Looking back on 2017 it is clear that regeneration, particularly in the Wembley area, has been the most controversial issue reported on Wembley Matters.
Planning applications from Quintain have come thick and fast, sometimes several complex, multi-million schemes, have been submitted for one sitting of the Planning Committee. The Committee itself was weakened by the absence of Cllr Sarah Marquis on maternity leave. Her lawyerly independence as chair gave the Committee some much needed credibility but in her absence many far-reaching controversial decisions have been made on the casting vote of the current chair Cllr Agha.
Time and time again, despite opposition from residents, schemes have been approved that do not comply with the Council's own guidelines on issues such as height and light. Officers give excuses such as good design makes up for the height or that students do not need as much light in their rooms as long-term residents. But most importantly the amount of affordable housing has been less than that advocated by Brent Council and the GLA, and the definition of 'affordable' has been manipulated to an extent that makes the term meaningless.
Rather than providing homes for families, Quintain has switched to all inclusive 'life-style' private rental schemes boasting super broadband access aimed at high income single people or couples without children. Meanwhile Brent's housing list becomes longer.
Given all this it is no wonder that residents were suspicious of Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt's unrecorded meetings with developers revealed in the response to Andrew Linnie's FoI response. His claim that the initial FoI response had got dates wrong did not dispel the suspicions and WM will be watching developments closely in 2018.
Similarly the meetings that Butt along with other councillors, including members of the Planning Committee, had with Tottenham Hotspur FC and the Football Association left residents feeling that decisions were being made, if not secretly, without their active involvement LINK. The increase in the number of events at the Stadium and higher capacity, continues to have a negative impact on residents.
The long-running saga of Brent Council's pay-off to former Head of Resources, Cara Davani, who had been found guilty of racial discrimination and bullying by an Employment Tribunal, was the subject of an objection to the the Council's accounts by a group of local residents, led by ex-tax inspector Philip Grant. The auditor eventually found in favour of the Council in a pretty unsatisfactory report LINK. Philip is to be congratulated on the thorough case he painstakingly put together and a fair reading of his post on the issue suggests that the Council's case is far from convincing.
One of the interesting sidelights on the case is that part of the employment tribunal case against Cara Davani was that Rosemary Clarke, a black woman, had been treated unfairly compared with how Clive Heaphy a white man and former Brent Head of Finance had been treated in his case which involved a handsome pay-off of 140,508 as 'compensation for loss of office'. The auditor's report reveals that the Clive Heaphy case was cited by Cara Davani to support her threat that if she did not receive a pay-off she would take action alleging that she had been sexually discriminated against by the Council in comparison with Heaphy. She herself had been involved in the compensation package put together for Heaphy! As Philip Grant points out this all went back to the earlier conflict between Cllr Butt and Gareth Daniel where in an exchange of emails between Heaphy and Davani it was said, 'Mo owes us one' in an apparent reference to bringing in former Ofsted colleague Christine Gilbert as CEO.
Given all this how secure is Muhammed Butt in his role as leader going into the May 2018 local elections? The thorn in Butt's side in 2017 was undoubtedly Cllr John Duffy who challenged the Labour Cabinet and officers over what he saw as mismanagement of the Council's waste services and the ill-fated outsourcing of enforcement of a littering strategy via fixed penalty notices. He made the case that the Council had failed to both provide an effective service and provide best financial value.
Duffy failed to be selected to fight his ward in 2018 following a vote of Kilburn ward party members which I was told was not at Butt's behest but an independent decision. Butt was apparently pleased with the de-selection but when Duffy continued to challenge the Cabinet and built support for his claims, the party turned to disciplinary action against him based on allegations of bullying. The party removed the Labour whip from Duffy. There have been calls from the public for him to stand as an independent in May but that appears to be unlikely.
Other Labour group members who had been critical of Butt have been quiet, with Cllr Pavey, who had challenged him for the leadership previously, adopting a low profile. Stonebridge councillor Zaffar Van Kalwala, an earlier casualty of his leader's displeasure, has operated in a sort of limbo. He will not be standing in May but has put a lot of energy into community initiatives with young people in St Rapahel's and Stonebridge. Kalwala's fellow Stonebridge councillor, the ambitious Sabina Khan, has decided her ambitions lie elsewhere and has hardly attended any local meetings for months.
Elsewhere Cllr Jumbo Chan has impressed with his work on the Joint Teachers Consultative Panel in developing a Brent Teachers' Fair Workload Charter and in leading opposition to the academisation of The Village School.
Unlike Haringey, the surge in Labour Party membership and support for Momentum made little impact on candidate selections for the local elections and the slate for next year does not promise any radical move to the left. There is at least one Momentum candidate who is likely to get elected but that is one out of 63 and it could be a rather lonely and potentially vulnerable position unless rank and file members get behind her.
Brent Green Party has a new and young leadership and is likely to mount an effective challenge in a few target wards and it is crucial that there is some quality opposition on the largely one party council. The rival Tory groups have come together ahead of the local elections but won't be helped by the state of the Tory government. Lib Dems won't be helped by their lone councillor's decision to go independent but they may target wards where they have a relatively firm base in the community.
Most intriguing is the prospect, raised in comments on this blog and some Brent Facebook accounts of the possibility of some independent candidates emerging from the various campaigns that have taken place over the last two years. If they are based on residents' associations they could be in with a chance - watch this space.