Wednesday 31 August 2016

Palestine Trauma Centre fundraiser: Music to ‘Create Joy Amongst the Debris’ October 1st

Tickets should be booked in advance by e-mailing

Brent Friends of Palestine continue to raise funds for an imaginative play project run by the Palestine Trauma Centre.  The opportunity to do something positive for children in Gaza has captured our imagination.

Children's story teller.  The banner shows Brent Friends of Palestine amongst the sponsors
 Life in Gaza continues to be extremely grim for the population.  Rebuilding of houses, schools and work places destroyed in the attacks on Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014, has not occurred. Promised aid has not been delivered.  Israel controls all the crossing points and prohibits imports of key building materials and equipment.  Electricity and water infrastructure has been badly damaged and supplies are increasingly scarce.  There is no movement of people between the Palestinian West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  Food production is very limited.

The UN Secretary-General has found that the blockade and related restrictions contravene international humanitarian law as they target and impose hardship on the civilian population, effectively penalizing them for acts they have not committed. All this has considerable impact on the long term physical and mental well- being of children in Gaza and the West Bank.

Two major international events this summer have highlighted obstacles faced by Palestinians wanting to travel outside Gaza. This year a team of 6 athletes went to the Rio Olympics despite the enormous difficulties of training in Palestine. For example, Mary Al-Atrash, a swimmer has had to train in a half sized pool despite there being several Olympic sized pools in Israel. The head of the Palestinian team, Issam Qishta, was not given a permit to leave Gaza and so the team had to leave without their leader. Also those who went had to buy their kit once they reached Brazil.

In July the 80 strong Palestinian Youth Orchestra toured Britain giving concerts in several British cities including London.  Again, two members of the orchestra living in Gaza were not allowed to leave.

The Palestine Trauma Centre provides therapeutic support to families and children whose lives have been devastated by the bombings and the harshness of life in Gaza.  It was founded by a clinical psychologist from Gaza.

The Centre aims to do both reparative and preventative work with children and families. One aspect of this work is the Fridays of Joy sessions when teams of play workers, story tellers, clowns and play therapists visit villages and refugee camps in Gaza and run imaginative sessions which involve hundreds of children, giving them some fun, which is, in itself, therapeutic, and on a regular basis can have a long term benefits for the children. One of their slogans is ‘Create Joy Amongst the Debris.

Brent Friends of Palestine are holding a fund raising concert in Central London on Saturday October 1st with singer-songwriters Frankie Armstrong, Janet Russell, Leon Rosselson, Palestinian oud player and singer Nizza al-Issa and professional violinist Simon Hewitt Jones. Simon travels to Palestine to work with young violinists in Ramallah. The MC will be Ian Saville, socialist conjuror, just returned from the Edinburgh Festival.

More information can be found at Brent Friends of Palestine on Facebook

50's to 80's Pop, Rock & Soul fundrasier on Sunday - Preston Library

Tuesday 30 August 2016

UPDATE: Brent's pothole and pavement repairs under scrutiny tonight

I get a lot of emails from residents about the state of Brent's potholes and pavements often with accompanying photographs.  I am sure local councillors also get loads of complaints with residents baffled about how works are prioritised and why their streets appear to be treated differently than those a few metres away.

Concrete block paving at a corner in Mallard Way, Kingsbury - also used for dropped crossings

Brent's decision to lay asphalt rather than paving stones, when resurfacing the pavement in a whole street, has already raised ire in some residents LINK Although it was announced some time ago it is only when it happens outside your front door that it really hits home.

The Council argue that asphalt is 'more flexible than slabs and less likely to crack' but at the same time drop crossings (to drive ways) are to paved with block paving on the basis that these are more resilient and  durable. It seems to some that cars are getting better treatment than pedestrians - and surely block paving is more labour intensive and this expensive?

The patching of potholes by Conways the contractor when they reach a certain depth, while others nearby are ignored although the lorry has all the gear and labour available to fill them, has been the subject of several emails. Commonsense seems to indicate that it is more efficient to do it there and then rather than wait for it to deteriorate further until it reaches the required depth.

Apparent DIY work in Shaftesbury Avenue

The report to be considered by the Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee  on September 6th goes into all this in great detail LINKand I have to warn you, it is not an easy read.

The report states:
There needs to be a balance between reactive repairs (e.g. repairing potholes) which are required to keep the highway safe, and planned works which are needed to preserve and extend the life of the road or pavement. Reactive maintenance is inherently inefficient and more expensive than planned maintenance and so, whilst there will always be a need for it, ideally the amount carried out should be minimised.
The reactive repair of pavements amounts to patching with tarmac and there are some dreadful examples around the borough which are both ugly and still not safe.  Other dangerous pavements have been left for some time without any repair - an example of minimising work?
Raised pavement trip hazard outside Wembley Park Station

Smashed pavement in King's Drive, Wembley - caused by heavy lorry during building work
A botched and still dangerous repair - also in King's Drive also caused by a heavy lorry
This is Brent's system as described by an officer from the Highways and Infrastructure Service:
We have a prioritisation system in place for conducting repair works on damaged pavements in our network within the limited budget and resources available to us, which is briefly described as follows: Once pavement defects are identified, either through our regular inspections across all our network or by receiving reports from members of the public, we allocate defects into five categories by using a risk assessment exercise which takes into account the severity of the defects as well as their potential impacts on the pedestrians. For the very high priority category the temporary and permanent repair works are usually conducted within a few hours, whilst for lower level categories the permanent repair works can take between 24 hours to 28 days. For the lowest level category of defects usually no repair works are undertaken
Comment received from Paul Lorber with this picture:

A photo highlights this better than words. In many places the inadequacy of crossovers and the Council's failure to take action when owners demolish walls and clearly drive and damage pavements is the main problem.

Often, with ever bigger and heavier cars the crossovers and not ride enough and cheap & weak slabs crack when driven over.

Inevitably the much heavier cars and 4x4s are driven over the pavements destroying them. The photo shows just one of many examples in Station Approach Sudbury.

The Council should carry systematic inspections and take action to require owners to pay for strengthened crossovers and nearby pavements if they want to be allowed to access their front garden parking areas.

At present with the Council refusing to act we are left with damaged pavements left often in dangerous condition for months and with the local taxpayers paying for the damage.

Paul Lorber

Appeal to stop deportation of 77 year old Parkinson's disease sufferer

Appeal from M. Nadeem to support his petition LINK

My father, Hakeen Muhammad Haleem, is a frail ailing 77 year old. He has been staying with me and my family, at our expense, since 2010. He is a widower with a number of serious health issues who needs around the clock care.  Now, because he is a Pakistani citizen, the Home Office are trying to deport him -- even though it would mean he would live completely alone with nobody to care for him.

My father has suffered from vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease, heart problems, angina, diabetes, vision limited to one eye, and of very poor quality, and has in the past had a stroke. There is no one to care for him except myself and my wife.

I am appealing to you that my father is suffering severely physically and severely mentally impaired.
I have repeatedly assured the Home Office that I and my wife will take full financial responsibility for my father’s welfare and that we have no desire or intention to claim benefits on his behalf. We only wish to be allowed to care for our father and provide a safe and loving home for him with us for his remaining years.

The present immigration rule on adult dependent relatives introduced in 2012[1] makes it almost impossible for British citizens to bring their elderly parents to live with them in the UK in their declining years. Despite these rules earlier this year 92 year old Myrtle Cothill from South Africa who was given permission to stay in the UK after more than 150,000 people signed a petition protesting against a deportation order. 

My father was born a British subject, as were his parents, surely the Home Office can extend the compassion it has showed Mrs Cothill to my father in his time of need?

We call on the Home Office and the Government to:

1)   Grant Haleem leave to remain in the UK to live out what days he has left under the care of his son and daughter in law;
2)   Reverse the amendment of the immigration rule on adult dependant relatives which came into force in July 2012 radically changing the previous rule (which was in place for over 40yrs) which allowed British nationals and other settled persons (i.e. persons with indefinite leave to remain) to be joined by their parents/grandparents aged over 65yrs if they could be accommodated and financially supported by their children/grandchildren without reliance on the public purse.
3)   Reinstate the previous immigration rule on family reunion to enable others like Haleem to be granted leave to remain in the UK.

Footnote [1] The new immigration rule only allows British citizens, and other (non-EU) settled persons, to be joined by relatives where the long-term care they require is either not available or not affordable in their country of residence, but privately payable by them in the UK – this means that the only family members who will be allowed to join their families in the UK will be those who live in countries where medical care is more expensive than in the UK or entirely non-existent.

NAHT's 'broad and balanced' curriculum policy welcome and timely

There has been much concern about the narrowing of the school curriculum as a result of high stakes testing so the 'Broad and balanced curriculum statement' recently adopted by the  the National Association of Headteachers Executive is very welcome and timely.

There are similarities with the Green Party's curriculum policy and the commitment to high quality PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) is particularly welcome, as is the the declaration that the curriculum should not be 'distorted or restricted by external pressures of teaching and accountability.'

A broad and balanced curriculum
NAHT policy position for England and Northern Ireland
NAHT is working to ensure that the curriculum supports the learning, progress and success of all pupils and is not distorted or restricted by external pressures of testing and accountability.
NAHT supports the principle that a broad and balanced curriculum promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils and prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.
In experiencing a broad and balanced curriculum all pupils should be given opportunities to:
    Develop their skills in English, Maths and Science;
    Develop their knowledge and understanding of the world we live in, the environment, different religions and cultures, a foreign language, technology, computing, music and the creative arts;
    Participate in sport and physical activity;
    Engage in high quality PSHE;
    Develop positive character traits including resilience, communication, teamwork, problem solving and empathy;
    Develop positive attributes including high self-esteem, positive emotional and mental health, tolerance, managing risk, respect and ambition. Such a broad and balanced curriculum should:
    Encourage high aspirations and expectations for all;
    Enable pupils to become successful, lifelong, autonomous learners and responsible citizens;
    Be motivational and engage pupils in both the process and the content of learning;
    Promote an enquiring and creative approach;
    Include learning that takes place both inside and outside of the classroom and the school day;
    Enable pupils to achieve their potential;
    Be able to respond to individual needs and talents and to provide increasing opportunities for choice and responsibility;
    Be planned to reflect local needs in order to ensure it is relevant to the lives of the pupils;
    Build on the pupil’s own experiences, interests and strengths and help to develop their sense of identity as local, national and global citizens;
    Celebrate individuality and the broad range of pupil success in all areas.

Sunday 28 August 2016

Should the public be involved in Brent's review of the Local Plan?

The report going to the Resources and Public Realm Committee on the Council's Planning Committee proposes a review of the Local Plan.

It proposes a 'Local plan Working Party' to carry this out made up of 'a representative group of councillors' . The first, rather clumsy, sentence of this section of the report mentions the local community but there is no mention of residents' associations or other community groups making a contribution to such a working party.

Surely they should be involved at an early stage to avoid further disaffection and feelings of powerlessness in the force of development and regeneration?


To plan proactively for its future and guide development in the form and location where the Council and the local community feels it is most appropriate, the Council will need to start a review of the Local Plan. Whilst it provides the opportunity to refresh the Council’s approach to support current corporate priorities, it is likely to involve some potentially difficult decisions in prioritising housing delivery against other considerations, e.g. balancing affordable/family housing requirements against facilitating what will be high levels of housing delivery; the extent to which low density housing in areas with high public transport accessibility are considered sustainable in the long term; and safeguarding and providing existing infrastructure and non-residential uses against the need to meet housing targets. To meet housing needs and support timely regeneration/development, the Council is also likely to have to take a greater pro-active approach to site assembly/direct delivery than might have been the case in the past.

To ensure a wider elected democratic mandate a representative group of councillors will be involved in and facilitate the content and direction of the Local Plan as it makes its way through the adoption process. It is proposed that this will be through a Local Plan Working Party, for example dealing with vision and objectives and how themes, such as housing and employment can best contribute to these. The extent and timing of the review will become cleared once a restructure of Planning has been undertaken and the Development Management Policies Plan has been adopted.

Is Brent's 'Metroland' suburban housing under threat?

The Quintain site surrounded by 'low density suburban housing'
A report going to the Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee on September 6th LINK highlights some of the issues facing Brent Council in the provision of housing.

It is estimated that 1525 new dwellings need to be built every year until 2026. The report expresses confidence that this can be met in the early part of the period through developments taking place, particularly in Wembley, but additional measures will be needed in the future.

One immediate problem is that developers favour one or two bed-roomed units to ensure a maximum return while Brent's  Strategic Housing Marketing Assessment 2016 said that to meet local needs 66% of them should be of 3 bedrooms or more.

The report says that one option would be for the Council to control dwelling size as a condition of the sale of its land, rather than at the planning stage. This comes up against current 'market sentiment' when the Council tries to meet the 50% 'truly affordable' renting target and developers have recourse to viability assessments as well as limits on the ability of the Council to cross-subsidise from other funds.

Given the recent controversy about the development of Heron House, near the Quintain redevelopment area around the stadium, this possibility for finding additional sites is a concern:
...on a potentially more contentious note redevelopment of extensive areas of low density suburban housing where there are high public transport accessibility levels
One of the Heron House residents' issues was that the development was out of keeping with the largely traditional suburban nature of the immediate area.

Could this mean that those traditional 'Metroland' homes in the north of the borough that happen to be close to tube stations and bus routes (see above) might be under threat in the future as high rise-high density housing becomes the norm? Could we see speculators buying up such houses, with their large gardens, in order to redevelop them into blocks of flats with the blessing of the Council?

Other suggestions in the report may also cause concern:

The opportunities for additional sites for housing are likely to be found from a variety of sources for example: 

·      within existing growth areas, through for example increasing densities on already identified sites and identifying new sites;

·      extending where appropriate existing growth areas into adjacent areas;

·      more supportive policies for redevelopment/conversion of existing residential into addition dwellings;

·      having a more pro-active approach to identifying sites within town centres;

·      the identification of further extensive growth areas 
·      a more flexible approach to existing non-residential allocations, the most obvious due to their scale and existing developed nature being employment sites. 

The last obviously raises the possibility that local employment opportunities may be lost as employment sites get used for housing.