitions in Brent.” (11.1)

This throws the whole rationale of the Masterplan into doubt. The argument that the Plan is a long-term vision beyond the current crisis cuts both ways. If it is long-term there is no need to approve it at present when the Report recognises that the extent, depth and longevity of the economic downturn is unclear. The argument that, “…the council use this as a period of opportunity in terms of the regeneration agenda through undertaking detailed planning work and establishing clarity of vision, so that development projects can be kick started when the upturn occurs” (11.2), seems to be based on an assumption that things will soon be back to normal – an assumption as we have seen that is not well supported by other statements in the Report.

Despite the council’s claim to the contrary when Quintain Estates criticised the Wembley Masterplan for unaffordability, they remain the council’s main developer partner.

Quintain have themselves been badly affected by the economic situation and their strictures need to be taken seriously in the context of their ability to provide Section 106 funding for the Masterplan proposals.

Quintain has recently negotiated a three-year deal with its lenders to manage its debts of £620,000,000. This involved increasing the firm’s maximum gearing ratio (the ratio of debt to net worth) from 110% to 150%, allowing for expected further falls in the value of its UK properties. This stabilised the firm’s stock, which has fallen 58% this year. However the arrangement provides protection only for a 20% fall in property valuation from September 2008 levels and the decline in property values has accelerated since then. Quintain is likely to seek further investment to help stabilise its finances.

The council’s own report, ‘The Local Impact of the Recession’, reinforces objectors’ criticisms of the Wembley Masterplan. The Plan based as it is on expansion of retail, housing, hotel and office space at a time of economic recession and long-term economic uncertainty is irrelevant in its present form. As a long-term Plan it should also take into account the council’s yet to be published Climate Change Strategy.

The Wembley Community Association will be attended the Executive on Monday April 6th to press their case for a realistic and sustainable Masterplan.

Thursday 26 March 2009

ARK, what's happening?

There has been a further delay in the Ark Academy application to the Brent Planning Committee. It was originally scheduled for Tuesday April 7th but there were protests that this was during the school Easter holidays and many interested residents would be away.

It is now scheduled for Tuesday 28th April and submissions can be made up to Thursday April 2nd.

Saturday 21 March 2009


The Age of Stupid season at the Tricycle Cinema got off to a good start on Friday. The screenings of this incredible film about climate change are organised by Brent Friends of the Earth and supported by Brent Green Party.

There will be a chance for Brent residents to make their views known to local and national politicians and hold them accountable. Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change secretary will be taking part in a Q&A session after the 5.30pm showing on Sunday March 22nd, Ken Livingstone after the 6pm showing on Monday March 23rd, Shahrar Ali (Green Party Euro candidate) after the 6.30pm showing on Tuesday 24th and Sarah Teather Lib Dem MP 2.30pm, and Jenny Jones Green Party AM 6.30pm on Thursday March 26th.

Meanwhile Brent Council's Strategy on Climate Change has still not been published and is now long overdue. The film underlines the extreme urgency of the situation. We need a Brent councillor to champion the climate change issue and challenge the Council's lethargy and complacency.

Brent Friends of the Earth:

Click here to see the Age of Stupid Trailer.

Details of screenings:
Film information:

Wednesday 18 March 2009


The alliance of Labour, Conservatives and Democratic Conservatives that out-voted the Liberal Democrats recently on the Kingsbury Road issue indicated increased strains in the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition as parties position themselves ahead of the next local election.

The Labour Group have said that they will seek a vote of no confidence in the current Council Executive, which raises the question of whether a new coalition is possible.

The Conservative opposition to the Wembley Academy is hardening and they have involved the GLA and the Mayor's Office in the issue, undermining their Lib Dem allies in the process. Cllr Bob Blackman has reaffirmed his opposition to a school on that site and has stated his personal opinion that schools should be democratically accountable through the local authority. If the Tories pushed their opposition to the limit, threatening withdrawal from the coalition, the Lib Dems would rely on Labour support to get the policy through. This has been the de facto situation for some time but a more open and vigorous debate would make the position more public.

Meanwhile many Labour activists are less than keen on the academies programme and support local authority provision, despite Cllr Ann John's championing of the ARK Academy. Barry Gardiner MP has supported the academies programme in general but consistently opposed one on the Wembley Park site.

Cllr Bob Wharton of the Lib Dems and lead member on the issue, said during the first round of Academy consultation meetings, that he is personally in favour of locally accountable comprehensive education. He reluctantly supported the Academy because government funding would not be forthcoming for a community school - a claim recently denied by the government.

Meanwhile, the planning consultation process for the permanent academy building in Wembley has re-opened with documents revised in the light of GLA and other comments. The traffic report is particularly important (see photograph of traffic in Forty Lane at 8.50am on a recent weekday morning).

The new consultation immediately ran into trouble when documents were not available on the council website and the council was forced to change the deadline for responses to March 25th. The council was also challenged on their timing of the Planning Committee which they fixed for April 7th - during school holidays when many teachers and parents will be away. They denied this scheduling had been deliberate but the pressure to have it changed continues.

Will the Tories blow the coalition apart? Will Labour ride to the Lib Dem's rescue.
Will the Tories and Labour unite against the Lib Dems? Watch this space.

Wednesday 11 March 2009


Following the campaign by Barn Hill Conservation Group, Brent School Without Walls and others, Sustrans has announced that it will not propose a cycle route through Fryent Country Park/Barn Hill.

In a letter to Barn Hill Conservation Group, Sustrans say they have received a 'great many' responses regarding the proposal and that 'many respondents have clearly stated that they do not want the greenway network to run through Fryent Country Park and Barn Hill. We will suggest alternatives.'

Sustrans also say that they never proposed a hard surface path through the Park and reaffirm their commitment to biodiversity.

Opponents of the scheme were not hostile to cycling but thought that the unique character of the Park and its designation as a nature reserve and site of metropolitan importance for biodiversity meant it should be protected. They will await the final report to see what alternatives Sustrans proposes before relaxing their vigilance.

Sunday 8 March 2009

ARK on the rocks?

Tuesday April 7th has been fixed as the date when the Planning Committee will hear the revised Planning Application for the permanent ARK Wembley Academy. Letters went out on the 6th March giving 14 days to respond giving a deadline of Friday March 20th. However the Council said later submissions will be considered if a decision has not yet been made.

However, potential respondents soon found that the promised revised documents were not available on the council website (reference 08/2842) as of Sunday March 8th. The planning application is also available for inspection at the One-Stop Shop on the ground floor of Brent House, 349 High Road, Wembley, HA9 6BZ (9am-5pm Mon, Tues, Wed and Friday, 9am-1pm Thursdays). The Planning Service is also open on Wednesday evenings between 5pm-7pm at the One Stop Shop to give advice to the public on town planning matters. There is no reference to the documents being available at other One Stop Shops or Brent Libraries as is normally the case.

The documents were revised following criticism from individuals, the Wembley Park Action Group, Barn Hill Residents Association, Brent Green Party and other local groups, and the GLA. They include the Design and Access Statement, Flood Risk Assessment and Landscaping and most importantly, according to the Council, the Transportation Assessment and Travel Plan.

Thursday 5 March 2009


This is your last chance to respond to the consultation for possible cycle tracks across Fryent Country Park. Consultation closes tomorrow.

Follow the title link to fill in an on-line copy of the form or paste this into your browser: