Monday 29 March 2010

Brent Needs the Green Party's Equality Policies

from 'The impact of income inequalities on sustainable development in London' a report for the London Sustainable Development Commission by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett of the The Equalities Trust. PDF of the report HERE

A key report concludes this month that:

  • Economic growth has ceased to be a reliable source of higher standards of wellbeing. Many countries achieve levels of life expectancy similar to Britain but at a fraction of our levels per capita  of national income and emissions.

  • The high rates of many social problems in London, and Britain more widely, are directly attributable to the scale of inequality and would be reduced if inequality was decreased.

  • This means that future improvements to the quality of life now depend more on narrowing income differences than on economic growth.

  • The pressure to consume is substantially increased by inequality because inequality increases status competition.

  • The achievement of a low carbon, sustainable society depends on people's willingness to act for the common good. Greater equality strengthens community life, public spiritedness, and trust while weakening individual status competition.

  • Tackling inequality and climate changes requires a change in mind-set away from anti-social consumerism and instead an ethos where wework together to improve the quality of the social and natural environment.
The full report goes into much more detail about the benefits of greater equality and is at pains to point out that the benefits would not only be for the poorer section of the population but for everyone. The table above shows the impact for London as a whole.  Elsewhere in the document figures show that with greater equality Brent would almost halve its incidence of mental illness, sharply reduce teenage pregnancies and reduce the level of obesity (currently the third highest in London).

As Brent Green Party's spokesperson on Children, Families and Schools, and a school governor, I was struck by the graph based on Unicef research that shows the UK's position on children's wellbeing/income inequality.
All this makes the Green Party's redistributive policies absolutely central in tackling social and climate change problems.  In creating a more equal society we will be giving ourselves important weapons to tackle issues that threaten us all.

Sunday 28 March 2010

Why Equality is Better for Everyone

Read this book before casting your vote in the election:

The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, Penguin, £9.99
ISBN 978-0-141-03236-8

CLICK HERE for Equality Trust slide show giving the statistics used in the Spirit Level

Friday 26 March 2010

Message from Greenpeace: Government must reconsult on 3rd runway

"Fantastic news! Both the climate and common sense have scored a major victory at the High Court today, where the government's plans for a third runway at Heathrow have been dealt a huge blow.

In response to a legal challenge against the mounted by a coalition of organisations that include Greenpeace, Lord Justice Carnwath ruled that the Government's decision to give a green light to the proposed third runway does not hold any weight. He said that their claims to the contrary were 'untenable in law and common sense'.

The judge said that the government's decision hadn't properly taken into consideration climate change policy or the economic case and surface transport. Effectively this means that for the runway to go ahead, the government will have to re-consult on these major issues as part of an overhaul of its wider aviation policy.

While the government has been sent back to the drawing board, it is very hard to see how it can resuscitate any enthusiasm for the new runway. However, we will be keeping a very close eye on the situation, and we won't rest until the any new government has scrapped the plans categorically and permanently."

Martin Francis, Green Party candidate for Brent North said, "This is great news but we must remain vigilant and make sure the thrid runway is a feature in the forthcoming election campaign.

I am one of 73,000 people who have become beneficial owners of Airplot, bang in the middle of the proposed site,  in an attempt to spread ownership of the land needed for the third runway and make the government deals with thousands of individual owners.  We're still going to need your help to see the runway off once and for all. We want to reach 100,000 beneficial owners - so tell your family and friends to sign up! "  SIGN UP HERE

Thursday 25 March 2010

Jarvis PLC - a narrow escape or warning about the future?

News that Jarvis PLC has gone into administration may revive old memories amongst Brent councillors and headteachers.

Ten years ago the then Labour Council was negotiating for a Private Finance Inititiave deal for its schools, one of the biggest deals in the country. The PFI would have handed the schools over to private companies.  The company would rebuild the schools and take over their maintenance and be paid back over the 25 years.

Jarvis was one of the two bidders left in the ring and local headteachers were invited to the Town Hall council chamber to see presentations which were of course glossy.  I quite upset one Jarvis suit when I asked him if about criticisms of Jarvis's rail operations and what that said about their fitness to maintain our schools. He hotly argued that rail maintenance was a totally different side of the business.  Jarvis later had to admit liability for the Potters Bar railway accident.  It eventually sold off its school building arm to a French company.

After spending more than 2 years on the project and hundreds of thousands of pounds, we returned after the summer holiday in 2001 to find that the officer responsible for PFI had mysteriously disappeared - we assumed he had been sacked. The Council announced that the project to rebuild 17 secondary and primary schools had been abandoned for 'reasons outside the council's control'. Mystery still hangs around what really happened...

Just imagine the what could have happened to Brent schools if Jarvis had won the contract.  Would we now be spending hundreds of thousands of pounds keeping the company afloat?

Bye-bye Bob

More fun and games amongst the Tories in Brent as we head for the elections. The Conservatives already have two candidates in Brent North (one under an 'Independent' label) . Now we have a Conservative group leader in Brent, who isn't standing in the local elections, but won't resign as leader until after the election.

Bob Blackman has announced he won't be standing in Harrow East MP. However this means the Tories will go into the council election fight with a leader who will have his mind on other matters, and who won't be there to pick up the pieces after the election. Will there be moves to replace him before May 6th?
It will mean that Tory candidates will be fighting with one eye on the upcoming leadership battle and jostling for position. Cllr John Detre (Northwick Park) has already thrown his hat in the ring.

Atiq Malik, standing as an Independent in the Brent North Parliamentary constituency (where I am also a candidate) is one of two Conservative councillors (the other is Robert Dunwell) who formed the Democratic Conservative Group, following disagreements over Blackman's leadership. Blackman was also indirectly criticised by Merrick Cockell, Chairman of London Councils, after he failed to win against Navin Shah in the London Assembly elections in 2008. Cockell said then, "Internal divisions have certainly had an effect and if you are not pulling together defeat is what happens."

A month before the election the Evening Standard had reported accusations by black Conservative Party members that they had been treated in an 'insensitive and unsympathetic way' when trying to attend a local party meeting in Brent North.

Blackman survived an attempt at deselection in Harrow East in 2008 because of his 'underperformance' at the Assembly elections. At the time Conservative Home reported that Conservative HQ were 'disappointed' that deselection wasn't successful.


Click to enlarge
Learning Skills Council (LSC)/RIBA Runner Up for Innovation By Design 2008
Closed 2010 due to reduction in LSC funding?  A scandal...

A message from Students at the College of North West London (CNWL) protesting against the decision to close the Kilburn Centre on Priory Park Road.

Why are we unhappy?

Managers came into our classes on Monday 15th March and Tuesday 16th March to tell us of their decision to close the Kilburn Centre on 1st August, 2010.  We are very unhappy because the Principal, Vicki Fagg, didn't ask us for our opinions before they decided to close the Kilburn Centre.

We want to go to college to learn. Most students want to improve their education by going to the next level. How are we going to do that, if they shut down our local college?

Many of us are parents with young children and we can't travel to the other centres at Willesden or Wembley because our children go to local schools. Other students young and old also don't want to travel far away to study.

We feel cheated because we have nowhere else to go and our education will be affected.

What's good about the Kilburn Centre?

We like this college because it has courses for young people and older students. The courses offered by the college help us to get qualifications, like English, maths and IT, which companies want when we apply for jobs.

The college is also part of our local community and easy to get to. The staff are very pleasant and helpful and the teachers make things easy to understand.

Why should the Kilburn Centre stay open?

The students can not express in words how important it is for this college to stay open. It is unjust and such a waste of money to close the college because it opened only a few years ago.

It is an important land mark in our community because there are not enough places where people can go to learn new skills. We have a right to an education which suits our needs.

Most students at Kilburn are doing ESOL courses because English is not their first language. Many of them had a difficult past. They rely on their local college and don't have the confidence or the money to travel to the other sites at Willesden or Wembley. If the Kilburn Centre closes, we have no way to improve our education and get the skills to get a job.

The management are holding our future in their hands.

What is the petition for?

The students want to show how strongly we feel about the closure. We are united in the way we feel as students who enjoy coming to this college and want to make a difference. All we ask for is a chance to better our lives and maybe pass some knowledge onto our children.

We really need your support to keep our college at Kilburn open.

Please sign the petition and help us keep the Kilburn Centre open.



Tuesday 16 March 2010


The Government Office for London yesterday issued  a 'stop notice' on the Brent Cross Cricklewood Development.  This instruction, under Section 14 of the Town and Country Planning Order 1995, directs Barnet Council not to grant planning permission on this application without specific authorisation from John Denham, the secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

Denham has now given himself more time to consider whether to call in the application for a public inquiry. He has wider powers than Boris Johnson and will need to consider the massive local opposition, sustainability issues and the views of neighbouring councils.

Brent Council's reservations are summarised in a letter from Paul Lorber, leader of the Council and Cllr. Alec Castle (Dollis Hill):

We have restated Brent’s formal opposition to the plans, and made clear that until key wider planning aspects of importance to us are resolved, our strong objections will remain.

The developers have paid little attention to transport issues, and without measures in place to alleviate the likely problems of thousands of extra cars and heavy freight lorries navigating the streets off Cricklewood Broadway and Edgware Road, the impact in Cricklewood, Dollis Hill and Dudden Hill would be devastating.

In our view, no work should begin until appropriate traffic measures and parking restrictions have been formally agreed and put in place. These in turn must be properly informed and influenced by a long-awaited study on the wider traffic flow around the A5 Corridor.

The stop notice does not definitely mean that Denham will call in the application or order a public inquiry but does indicate that the Coalition for A Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood Plan have made a considerable impact. They deserve our congratulations and thanks.

Monday 15 March 2010

Asylum system contributed to these deaths

Saturday's Guardian revealed that the asylum seeking family who apparently committed joint suicide in Glasgow last week by jumping from the balcony of their high rise flat, previously lived in the flats opposite Brent Town Hall in Forty Lane.

The Serykh's, originally from Russia, arrived in the UK from Canada. The deaths occurred after the family's asylum application had been refused and they were told that  financial support and housing would be withdrawn.

Serge Serykh appeared to be suffering from a mental illness.  He claimed to have been a Russian secret agent and to have been given refuge in Canada for 'services rendered'. However he fled Canada as a result of feeling he would be a target for the Canadian secret service because he had discovered a Canadian ploit to kill the Queen.

Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for North Brent, had given the family advice at his asylum surgery when they lived in Wembley.  Gardiner has become embroiled in an argument with campaigners who claim that the brutality of the asylum system, and particularly the withdrawal of financial and housing support, was to blame for the deaths.

Gardiner told the Guardian, "I am not qualified to judge his mental health, but in layman's terms he had paranoia. My overwhelming impression is that this was a tragedy that was always going to happen. He was not an ordinary person driven to suicide by the Kafkaesque immigration system, as some people seem to be suggesting."

I do not doubt the hard work that Barry Gardiner does on immigration and asylum. I was particularly impressed when I took a Kosovan family to his surgery for help and he gave time to their 10 year old daughter who insisted on an individual interview to put the family's case. He has an enormous workload on these issues.

However, I think his comment underestimates the stress caused by the withdrawal of support, threat of homelessness and fear of deportation experienced by all asylum seekers. It is likely that it was  not a matter of either mental illness or withdrawal of support being the cause of the likely suicides, but that withdrawal of support was the final straw that literally drove the family, already suffering the father's mental illness, over the edge. They died on the day they were told to leave their flat.

Under pressure from the media and the far right, the government has adopted a 'tough' policy on asylum that does us no credit. Forcing families into destitution and detaining children at Yarl's Wood offends any concept of a decent society.

Saturday 13 March 2010

Boris Approves Brent Tox Development

According to the Harrow Times, Boris Johnson has approved the Brent Cross Development, and therefore well deserves Darren Johnson's award  for bad planning decisions: "By waving through a development that will create a surge in traffic and air pollution, the Mayor has undermined city-wide efforts to improve air quality, and has done nothing to help severely affected centres in neighbouring boroughs."

Boris Johnson claimed the development would help lead London out of recession: “This is another great example of pushing ahead with major development and infrastructure improvements to create jobs, and boost the capital’s economic growth, while transforming the quality of life of thousands of Londoners.”

So there you have it we will all benefit from increased traffic and pollution, a monstrous shopping centre feeding over-consumption and indebtedness, a shopping centre that will destroy local high streets in neighbouring boroughs, and an incinerator that will impact on the health of our children: nice one Boris!

Let's hope that John Denham, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, will have a little more wisdom and foresight and call in this pernicious scheme.

Hear First Hand Accounts from Gaza Convoy

Click on image to enlarge

Rage Against the Tube Closures

With Jubilee, Metropolitan and Bakerloo line closures again this weekend Brentonians can be forgiven for thinking that Transport for London has a vendetta against them. As fleets of buses from all over the South East park along Bridge Road to eventually transport bewildered, frustrated and angry travellers in a meandering journey along already clogged up roads, they should reflect on the reasons for this.

It is of of course the Thatcherite policy, embraced by all three main political parties, of private enterprise intervention in the public sector: Public Private Partnerships. As you sit fuming on the top deck of a 1960s Dorset double decker as it crawls along Blackbird Hill, reflect on the wisdom of Andrew Smith, Chief Secretary to the Treasury:

Partnerships between the public and private sectors are a cornerstone of this Government’s modernisation programme. They are delivering better quality public services by bringing in new investment and improved management, and are helping state-owned businesses achieve their full potential.

Tube Lines, the remaining leg of the PPP deal is responsible for the maintenance and upgrading of our underground lines. Metronet, responsible for the other two contracts, eventually went broke at the cost of an estimated £400,000,000 to the taxpayer - thinking about that should calm you down! Their responsibilities have been taken back 'in house' by TfL. Meanwhile TfL is tied into a 30 year contract with Tube Lines which means I'll be over a 100 years old before they've finished the job.

What PPP actually means is that no one is really accountable and that we as voters, and politicians themselves, can't get at them. Navin Shah AM, Sarah Teather MP, Cllr Daniel Brown lead Brent Council member for Transportation, have all protested about the closures. They have had little success except to get Metroplitan line trains stopping at Willesden Green when only the Jubilee is closed. Large and small businesses have protested about the loss of trade to no avail. Instead the work is dragging on and running a year late.

Written into the PPPcontract is a provision that Tube Lines can order line closures whenever they wish. This 'improved management' of our transport infrastructure is now in even deeper trouble because of a shortfall in the budget of £1bn for the next period. The Public Private Partnership Arbiter has had to be brought in to rule on the dispute between TfL which offered Tube Lines £4bn and Tube Lines which wanted more than £1bn on top of this. The arbiter ruled that TfL should pay £4.46bn, leaving £460,000 to be found - probably from us the fare payers. TfL is looking at possible legal remedies and has revealed that forensic accountants are probing what it described as ' massive and secretive payments to Tube Lines’ shareholders’, who are Ferrovial and Bechtel.

Meanwhile you are still stuck on the bus, smouldering....

So what about Boris, can't he do something? Well he characteristically blusters away without making any impact. At the recent Harrow Question Time he described the Tube Lines structure as 'ludicrous' and 'completely mad' and in a vital response suggested that while you are sitting on the top deck of that 'replacement bus service' nothing much may be happening at all on the closed line:

'We have been asked for closures when actually they are not able to get on with sending their people down the line to put in the new signalling because the program work, the software work, still hasn't been done in Canada.'

He argues for a new system that will stop, 'What is in my view a complete rip-off by the contractors - a licence to steal, to put it no higher than that'.

All three main parties are in favour of public private partnerships despite these difficulties. Perhaps Boris should bend David Cameron's ear.  Similar stories can be told about the lack of accountability of PPPs in education (academies) which the Tories want to expand, and health (Private Finance Initiative schemes).
If you want democratically accountable public services vote Green. Meanwhile should we strike back with a 'No Fare Pay' day during the week to match every weekend closure?

Monday 8 March 2010

Brent Greens Back Brent Cross Public Inquiry Call

Coalition members, including Tim Storer of Brent Green Party,
 outside the Departmentr before handing in petitions and letters

Yesterday the Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Regeneration, supported by Navin Shah AM for Brent and Harrow and Sarah Teather MP handed in petitions and letters to John Denham, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to ask him to call-in the Brent Cross Regeneration Application for a Public Inquiry.

Brent Green Party's letter requested a call-in based on the following grounds:

1. The residents of the London boroughs of Brent and Camden were not consulted on this matter despite the scheme having major impact on residents of the two boroughs. Our own council, Brent, remain opposed to this development despite suggestions to the contrary at the Barnet Planning Committee.

2. This development will have a major impact on North West London in terms of traffic, increased pollution and the destruction of local shopping areas in surrounding localities. These issues were not considered by the Barnet Planning Committee which had a Barnet-centric approach to the application. A wider assessment of the application is vital and would be provided by a Public Inquiry.

3. The application does not conform to the Government’s Climate Change Law to reduce Co2 by 80% by 2050. The scheme will generate thousands more car journeys per day and become a net contributor of greenhouse gases and global warming.

4. The lack of clarity in evidence presented at the Planning Committee on the proposed waste handling plant and incinerator. In the face of expert opinion by a visiting US professor on the potential health hazards of the proposed gasification process we believe that the Secretary of State should institute a Public Inquiry to ensure that the health and safety of the local population, and particularly that of young children who are particularly vulnerable to the impact of toxic substances, is safeguarded.

5. The major thrust of the application is to extend the Brent Cross Shopping Centre and other components of Phase One of the scheme, such as affordable housing, have been cut back. A proposal to increase the size of the Shopping Centre was rejected by a Public Inquiry in 1999 and a Judicial Review and High Court judgement in 2003. The proposal represents the developers’ second bite at the cherry in much changed and less favourable economic circumstances.

6. Although the Planning Committee is supposed to make an independent judgement, the application was compromised by the fact that the Barnet Borough Council are major supporters of the scheme and have helped facilitate the process for the applicants. Importantly they are also major landowners in the development area.

Friday 5 March 2010

Conservatives select Brent North Candidate - now it's 'Two Tory' Brent

Last night Brent Conservatives selected Cllr Harshadbhai Patel (Preston ward) to fight Brent North. His opponents will include former Conservative councillor colleague Atiq Malik (now a 'Democratic Conservative' councillor) who is standing as an Independent.

Cllr Patel was Mayor of Brent in 2007-8 and is associated with the Federation of Patidar Associations, Brent Indian Association and the Hindu Council. Atiq Malik is actively blogging about the election on UK Polling and Conservative Home to the annoyance of many fellow bloggers. On one blog he claims that at the selection meeting 2 rows of seats were filled with 'up to 30+' new party recruits but doesn't follow with any specific allegation. He claims that Patel has stated that he has 300 'foot soldiers' ready to go out and campaign in the election.

Another contributor asks if the Democratic Conservatives (Malik and Cllr Robert Dunwell) have 'gone into bed with the Greens or the Lib Dems?'As Green Party Candidate for Brent North I can answer that from our perspective with a resounding 'No'!

With a Labour candidate who, in calling for his resignation, demonstrated that he had no faith in Gordon Brown; and two Conservative candidates, Brent North is shaping up to be an interesting (and possibly bewildering) contest.

Thursday 4 March 2010

Coalition: Why John Denham Must Call in Brent Cross Plans

The Coalition opposing the 4.5 billion development for a Brent Cross Cricklewood new town is urging Secretary of State John Denham to call the development in to Public Inquiry, in view of Barnet sending the papers to the Government Office for London and the Mayor of London.
The Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood Plan believe the development clearly meets the criteria to merit a call-in as set out in section 77 of the Town and Country planning Act1990[1]. The Secretary of State’s powers to call this in are very general and discretionary. Barnet should have referred this to the Secretary of State prior to the planning meeting on the grounds that Barnet owns some of the land.

 Some other grounds for call-in are :
- significant effects beyond the immediate locality
- giving rise to substantial regional or national controversy or where issues are of more than local importance
- raise significant architectural and urban design issues
- and in 2008 the sustainability of the proposed development was specifically added as a criterion.

Lia Colacicco, Coalition Co-ordinator and Mapesbury resident says, “ This scheme could be called in on several criteria but in particular because its effects go far beyond the immediate area, Brent and Camden councils object to it, local people don’t want it in this form, and because it is completely unsustainable in terms of traffic, housing, and the environment. There was no meaningful public consultation so we are now calling on John Denham to call it in immediately so that these disastrous plans can undergo full public scrutiny….”

Darren Johnson (Green Party London Assembly Member) says “given Boris Johnson’s manifesto commitment to cut London carbon emissions 60% by 2025 and build more environmentally friendly homes the Mayor must refuse this development. From 2016 all new homes are required to be carbon zero whereas this development falls far short of that.”

Shahrar Ali, Green candidate for Brent Central, Steffi Gray of Brent Friends of the Earth, and other activists at the Brent Campaign Against Climate Change Meeting Photo: Jan Nevill

The campaign was strongly backed at Tuesday's meeting on Fighting Climate Change after Copenhagen. People were clear that the regeneration proposals represented a reckless disregard for issues of over-consuption, sustainability and consultation.

The Mayor and Secretary of State John Denham have until just March 12th to call in the plans for Public Inquiry.

Criteria for a Call-in.
Petition Calling for a Public Inquiry
Coalition Website