Thursday 31 October 2013

Gardiner: Councils must be allowed to build new schools

I wrote to Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North, recently, asking him to support the campaign for local authorities to be restored the right to build new schools to deal with the school places shortage.

This is his response:

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding school places and the related campaign by the NUT.

I share your concern and that of many parents, teachers and headteachers about the growing crisis in school places. Indeed, the number of primary schools with more than 800 places (so-called 'titan; schools) has trebled since 2010 and the number of infants in classes of 30 or more has doubled in the past year.

Recent figures from the National Audit Office (NAO) has also found that 256,000 new school places need to be provided by 2014/15 to meet increased demand and the Local Government Association (LGA) has also warned that 1,000 of the 2,277 local school planning districts will be  over capacity by 2015/16. Here in Brent there are currently 3.2% more children than school places which could rise to a 10.3% shortfall in 2016/17.

Providing a proper, high quality place for every child is one of the foremost duties for any Government and it is clear that responsibility for this growing crisis in school places rests squarely with the current Government.

Firstly, the Government has prioritised its Free School programme, which has often delivered new places in areas where there is not shortages. I firmly believe that in the current economic climate funding for new school places should be prioritised for areas where there is a genuine need and it cannot be right that millions of pounds have been spent opening free schools with a surplus of places.

The Government have also failed to provide a fair deal for capital spending in education, with the cut to education capital being greater than that of all other Government departments.

The Government have also refused to give Local Authorities the power to set up schools to respond to shortages. I believe that allowing local authorities this power could be a practical solution to ease the pressure on places and I know that many parents and organisations, including the NUT, are calling for urgent action to address this. I also believe it is important to look at how local communities could be given a bigger say when new schools are being created and how a local accountability framework for schools could be strengthened.

The Government should also ensure that there is a qualified teacher in every classroom.

I can assure you that I will continue to press the Government to address this growing crisis in school places and ensure that new schools are created in areas where they are most needed.

Barry Gardiner: Central Middlesex A&E closure 'devastating'

This is the exchange between Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North and Jeremy Hunt following the latter's announcement of the closure of Central Middlesex A&E in Parliament yesterday:

Barry Gardiner (Brent North, Labour)

This decision is devastating for my constituents. The Secretary of State will know that in the last winter period, Northwick Park hospital and Central Middlesex hospital, which comprise the North West London Hospitals Trust, were the worst-performing hospitals when it came to meeting A and E targets not only in London, but in the country. The trust scored 81.03%. That is an appalling record. What he has done today, by announcing the almost immediate closure of Central Middlesex, can only make that much worse. The College of Emergency Medicine has said that his reconfigured hospitals should have at least 16 consultants in their emergency departments, but his decision will give them 10—and that is not for major trauma centres. Will he elaborate on what he will do to bring the number of consultants up to the level required by the college?

Jeremy Hunt (South West Surrey, Conservative)
Has the hon. Gentleman, who is so against these proposals, not noticed the proposals for more emergency care doctors, more critical care doctors and more psychiatric liaison support for A and E departments, which will reduce pressure on A and Es and mean that people admitted through A and Es for emergency care will not have a 10% higher chance of mortality if they are admitted at weekends? His constituents will be among the first to benefit from that. I would caution him, therefore, against saying that this is devastating for his constituents. We were reminded in Prime Minister’s questions earlier of how Labour suffered from predicting massive job losses, when in fact there was an increase in jobs. This announcement is good news for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, and he should welcome it

Chalkhill: A Growing community

The day after media publicity about the health benefits of gardening it was good to spend yesterday helping out with other volunteers on the Chalkhill allotments.

We were clearing the raised beds for the new season and topping them up with compost. There were problems with growing last year because there was no water source on the allotment that runs alongside the Metropolitan railway line.

That should be resolved shortly after an agreement between Metropolitan Housing and the Well London project on Chalkhill to install a water supply.  Anyone interested in  growing healthy local food and improving their own health through the exercise involved in gardening should look out for publicity regarding bagging one of the plots.

Brent Council to separate Children's and Adult's Social Care

In March this year I spoke to the Brent Council General Purposes Committee about the proposed restructuring of departments and in particular voiced concern about  the proposal to put Children's Social Care and Adult Social Care along with Education and Health  under one Director. LINK  It would create a department where there was a risk of high profile failures regarding vulnerable adults and children. In the wake of tragedies involving the death of children and adults it was essential to have clear lines of responsibility on safeguarding.

The General Purposes Committee on November 7th will receive a report recommending separating the roles:
It was agreed that during August and September, Gatenby Sanderson (recuitment agency) would continue in their search for suitable candidates for the post of Strategic Director, Education, Health and Social Care. However, this has not proved successful. Many candidates considered the role too large and though a couple of experienced candidates were interested, we could not match their expectations in terms of salary. Director posts involving children’s social care are perceived as high risk in local government and remain the most difficult job to fill. As Ofsted’s recent Annual Report on social care indicates, there is considerable volatility in leadership and ‘one in three local authorities has had a change in their director of children’s services last year alone’. (Ofsted, 2013)

The General Purposes Committee is asked to agree to the revised structure as follows:
a. deletion of the posts of Strategic Direcor, Governance and Corporate Services and Strategic Director Education, Health and Social Care
b. deletion of the posts of Strategic Director, Adult Social Care
c. establishment of the new post of Strategic Director, Adults
d. establishment of new post of Strategic Director, Children and Young People
I welcome this move as establishing clearer and more manageable responsibilities and thus establishing a more robust safeguarding of vulnerable children and adults.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Harlesden Incinerator: A community's plea to Ealing Council

Butt: Central Middlesx A&E closure puts residents at risk

Responding to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s announcement earlier today that Central Middlesex Hospital’s Accident and Emergency department is to be closed, the Leader of Brent Council Muhammed Butt said:
Central Middlesex Hospital provides vital emergency services for some of the most vulnerable people in our borough. Mr Hunt’s reckless and politically-motivated decision to close this busy and well-used A&E unit will put chronically sick, mentally ill and elderly Brent residents at risk.

The Coalition has not produced any evidence to suggest that more out of hospital services will result in better care for local people, or to reassure residents that Northwick Park and Ealing Hospitals will be able to plug the gap it intends to create in our local health service.

Brent Council objected to the Government’s savage plan in the strongest possible terms in a submission made directly to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel on NHS service change, and I will continue to campaign against this decision.

Central Middlesex A&E closure announcement makes People's Inquiry even more important

Jeremy Hunt's announcement today that Central Middlesex Accident and Emergency ward is to be closed will come as a bitter disappointment to Brent health campaigners, particularly after the euphoria which greeted the Lewisham Hospital campaign's court victory yesterday.

Hunt's decision shows that that the Tories have absolutely no understanding of the needs of an area such as Harlesden/Stonebridge and the social and health inequalities that make an easily accessible local facility so important.

Campaigners will be considering next steps along with those fighting for Hammermith hospital but meanwhile after the announcement  it is even more  important that as many people as possible submit evidence to the People's Inquiry into the London Health Service. Details LINK and attend the local meeting of the Inquiry which will be held. Send your views using this LINK
  • Friday Nov 8: 2pm-7pm, Ealing Town Hall, New Broadway, Ealing, W5 2BY. View map:
This is the trenchant evidence to the Inquiry submitted by Harlesden resident Sarah Cox:
I am a 76 year-old retired early years teacher. I worked for more than 30 years in Brent schools and have lived for more than 40 years in Harlesden. I am also an outpatient at Central Middlesex Hospital.

As such, I was extremely concerned about the likely effect of the changes enshrined in the Shaping a Healthier Future consultation and also about the consultation itself.

I followed the consultation carefully, read the documents and attended meetings called by NHS NW London and public meetings organised by local health campaigns. Overall, the consultation was more like a public relations exercise. Its questionnaire was designed to reach a desired conclusion rather than to look at the real health needs of the vast area it covers.

I am very concerned about accountability. NHS NW London made the decision to go ahead with the changes, but went out of existence before the process of introducing them had even begun. Who will be accountable if they turn out, as many of us believe they will, to result in damaging cuts to our health services, rather than improvements?

Although I will concentrate on the likely effects of changes to the area in which I live, I believe that all the changes will have knock-on effects on neighbouring areas and I am strongly opposed to the whole package. My husband was referred from Central Middlesex Hospital where he was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer, to Charing X where he was expertly treated. The co operation between the two hospitals was exemplary. Cuts to any of the hospitals will increase the strain on the others and on the ambulance service.

I believe that the case for fewer specialist hospitals further apart has been made for stroke, heart attacks and some serious injuries and services have been developed in line with that. Ambulance crews know the best place to take such patients and expert paramedics are able to stabilise them before transporting them to the best hospital. However, I do not believe that the extrapolation to other conditions such as serious asthma attacks, is justified. The surgeons want a concentration of expensive high-tech facilities in fewer, larger hospitals. What they ignore is the vital importance to patients' recovery of being in a setting that is accessible to friends and relatives. There has been a great deal of publicity recently about poor standards of care on understaffed wards. The best insurance against inadequate care is the vigilance of patients' families.

In fact, although we are told that the plans are based on clinical evidence, they are really based on a desire to cut costs. It the plans go through, nearly 1,000 beds and 3,994 clinical jobs will go from hospitals in NW London, saving £1billion over three years. The remaining hospitals will not be able to cope, the ambulance service will not be able to cope, the 111 service is already inadequate and yet we are told that it is crucial to the success of providing alternative services in the community. 

One of the declared aims of the Shaping a Healthier Future strategy was to reduce health inequalities, but moving health provision away from the areas of greatest deprivation and lowest life expectancy, will in fact increase health inequalities.

As a resident of Harlesden Ward and having worked on the Stonebridge Estate, I am most concerned with the loss of services at Central Middlesex Hospital and the impact on the people of Harlesden, Stonebridge and the surrounding area. The Brent Joint Strategic Needs Assessment and in particular the Harlesden Locality Profile (accessible through the Brent Council website shows that Harlesden and Stonebridge wards are among the 10% of most deprived wards in the country. They have high levels of unemployment and of long term disease and disability. They also have a higher than average birth rate, and a larger than average percentage of young children and large families and higher rates of teenage pregnancy. Yet the maternity and paediatric services have been taken away.

Areas of poverty and poor housing like these have, it is widely recognised, higher levels of respiratory disease and mental health problems among other health problems. The government welfare cuts will increase these problems.

If health inequalities are to be overcome, health services should be provided where the need is greatest. If access to health services is difficult, people living in poverty and facing many other problems are less likely to seek help and relatively minor problems can become more serious.

Some of the reasons why it is wrong to close A & E departments at CMH and Ealing (these arguments apply to other hospitals in areas of deprivation):

·        A & E services are the first port of call for patients with mental illnesses and they are likely to find it harder to travel further for help.

·        When patients attend A & E, other problems e.g. cancer are often detected and can be treated before they become more serious.

·       There is no simple public transport link from the Harlesden or Stonebridge areas nor from Central Middlesex Hospital to Northwick Park and cabs are far too expensive for people dependent on benefits, so people who are taken ill or have an accident themselves or whose children are taken ill or have an accident will be forced to call an ambulance adding to the pressure on the ambulance service.

·       Transport difficulties not only affect patients, they make it hard for family and friends to visit patients. Support and care from family and friends are important for helping patients to recover. Negotiations with TfL even on the simple extension of the 18 bus route to Northwick Park Hospital have been unsuccessful, so patients and their families and friends from the area around CMH will continue to find access to Northwick Park extremely difficult.
Northwick Park is already struggling to meet targets and ambulances are being diverted back to CMH from there and from St Mary's. If all the proposed closures go through, how will Northwick Park cope with the added burden on A & E maternity, paediatric services, surgery and intensive care?

How will the ambulance service cope with the extra demand? It’s struggling already.

Has there been consultation with the Fire Service about the effect of the proposed changes? 
Schools were not consulted by the Shaping a Healthier Future team, yet during the school day, thousands of children become their responsibility and if any are taken seriously ill or have accidents, school staff will have to go with them to an A & E department further away.  

Out of hospital care

Of course it is always best to keep people out of hospital if appropriate alternative care and treatment can be provided in the community and of course we need more preventive services. We are promised all sorts of out of hospital care to take the place of the lost hospital services, but will the resources really be there? There is already a shortage of trained, skilled community health workers, health visitors, midwives and specialist nurses as well as GPs. Will the CCGs really be able to train and pay for those we need when they are facing constant budget cuts? Successful treatment and care for patients out of hospital demands integration with decent social care services, but the swingeing cuts to Local Authority budgets mean that social care services are at best barely adequate and unlikely to aid recovery and recuperation for patients who have been treated out of hospital or discharged early from hospital.

Getting information about the CCG’s commissioning decisions before they are made is extremely difficult. There are massive documents with quantities of acronymic alphabet soup and a hierarchy of meetings, some useful, most completely opaque to the interested patient or campaigner and suddenly, before you know it, another service has been outsourced and privatised.

However often we are assured that the changes to the NHS are clinically driven, it seems clear that the real drivers are financial the transformation of the NHS into a cash cow for the private sector so that even if it remains free at the point of use for patients, it will be run for profit.

Sarah Cox

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Forced academies: Victory and victims

Parents at Snaresbrook Primary in the London Borough of Redbridge were celebrating tonight after the Department for Education decided not to intervene in their school.  After being judged 'Inadequate' and put in Special Measures the school faced being forced to become an academy, a fate that has befallen Salusbury Primary School in Brent and is being challenged by parent campaigners at Gladstone Park Primary.

Unlike Salusbury and Gladstone Park, Snaresbrook and its parents had been strongly backed by Redbridge Council.

A DfE spokesperson said:
Our policy remains unchanged - we cannot stand by when a school is judged inadequate and believe that becoming an academy with the support of a strong sponsor is the best way to ensure rapid and sustained improvement.

Snaresbrook Primary School does not have a history of underperformance and has made significant progress after being judged to require special measures by Ofsted in June. We therefore do not plan to intervene to convert Snaresbrook to an academy.

However, being judged inadequate by Ofsted is extremely serious and we will continue to monitor the school’s progress in coming out of special measures.
Gladstone Park Primary too did not have a history of under performance and previously had a 'Good' Ofsted rating. Its results are still above the national average at Key Stage 1 and Key stage 2.  However despite passionate requests from parents Brent Council did not get behind their campaign or make strong representations to the DfE. Governors are currently consulting on an academy sponsor.

Meanwhile Roke Primary School (now Harris Primary Academy) parents are facing the consequences of the Croydon school being taken over by the Harris Academy chain in September.

Inside Croydon LINK reports than 1 to 1 SEN support has been removed in a move that some parents interpret as an attempt to reduce the number of SEN pupils in the school.  Children and parents were in tears after the news.

In a further move showing disregard for parents and pupils, the management  closed the Bourne Children’s Centre, which ran toddler and parents’ groups.  The building into a storeroom, causing a marked decrease in provision of service for families with children at the school.

Parents also accuse the academy managers of manipulating pupils attainment data in order to create the impression that the new academy is out-performing expectations. Parents report that pupils previously said to be exceeding levels in face to face meetings with teachers are now categorised as below expectations, enabling the school to claim vast improvement at the end of the year.

Inside Croydon reports:
Harris has provided each child with targets for the next half term, yet many parents said these had already been achieved in the last academic year when the school was still Roke Primary. The headteacher sent a letter telling parents that “previous levels you have been given may vary slightly to the levels recorded on this report”.
A spokeswoman for the Roke parents’ group told Inside Croydon:
We predict that results will now show remarkable improvement during the first year of the Harris academy and be used as a false benchmark of their success in turning our school around, as well as legitimising contentious forced academy policy.

Academy status and the new management have had to apologise for mistakes in homework which appeared to be cut and pasted from American websites and for unzipping 5 year old girls' dresses to check that what they wore beneath met the new school uniform requirements.

The Snaresbrook victory, along with the news from Lewisham, should reinforce campaigners' determination to fight for our public services. Let's hope Brent Labour will get behind them.

Kalwala and Butler first to be nominated for Brent Central

Tokyngton became the first ward to nominate for the Brent Central Labour Parliamentary candidate tonight. Outsider Cllr Zaffar van Kalwala who has worked on a gang strategy for the borough and has a following in Stonebridge is the male nominee. He is also currently active in the Harlesden Incinerator campaign. He beat heavyweight candidates such as Tony McNulty rhe former MP.

After the nomination Zaffar tweeted:
Delighted and honoured to be nominated by Tokyngton ward for Brent Central. Thank you to all my friends and family for their support
 The female nominee was Dawn Butler, the former MP for Brent South. She tweeted:
Thank you Tokyngton for an amazing nomination. I am honoured.
With 30 or so candidates the race is still fairly open but with only three female candidates Dawn Butler is likely to figure again in the lists. The 9 Brent Central wards out of the boroughs 21 wards will make nominations. See comment below for further details on the process.. 

10.30am Saturday to Stop the Harlesden Incinerator

A message from the Harlesden Incinerator Campaign


The Site visit is at 10.30am this Saturday 2 November

PLEASE JOIN US at the site in Channel Gate Road NW10

FROM 10am ONWARDS to be ready to greet the Ealing councillors

Please bring your Banners and Placards –

A BROLLY, and a huge amount of POSITIVE SPIRIT

That means HOPE by the way NOT GIN!!!



Now it’s down to each and every person to contact all their friends and neighbours

We need at least 500 people there on Saturday

then they will see how much people DO CARE

Don’t let a bit of rain keep you away, we need everyone to be there!

Don’t forget we will never have this CHANCE again !

Thanks Ian

Many thanks for all your support!

 @NOincineratorNO  and on Twitter.

Met accused of 'spying' on Green Party councillor

The Metropolitan Police have been accused of ‘spying’ on a Green Party councillor in Kent.

The accusations follow a Freedom of Information request revealing 22 police records relating to the Councillor Ian Driver’s activities as a campaigner in his local area

The majority of entries relate to Driver’s role as an organiser of a campaign protesting against the export of live animals from Ramsgate and Dover ports. One record notes a meeting in support of equal marriage organised by Councillor Driver.

The records released to Driver by the Metropolitan Police after he submitted a Data Protection Subject Access Request include 22 database entries covering the period June 2011 until June 2013.

Keith Taylor, Green Party Member of the European Parliament for the South East, will write to the Metropolitan Police insisting they delete the records.

Mr Taylor said:
It beggars belief that the Metropolitan Police have been recording the lawful activities of an elected councillor working in his community. Surely police officers have better ways to spend their time.
This revelation follows the folly of the Metropolitan Police’s long-running obsession with keeping tabs on environmental activists. All too often they are wasting taxpayers money.
There’s no doubt that the Metropolitan Police should remove these records of Ian Driver from their database.
Councillor Ian Driver said
A friend advised me to submit a data access request after I told him about how the police were taking photos and car number plates of everyone attending anti-live animal exports demonstrations. When I got the results back, I was flabbergasted. There was a page and half of database entries taken from what I believe is commonly known as the “Domestic Extremism Data Base” which is held by the Metropolitan Police.
All of the activities I have engaged in during the campaign against live animal exports from Ramsgate and Dover have been perfectly legal and above board. I simply can’t believe that hard pressed Police forces would waste time and money spying on me simply because I have exercised my democratic rights to peacefully protest and speak out against a brutal and barbaric trade.
I was amazed to note that one of the records mentions a meeting I organised in support of Equal Marriage at Margate in 2012. This is something which the Prime Minster, the Deputy Minister and Leader of the Opposition of this country all support, but for reasons unknown to me the Police decided that my act of organising this meeting should be recorded in a database used for spying on extremists and subversives. You couldn’t make this nonsense up

Victory for Lewisham Hospital campaigners

From Huffington Post LINK

The Court of Appeal ruled today that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt did not have the power to implement cuts at Lewisham Hospital in south east London.

Three judges announced their decision on the second day of a hearing in London.

Supporters of the highly-regarded hospital cheered when Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls, sitting with Lord Justice Sullivan and Lord Justice Underhill, gave their decision in an appeal brought by the Government over a High Court judge's ruling in July.

Mr Justice Silber had then ruled that Mr Hunt's move to downgrade A& E and maternity services was "unlawful".

Rosa Curling from law firm Leigh Day, who represented the Save Lewisham Hospital Group said: "We are absolutely delighted with the Court of Appeal's decision today. It confirms what the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign has been arguing from the start - that the Secretary of State did not have the legal power to close and downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital.

"This expensive waste of time for the Government should serve as a wake up call that they cannot ride roughshod over the needs of the people

Monday 28 October 2013

Make London a 'Fracking Free Zone'

Brent Friends of the Earth's protest against fracking outside Willesden Green station garnered support from many residents who were opposed to the environment damaging process. Brent Council didn't quite get the purpose of the protest, stating deadpan that there were no plans to frack in Willesden Green and that clay was an unsuitable fracking medium.

The campaign is aimed at increasing awareness of the issue and getting politicians across London, councillors, Assembly members and MPs,  to commit themselves to oppose fracking.  Campaigners heard that one local councillor had received 50 emails on the day that the protest had been announced.

Despite the Council's statement, there are fracking possibilities nearby: Barnet Friends of the Earth are campaigning about a possible site in Edgware. The process uses huge amounts of water and areas of high population need all the water they can get. They also need clean water and fracking threatens to contaminate our supplies. The water table does not stop at borough borders.

The campaign is reminiscent of the Nuclear Free Zones that local authorities adopted a few years ago. The Council and other London boroughs could make a political and environmental stand by declaring Brent a 'Fracking Free Zone'.

One landmark tree lost in otherwise little damaged Fryent Country Park

Although the Barn Hill trees I mentioned in my previous post survived this morning's storm unscathed, there was a major casualty across Fryent Way on Gotsford Hill. Two hybrid Italian black poplars have long been a landmark on top of the hill, but alas only one remains.

The trees bent away from each other and were given the nickname 'the quarrelsome trees' or 'unfriendly trees' because they resembled children who'd had an argument and turned their backs on each other.

It was a strange sensation as walking across the fields I realised something was missing from the landscape. The fallen tree was like some great stricken animal, a sensation helped by its rough creviced bark that resembled an aged elephant's skin.

A passerby walking with his wife and daughter remarked, 'We'll have to call it the lonely tree in future.'

The breaking point
The fallen tree

The 'Quarrelsome trees' on the horizon last winter
The Lombardy sycamore avenue on Barn Hill was barely touched except for the loss of a few small branches and continues to rise above the oaks of Barn Hill.

Some oaks were damaged losing huge branches heavy with leaves and acorns, but I saw no uprooted oak trees.

The willows were buffered by the gales but only lost small branches. If gathered up and planted these will root themselves.

Some of the trees that seemed ripe to fall remain standing. This tree on Hell Lane/Eldestrete has been leaning at a dizzy angle for some time - and continues to do so.

Sunday 27 October 2013

On Designer Outlets and Food Banks

Labour leader of Brent Council, Muhammed Butt, has been tweeting enthusiastically about the opening of the London Design Outlet (LDO) in the Quintain development next to Wembley Stadium. Equally enthusiastic, if not ecstatic, has been the news editor of one of our local newspapers.

Now I don't want to rain on their parade but a visit yesterday left me with very mixed feelings. You will have seen in my review of the film Project Wild Thing that I share concerns about children's early induction into consumerism and children were very evident at the LDO. A campaign against advertising aimed at primary age children and younger has received support from the Green Party. LINK

As an eco-socialist I recognise that the modern variation of capitalism relies on creating desires and wants, rather than simply fulfilling needs. John  Naish in 'Enough-Breaking free from the word of more' (2208) writes that the evolutionary human tendency, which began in the stone age, to make things for aesthetic as well as practical reasons...
...has been craftily subverted: we are encouraged to believe that we can acquire chunks of mate-pulling mojo by waving  credit card as impressively branded mass-produced items. It's a crying shame that the mojo seems to wear off so quickly. But that's what keeps our wasteful system whirring around - there's always an improved, more impressive modern hand-axe substitute waiting to drop off the production line as soon as you've paid for yours. This also helps to explain our culture's current obsession with having everything fashionable and new, rather than items that are substantially constructed to last for donkey's years.
This can be seen especially with mobile phones and computers. Some firms now offer automatic updates to the latest model as part of the deal.

Naomi Klein's 'No Logo' made a terrific impact as it revealed the strategy behind brands, logos and designer labels. Aimed at creating demand in the youth market and promoting the label rather than the product the strategy  can be seen at work in the London Designer Outlet'.

When there are calls for economic growth this often refers to precisely this form of consumption. As the UK  produces very little itself the 'growth' is in selling imported items to each other. As a Green I am in favour of economic 'development' which involves restructuring the economy in fundamental ways, rather than just the growth of the service sector.

Producing more 'stuff' depletes the planet's resources and accelerates climate change through increased carbon emissions

But what relevance has the LDO for the large number of Brent residents who are having to choose between paying the rent or feeding their children,  where even a £5 overspend can be a major problem? What relevance for the increasing number of families having to use food banks?

What impact will all those designer goods dangled in front of their eyes have on children and teenagers wanting to keep up with their trendiest mates? How many parents will go to the money lenders that Brent Council is trying to discourage to answer their children's demands, getting into greater debt in the process?

We want to see investment in green jobs that would retrofit our housing to make it energy efficient, investment in public transport infrastructure that would reduce car use, development of green and alternative technologies to carbon-based ones, and the building of affordable social housing.

Brent Green Party put forward the idea of a green industrial zone in its response to the Wembley Plan. This would involve encouraging green industries in the area at  reduced rents and business rates, linked with apprenticeships and training opportunities at the College of North West London.  Real jobs and real skills would result rather than the zero hour contracts that are too often the norm in the retail industry.

What has happened to the affordable housing and social infrastructure (schools, health centres) that Quintain were supposed to build as part of the Wembley regeneration? 

Muhammed Butt will argue that local people wanted improved shopping, that big brands have confidence in the strategy, that the LDO will bring in customers from across the region and will encourage fans attending the Arena and Stadium to stay and spend in the area,  that the LDO provides new jobs, that it is all part of the transformation of Wembley.

Even on its own terms the strategy is a risk as it is by no means clear that shoppers will travel to Wembley rather than other big shopping centres, or that in a period of austerity enough people will buy the goods if they do come. On Saturday few bulging carrier bags were in evidence and most people were just looking out of curiosity.

Time will tell.

Will tonight's storm change Barn Hill's landscape

We have grown used to weather forecasts becoming increasingly scaremongering but if the storm forecast for Sunday night/Monday morning is as severe as feared, and its trajectory hits London, we could see substantial damage to one of Brent's greatest assets.

Barn Hill in Wembley Park, the remains of  Humphry Repton's Wembley Park Estate planted for Richard Page in 1792, contains many fine trees.  It lost a fair number of trees in the storm of 1987.

This weekend many of the trees are still in full leaf which increases the 'sail effect' when high winds hit. Isolated trees are particularly vulnerable as the full impact of the wind hits them.

I went out this morning in the Autumn  sunshine to record several of the trees in case they become victims of the storm.

This pair are just about surviving at the summit of Barn Hill despite having been hollowed out by insects, woodpeckers and latterly, ring-necked parakeets. They may be saved by the lack of leaves and the fact that they have lost many of their branches already.

The avenue of Lombardy poplars which runs from close to the roundabout at Fryent Way to the pond on top of Barn Hill has looked vulnerable for some time. Planted in 1935, according to some accounts to celebrate the jubilee of King George V, they are out of keeping with the traditional English planing and so unpopular with some. However they are a local land mark, rising as they do above the other woodland, and form a crest that can be seen from miles away. Some have been lost already and others have many dead branches/

This 'lone Lombardy' was one of a pair on what local children called 'The Island'  on the lower slope of Barn Hill. Its companion fell in Spring 2012 and gave the children lots of climbing fun before it was eventually sawn up by parks' staff. It and another nearby on its own 'island' are exposed and still in full leaf and therefore vulnerable to high winds. They were already getting quite a battering this morning.

All this is of course part of a natural cycle and fallen trees provide habitats for insects and small mammals, and thus food for birds and predators.  They also provide space for new growth.

Saturday 26 October 2013

Would you choose a school recommended by this man?

The message from Michael Gove above appears on the website of the Kings Science Academy, captured by me today in case it disappears.

The Independent today carries a story that Michael Gove has been accused of covering up allegations of £80,000's worth of financial irregularities at the school.

Michael Gove is a great fan of Katharine Birbalsingh who is presently touting for custom for her Michaela Academy Free School which is due to open in an old College of North West London buiilding next to the railway line at Wembley Park next year.

Rumour has it that she is having difficulty in recruiting pupils.

Action on 'colour bar' estate agents

On top of the 266 bus returning from the Harlesden Incinerator protest I spotted a Brent Housing Action picket outside the National Estate Agents. The protesters were drawing attention to the discriminatory practices of the lettings agency revealed by the BBC.  The picket was supported by Kingsley Abrams, Unite executive member, and one of those competing for the Brent Central Labour nomination today.

The office remained closed and barred.

Pickets are set to continue and an official complaint about the racial discrimination is to be made to the police.

Stay in touch with the campaign on Facebook LINK

Harlesden Incinerator: Residents ready for Round 2 of battle for clean air

If Clean Power and Ealing Council thought local residents would forget about the plans for an incinerator at Willesden Junction on the borders of Harlesden and Park Royal, this morning's demonstration should give them pause for thought.Cllr Zaffar van Kalwala and Cllr Claudia Hectors joined residents, cancer patients and environmental protesters to give notice that they were up for a fight to defeat the plans.

It is hoped that 500 people will turn up to line Channel Gate Road next Saturday, November 2nd at 10am  the morning when the Ealing Planning Committee pays a 10.30am site visit.  A huge turnout is needed for the Planning Committee meeting itself on November 6th. Details on this blog when available or follow @NOincineratorNO  and on Twitter.

Friday 25 October 2013

Labour's Brent Central battle begins in earnest this weekend

 available HERE

This weekend the Stonebridge Hub sees the first stage of Labour's selection of its candidate for Brent Central which aims to produce a shortlist which includes male, female and BME candidates. From his campaign blog photograph (above) it appears that Sundar Thava is armed with rather more than just arguments while Imran Ahmed may not have exactly chosen the people to win the Labour Party's rank and file's hearts and minds. He has published a 'Labour Doorstep' photograph on his blog showing him campaigning with James Powney and Lesley Jones.

So far males far outnumber females in the names I have been given but my list is not yet complete. Readers are invited to send in any additions or corrections. Dawn Butler, with only two other women in the race according to my information, is likely to make the shortlist.

Adeniran Abebaya*
Adel Abouharb*
Kingsley Abrams
Imran Ahmed
Femi Alese
Liaquat Ali
Sitarah Anjum*
Tony Breslin*
Mike Buckley
Dawn Butler
Bernard Collier*
Parmijit Dhanda
Dr Patrick French
Vikram Grewal*
Zaffar van Kalwala
Naheeratha Kano
Mike Katz
Sabina Khan
Khevyn Limbarajee*
Ramon Madharon*
Dan McCurry
Paukl McGeary*
Tony McNulty
James Mills*
Steve Mitchell*
Hanif Mohammad-Abbas *
Rodwan Mohammed*
Martin Morris*
Maddy Raman
Prem Sharma*
Inder Singh-Nijhar
Teidy Singh*
Dr Sundar Thava
Bobby Thomas
Patrick Vernon

* added by readers

Greens should get behind Project Wild Thing

This evening, along with other members of LEEF I viewed the film Project Wild Thing that was released today. The film sets out to do for children enjoying nature and the outdoors, what Jamie Oliver did for healthy school meals.

David Bond, concerned that his children are glued to their screens and seldom venture out of the house and the impact that this will have on their future health, decides to market 'nature' in the same way that big corporations market their consumer products.

Getting past this initial irony it soon becomes apparent, despite free advertising space and marketing help, that he cannot possibly hope to match the spending of multimillion multinationals. He sets off on a sticker campaign, slapping a 'WARNING: Material goods may make you fat and depressed' on consumer posters. At Speakers' Corner, heckled by a socialist speaker about the irrelevance of what he is saying to the fight against capitalism, he retorts, getting kids outside and outdoors is one of the best ways of avoiding capitalism.

A range of experts including Susan Greenfield, George Monbiot, Chris Packham and Chris Rose give their views; the latter arguing that it is not enough to take kids out to nature: you have to enable them to engage with it.

There are several poignant moments. In one a 10 year old boy takes Bond to the only tiny patch of green grass on his estate, and to the site of another larger patch which is now being built on. He says that if you play ball games where there they are forbidden 'you will get an ASBO'.

Visit the island of Eigg he finds that children there are still influenced by advertising and fixated on the screen, but the difference is that outside play is much more accessible. One Eigg Primary School school child remarks that with outdoor play 'the risk is part of the fun'.

However 'risk' , or rather adult fear of risk, seems from the interviews with adults to be the main reason why children aren't allowed out. Apart from the usual 'stranger danger' fear of cars and traffic is the main reason chidlren are kept in.  As Anna Porch from LEEF said in the discussion 'the freedom that cars have givenm to adults has been taken from their kids'.

The film is well worth seeing but most usefully used as  a discussion starting point in community organisations, parent evenings at school, or campaign meetings. The Wild Network LINK of organisations supporting the campaign have issued the following manifesto:

The Wild Network exists to champion and support connection with nature and wildness in children and young people.
The Wild Network mission is to support children, parents and guardians of children to roam free, play wild and connect with nature.
We believe all children should have the right to access the outdoors for play, learning, expression and development of healthy mind and body.
We encourage, provoke, nudge, support, innovate and campaign for children, kids and young folk to get up and outside.
  • To wander freely
  • To look up and around
  • To find wonder, awe and empathy in all life
  • To nurture, steward and protect
  • To run, jump, climb, crawl and explore the world on our doorsteps
  • To seek imagination in wildness
  • To find inventiveness in the woods.
  • To grow happy healthy minds and bodies.
  • To find comfort in solitude.
  • To become truly connected.
 Roam Free. Play Wild

You can sign up to the manifesto as an organisation or an individual on the website.

Harlesden Incinerator: Open letter to Ealing Council leader

Guest post by Mark Walker

Open letter to Julian Bell, leader, Ealing Council

Mr Julian Bell
Ealing Council
Town Hall
New Broadway
Ealing W5 2BY

Dear Mr. Bell

I am writing to ask that you take account of the serious health and pollution risks to the North Acton ‘island triangle’ community from Clean Power Properties Ltd’s proposed energy recovery plant and withdraw your council’s consideration of it.

As you will know, Clean Power plans a combined anaerobic digestion (AD) & advanced conversion technology (ACT) plant at the Willesden Freight Terminal, which facility would handle 198,000 tonnes of commercial & industrial waste annually. Food waste in tanks will be turned via AD into biogas while the ACT process chars non-food waste also to produce gas which is likewise burned for energy.

The plant is wholly unsuitable for our residential area of 200 homes as it will generate low level gases like sulphur dioxide and benzene for many years. Your council’s own environmental health department advised in August that the application be rejected since the developer cannot prove that it will not harm the local community.

It’s well-known that AD plants cause pollution, as DEFRA itself admits in its recent research. ACT plants have never been successful operated within communities and those in construction are large scale and well away from people’s homes. Some of ACT’s pressurised autoclaving operations carry particular risks, as the fatality at the Sterecycle plant in 2011 and subsequent collapse of the operating company has tragically shown. These are not technologies to be located next to local families’ homes.

Clean Power’s waste site will be fed by an average of 67 lorries every day, using the narrow Channel Gate Road, passing only 3-4 metres from local people’s small Victorian houses. Residents have for years been troubled by day and night noise, vibration and lorry pollution from the freight yard’s operations. Approving this proposal would lock local families into 16-hours-a-day vehicle pollution for a generation.

The North Acton community has already been plagued by odours of rubbish from the Powerday materials recovery site on the other side of Old Oak Lane - for almost a decade. Local people know, far better than your planners or an offshore developer’s paid advisers, the stupidity of siting waste plants by people’s homes – where the quality of life is frequently spoiled by simple (to an outsider) matters like a lorry that isn’t cleaned or a containment building not being correctly sealed during a shift.  Powerday’s operations have generated over 300 telephone complaints to the Environment Agency in the last three years alone. For Clean Power to now propose another waste plant - only 300 metres away from an existing one - is highly inappropriate, as East Acton ward local councillors and our local Ealing MP Angie Bray have stated already. The Powerday experience shows beyond any doubt that where waste sites are located in the midst of residential areas, unpleasant odours and other polluting impacts cannot be mitigated by planning conditions or environmental regulations.

You more than anyone will also be aware of this application’s non-compliance with the West London Waste Plan, the ongoing strategy for the area’s waste processing that comes under your direct remit. The WLWP has identified possible waste sites but Clean Power’s chosen site never made the study’s shortlist.  This application is thus based on a discredited site and goes against your own council’s three-year investment in strategic waste options, consultations and expert conclusions.

Clean Power talks repeatedly of its clean, green technologies but offered the planning committee no evidence whatsoever of safely working sites among residential areas, in Britain or anywhere else.  Your members’ bemusement at the lack of any plant performance data or site approvals from the developer was plain to see.

TITRA residents’ group has repeatedly asked your planning officers for Clean Power site certificates or fact-finding site visits and received nothing – not one sheet of paper or one working waste site address. What person, still less a responsible London borough, would buy goods from a tradesman without industry approvals and proper references?  Clean Power appears to be a salesman without any proper goods, let alone any satisfied customers.

Your council’s approval of this ill-advised energy recovery plant would be to condemn local people to a risky experiment in ‘green’ energy that will harm residents’ health and degrade the area with polluting activity. The pragmatic option would be to site a waste processing plant on an industrial estate next to food producers and other manufacturers’ operations – not in the middle of an existing residential area.

I urge you to seek safer and more practical alternatives to Clean Power’s unproven waste processing technologies. Approval of this high risk development would be a disaster for the already-blighted North Acton triangle. And it would demonstrate beyond doubt that you and your council have abandoned our community and your own principles of giving people a decent hearing and looking after their well-being.

Yours sincerely
Mark Walker

Member of Island Triangle Residents’ Association committee
North Acton
London NW10

Call for action on air pollution at local, national and European level

A Green member of the European Parliament has called for increased urgency in the fight for clean air after the World Health Organization (WHO) labelled polluted air as carcinogenic.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the WHO, pointed to data confirming that 223,000 deaths from lung cancer worldwide in 2010 resulted from air pollution. [1]

Air pollution, which is primarily caused by emissions from vehicles, has already been linked to other lung problems as well as heart failure and premature death. In the UK alone 29,000 people every year die because of air pollution. [2]

Despite air pollution’s impact on people’s health the UK Government has been accused of trying to water down European laws which could reduce the levels of the noxious fumes in the air. [3]

Keith Taylor, the Green Party’s MEP for the South East of England and a leading campaigner for clean air, said:
The evidence from the WHO suggests that the risk from air pollution is similar to that from second hand tobacco smoke. Surely then we should expect controls on air pollution from transport similar in strength to those brought in to protect the public from passive smoking. With this new evidence being published it's clear that failing to act on the air pollution problem would be utterly unforgivable. 
Try as it might the UK Government can no longer pretend that the air pollution problem can be ignored, not when the World Health Organisation classify it as a group 1 carcinogen.
It’s time for the EU to adopt stronger air pollution laws that fall in line with World Health Organization guidelines and it’s time the UK Government works on behalf of the health of its citizens and stops trying to undermine this vital legislative programme.
I'll continue to campaign for clean air across and fight against any moves to weaken vital air pollution laws.
Neasden, North Circular Road and Park Royal are areas of Brent which already suffer from air pollution problems and this will be exacerbated by proposals such as the Harlesden Incinerator. Brent Green Party wants to see action at national, London and borough level to tackle the issue.  We believe that within the council a joint approach through the environment and public health departments, supported by transportation and planning, could result in an effective medium and long term solution to the problem.

1)     “Air pollution is a leading cause of cancer”-
2)     Government report on deaths in UK linked to air pollution:
3)     Blog post by Keith Taylor (with links to government proposals to weaken air pollution laws):